Scar Maps: Teaching Students the Empathetic Imagination

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Objective

SWBAT create a "scar map" of personal experiences that help them experience empathy.

Big Idea

The "empathetic imagination" matters in our global world.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Overview and Context

How should ELA teachers approach informational texts?

This question informs the lessons in this unit, which emphasize approaches to teaching informational texts in the context of literature study. Rather than replacing or superceding the study of literature, I see informational texts as ways to amplify literature so that students see it as relevant to their lives.

Thus, rather than a shift away from both the literary canon and contemporary imaginative texts, the CCSS offers teachers a unique opportunity to embrace innovative approaches to teaching both informational texts and the imaginative literature that led us to teach English.

In its original context, this lesson is part of the unit The Poetry of Nonfiction and Informational Texts: Connecting Genres.

 This lesson takes two class periods. 

Students will do the following:

Day 1:

  • Create personal scar maps.
  • Write about an experience that scarred them emotionally or physically.

Day 2: 

  • Become experts on a passage from "Letter from Birmingham Jail" while working in groups.
  • Report to the class on the group's findings.
  • Collectively create a scar map for Dr. King's letter.
  • Complete a short true-false quiz assessing their learning. 

This lesson covers Day 1.

Demonstrate a Scar Map as Students Make Scar Maps

23 minutes

Arguably, race is the issue that defines and often divides our country. We are a nation deeply scarred by racial issues. Thus it is fitting to use scars as an entry point into students' analysis of Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail." 

To prepare my students to read the letter, I asked them to create "scar maps." I first learned about scar maps from Penny Kittle's book Write Beside Them

First, I asked students to draw a stick person on their papers. I showed them three scars on my face, one in my right brow line, one on my chin, and one on my mouth. After showing the class each scar, I placed each in its proper position on my scar map, which I have drawn on the board.

Next, I told the class that I have emotional as well as physical scars and that these are the most painful scars. I drew a heart on my stick figure and wrote the word "divorce" in the middle. I also drew a "Dear John" letter into my figure's left hand and wrote on it: "Dear Glenda, I am going back to my old girl friend. Sorry, John." 

I asked the students to put emotional scars on their maps using different colored pencils, which I gave to those who needed them. There were questions:

"Will anyone else see these."

"No, only you and me," I answered, "unless you decide to share your scar map with someone else." 

The students took a couple of minutes and put additional scars on their maps. One student said, "I don't have any emotional scars." 

I replied: "Really? You've never been hurt or been picked on by someone."

The student replied, "Any time that happened, I just decked the kid." 

"Okay," I said, "Did you hit because you were hurt?" 

I decided not to push the issue. I thought I had given the student enough to think about at that point. Student Scar Map w/ Quick Write

 

 

Scarred Writing: A Quick Write Response

12 minutes

I then asked students to choose one of their scars and write about it. I didn't tell them how or what to write. I just invited them to write. Normally, I give ten minutes for this activity. I want them to have enough time to add details to their writing but not so much time that they have time to waste.

The students were so invested in their maps at this juncture, that many were able to nearly fill their pages, and those who didn't weren't finished when I called time. 

I asked if anyone would like to share. We had five students who shared their writing, including a narrative about a pet cat getting hit by a car, a heart-breaking loss at the state wrestling tournament, and a near-death experience when a student's brother gave her diabetes medication. 

Student Scar Map w/ Quick Write (2)

Sharing Scar Map Experiences

20 minutes

I asked if anyone would like to share. We had five students who shared their writing, including a narrative about a pet cat getting hit by a car, a heart-breaking loss at the state wrestling tournament, and a near-death experience when a student's brother gave her diabetes medication. 

The images of narratives and maps show a wide range of student work and involvement with their maps. Student Quick Write