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La historia de mi vida- an Icebreaker that Highlights Identity

Calling all heritage language teachers! Get ready for an amazing icebreaker-and-project combo that your students will absolutely adore. Not only will this activity bring your class closer together, it also doubles as a fantastic brain-break for both you and your students. It’s the perfect solution for those unexpected days where you need a substitute plan in your back pocket on the fly – win-win-win! You can download all the materials at the end of this blog post.

Before we jump in, I want to express my gratitude to Jenna Cushing-Leubner and J. Eik Diggs for inspiring this project. During my time at the Carla Institute, while attending their courses on Critical Approaches to Heritage Language Education, they introduced me to a new concept that involved drawing out our life’s journey on paper as a unique and captivating icebreaker activity.

La historia de mi vida

This activity, aptly named “A Journey Through Life” (or “La historia de mi vida” in Spanish), invites your students to embark on a creative exploration of their heritage and personal experiences. On a single sheet of 11 x 13 paper, their imaginations will blossom as they visually depict their life stories. We’ll dedicate approximately 2-3 class periods to this engaging project, allowing ample time for introspection, artistic expression, and shared connections.

So, why embrace the power of coloring and drawing, even with high school students? Well, for starters, have you seen the craze about adult coloring books? There’s something undeniably therapeutic about letting your hand glide across the page, filling in vivid colors alongside memories and moments that shape who you are. For those struggling with decision fatigue, or fatigue in general, coloring is so singular in focus, it can be a therapeutic activity. The introspection can unlock next-level reflection, as it takes time to actually fill in the blank spaces in the lines, causing or at least promoting a deeper personal interaction. 

Bonus alert: This activity isn’t just a gift for your students; it’s a gift for you too! While they’re unleashing their artistic talents, you can catch up on grading or steal a few precious moments to recharge. It’s one of those few assignments you are able to get more done than you anticipated; after all, the answers all lie within each student’s own mind and recall.

Educational Value

Have you ever felt your students needed more opportunities to practice prudence in narrative building and storytelling? This exercise forces students to contemplate their personal brass tacks, as they only have one sheet of paper, to illustrate the defining elements of what makes them, them; and the experiences that come together to form their identity. 

College entrance essays, job interviews and common human interactions at any level dictate that it’s beneficial to be able to sum it up. Take all the data, take all the experience, and break it down into general themes. It’s a life skill, and honestly, it may not get enough focus in academia. This is a low key, fun way to start students down the path of unearthing their elevator pitch. That is to say, imagine your students were (some day in the near future) working at an entry level position at a Fortune 500 company. Imagine that they were on the elevator, when in walks the CEO of the company and they press the button of the same floor that your former student needs to get off on. Will your student waste the time in silence, not knowing what to say? Will they be able to sum up their value in a short enough period of time? 

You are only as good as you have prepared to be, and your students are only as good as they have been prepared to be. This exercise helps them build this life skill! In the Ascendencia curriculum we tie in real-word skills that help prepare students for life beyond these four walls.

Community Building

Once the masterpieces are complete, brace yourself for the true magic to unfold: community is building amongst your students! Divide students into small groups and let them use their drawings as visual aids in sharing their life stories. This is a powerful opportunity for them to open up, connect with their peers, and discover common threads and unique experiences. Bear in mind, some students might choose to unleash their fullest self to the class, and in that event, it’s important to create and protect a supportive space where everyone feels comfortable sharing that which they feel compelled to share.

To keep the momentum going and ensure everyone gets a chance to shine, you can try these fun variations:

  • Group shuffle: After a few minutes of sharing, have your students form new groups. This ensures everyone gets to connect with different classmates. Repeat this process a few times, creating a dynamic web of shared stories.
  • Speed-dating style: Arrange your students in two lines facing each other, ready for some “life-story speed-dating.” Set a timer for 3 minutes and let the sharing begin! Everyone gets a turn to tell their story and learn about their partner’s life journey. Remember to join in yourself – building connections with your students is as important as building connections among them.

As a visual learner myself, I find that these drawings act as powerful memory cues, helping me connect with each student on a deeper level. In the midst of our busy schedules, finding such opportunities for meaningful connection can be a challenge, but this activity breaks down time constraint barriers and allows genuine relationships to blossom, or in the very least, gives them a place to start growing from.

So, are you ready to embark on this journey with your students? Grab some art supplies, clear your calendar, and prepare to witness the magic of creativity, connection, personal reflection, and a much-needed break unfold!

Additional tip: Consider setting up a gallery to showcase your students’ artwork on the walls. Seeing their stories displayed with pride will further boost their confidence and create a beautiful classroom environment.

Grading

When it came to grading, I prioritized their personal reflections and connection to the assignment, over perfect grammar. I used a simple rubric that ensured everyone participated, while the core value lay in exploring identity and building community.

This assignment took my class four days to complete, with three sessions for immersive drawing and coloring, followed by a day of collaborative presentations. My initial plan was shorter, but their enthusiasm led to an extended dive. Feel free to tailor the timeline, perhaps condensing it to three days with additional time as desired, allowing students to choose their pace.

Beyond this class, this activity also shines in L2 or ELL settings where drawings offer a springboard for confident speaking practice. Give it a try next week! It’ll provide valuable time for you to catch up on administrative tasks, breathe a bit, and forge meaningful connections with your students.All this, while fostering their language growth.

Download the materials for this project here:
La historia de mi vida instructions (Spanish version)

Story of my life instructions (English version)

Spanish rubric historia de mi vida

English rubric story of my life

Student examples

You don’t have to do heritage language teaching alone! Gain access to hundreds of resources for heritage Spanish by joining the Heritage Spanish Membership. 





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