Create a Textual Lineage | Facing History & Ourselves
A wide angle of a male student writing.

Create a Textual Lineage

Students consider the profound impact that the spoken and written word (as well as art and sound) can have on an individual’s identity and sense of self.


At a Glance

activity copy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts


  • Culture & Identity


About This Learning Experience

In groundbreaking research that focused on providing African American boys with meaningful literacy experiences, Dr. Alfred Tatum developed the idea of “textual lineages,” or texts that have meaning and significance in our lives. 1 These might be texts that stay with us throughout our lives because they transported us to a magical place or showed us something magical about ourselves. Or perhaps they challenged us to think in new ways or to act differently. The stories in these texts resonate with us, and over time they become part of our own story. In literature as in life, characters can be impacted by the books they read, the poetry and music they experience, or a film they watch. These texts become part of the character’s identity—the story they tell about themselves and the story they lean on to help them understand others. 

If your work of literature includes meaningful allusions to texts, the following learning experiences support students in considering the profound impact that the spoken and written word (as well as art and sound) can have on an individual’s identity and sense of self, and the way that our textual lineages can spark our minds, hearts, and imaginations.

In order to deepen their understanding of the text, themselves, each other, and the world, students will . . .

  • Engage with real and imagined stories that help them understand their own coming-of-age experiences and how others experience the world.
  • Recognize the power that comes with telling their own story and engaging with the stories of others.
  • Read critically and ethically to understand thematic development, characterization, conflict, and craft in order to make personal and real-world connections between the text and their lives.
  • Draw evidence from the text to support analysis of what the text says and what can be inferred about characterization, setting, conflict, and/or theme.
  • Prepare for and participate in conversations to practice expressing ideas clearly, building on others’ ideas, and incorporating evidence from the text.
  • Produce a written reflection that develops a central idea and includes specific details and examples of personal experience.
  • Conduct research to build understanding of the core text, oneself, and the world.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before using this learning experience, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Facing History learning experiences are classroom-ready activities that you can incorporate into your lesson plans. They are designed to be modular and adaptable, so you can use them over and over again with a wide range of texts to help students explore characterization, point of view, perspective taking, setting, and thematic development through a Facing History lens.

This learning experience is divided into three sections—Introduce, Explore, and Extend—which increase in complexity and depth of analysis, but they don’t need to be used in sequence. The entry point depends on students’ familiarity with the concept and the level of complexity they are ready to tackle. Educators might choose to incorporate just one section into a lesson plan, teach all three over the course of one or two class periods, mix and match, or repeat one multiple times during a unit to help students track character or thematic development.

  1. Introduce: The first activity introduces a concept and helps students develop the schema they will need for deeper exploration. It may involve vocabulary work, schema building, and opportunities for personal reflection and pair–shares.
  2. Explore: The second activity engages students in a deeper exploration of the concept and helps them apply it to the core text of the unit. It includes opportunities for close reading, literary analysis, collaboration with peers, and rich questions for small-group and whole-class discussion about the text and how it connects to the real world.
  3. Extend: The third activity invites students to produce a reflective, expository, analytical, or creative piece of writing (or other form of expression) in order to explore connections between the text, key concepts from the learning experience, and/or their own lives.

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  1. Generate a list of different types of “texts” on the board. Use an expansive definition whereby a text can be anything that conveys meaning: a book, short story, article, journal, essay, work of art, play, mural, podcast, movie, song, poem, cartoon, etc. 
  2. Then have students respond to the following prompts in their journals:
    • Make a list of texts that have been the most meaningful to you in your life. Perhaps they helped shape how you think about yourself, helped you understand others and the world, or helped to create a roadmap for where you want to go in the future. 
    • Put a star by two or three texts on your list that have had the biggest impact on who you are today. Explain their significance in a short journal reflection.
  3. Explain to students that they have started to create their own “textual lineage,” a collection of texts that have had a meaningful impact on who they are today. Use the Concentric Circles teaching strategy to have students share lists, encouraging them to pose questions to learn more about their classmates’ choices.
  1. Review the expansive definition of texts (see above) and then divide the class into groups. Assign each group a character, or have students choose their characters and then move them into groups. 
  2. Instruct groups to discuss the following questions, recording their ideas in their notebooks or on a piece of chart paper. Start by having them review the story and make a list of the texts that have been most meaningful to their character. Briefly discuss why they are including these texts on the list. For example, have these books, poems, songs, or works of art helped to shape how the character thinks about themself, helped them understand others and the world, or helped them set goals for where they want to go? 
  3. Then project or pass out the following questions for small-group discussion. Debrief as a class, perhaps having each group present their response to one of the questions. 
    • How do you think the character would answer the question, “What has been the most influential text in your life?” What makes you say that?
    • How have texts influenced the character’s sense of who they are? How have texts influenced their ideas about other characters? 
    • How have the texts influenced how the character sees their future? 
    • Imagine that the character has asked you for a text recommendation. What would you recommend and why?
  1. Have students create their own textual lineages by first reviewing any relevant journal entries or notes. 
  2. Then have them organize their texts in a rough chronology on a “textual lineage timeline,” starting with texts that might have been read aloud to them or told in the oral tradition, proceeding through children’s literature and other texts from their younger years, and continuing up to the present time. Model with your own timeline, sharing stories about each text as you add them to your timeline. 
  3. In a written reflection, have students respond to the following question. Let them know that they can focus on one text or consider their textual lineage as a whole: How have the texts you’ve read, heard, and seen sparked your mind, heart, and imagination? What makes you say that? 1
  • 1Adapted from Gholdy Muhammad, Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy (Scholastic Teaching Resources, 2020), 147–149.
  1. Define allusion for students if it is a new literary term, and have them choose an allusion to a text that appears in their work of literature to research. You can have them use the expansive definition of “text” for this task. Depending on your work of literature and students’ experience with research, you might need to provide them with a list of allusions to choose from, as well as recommended sources. 
  2. After they conduct their research, have students write a brief summary of what they learned. Then they should summarize a scene in the core work of literature where the allusion is found and respond to the following question, citing evidence from the text to support their thinking: What new, different, or deeper understanding do you have about a character or theme after learning more about this allusion? Why do you think the author included it?

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Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

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