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Learning Circles Teachers' Guide
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Learning Circle Projects

Middle School (Text only)

  • Painted Poetry
  • Product or Place Personifications
  • Solving Problems
  • Autobiographical Incidents
  • Biographical Sketches
  • Special Themes- Example Teenagers
  • A Look into the Future
  • Civic Leadership and Visions
  • Elementary School Project Ideas (Text only)

    High School Project Ideas (Text only)

    Painted Poetry

    • Writing highly descriptive, or "painted," poems has inspired many poets on the Learning Network. Here are some ideas for sponsoring a Learning Circle project on painted poetry.

      Read the painted poem on baseball to your students. Discuss how the poem makes you feel as if you are there. It paints a picture with words. Then have your students suggest topics that would make good word pictures. Topics that celebrate cultural or regional diversity are particularly appropriate to share on the network. This might include special school or holiday celebrations, activities around an ocean, river or mountain, or places to visit in your area. Choose one of the suggested topics that is likely to be important to most of the students in your location and write it on the blackboard.

      Ask students to contribute colorful, active, descriptive words and phrases. Ask them to close their eyes and imagine the experience. What do they see, taste, hear, smell or feel? Work cooperatively as a group to combine and sequence these impressions to create a first draft of an unrhymed poem.

      Print a copy of the draft for each student to read and edit. Then the whole group can edit, with students offering suggestions based on their notes.

      This process helps all of the students see how a piece of writing can be improved with more work. The final poem can be displayed in the classroom with art work and sent on the network to the other classes. The sponsoring classroom might want to add pictures to go with the painted poems they select for their section of the Mind Works Circle publication.

      • Painted Poetry Example

        HOME RUN

        You step up to the plate, gripping the bat.
        Head up, elbows back, knees bent.
        You sense the catcher giving signs to the pitcher.
        All is silent as the pitcher winds up-
        Delivery is fast and high in the outside corner,
        You lunge into it and take a reaching swing.
        The bat connects, the ball soars through the air.
        The left fielder runs, but he cannot get to it.
        Over the fence!!! Home run!!!
        The crowd goes wild!
        You slowly jog the bases.
        High-fives from everyone back at home plate.

    Product or Place Personifications: My Life as a...

    • Students enjoy taking on the perspectives of inanimate objects. They can write very creatively about a day in the life of a pencil, a bandage, a door, or describe what it feels like to be a computer modem, a car, or a drop of water. A classroom might want to sponsor a Learning Circle project of this type of writing. A slightly different approach would be to have students assume the identity of past inventions and try to describe the life that this object from the past sees around it. The World Almanac lists inventions according to date. Or students could ask their grandparents or other elderly friends to describe the interaction and activities that took place before and after a new invention such as the radio, telephone, television or sewing machine came into their home. One idea suggested by a teacher was to have students introduce themselves as inanimate objects. Perhaps stories could be created about a number of inanimate personas who meet over the Learning Network! Here are some examples of student introductions:
      • Hello! I'm Carla Clock. I am very important because people always need to know what time it is. I make sure people are on time. Some people forget to check me and then they are late. I have an alarm to wake people up. They get angry, but I'm just doing my job. I can never slow down or go backward. Always forward. Tick Tock...Tick Tock...Tick Tock...

        Hi! I'm Pam Palm Tree. I have a brown trunk and green leaves. I grow coconuts for everyone to eat. I live at the beautiful ocean. My favorite time of day is sunset because all the colors are so beautiful and they blend together. I love to have people sit under me and relax. It makes me feel relaxed, too. During storms I bend all the way down to the ground because of the wind. That really hurts! Sunny days are fun because there are so many people on the beach to watch. I love being a palm tree!!

    Autobiographical Incidents

    • Since students in the middle grades are focused on the similarities and differences in their own lives and those of others, writing about one's past can be a very effective form of self reflection as well as creative writing. An autobiographical incident asks students to interpret past events from their current perspective. To do this, students need to chose details to create an impression and analyze the situation to provide a specific understanding of the importance of the events. This form of writing involves a form of self-disclosure that will help students at in distant locations understand cultural differences in the details and the universality of human experiences in the larger contexts.
      • *************** Topic Ideas *********************

        A frightening experience
        An accident or death
        An experience from a move to a new house or school
        A fight
        Winning a game, an award, or prize
        Missing the ball
        A difficult decision
        A funny circumstance
        A conflict with a friend
        The most embarrassing moment in my whole life
        A musical encounter
        A Traveling Tale

      Some Writing Suggestions

      Students can begin by describing the incident:

      • Who was involved?
        How would you describe the people?
        Describe how the surroundings appeared to you at the time.
        What exactly happened?
        Why was it memorable?

      Finally the students should consider these two questions:

      • How did you feel at the time?
        How do you feel about it now?

