Adult Ed
Thinking Inside the Box


Introductory Activities
Learning Activities
Culminating Activity
Cross-curricular Extensions
Community Connections

Introductory Activities

Activity 1: "My Father's Love Letters" by Yusef Komunyakaa
  1. Log onto the POETRY EXHIBITS Web site and listen to the reading of this short poem.

  2. Divide students into groups to discuss what is going on in the poem. Ask students to picture in their mind what the setting is and make a list of at least five things that they would see if they were in a room with "the father" and the speaker.

  3. NOTE: A list of some of the things that might be in the room where the speaker is writing this poem is: a can of Jax, postcards, a ballpoint pen, paper, a carpenter's apron, old nails, a claw hammer, extension cords, dirty shoes, voltage meters, pipe threaders, an axe, a tool shed, blueprints, roses, hyacinth, a man, a child.

  4. Discuss with students the theme(s) being explored by the poem.

  5. NOTE: Some of the themes being addressed are: father-child relationships, family, domestic abuse, manual labor/working class issues, poverty, love, literacy, life's difficulties; See the POTENTIAL THEMES TEACHER REFERENCE.

  6. Distribute copies of the MY FATHER'S LOVE LETTERS handout and ask them to underline words that point to specific themes.

  7. Have students create picture reference cards for the text. Using the word lists that they have created to describe the text, students can use old magazines to find pictures that could also represent the story being told in the poem. Students can create a portfolio of pictures or a storyboard to describe what is happening. Have students glue small magazine cutouts onto index cards to help organize the pictures and for storage or later analysis.
    • A Portfolio is a collection of pictures that are related around a central theme or idea. Students can gather pictures that describe one or more of the themes identified by the class as important.
    • A Storyboard follows a logical sequence of events. Students can create a timeline reference for the poem using pictures.
Activity 2: Everyday settings
  1. Explain to students that what they have just created was a description of a story's setting. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to explore the SHORT STORY ELEMENTS Web site and record the five components of setting in a story. Log onto the Web site and allow students an opportunity to develop a list of setting components.

  2. NOTE: Place, time, weather conditions, social conditions, mood/atmosphere help to establish the context for a story called a setting. It provides a reader clues about other elements and characters that might influence the overall meaning behind the text.

  3. Distribute index cards (or a sheet of paper) to students. Ask students to describe the setting of their home (or homeland) on any given day. Focusing specifically on the two elements of place and time, students can prepare either a word list (basic level of proficiency) or a paragraph. Students can also develop setting around specific dates (e.g., birthdays, holidays) or historic events. Have students form pairs and exchange setting note cards before explaining to their partner, a story about their home.

Learning Activities

Activity 1: Conversations tell stories
  1. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by directing them to the "Pre Listening" activity on the RANDALL'S ESL CYBER LISTENING LAB Web site. Select the link to the "Heavenly Pies Restaurant" General Listening Quiz. Allow students time to work through the "Listening" activity. When students are finished, a "Final Score" is calculated based on their responses. Record student responses.

  2. As a "Post Listening" activity direct students to the QUIZ SCRIPT where they will be able to see the structure of a conversation in written form and begin to understand how word choices change the meaning in text.
Activity 2: Paper bag skit
  1. Distribute copies of the PAPER BAG SKIT or log onto the site at for quick reference.

  2. Divide the class into four groups and give each group a paper bag filled with various objects. Give each group about 15 minutes to build a story line or poem around the objects in their bag.

  3. Have students perform their skits in front of the class.

Culminating Activity

Activity 1: Diorama
  1. Dioramas are traditionally used to describe historical events or time periods. Create a literary diorama around a book title, poem title or original writing generated in class. Pair students up and allow them to select a specific title to be used.

    NOTE: You may use the GED Connection series that showcases the work of several prominent African American writers at or print out the REFERENCE LIST HANDOUT. Another good reference list of African American titles has been compiled by the National Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English. Because students must read the title, ample time should be allowed to complete this project. An alternative might be to develop dioramas around cultural stories or folklore, fairytales or familiar poems.
Activity 2: More listening lab work
  1. Repeat the Learning Activity by returning to the RANDALL'S ESL CYBER LISTENING LAB Web site. Select the more difficult "General Listening Quizzes." Over the course of two or three class sessions, have students create a report containing the results for at least five listening quizzes. Monitor student progress at each level to make sure that student skills are improving.


Cross-Curricular Extensions

  • Develop a character sketch (biographical) of a notable person from history. Chronicle their life using objects that are important parts of this person's life story. A box of George Washington Carver for example might include a cotton ball, a yam, a peanut, a book, a test tube and a Bible. These items helped to shape his life and are important parts of the way we remember him in history.
Art (Journalism)
  • Explore photojournalism as a basis for telling stories. Like objects, pictures help to stimulate ideas when trying to describe a place, an event, a theme or a person. Log onto the Girl Culture Web site to see how one journalist tells the story of girls in the U.S.
Community Connections
Social Studies/Geography and Travel/Tourism
  • Create a culture package for a specific region or tourist site by collecting samples of things that help describe a particular area. Collect artifacts from a city that might serve as a scavenger hunt-style guide to a visitor or collect artifacts from a park that describes the environment of a specific habitat. You could explore state economics by gathering items that would help someone understand important parts of a state's economy (cultural or fiscal) or create a national box that would describe important elements of a country's economy.
African American Read-In Chain
  • February 6th and 7th have been days designated by the National Council of Teachers of English as national Black literacy awareness dates. On these two days community and school sites from around the world will be hosting literature circles and events to draw attention to Black literature and issues of literacy in the community. Black literacy awareness began in 1990 and it has grown steadily over the last 14 years. For example, events held on a Sunday emphasize the significance of the Black church and oral traditions in helping build literacy within the community. Sign up online at to serve as a Read-In site and coordinate activities that will showcase work of prominent writers or of your students. This event might be an excellent opportunity to exhibit student dioramas, skits, poetry or spoken word performances.
  • GED Connection Test Practice - the GED Language Arts (Reading) test is 65 minutes long. The passages that appear on the test reflect the types of texts that would normally be encountered during a high school program of study. 75% of the questions on the Language Arts Reading Test are based on literary texts, with one passage from each of the following areas:
    • Poetry
    • Drama
    • Prose fiction before 1920
    • Prose fiction between 1920 and 1960
    • Prose fiction after 1960
    Emphasize to students the importance in recognizing and establishing the elements of a story's setting in successfully responding to literary text as indicated by the time references above.