The Power of Expression

From Women and Girls Lead, Vol. 3: Women, Girls, & the Criminal Justice System collection, lesson plan 5 of 7

Time: (60-90 minutes + assignment)

Essential Question: Why should we tell our stories?

Film modules and activities adapted from the film Girls on the Wall

Purpose of the Lesson: Meade Palidofsky, director of the Fabulous Females workshop featured in Girls on the Wall, expresses a common sentiment when she says, “One thing that’s dangerous with kids that are being locked up is that they’ll suck it all up and wait until they get out and they will have solved nothing. I think that the girls really still need to seize their stories.” In this lesson, students will be asked why they should tell their stories and how they can do so when there may be so much fear and risk involved.

Objectives: * Discuss the importance of telling one’s story, why it can be so hard to do so and what it takes to open up * Respond to a quote about using your past to “build you up” * Participate in role-plays or narrative formats to prepare to present a personal story * Present a personal story as a way to gain strength from it and move forward in your life * Reflect on the value of telling one’s story and how to continue the personal storytelling process

Skills: Stating and supporting opinions in class discussion and in writing; critical listening and viewing; role-playing; writing; note taking; oral presentation

Materials: Note: All Teacher and Student Handouts can be downloaded by clicking on “Download materials” button at the left of this page

Project on the wall or pass out the following quote from an unidentified participant in Girls on the Wall:

“I’m not saying to forget the past
But let it build you up, not make you sad.
Tell the truth, because it needs to be said
Testify for every tear
You shed.”

Students should copy the quote and complete a journal response where they focus on what they think the quote means and ways they can relate to it. Have students in groups of three stand up together and read their responses to the class.

Why Should We Tell Our Stories?: Ask students to write this question down. Reintroduce the film Girls on the Wall using the "About the Films" and "Filmmaker Statement" subsections included in the "Getting Started" section. Watch "Film Module 5: “The Power of Expression.” Students should take notes that relate to the question. Give students time after viewing the module to complete their notes. Pass out sticky notes and have students choose and transcribe what they think are several of their best notes. Have them post the notes at the front of the classroom. Give students time to walk around the room and read the responses. Wrap up the discussion with the following guiding questions:

  • Mrs. Palidofsky mentions that there are risks in telling one's story. What do you think are some of those risks? How do you think we can overcome those risks?
  • What did you think about their performance? What impact did it have on you? Would you participate in a program like that?
  • What does Rosa say about why she tells her story?
  • If you told your story, what impact would you want it to have on the audience?

Discussion Circle: Arrange seats so that students are sitting in a circle. Write the following question on the board: “How can we use stories of our past to build us up?” Go around the circle, allowing each student in the circle an opportunity to respond. This discussion format allows more students to participate and for more equal participation. Consider passing a special object around to signify whose turn it is to speak.

Activity: Improv Theater:

In this activity, students will examine the challenges of opening up and telling one’s story. Whitney says in the film: “Most of my thoughts just stay in my head.” Students will practice what it takes to get thoughts out of their heads and share them with a wider audience in this fun activity.

Give a small group of students a set of role-play cards for scenario 1 included in "Teacher Handout A" or make up your own scenarios. Have students start the role-play. After a minute or so, have two students “tag out” and bring in two other audience members to improvise the scene. This format will allow more students to work through the role-plays more quickly and will tap into the spontaneity of their thoughts and actions. Afterwards, discuss the challenges of opening up and what strategies worked and didn’t work to do so. Repeat the directions for scenarios 2 and 3, working in as many students as possible for each scenario. Consider generating your own scenarios with your class to match their needs and backgrounds.

Assignment: Sharing Your Story

In this assignment students will be challenged to write about a difficult aspect of their upbringing as a way to experience the healing power of telling one’s story.

Review Meade's quote from the film, where she says, “I think that once you put your story out in public, you’re able to give it to other people, you’re able to share it with them and eventually you’re able to let it go.”

Discuss with students whether they are ready to do this. Remind them to start small. They should push themselves but also feel comfortable with what they are prepared to share with others. Allow students to brainstorm, make outlines, and work in various writing formats like a letter, a song, a diary entry, and the like.

To help students get started, here are several writing prompts: * What was a pivotal turning point in your life? (Students can refer to their visual road map if they completed that assignment.) * What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced? * What is something that happened to you in the past that you still think about today?

Note: Students are likely to need support and encouragement in completing this assignment. Monitor their work and give positive feedback as they are developing their stories. Monitor content and make sure that it will be appropriate for your class setting. When assignments are completed, issue a class challenge to have one hundred percent participation in sharing student stories. Brainstorm ways the class can support reluctant students and prepare students to give positive feedback for each story. Organize some type of small celebration at the end to honor and celebrate the work students shared.

  1. Listen to Ayesha Walker of Youth Radio share an essay about growing up in a violent section of Richmond, California.

Have students visit the Youth Radio website to learn more about their work. In small groups have students research and brainstorm ways to get their stories out into their community. If possible, make a plan to publicly present the class’s stories in some way.

  • Film module:
    The Power of Expression
Download lesson materials