      Remember, an autobiographic incident is not just a story about something that happened. It is a reflection on how a past incident played a specific role in shaping who a person has become.

    Biographical Sketches

    • Students might want to share biographical sketches of people who have made a difference in their lives. These could be family members, teachers, coaches or people in the community.

      • ************* Special People *****************

        Is there a person who has made a significant difference in your life? Someone you admire or want to be like? Or perhaps a special person you would like others to know more about? What is it about this person that means so much to you? Please share something about the important people in your lives.

      Writing biographies challenges students to develop descriptive, narrative and persuasive writing skills as they work to characterize another person.


    Solving Problems

    • A story beginning could be written which results in a dilemma. For example, a student could be involved in an incident with another student, teacher, principal or parent; a student might overhear a conversation or see actions of others that places him or her in a morally difficult position; or groups of students might be involved in a conflict. Students at each of the sites could be asked to complete the essay and resolve the dilemma.

      Or, the sponsoring class can pose a problem presenting two opposite positions. The students on the network would be asked to write a persuasive argument that presents their position and addresses the concerns of the other side. Here are two example:

      Money for Chores?

      Should teenagers get an allowance? If so, how much and should it be related to specific jobs or tasks around the house?

      Those who say "yes" use arguments like:

  • Getting an allowance teaches teenagers how to budget money.
  • It encourages teenagers to take an active part in family chores.
  • It teaches work responsibility.
    • Those who say "no" use arguments like:

  • Teenagers set minimal standards for work and focus only on money not quality.
  • Teenagers learn to help out only if paid; they don't learn group responsibility.
  • Families should share both work and the family resources cooperatively,
    and not in employer-worker relationships.
    • What is your position on teen allowances?

      Teen Age Freedom

      Your friends are going to go to an amusement park and you want to go too. You need to get permission from your parents. The driver of the car is an older brother of one of your friends. Your friend is also going. They are planning to stay until closing at 1:00 am. You are pretty sure that your parents will not want to let you go but you do not want to be left out.

      Use your creative energies to find a way to solve this problem.
      What strategies will you use?
      How can you change the situation so that you will not be left out of the fun?

    Special Themes - Example Teenagers

    • Your students might want to sponsor a creative writing project on a special theme such as friendship, conflict, work, responsibility, death or peace. The topic could have a special meaning to your students because of the literature they are reading, some activity they are involved in, or something drawn from curriculum in other areas like social science. For example, Barbara Hughes (Lincoln Middle School, Oceanside, California) was coordinating an exchange of letters between her students and students in the U.S.S.R. and she decided to sponsor a writing project on the topic of peace. Her students requested any form of writing (poetry, letters, essays, opinions, etc.) on the topic of peace. A group of students from Australia sponsored a creative writing section on problems related to drug use in our society. Judith Vihonski (Valley Middle School, Oakland, New Jersey) suggested a special section on the topic of teenagers.


        1. How has teen age life changed since the time when your parents were teenagers.

        2. Write a letter to parents explaining what it is like to be a teenager in your location.

        3. Write a recipe for a teenager who will survive school.

        4. Write a letter of complaint to the adult world about the treatment of teenagers in the media.

        5. Look up a dictionary definition of a teenager. Use part of the definition to create a story or poem about teenagers. How are teenagers similar and different across the world?

        6. Write your own definition of a teenager.

        7. Use poetry to describe some of the relevant issues that face teenagers in today's world.

        8. List 6 reasons why people should be kind to teenagers.

        9. Write a For Sale ad for a teenager.

        10. If a teenager ran for president., what issues would make up the platform?

        11. Write a morality play that involves teenagers.

        12. Write a rap poem about Teenagers.

    A Look into the Future

    • Some futurists believe that if we don't plan for, or invent the future, others will do it for us. If that happens, the future will not be something we actively shape. Students can be encouraged to envision the future that they would like to have for themselves and their families. While no one can accurately predict the transformations, their dreams can become part of their work towards the creation of a better world.

      The purpose of this project is to encourage students to analyze present conditions, speculate about the future, and compare their views with students in other locations. The sponsoring class might post an open-ended request for "future designs" from partner classes. Or they might want to organize a look into the future in a selected area. For example, "Describe what education will be like in the year 2050." Or, "What type of vehicles will transport us in 60 years?

      A different strategy is to ask each class to contribute a view of one aspect of life in the future. Then the sponsoring class could edit a collective view of the future from all of the classes. Here is an example of how the sponsoring class might organize this project idea:

      **** Inventing the Future: A Collective Vision ******

      This project will result in one vision of the future constructed by students from many different locations. As the sponsoring class, we would like to ask you to imagine the world in the middle of the next century, 2050. Please send us a class or group essay that describes the changes you imagine will occur in your location. We have assigned each class a particular aspect to consider so that our collective view will include information on a number of different aspects of life in the future.

