Truth and Storytelling: What Do You Carry? Letters

This is one of a few “Performance Tasks” from my The Things They Carried UbD that I wanted to highlight. It corresponds with the title story of the book, which is the first chapter. It’s also a truncated version of a longer lesson plan I found on ReadWriteThink a few years ago.

Before reading the story, I ask students to brainstorm a list: What do you carry? They handwrite their own short lists, and then we collect a class list on the board. Here’s one list from this year:

Grudges, hatred, sharp metal objects, fear, hope, money, pants, phone, laptop, ipod, a need to change things, food, electronics, emotions, knowledge, secrets, my cat, lies, friendships, stress, enemies, trust, the world, self-control, love, rejection, mental stability, rejection, what ifs, thoughts, purses, masks, mental instability, inspiration, self-doubt, chocolate, perfume, liquid, keys, MYSELF. Clothes, imaginary friends, conscience (good and bad).

We then read a few pages of the story and discuss what the soldiers are carrying and what the value or figurative importance of those items are.
After they’ve finished reading the chapter, we revisit the class list and they are given the following task, to be shared on a class forum:

This is your place to write a letter about what you carry.

Things to consider:

– Write the letter to somebody who cares about what you carry. It could be to that thing or person, or it could be to someone who made you carry it.

– It could be positive (thanking them) negative (complaining) or a mix. Or maybe you need to apologize to that person or thing.

– If you want to go funny, you could write about a physical object. If you want to go serious, what do you carry in your heart or mind that you have to tell us about?

– Don’t just write to the general public, pick someone specific.

One key aspect of this activity is that the peers will read their letter. Many students write to a specific person, sometimes thanking them, sometimes yelling at them. Often the person they are writing to remains anonymous. Other students write to their laptop or their book bag — these are funny, or angsty, or somewhere in between. A couple of years ago, one student wrote to Kanye West:

The thing that I carry is my ego. Now you see Mr. West, the ego I carry around is the greatest ego of all time, but there’s been a rumor going around that you carry around the greatest ego of all time. Now, I’m not one for competition of “ego,” but bring it on homey. 

Once they post, students have time to read and respond to each other. They also have a chance to nominate students to read their letters out loud.

This is an early empathy-building activity of the unit. It’s also the first time students are asked to tell a story in a mode similar to the book.



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