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Mary Rafferty, NEH Summer Scholar 2015

Identity, Empowerment, and Recovery

Lesson Plan by Mary Rafferty

Grade 11 English


Students will be provided various models of multicultural/historical/place-based texts to assist them in writing their own cultural identity texts.  This work will be used to build on looking at texts in which individuals have empowered or healed themselves within a community so that students can move towards writing about a contemporary issue or concern.  Texts from multiple communities and genres will be used and students will participate in research sessions in order to understand the important historical contexts being referenced.  Poetry, nonfiction, lyrics, stories, novels, music, games, performance, place, collaboration, film, technology, and community will be incorporated.  

Essential Questions

  • How do we tell about ourselves?
  • Is the past important to our identity?  Is family important?  Geography?  Culture?
  • If yes, how do we access the past?
  • What does it mean to have an American identity?
  • How can I learn the historical context of this text?
  • How do these texts speak to each other?
  • What issues are important to me and/or to my community?
  • How do individuals “recreate” or “re-envision” what’s been lost?


Students will develop lasting understandings such as:

1. How culture, history, geography, and personal experience influence the stories we read and tell as well as how, when, and where we tell them.

2. Perspectives influence meaning for the writer, the reader, and historical and present-day audiences.

3. Personal decisions, both positive and negative, can impact the future for entire communities and people.

4. Expressing ourselves in writing, speech, and film is a process that evolves with support and practice.

5. It is important to use our first language in order to keep it alive.


We will start by reading examples of autobiographical writing and discussing the different forms autobiography can take.  Students will annotate texts, including writing any questions they are left with.  Time will be given for small groups to look up important context of texts and share out with the larger group.  Students will be given copies of Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain to begin reading/journaling outside of class for homework each night.  Students will create graphic organizers to organize notes/examples of the historical, the cultural, the geographical, and the personal within some of these narratives.  At least one session will be used for small groups to act out, sing, or film themselves performing texts/excerpts, either the ones we studied in class or ones they find compelling.  

We will take field trips including going to the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, in order to further develop our ideas about what culture is.

Students will be asked to construct their own cultural identity texts in a writing workshop that includes revising, editing, peer share, and individual consultation with instructor.  Students will be encouraged to write these texts in both their first language and in English. Some milestones towards this effort would be students using to create a timeline of important events in their lives, and keeping a journal developing their ideas around their own history, culture, geography, and family.

We will go back to looking at text, this time, identity texts in which the author speaks specifically about how an individual might heal, recover, or empower themselves.  We will view Reel Injun and conduct whole group sessions in which we discuss whether we see ourselves in media, how do we feel about these depictions, how we tell about ourselves, and how we speak through film.  Students will read/journal about Silko’s Ceremony outside of class and read shorter examples within class.

The culminating project will be for students to create identity texts in which they set out to provide a solution to a personal or community issue.  Students will have choice about what form their text will take.  They may write a poem, story, or essay.  If they are willing to take on the responsibility, they may make a film, a comic book, or theatrical piece.   



“Yo Soy Joaquin” by Corky Gonzales (Mexican-American)

“To live in the borderlands…” by Gloria Anzaldúa (Mexican-American)

“Once a Man Knew His Name” by E. A. Mares (Indo-Hispanic)

“My Home is in My Heart” Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (Sami)

“The Women in Old Parkas” by Mary Tall Mountain (Athabascan)

“Grandmother Eliza” by Nora Marks Daurenhauer (Tlingit)

“It Has Always Been This Way”, “Raisin Eyes” by Luci Tapahanso (Navajo)

“Song for My Name” by Linda Hogan (Chickasaw)

“On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City” by Sherman Alexie (Spokane)

“Lady Louse” by Vi Hilbert (Upper Skagit)


“Remember” by Joy Harjo (Mvskoke/Creek)


The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa)

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna)

Under the Feet of Jesus excerpt by Helena Viramontes (Mexican-American)


“Show Me Yours” by Richard Van Camp (Tłı̨chǫ) 

“On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City” by Sherman Alexie (Spokane)


Reel Injun

KautoKeino Rebellion

How I learned to Yoik









Social justice















Nexus (connection)

Animism (no life/death binary)








RL.11-12.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly (within cultural contexts, including those of American Indians) as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.RL.11-12.2. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text, including those by and about American Indians and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

RL.11-12.3. Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama, or oral or written history (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed)

RL.11-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings, and usage within cultural contexts; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare, works by American Indian authors, as well as other authors.)

RL.11-12.5. Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

RL.11-12.10. By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

W.11-12.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

a. Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation and its significance, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.

b. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

c. Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome (e.g., a sense of mystery, suspense, growth, or resolution).

d. Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.

e. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.

W.11-12.5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

W.11-12.7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

W.11-12.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts (including American Indian texts) to support analysis, reflection, and research.

a. Apply grades 11–12 Reading standards to literature (e.g., “Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics” ]

b. Apply grades 11–12 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning [e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court Case majority opinions and dissents] and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy [e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses, American Indian Policies]”).

W.11-12.10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.