Activities will help students:
- understand, appreciate and respect differences and similarities in their classroom and school
- identify the different communities of which they are a part
- feel part of a greater classroom community, complete with similarities and differences among participants
- understand what a story quilt is and how it can be used to reflect the people who put it together
- recognize that people of different countries and cultures use quilts to pass down their histories and traditions
- create one unified classroom community quilt made from individual family stories
- What is a community?
- Who is part of our classroom community?
- How does it make you feel when you are part of something?
- How can a quilt help to tell a story about the people who put it together?
- How could a story quilt be part of your identity and culture?
This lesson is the fourth and final in a series called “Family Tapestry.”
Quilt researcher Laurel Horton once said, “We Americans have adopted quilts as a symbol of what we value about ourselves and our national history.” In fact, throughout history, Americans have used the art of quilting for many diverse purposes: to keep warm, to decorate their homes, to express political views, to remember a loved one and, especially, to tell stories about themselves and the cultural history of a particular place and time.
People of many cultures and time periods have used quilting to pass down their traditions and history. African-American quilters, in particular, have left a legacy of their stories through quilts. Creating quilts, from any materials, can be an ideal way to help students tell their own stories through art while working collaboratively. The image of the quilting bee can be used as students work together and talk about their individual squares and the stories they tell.
In this lesson, the creation of a quilt made of individual, diverse squares provides a metaphor for one unified classroom community. Just as the students’ individual families are diverse and unique when looked at in isolation, they all contribute to their community when woven together. As their family squares are stitched (or glued) together, just like a quilt, it helps to represent acceptance, tolerance and unity. Students learn about each other’s unique qualities, share their own backgrounds and families with pride, and learn how each diverse square can be joined together to represent inclusion and unity. When the quilt is hung in a place of prominence, it will provide a visual reminder of that unity.
(noun) a social, religious, occupational or other group sharing common characteristics or interests
(noun) variety, differences
(noun) the traditions, achievements and beliefs that are part of the history of a group of people
(noun) a group of people going through the world together, often adults and the children they care for
(noun) a bedcover held in place by ties or stitched design
(Note: If possible, bring in a quilt to show students. If a real quilt is not available, show students one or more of the online quilt images at edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/history-quilts#sect-resources. Show the quilt or image to students as they enter the classroom.)
a partner and answer the following questions about the object or image you see:
- What is the object called? It’s a quilt.
- What do you know about quilts? Quilts are made up of many different scraps of material or squares stitched or put together. Each individual piece can look exactly the same, or more frequently, each can be unique.
- Do you have a quilt at home? If so, what does it look like?
- Why do people make or use quilts? Quilts have been made and used throughout history to keep warm, decorate homes, express views or remember a loved one. Some quilts can even tell a story about the people who put it together or the time period in which it was put together. That is called a story quilt.
- Look at a picture of a story quilt online. This quilt was made to tell the story of the secret signs of the Underground Railroad. Each square represents a secret signal (code) the runaway slaves used as they traveled on the Underground Railroad from bondage to freedom. What objects or stories do you recognize in the quilt? How can quilts help us showcase important people, events or stories from our lives?
- Throughout this series of lessons, we have been learning about the stories and qualities that make up your unique family. On a sheet of paper, write down words or images that you might use to tell the story of your family.
- Imagine that your principal has asked you to use these ideas to tell a very important story. It is the story of all of the families that make up our class community or even your school community, and she or he would like you to use a quilt to tell that story! The quilt will tell the story of your individual family, but it will also tell the story of how all of the families of students in your class or school have contributed to our school community and our overall community. Just like a quilt, we are all part of something greater!
- (Note: Distribute the handout “Our Family Quilt” and art materials.) The handout is divided into four squares, which you will use to create your quilt. You will illustrate each square to show something different about your family or another student’s family. Your quilt should reflect what you’ve uncovered about your family throughout this series of lessons. You may want to think about what your family likes to do together, different places you’ve visited, unique aspects of your heritage, what your heritage has contributed to the community, or something you’ve learned about how your family is the same or different as another family.
- To create the atmosphere of a quilting bee, sit in a circle with other students and chat as you create your illustrations.
- Once all classmates have finished, take turns presenting your four squares to the rest of the class. As you present, reflect upon how all of the families have contributed to the larger school community.
- Finally, work with your teacher and other students to mix up and stitch, staple or glue all squares together to create one quilt that tells the story of how different families contribute to one community.
Examining Identity and Assimilation: Students examine identity and assimilation with an activity that asks the essential question: Was there ever a part of your identity you had to hide?
Exploring Community History and Cultural Influence: In this activity, students identify aspects of culture that influence our own behavior and sometimes make it difficult to understand the behavior of other people.
Harriet Powers Bible Quilt: Harriet Powers, a freed slave, created quilts to tell the story of her life and of the lives of the slaves. One quilt, called Bible Quilt, can be seen in detail at this American History website.
Inviting Engagement: In this interview, elementary school teacher Diane Holtam talks about how she welcomes linguistically and culturally diverse parents into her classroom. Links to additional interviews and resources are included.
This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.
CCSS SL.1, SL.3, SL.4, SL.6, W.1
The quilt project is just one example of a project that can reflect inclusiveness. Think about how different spaces in your school could be used to promote inclusiveness of the different cultures and family situations of your fellow students. Think about hallways, the cafeteria, the gym and the office. Sketch your ideas and share them with the principal. Get the whole school involved in your efforts!