Find what you need fast!  Type in your keyword and search.

Exploring Personal Narratives & Values Through Objects

Context for this Lesson

Teaching Strategies: 

GENERAL TOPIC: Autobiography, personal narrative, and personal values accessed through objects

GRADE: 8th

FOCUS QUESTIONS: What can we understand about a person from seeing/holding/“reading” their belongings? What stories do objects hold, and how can using our own objects help us access our own personal stories? How do we select objects that best tell our story/represent key parts of ourselves that we want to share through autobiography?


  • Beautiful Trash Objects (5-8)
  • Malala’s Objects
    • Book with tabs and notes
    • Scarf Gift
    • Get Well Card
    • Print out of her blog w. note torn in 2 (perhaps two groups each get a half of the object)
    • Picture of her family
  • A power point/worksheets with DAR Questions
  • Loose-leaf paper or journals
  • Ideally – a power point to show images of Malala (but those can be printed out if necessary)



§110.20. English Language Arts and Reading, Grade 8, Beginning with School Year

  • (7) Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Literary Nonfiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the varied structural patterns and features of literary nonfiction and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to identify the literary language and devices used in memoirs and personal narratives and compare their characteristics with those of an autobiography.

§117. Theatre, Grade 8

  • (1) Foundations: inquiry and understanding. The student develops concepts about self, human relationships, and the environment using elements of drama and conventions of theatre. The student is expected to:
    • (A) evaluate characterization using emotional and sensory recall;
  • (3) Creative expression: production. The student applies design, directing, and theatre production concepts and skills. The student is expected to:
    • (A) recognize and select specific technical elements to suggest environment, establish mood, and support character and actions for performance.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.





          Beautiful Trash

Ask students to form a seated circle. If the classroom does not have space for a seated circle, try for a desk circle (with objects in the middle of the circle, perhaps also on a desk), and if that is not possible, gather the objects on a table or large desk (or group of desks) and have students stand around objects. As a last resort, students can remain seated in their rows, and objects can be placed on a desk at the front of the room. If this is the only option, make sure to walk around/through the desks, in order to best connect with the students. Once students are seated, place assorted “trash” objects in the center/on a desk. "So here in front of us we have a pretty large assortment of objects. Lets start with this one. (Pick an object from the center) Now I might know this is a ______, but today, we’re not going to think about what this object actually is, we’re going to think about all of the things it could possibly be. So for example, this is not a ________ it’s a ___________. Or this is a ________. Does any one else have an idea of what this could be? (Take a few suggestions, and act them out a bit – modeling how to actually use the object to show others what it could be) Excellent!"

"Now lets do this again with this object. I’ll ask for a volunteer to start, and then we’ll pass the object around the circle (in and out of rows). If you have an idea about what the object could be, share it out to the group. If you can’t think of anything for a particular object, that’s ok, (I know that sometimes I can’t) just pass it along, and if you think of something brilliant after the object has passed you, then raise your hand, and we’ll hear your suggestion after the object makes it all the way around the circle. Any Questions?"

Repeat with a few items.

Beautiful Trash Reflection Questions:

  • What did we just do in that activity?
  • What were some of the characteristics of the objects that you thought about in this activity (shape, weight, texture, color, etc.) that helped you think about what this object could “be”/represent? 
  • How do you think this activity relates to the way you learn in this subject? (English Language Arts)



What’s so great about Objects?

"Today we’re going to be thinking some more about objects and their characteristics, and we’re specifically going to be thinking about how some of these characteristics might tell us about the individual who own the object." 


"In here, (hold up backpack but don’t name it) there are three – six (or more depending on the size of the group) items that belong to a certain individual. This individual selected these items because he/she is writing an autobiography, meaning that this person is writing about his/her own life story. This person selected these objects to help them write this autobiography, because they believe that these objects hold important personal stories and represent key parts of their personality, and they hope that using these objects will help them in their writing process. Today, we’re going to use these items to find out as much information as we can about this person, and see if their selection of these particular objects revealed these key parts of his/her personality that might be important to include in his/her autobiography."


"Let’s start by taking a look at this object right here (the backpack containing the objects). We’re going to start by just describing the physical characteristics of this object, the shape, the color, the texture etc. So for example, if I were to describe this clipboard (or any other object sitting around) I wouldn’t say, “It’s a clipboard!” I’d say, “It’s blue, it’s hard, it’s square, etc.” Are there any questions? So with that in mind, let’s start describing this object. (Describe the backpack). Excellent. Now let’s analyze this object. What do you think this object can tell us about the person who owns it? What might be some words to describe this person/what this person is like? (Analyze the backpack). Why do you think this person chose this object to be a part of their autobiography/to help them write their autobiography? What key part of their personality do you think this object represents/what story does it hold? (i.e. – what might the story behind this object be?)"

