Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
A personal essay is an argument or narrative that uses private experiences to comment on a larger cultural issue.
Teachers may want to use this strategy as a follow-up to a detailed investigation of a politically-oriented text. After students have reflected on the political issue raised by the text, teachers should ask them to list all the ways in which this political issue impacts their own communities. For example, teacher Sandra Childs asks her students to list the various ways people in their communities struggle with cultural ideals of beauty. Then, teachers can ask students to share some of their listed items with the class so that each student is introduced to new ideas and is pushed to think more imaginatively about how the political issue affects them.
When the class discussion has ended, teachers should ask students to write a free-form essay about one of the items on their own lists. Students should be encouraged to describe their personal experiences in as much detail as possible and to think about how their experiences have been affected by the larger political question they are studying. If applicable, students should use their personal experience as the basis of an argument or a proposal for political action.
Finally, teachers should ask students to read their essays aloud. The class can then spend time comparing the arguments put forth in various student essays, noting how the ideas of others have affected their own perspectives on the issues.
When students use their own experiences to make arguments about larger cultural issues, they recognize how the political questions they study affect their lives. This encourages students to find connections between their private struggles and larger political struggles, and they may find ways in which they can join with others to create change.
By sharing these personal essays, students also learn to speak in public about the ways political issues have affected their private lives. By encouraging this kind of openness, teachers create a space for students to connect with one another, to recognize their common goals, and to work together for positive change.