In her book Beyond Standards, Carol Jago supports the idea of mixing in an occasional creative assignment for her students, to foster a positive attitude toward writing. With this philosophy in mind, I have built a creative project into the front-end of my House On Mango Street unit, both as an extension of a writing assignment, as well as a way to introduce one of the central themes of the book.
I explain to my students that today they will begin a project that will put them in touch with how they define themselves and the worlds they come from. I call them "identity beads," and I explain that the end result will be a class "necklace" that links our separate identities into one strand (What Is An Identity Bead?). I explain that one of the central themes of the book we are about to begin, The House On Mango Street, deals with the main character's developing identity, and so we will first explore how our own identities have been shaped.
This assignment helps my students recognize that their own identities are a collection of ideas, encounters, events, etc., much like they will discover in Esperanza, the protagonist in The House On Mango Street. By having my students explore this theme first through a personal lens, it should better equip them to identify and accept the evolution of the theme through Esperanza.
As I indicated in the video, I find it is always helpful to create a model of any project that I am asking my students to develop so they can visualize a starting point. As I explain the project to them, I touch upon the different elements of my own bead, explaining what I have included and why it represents my identity and world from which I come. After my brief presentation, I pass my bead around and allow students to have a closer look.
So here is a list of supplies, in case it has been awhile since you last paper mached:
1. Newspapers, which are not as easy to find in these digital days. I resorted to smaller (and free!) local newspapers and circulars that use newsprint.
2. Liquid starch, which I could only find at Walmart.
4. Sturdy paper plates for the starch.
5. Paper cups to rest the projects on as they dry.
6. As much patience as you can bring that day . . .
I pre-sort the newspapers for students, giving each a stack of approximately 12 8 1/2 x 11 sheets, and set them to task tearing them into strips while I walk around blowing up each balloon to the right size for each student (I do not recommend allowing students to blow up their own balloons, as there will certainly be waste). I fill a plate of starch for every two students and let them get started.
I find that students genuinely enjoy the opportunity to work with their hands in this way, and that none so far have ever shirked from the opportunity. The atmosphere in class is light and productive and worth the mess to achieve the eventual finished products.
My students will be working right up to the end of class, at which time they rest their projects on plastic cups I have arranged in the middle of the room, so that they can dry over night (be sure to put butcher paper underneath the cups, as the excess starch will drip off the beads as they dry). In order to identify whose bead is whose, I have my students write their names on sticky notes and attach them to their beads (Paper Mache Identity Beads). If any students finish before class is over, I set them to task helping out any students who are not as quick with their paper-mache fingers.