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Teacher Lesson Return to "The American Dream Feels More Like a Nightmare"
The American Dream Feels More Like a Nightmare
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ELA Literacy & Social and Emotional Learning
The American Dream Feels More Like a Nightmare

Story Summary: After the writer moves from Korea to the U.S., his once fun-loving dad becomes perpetually angry and demanding.

Lesson Objectives and Common Core Connections
• Students make personal connections to a text and successfully participate in story-based activities and discussions.
• Students build awareness of their own, and others’, emotions.
• Students are increasingly able to empathize with others’ experiences.
• Students will use textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly and through inferences (CCLS R.1).
• Students will read and analyze text on topics related to diverse and non-traditional cultures and viewpoints (CCLS R.9.a).
• Students will read and comprehend literary nonfiction proficiently (CCLS R.10).

Before Reading the Story (15 min)
This opening activity will activate background knowledge to boost reading comprehension and set the emotional tone for the story.

1. Share the following quote from the story: “These days my dad is short-tempered and angry all the time. He fights about almost everything. When he thinks someone is being disrespectful to him, he yells in their face.”

2. Ask students in your group to identify the strong emotion that the dad is feeling (anger). Next, introduce (and write up on the board) other strong emotions all people feel, and can sometimes struggle to manage: depression, inadequacy, fear, confusion, hurt, anger, loneliness, remorse.

3. Pair Share directions: Ask students to think of a person in their life who struggles with a strong emotion. What is the emotion? How does it affect him/her? How does s/he express it? How does this affect the people in his/her life? Without naming that person, have students share their responses to the questions with a partner.

4. Introduce the concept of unmet needs (1). As humans, we all have essential underlying needs that we try to meet, such as the need for connection with others, physical well-being, and meaning in our lives. Everyone’s feelings and actions are the result of their own unmet needs and their choices in how to meet them. Strong emotions, at their root, come from these unmet needs, so understanding them in ourselves and others can help us in our self-awareness, interpersonal communication, and relationships.

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 teacher, you may stop periodically to discuss or check in by asking students to share their responses to the story.

3. Tell students they will be practicing an active reading strategy called reading for a purpose. This will help them locate specific information they will need for later.

4. Reading for a Purpose directions: While reading aloud students are going to identify the strong emotions felt by the son and the father. Afterwards, they will try to identify the unmet needs that might be at the root of these feelings. Students will divide this work up as follows:

• The LEFT side of the room will read for the WRITER’S (the son) emotions. Students should draw a star in the margins of the story when they think the writer is feeling strong emotions.
• The RIGHT side of the room will read for the FATHER’S emotions. Likewise, they should draw a start in the margins of the story when they think the father is feeling strong emotions.

5. While still sitting in a circle, have volunteers read the story aloud and support students in their task of reading for a purpose.

After Reading the Story (30 min)
During this post-reading activity students will make connections, build understanding, and rehearse positive behaviors.

1. Text Based Discussion directions:
• Beginning with the LEFT side of the room, have students share out examples from the text of the Writer’s emotions (support the group in how to infer from the text when it is not explicit). Write these as a list on the board under the heading “Writer/Son’s Emotions (2).
• Repeat with the RIGHT side of the room, having students share out examples from the text of the FATHER’S emotions (support the group in how to infer from the text when it is not explicit). Write these as a list on the board under the heading “Father’s Emotions.”
• Return to the concept of unmet needs. Explain to the group that most underlying human needs fall into these categories (write up on the board):
Autonomy: For example: freedom, independence, choice, choosing and following one’s dreams, goals, and values.
Connection: Acceptance, affection, appreciation, emotional safety, belonging, respect, love, support, trust, understanding.
Meaning: Challenge, contribution, competence, efficacy, growth, learning, purpose, self-expression.
Physical Well-Being: Air, food, water, movement, physical safety, shelter, rest/sleep, touch.
• Next, break students into the two groups (Father, Son/Writer). Have each small group gather in a circle or around a table.
• Ask each group to work together to try and identify what their person’s unmet needs might be. Instruct them to refer specifically to the text in their discussion and to look at the lists on the board for vocabulary. Confer with the groups to support their discussion.
• Have one person from each group report back the unmet needs they identified. Write these on the board under the Writer/Son and Father lists.

2. Role Play directions:
• Introduce the guidelines for an improv role play. The prompt will present a dramatic conflict to the two players who respond on their feet (no scripting or rehearsing), using what they have learned about the writer and his father from the story. If the players get stuck, they can call a “freeze” in the dramatic action and ask the audience for suggestions. Role play should be fun and safe, so no physical contact and the audience shows support through active listening.

Role Play prompt:
“Since moving to the U.S. this father and son have been in conflict. The son wants his father to understand what he is feeling and what he needs. The father has his own feelings and needs. They need to try to understand each other.”
• Next, ask for two volunteers to try the role play. Help the audience be supportive. Afterwards, ask for additional volunteers to role play, as time allows.
• (Important note to facilitator: Find a moment to be clear with the group that a parent hitting a child is never OK. Trying to understand the father, as the writer does in his story, does not mean we excuse or condone his abusive behavior.)

3. Activity De-brief: After thanking the actors for participating in the role play, bring the group together for a discussion. Consider the following questions:
• How might understanding unmet needs help the father and son regulate their own emotions? Based on this understanding, what requests might they make of each other to improve their relationship?
• While many parents and children have similar conflicts, for this father and son their relationship is impacted by their immigration experience. In what ways do immigrant parents and children sometimes struggle? What kinds of conflicts might occur between immigrant parents and their U.S.-born children?
• What personal connections can anyone make to this story? What personal take-aways do students have from the activities?

(1) Understanding our feelings and how to regulate them, as well as understanding others’ emotional experiences, is a cornerstone of social and emotional learning. The principles of underlying human needs, as referenced in this lesson, is essential to non-violent, or compassionate, communication. If you are interested in learning more about this approach, we recommend you visit, the Center for Nonviolent Communication, and explore the work of Marshall Rosenberg, PhD.

(2) It is helpful to remember that many teens have a limited emotional vocabulary. There are many “Feelings/Emotional Vocabulary” lists available online for your reference and/or to share with students.
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