"You all are making some great discoveries/inferences! In order to more closely examine the rest of the objects, let’s break into small groups." When teaching this in the classroom, make sure the teacher has pre-divided groups if necessary. "Now I’m going to give each group one of the objects from this backpack. Your group will also receive a handout with the questions we just used to talk about this backpack." The questions on the worksheets are as follows:


  • Describe: What are the physical characteristics of this object? (The shape, the color, the texture etc.)
  • Analyze: What do you think this object can tell us about the person who owns it? What might be some words to describe this person/what this person is like?
  • Relate: Why do you think this person chose this object to be a part of their autobiography/help them write their autobiography? What key part of their personality do you think this object represents/what story does it hold (what might the story behind this object be?

"Use these handouts as a guide to the description/exploration of these objects, and really try to explore all of the questions listed (though if you don’t make it to all of them that’s fine). Feel free to take notes on these sheets as you chat. I’m going to give you about 7-? minutes in your group to complete this process, and after that time, we will come together as a class, and each group will have the opportunity to share/present what they discovered about this person from their object. Any Questions? "

Hand out the objects, and give students necessary time to DAR those objects. Once the groups have finished all three steps, have each group share what they discovered.

Side Coaching:

When you’re sharing, make sure that all group members who want to share have an opportunity to do so (depending on the dynamic within the small groups, it might be worthwhile to mention this in the directions). Think about writing the individual’s name on the handout next to the information they are going to share. 

Artifact Reflection Questions:

  • What were some of the similar characteristics mentioned between the groups?
  • What are some adjectives we might use to describe this person?
  • Who do you think this object belong to? What is their story? 
  • If we had to come up with a title for each one of these objects that explained to the viewer what you found/what specific part of this individual’s personality you believe this object represents, what might the title of each object be?  
  • How might using these objects help our mystery person write their autobiography?

The Story of Malala

"These objects actually belong to a real person, a young girl named Malala Yousafzai, a now sixteen-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl. As you (may have) discovered, Malala grew up in the town of Mingora in the Swat District, in Pakistan. Growing up in this region is hard for young girls, because the Taliban there believes that girls should not have access to proper schooling. The Taliban made many threats against individuals who tried to educate young girls, but Malala decided to go to school anyway. She wrote a blog under a pseudonym (fake name) for the BBC detailing her experiences in her town, and her belief that all young girls should be able to receive a proper education. For her work, she won the International Children’s Peace Prize.  The following is a quote from Malala. Before I read it, I would like to say that the scenes depicted in this quote represent real events. Before I show this to you, I want to let you know that some of these images can be a bit upsetting, and it is important to know that Malala is still alive today. Read quote and show cartoon. So what happened in this cartoon? Did we see some of Malala’s objects? What are some of the ideas from this quote that we discussed when looking at Malala’s objects? (After discussion) Malala now lives in England with her family, and was recently nominated to receive the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. She was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, has traveled to the Unite Nations in New York to share her thoughts on universal education, and has even been featured on the Daily Show. Malala is a symbol of hope and inspiration to many young people who do not have access to schools/education. She has since written an autobiography, detailing her experiences and her beliefs, many of which you discussed today as you looked at her objects!"


REFLECTION: Reflecting on Malala’s objects

Reflection Questions:

  • What were some of the predictions we made about Malala using her objects that we then saw in her story?
  • What about these objects helped us better understand Malala/what she valued/cared about?
  • Knowing her story, why do you think Malala might have chosen these objects to represent her story/guide her autobiography?
  • How might we select our own important personal objects?



"Before we knew Malala’s story, we were able to discover a great deal about her story from her valued personal objects. As we’re thinking about writing our own autobiographies, I want you to think about an object or up to three objects that you feel best represent your personality, your story, or what you value in your life."


Pass out loose-leaf paper or journals. Display the following text on a poster/blackboard/power point projection

Think about what objects best represent your story or your personality

Pick between 1 and 3 objects, and write about them in your journals. Feel free to draw them as well! (As you saw today in the cartoon, drawing can be a great representation of our thoughts/ideas/stories!)


Make sure you explain:

  • Why each of these objects is important to you
  • What personal story this object may hold
  • Why you believe each object best represents an important part of you/your story


Answer any questions students might have, then put on some quiet music and let them write!

Extensions/Applications : 
  • Structure the lesson similarly. Start again with beautiful trash, but this time encourage students to think about the objects as metaphor. Have them choose an object that they feel best represents one of their “student strengths.”


  • Have students bring in an object(s) that they believe represents a key part of their personality and present their object autobiographies to the class (possibly structuring the story through DAR, first describe the object, then analyze why it’s important to me and have them tell a story, then relate it to a larger part of your personality/why you feel this BEST represents you).