Facing our Struggles
  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.

Students learn from examples of people who have experienced a struggle and used surrounding resources to make something better for themselves and the people around them. Examples of "servant leadership" are taken from the Our State of Generosity website.  

PrintThree-Five 50-Minute Sessions

The learners will:

  • reflect on the impact of personal experiences on people who have made a difference in others' lives.
  • explain a struggle that they have been through in their own lives.
  • employ writing strategies such as dialogue and figurative language to reconstruct the memory and reveal feelings of the writer.
  • Example of a memoir -- This may be a teacher memoir or copies of student memoirs published on Teen Ink (i.e. "A Bully's Confession" and "Facing the Unknown")
  • Jim McHale's Profile (https://ourstateofgenerosity.org/leader/james-jim-mchale/and handout) 
  • youtube video of Spoken Word poetry ("Kinetic Affect" or "Raise It Up Youth! Arts and Awareness" have good examples)
  • Memoir Study Graphic Organizer (handout)

Kinetic Affect website:  www.100poemsforhope.com  

Our State of Generosity: The story of Michigan philanthropy:  https://ourstateofgenerosity.org/

Pinterest:  for anchor/co-constructed charts 

Teen Literary magazine and website:  www.teenink.com  

  1. Anticipatory Set:

    View: “i am that wall” by Spoken Word poets Kinetic Affect which talks about how we all put up emotional walls to protect ourselves. 
    **There is some strong language in this presentation so please preview the video to make sure that it is appropriate for your audience.

  2. Discuss: How do emotional walls help us? Hurt us?

    Have a whole class discussion (those who are comfortable with this will be more vocal...it’s ok if some students don’t verbalize what they are thinking), asking students to reflect on this. Explain that when we can break down those walls and be “real,” that’s when we can make a real difference in our world.

  3. Pass out an index card to each student (or ask them to click on a Google doc that you will attach to an assignment for each student to keep it private). When we are in the physical classroom, this is an anonymous activity. Tell students to NOT put their name on this card. 

    Invite students to write on their card about a struggle that they’ve experienced in their own life. They can reflect on what they heard from Kinetic Affect and/or what was said in the class discussion. Try not to give too many directions as students have different perceptions as to what a struggle is and that’s what you want to discover. Let students know that the more they can be “real,” the better the tools will be that they’re putting in their writing toolbox. Give students a few minutes to reflect and respond (either by filling out an index card or sending their response via their Google doc).

  4. Pick up student cards as they are finished. When all of the cards have been collected, sit down with the class and share what has been written. I usually preface this with “what’s said in this hour/class, stays here.” Assure the students that this is completely anonymous and no one will know who each story belongs to unless they give it away. While you are reading, point out similar struggles and identify, if you can, a theme that is running through the stories. This is a chance for you to connect with your students in a safe, non-judgmental way.

  5. Be prepared for some of the stories to be tragic and some to be silly. Praise students who took the activity seriously and remind them that by doing this, they are fueling their writing. We write best about things that cause passion in us. Once you’ve read all the cards, point out that not one of us has a perfect life and we all face struggles. Encourage students to support each other. Remind them that they never know what the person next to them has been through so they should be kind to everyone.

  6. Give students time to complete a draft narrative about their struggle. Tell them that they can use the struggle that they wrote about on their card or choose another one to write about. Sometime, after they’ve heard what others have been through, students choose to write about something more “real” for this piece. The draft doesn’t have to be perfect. You can determine how much time students need for this portion of the lesson.

  7. Once students have completed the basic story, explain that they will be turning their struggle into a (Narrative-6th grade; Memoir-7th grade; Spoken Word Poem-8th grade). Ask them to choose a small moment of their story to concentrate on for this writing. For example, don’t tell us about going to the amusement park, but write about your ride on the roller coaster. Small moments evoke more emotion.

  8. Depending on your grade level expectations, the next step would be different for each grade level. This is where you would add in the instruction that you have for a specific writing piece: narrative, memoir, spoken word poem. Be sure that you have genuine examples of your own to share with your students.

    Mini lessons about sentences; figurative language; imagery; word choice; author’s craft, etc...should be included in this section.

  9. Give students time to work on their own writing. Use your judgment as to how long your class needs to have to complete this.

  10. Use a “coffee house” type of celebration when writing is complete to allow students to share their work. I find that if we are a bit unstructured, my students are more open to sharing their final pieces. It also helps to have snacks and drinks for them. Don’t force anyone to read but this leads to later opportunities to share their writing.  


  11. Day 2

    Anticipatory Set: Share the "Servant Leadership in Michigan Philanthropy" quote from Jim McHale's profile from the Our State of Generosity archives (top of handout). Have students work in small groups to read Jim McHale's profile online [http://ourstateofgenerosity.org/leader/james-jim-mchale/] and answer the reflection questions in the handout. In the whole group, ask students to identify why Battle Creek (Michigan) citizens helped escaped slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. What did they get by doing this? How do we see this at work in our community today?

  12. Introduce the definition of a memoir (writing based on a significant event in which the writer gained a new understanding about himself or herself, other people or the broader world.) Ask students: Why is it important for citizens such as Jim McHale to share events in their lives with others? How does learning from the experiences of other people impact us? Why is it important for us to give back to our own community? What are the benefits? What opportunity cost (thing you'd give up to help someone) might there be?

  13. Tell students that they will be writing a memoir about a time in their life where they learned a lesson and/or gained a new understanding.

  14. Share "A Bully's Confession" (or short memoir of your choice) with students. It's best if students each have a copy of their own to mark on.

  15. Read "A Bully's Confession" together as a class. The purpose of reading and discussing this together is to help students identify the feelings BEFORE the event, AFTER the event, the EVENT itself and the NEW UNDERSTANDING of the memoir. (The feelings BEFORE are those moments leading up to the main event; the feelings AFTER are moments afterwards; and the NEW UNDERSTANDING is the lesson that was learned from this event.)

  16. Project the Memoir Study Graphic Organizer onto the overhead screen and work with students to fill out the information breaking down each part of "A Bully's Confession." Once students demonstrate understanding of the parts of a memoir, give students a second short writing piece (i.e. "Facing the Unknown") and have them complete it as partners or small groups. Have students turn this paper in to check for understanding.

  17. Days 3-4

  18. Anticipatory Set:Share your own memoir with students. Ask students to identify your feelings BEFORE and AFTER the EVENT and your new realization/understanding.

  19. Create a co-constructed "Elements of Memoir" Anchor Chart. Have students copy what you are doing on the large sheet of paper in their Writer's notebooks. Post the anchor chart in the room for future reference by students. (Ideas for this anchor chart can be found on Pinterest.)

  20. Give students time to work on writing their own memoir. Use your own judgment as to how long your class needs to have to do this.


Day 1: Student filled out index cards of a struggle they have faced in their lives can be used to assess student pre-writing (brainstorming) their memoir. Day 2: Memoir Study graphic organizers can be used to check for student understanding of the definition of a memoir. Student notes which define "Elements of a Memoir" through building a co-constructed chart may also be used to check for understanding. Day 3-4: The teacher can assess student understanding of memoir writing through the student's first draft.