      Class 1: Global Issues - Food supply, conflict resolution, population growth, health.
      Class 2: Transportation - Mass transport, individual travel, vehicles, roads, fuel.
      Class 3: Employment - Job market, working hours and conditions, job benefits.
      Class 4: Recreation - Sports, movies, theater, dance, music, video games.
      Class 5: Education - School buildings, goals, methods, technology tools, subjects.
      Class 6: Health - Vaccinations, medicine, surgery, dentistry, vision care.
      Class 7: Daily Life - Shopping, pets, communication, fashions, trends, eating, sleeping.
      Class 8: Architecture - Building design, city plans, parks, shopping complexes.

      You might want to interview parents, community leaders, university professors, doctors or other local experts to collect ideas to build into your vision of the future.

    Civic Leadership and Visions

    • Leaders of countries are under considerable pressure to solve many problems. They make decisions on a daily basis that affect the life, security, and health of their citizens; they are often criticized for their judgments. Solutions for a country's problems are often expensive in terms of money (tax dollars) and human sacrifice (wars and program cuts). Leaders create policies and programs in the hope that the country will be better off in the future. For example, Lyndon Johnson enacted the costly series of programs called The Great Society intending to wipe out poverty in the United States. Mikhail Gorbachev set in place an extensive plan of "glasnost" and "perestroika" to restructure every aspect of life in the Soviet Union. History is the ultimate judge of the contributions of a leader since some decisions are unpopular at the time they are made.

      The purpose of this project is to analyze the present conditions in a particular area (e.g. the economy, poverty, or crime), make predictions based on the present conditions, and suggest a course of action to improve the situation. The sponsoring class might request essays describing how students from different locations would change their world if they were the leader of the country. Students may want to write their essays in the form of a State of the Union Address in which they outline several broad policy changes and initiatives. Another approach is to ask each class to submit their view of the most serious problem facing their country today.

      ****** If I was to lead.... ******

      We are collecting opinions from teenagers on what they would do if they were leaders of their countries. We ask that each class submit an essay or speech that presents your vision for the future. You may want to interview your local elected officials to get their views or read the editorial section of your newspaper for views of other elected leaders. Here are some topic ideas and an outline:

      Conflicts - Involvement of troops, mediating disputes, treaties
      Poverty - Inner city or urban areas, welfare, nutrition, drug addiction
      Immigration - Policies and their enforcement, quotas
      Economy - Employment, job market, consumer spending
      Crime - Police protection, sentencing, punishment
      Environmental Protection - Laws, cleanup efforts, acid rain, pollution
      Space Program - Space shuttle, manned space station, exploration
      Taxes - Increases or decreases, shifting tax burdens, "sin" taxes

      Essay or Speech Outline

      1. Describe a problem facing your country today and how it affects citizens.
      2. Explain what changes you would make to solve the problem.
      3. Describe how your policies would solve the problem and how long it would take. 4. Explain how you will pay for these programs and initiatives.
      5. Conclude with some words of inspiration and a prediction for success.

      Sample Essay-Speech


    What I Would Do as President of the United States

    by Julie Concerno

    Felix Junior High San Diego, California

    My fellow Americans, Im here today to describe the new federal government policy that we will develop over the next six months. As you know, in every city and state of our union, we face serious problems in disposing of the huge amount of garbage Americans produce each day. Many of our nation's landfills are overfull, outdated, and present a serious environmental hazard in terms of runoff water seeping through the landfill and into the drinking water tables. My administration has studied the problem extensively and determined that the problems of hazardous landfills can be minimized greatly if every American recycles 60% of their garbage.

    Beginning June 1st, every citizen will be required to separate and recycle all items made of glass, paper, metal, plastic and rubber. Yard and lawn clippings will also be recycled. State and city governments will be given a one time monetary grant to develop a method to collect and recycle these products. The federal government will build recycling plants at strategic locations across the country to assist the state and city governments in the processing of recyclable materials.

    The estimated cost for this program is 50 billion dollars. To pay the bill, I propose that we raise 25 billion dollars by increasing income taxes, another 20 billion dollars by increasing taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, and we estimate receiving 5 billion dollars income from sales of the recycled materials.

    In conclusion, 60% of ones garbage may sound like a considerable amount to recycle. It is, but we have no choice. Our nations health is in jeopardy. If we dont confront this problem today, our children and grandchildren will suffer immensely. Significant sacrifices will have to be made but Im confident that this great nation will succeed. We will meet this challenge facing us and find success. Our children are depending on us. Thank you.

    Elementary School Project Ideas (Text only)

    High School Project Ideas (Text only)


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    Copyright © 1997, 2002, Margaret Riel