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1 — What is a life story?

Students will be challenged to consider that every person has a distinctive life story. They will analyse a poem and digital stories, and consider the definition and value of life stories.

An elderly man in a rural setting

Life stories are often gathered from older people. However, don’t dismiss the unique
life experiences of young people. Above, photo by Rosie Kerin of her father

Activity 1: Reading and understanding the poem ‘People’ by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Familiarisation with the following vocabulary will allow students to approach the poem ‘People’ with confidence and provide an immediate context for each of the following words: fate, chronicle, dissimilar, obscurity, tragic, essentially, perish, regenerated and destruction. Note: The site for this poem has banner advertising that may at times be inapproriate.

In small groups, students will read the first and final stanzas to determine the theme of the poem. They should underline the vocabulary from above, highlighting abstract nouns (nouns expressing intangibles such as ‘democracy’, ‘courage’, ‘success’, ‘fact’ and ‘idea’) within that list. Focus on the first three stanzas, and especially the use of the abstract nouns ‘fate’ and ‘obscurity’.

Each group will summarise their understanding in approximately 50 words. Rotate one member from each group to the next to share understandings and resolve confusions. Continue the rotations until the groups are satisfied that they understand the poem. Support the class to synthesise, clarify or correct any misinterpretations.

Help the class to identify the concrete images and ideas (such as ‘first snow and kiss and fight’). Introduce the idea that the poet moves from the concrete into abstraction (‘not people die but worlds die in them’) to emphasise that this is universal and not particular to an individual. With reference to ‘destruction’ as the final word, discuss the use of abstract nouns as ways of representing higher order concepts.

To conclude this activity, introduce the ‘People’ worksheet. The students will use this worksheet to analyse grammar and language devices and may require explicit instruction and support to articulate how these lend cohesion to the text and convey meaning. ACELA1561ACELA1552ACELA1553ACELA1559ACELA1560ACELT1635ACELA1770ACELT1771ACELY1744

Activity 2: What is a life story?

A life story captures distinctive qualities and experiences of an individual’s life. A life story is based on the assumption that within every life, there is a story worthy of sharing. 

Discuss with the students how this definition connects with ‘People’ by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In the light of this definition, ask the students to consider these short digital life stories: The Little Frenchman and Demander 24/7 Roller Derby Queen. Ask the students to record or share their initial responses to these stories and how they fit with the definition above. The students should begin using the Life story matrix worksheet.

The students should be introduced to adjectives that may describe the atmosphere or mood of a story: wistful, pessimistic, admiring, reflective, joyful, tentative, melancholy, tender, playful, respectful, nostalgic, sympathetic, ironic, haunting, light-hearted and so on. They could add to this list as the unit progresses, and be challenged to design any of the following representations for these words:

A response to The Little Frenchman is provided as a model for completing the Life story matrix worksheet. Students can fill in their own responses to Demander 24/7 Roller Derby Queen. ACELA1551ACELA1560ACELT1634ACELT1636ACELT1772ACELY1740ACELY1743ACELY1745

Whether you live in an urban or a rural area, you should be able to find neighbours and locals with life stories to share. 

Photo of ornate three-storey brick buildings on either side of a city laneway with shopfronts and awnings on the ground level of each building

Above: Victorian shopfronts, photo by Biatch, public domain, no copyright

Assessment tasks

Provide the students with advance notice of both assessment items for this unit, with advice to begin identifying a subject for a life story for Assessment task 2: