Preserving History

6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

This activity will help youth realize the ways that writing has served as an historical tool, and to understand that through writing individuals have captured and preserved history.

PrintOne Forty-Five Minute Session
  • describe what published stories from other communities say about the people who lived in them.
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Living Up the Street by Gary Soto
  • Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor
  • Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Bantam, 1969. ISBN: 0553279378.
  • Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. ISBN: 0679734775.
  • Keillor, Garrison. Lake Wobegon Days. New York: Viking, 1985. ISBN: 0140131612.
  • Soto, Gary. Living Up the Street. New York: Laurel Leaf, 1985. ISBN: 0440211700.


  1. Anticipatory Set: Say "Throughout our history, writing has been a powerful force. By writing, an author is able to share with her readers not only her own ideas and memories, but also to convey to us information about the time and place in which she lived. A memoir, for example, comments on more than the writer's life—it reveals to us a community's identity and values, and it preserves that community's history. Today, as we share excerpts from published memoirs, I want you to think about what these stories say about the place and time in which the story is written."

  2. Read aloud two chapters from The House on Mango Street: "The House on Mango Street" and "My Name." Discuss the image they see of Sandra Cisneros' community. (Youth should observe that it was difficult growing up in the Latino section of Chicago for the Cisneros' family. Money was tight and there were many of them in a small house. But we also see a close-knit family and a Latino community that values family, strength, and dreams.)

  3. Read pages 148-156 of chapter 23 from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Discuss Maya Angelou's community—a black community in rural Stamps, Arkansas in the 1930's. (Youth should describe the endurance and pride of the black community in the face of inequality and segregation. Maya's graduating class has a clear vision of who they are and what they want from life.)

  4. Read aloud "One Last Time" from Living Up the Street. Discuss Gary Soto's community—a barrio in Fresno. (Youth should describe the harsh reality of Soto's world—picking grapes and cotton in the oppressive heat in order to have money to buy clothes for school. Also, they should describe his relationships with his family members and the way his imagination and aspirations kept him going.)

  5. Read aloud from Lake Wobegon Days. Ask youth to picture the town and the people in it. Use this story as an example of an author creating a sense of place through writing. Keillor recreates small town Minnesota with tenderness and humor through portraits of the places and faces of Lake Wobegon.

  6. Ask youth:

    • What would a book about our community sound like?
    • With what feeling do you think it would leave the reader?

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Discuss the variety of family relationships in the nation's society.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
      2. Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.