Lesson: Power of People from Our Pasts - StoryCorps

Lesson: Power of People from Our Pasts

Students will watch the animated StoryCorps short Miss Devine, and reflect on people who have had an impact on their lives.

  • Objective:
    • Students will reflect on important people from their pasts and the impact they’ve had on their lives.
  • Standards: Applicable Common Core Standards
  • Time: 45 Minutes
  • Preparation:
    • Review the lesson below
    • Be prepared to tell a brief story about an important person from your past and their influence on you
    • Hang chart paper in the corners of the room, and label accordingly, to set up for Warm-Up: Three Corners
    • Print out copies of the Student Reflection Worksheet
  • Materials:
    • Interactive whiteboard or a computer with connection to the Internet, a projector and speakers
    • Chart paper
    • Student copies of the Student Reflection Worksheet

    Warm-Up: Three Corners

    10 Minutes


      1. Tell students that today’s lesson will explore how people from our past can have an impact on us.
      2. Hang blank pieces of chart paper in three different corners of the room. Designate these corners as representing one of the following categories:
          Corner 1: parent, guardian, or other relative
          Corner 2: friend or neighbor
        • Corner 3: another adult (teacher, coach, counselor, or someone else)


    1. Tell students that they are going to walk around to all three corners and write on the chart paper descriptions and/or names of people from their past who have had an influence on them that fit each category (e.g., “uncle” for relative, “baseball coach” or “third-grade teacher” for another adult, etc.).
    2. Model by talking about someone from your own life and their influence on you. Tell students they must write at least one person per category, but can write as many as they want. They will have 2–3 minutes to write down the descriptions.
      Now tell students they have 2–3 minutes to walk around, in complete silence, and read what their peers wrote down for each category.
    3. Ask students to choose one person from their past who has had an impact on them—a parent, guardian, relative, friend, neighbor, teacher, friend, or someone else—and invite them to go to the corner of the room that represents that person.
      When students have gathered in the three corners, ask them to talk with their group about the person they chose and how that person had an impact on them.
    4. Ask someone from each group to share with the rest of the class what was discussed in their corner.
    5. Ask students to move their chairs into a circle.


    Facilitate a short discussion using the following prompts:

    • What did you notice about what was shared in your group?
          Sample response: “

      Most people said their grandmother was strict.”

    • Why might it be helpful for us to know our personal assets?
    • Why might it be important to remember influential people from our past?

    Activity: Cherie Johnson & James Ransom’s Story: Miss Devine Animation

    15 Minutes


      1. Tell students that they are going to watch Miss Devine, an animation of a StoryCorps conversation between cousins Cherie Johnson and James Ransom as they recall their neighbor and Sunday school teacher, Miss Lizzie Devine. Explain that right after the clip, everyone will compose a reaction silently and then have an opportunity to discuss the clip afterwards.
      2. Play the Miss Devine for students. The video transcript is also available.


      1. After students have watched the animation as a class, ask students to address the prompts listed below by writing them on the Student Reflection Worksheet :
          I’m reminded of… because…
          One thing that stood out to me was… because…
        • I’d like to know more about…
          One thing I pictured in my mind…
          This story makes me feel…
          I think this is an important story because…


      1. After students have completed their written reflections, invite a volunteer to summarize the animation. Ask for more volunteers to add to this summary.
          Sample summary: This animation was about a strict Sunday school teacher whom the young cousins were afraid of, but who taught one cousin a lesson about telling the truth.
      2. Divide students into small groups of three or four and direct each group to sit together. Assign each group one set of the following questions to answer. It may be helpful to post the questions for the class.
          Would you describe Miss Devine as nice or mean? Why would you describe her this way?
          Would you consider Miss Devine an effective or ineffective teacher? Why? What makes a teacher effective or ineffective?
        • Why do you think the two speakers, Cherie and James, remember Miss Devine so vividly after all these years?


      1. Call on volunteers from each group to share their answers from their assigned question.
      2. Facilitate a conversation about Miss Devine and how she is an example of someone who has an influence on peoples’ lives by asking the following questions:How do you think the cousins felt about Miss Devine?What impact did Miss Devine have on the cousins?Snap your fingers if you have a Miss Devine-type person in your life. Would anyone like to briefly share who this person is and how the person is like Miss Devine? What impact did this person have on you?

    Personal Reflection on Important People from our Pasts

    15 Minutes


        1. Now tell students that they are going to think more specifically about important people from their pasts who have impacted them.
        2. Ask students to use the second half of the Student Reflection Worksheet to brainstorm descriptive details, a plot, and reasons that explain how this important person has impacted them and their lives.
        3. Circulate the room to support students as they are filling out the graphic organizers.


    Facilitate a short discussion using the following questions:

        • If you could make an animated short about someone from your past who has influenced you or taught you an important lesson, who would you choose? Why?
        • How do you imagine this animation about the person you chose?

    Closing: Whip

    Five Minutes

    “Whip” is a technique in which students stand or sit in a circle and quickly respond to a prompt one by one in clockwise order. Read the prompt below first, and give students about 30 seconds to silently think of someone in their life who had a great impact on them and how they were affected before starting the Whip.

        • “I want to give a shout-out to _______ because …”

    Printable Lesson Materials

    Title Link
    Lesson Plan: The Power of People from our Pasts Download Printable PDF
    Common Core Standards Download Printable PDF
    Student Reflection Worksheet Download Printable PDF
    Transcript of Miss Devine Animation Download Printable PDF