The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Teacher Lesson Return to "Don’t Push Me Out, Push Me Forward"
Don’t Push Me Out, Push Me Forward
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ELA Literacy & Social and Emotional Learning
Don’t Push Me Out, Push Me Forward

Story Summary: Selena doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere as she moves from school to school and from foster home to foster home. Fed up with the chaos, she cuts class, curses at teachers, and starts fights with students. Selena wants to learn but her teachers’ insensitive and sarcastic remarks compel her to act out even more. But if they tried to understand where her anger came from, she’d make more of an effort to succeed academically.

See the story "Don't Push Me Out, Push Me Forward"

Lesson Objectives and Common Core Connections
• Students make personal connections to a text and successfully participate in story-based activities and discussions.
• Students will recognize and describe their emotions and thoughts.
• Students will increase empathy with other youth’s experiences.
• Students will read and comprehend literary nonfiction proficiently (CCLS R.10).
• Students will write routinely over extended and shorter time frames for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences (CCLS W.10).

Before Reading the Story (10 min)
This opening activity will activate background knowledge to boost reading comprehension and set the emotional tone for the story.

1. Welcome students to the group. Introduce the lesson by telling them you will be reading a true story by a teen who struggles with feeling like she belongs at school.

2. Introduce the freewrite activity by explaining that students will have about four minutes to respond to a prompt in writing. The goal is to express their thoughts freely without worrying about writing conventions. The expectation is that everyone writes, without stopping, for the full time.

3. Share the freewrite prompt: “Divide your paper into two columns. On the left side, list all the ways your school makes you feel comfortable, motivated, and valued. On the right side, list all the ways that your school makes you feel unsafe, disengaged, or not valued.”

4. After students have completed the freewrite, transition to a pair share. Students should select a partner or turn to the person next to them.

5. Facing each other and practicing active listening, partners each take a turn sharing items from either of the two columns that they feel comfortable sharing. The listener should not respond, but should actively listen to the speaker. You can use a timer or wait until the hum of conversation dies down before closing the activity.

6. Thank students for sharing their writing and thinking.

During Reading (20 min)
By practicing active reading strategies while reading aloud and discussing as a group, students build comprehension and support fluency.

1. Introduce the story (see the summary above).

2. Share the expectations for a group read-aloud: volunteers take turns reading aloud as much or as little as they would like. As the group leader, you may stop periodically to discuss or check in on active reading by asking students to share their responses to the story.

3. Tell students they will practice an active reading strategy called reading for a purpose. This will help them read for a purpose and be prepared to use the text in later activities.

4. Reading for a purpose directions: Ask students to read for moments in the text when people in Selena’s school offered her support, or made her feel like she belonged. When this occurs in the text, students should place a () in the margins of the story. Then read for moments in the text when teachers in Selena’s school made her feel like she didn’t belong. When this occurs in the text, students should place a () in the margins of the story.

5. While sitting in a circle, read the story aloud together. Stop to discuss periodically, supporting peer-to-peer talk and non-judgmental listening. To do this, ask for volunteers to share what they wrote a () and a () next to and why. Alternately, you can pose an open question such as “What stands out to you in this section and why?”

6. Next, ask the group to further consider these questions:
• What connections can you make to Selena’s school experiences?
• What are some ways her teachers and school staff could have engaged her, or made her feel like she belonged?
• What could Selena have done to let her teachers know that they were wrong about her?

After Reading the Story (15 min)
During this post-reading activity, students will make connections, build understanding, and rehearse positive behaviors.

1. Introduce the writing activity by explaining to the group that they will have an opportunity to create a supportive conversation between Selena and someone at her school.

2. Share the following quote, lifted from Selena’s story: “I went from a kid who doesn’t care about classes and teachers to a kid who participates and focuses on her academics. Now teachers push me forward, instead of trying to push me out.”

3. Have students find a partner. Each pair should choose a part of the story where either of them placed a (), or create a new situation between Selena and another adult, or friend, at her school.

4. Have pairs write their conversations using these guidelines:
• Write a conversation between Selena and a person who pushes her forward instead of pushing her out. You can write it like a text message conversation, or how it would look in a play.
• Have the other person offer support to Selena and make her feel welcome in her school.
• Have Selena explain why she acts out or isn’t always in school.
• Have both Selena and the other person explain what they want from each other to have a successful student-teacher relationship.

5. Give students about 10 minutes to write.

6. Invite pairs to volunteer to perform their conversations for the larger group. Once pairs have performed, you could debrief by asking the following questions:
• Why do you think it’s important for teachers and students to have these types of conversations?
• What do you think would happen in your school if these conversations were happening all the time?

7. Thank students for being thoughtful members of the group and working to make connections to Serena’s story, reflect on their own lives, and share with one another.
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