Life Road Maps

Rationale

In an activity based on the Life Road Maps strategy, students draw a map of someone’s life that highlights the important events and decisions that shaped that person’s identity. This activity helps students better understand historical or literary figures by focusing their attention on the many factors that contributed to a figure’s decision making. You can use this strategy as part of a research project, as a way to review previously studied material, or as an assessment tool. You can also have students create personal “life road maps” to help them reflect on key choices that have shaped their own identities.

This also makes for a useful community-building activity at the beginning of a Facing History class or unit. Use it at the beginning of an identity unit or at the beginning of a course to help create a safe environment in which students feel comfortable sharing and listening to one another.

Procedure

  1. Students Learn about the Individual
    To use this strategy, students need to have information about an individual and the context in which he/she lived. This could be information gleaned from a film, independent research, or class activities. To prepare students to construct someone’s life journey, have them write a journal entry about pivotal moments or important decisions in this person’s life. Alternatively, they can create a timeline that represents significant events and choices in this person’s life.
  2. Brainstorm “Life as Journey” Metaphors
    Explain to students that they will be drawing a “map” of someone’s life. Before students draw their maps, have them brainstorm things people might encounter when they take a trip or journey. Items on this list might include stop signs, speed bumps, traffic lights, dead ends, detours, highways, tolls, and rest stops. Give students the opportunity to discuss what these items might represent when applied to the metaphor of “life as journey.” For example, a dead end might represent a decision that did not yield the desired result. A green light might represent getting approval to move ahead.
  3. Students Construct Life Road Maps
    Students can construct “life road maps” in small groups or individually. It is best if students have a large piece of paper on which to map out the journey. The journey should represent important decisions and events that have shaped this person’s life. Students can add details to their maps, including factors that may have influenced decisions, such as historical events, important relationships, goals, beliefs, and aspects of human behavior (fear, conformity, prejudice, etc.). As students work on the “life road maps,” you might allow them to walk around the room to survey what their peers are doing. This can be a great way for students to generate new ideas about how to represent an individual’s life as a journey.
  4. Share and Debrief
    Students can share their work through a formal presentation to the class or small group or as a gallery walk. As students review the work of their classmates, ask them to pay attention to similarities and differences among these maps. Prompts you might use to guide students’ reflections and a follow-up discussion include: What factors influence the choices people make? What factors help people move forward and make progress? What factors set people back? As a final activity, you can ask students to write a journal entry or essay explaining what they have learned from this activity. In particular, students can reflect on what is unique about this person’s life and what seems universal.

Variations

  • Personal Life Road Map: Students can follow these same steps to construct a life road map for themselves. This can be something they share with their classmates as a way to help students get to know each other, or it can be a final assignment for an identity unit.

  • Multiple Perspectives on Someone’s Life: You can assign several students the same person as the focus of a life road map. Students might collaborate on research but still produce their own road maps. The benefit of this variation is that it gives students the opportunity to see how the same information can be interpreted to construct different life stories.

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