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This is Why I Cry

School: Pioneer Charter School

City/State: Fort Collins, CO

Grade(s): 8

Format(s): Character file: Historical

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Social Studies, Visual Arts

Project Overview

8th grade students at the Pioneer Charter School in Fort Collins, Colorado each created a historical character file (HCF) as part of a Learning Expedition on slavery. The process took two months and included multiple drafts of writing and artwork. 

As the students write in their introduction (included as the first page in each student’s “file”), each HCF is a fictionalized account of an historically/geographically accurate character. Each file contains a portrait, a narrative/biography, a character map, a bibliography, and artifacts based on their character’s life. 

These HCF encouraged students to truly understand the details of slavery while acknowledging the humanness of slaves. This product/project is a means for exploring history through a deeply personalized accounting of experience.

Students used multiple sources to research their HCF including primary, secondary and expert sources. At the end of this HCF are the resources this student used.

This is Why I Cry tells the story in great detail of a formerly enslaved man, who eventually escapes. He tells his story to a professor with the explicit aim of telling others about the horrible circumstances in which slaves live. The story includes the realities of life for enslaved people: violence, rape, and constant fear of abuse.


Models of Excellence recognizes the challenges of teaching students history that includes sensitive topics such as enslaved people, genocide, and human rights abuses. Student projects that involve topics like this should be planned with care for the emotional safety of students, respect for the people and cultures studied, and should use reliable primary and secondary sources so that content is not built upon assumptions or stereotypes. Written simulations (e.g., fictional diaries or documents) should be closely informed by student research, fieldwork, and adult experts. 

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Highlights a format that allows for a deeply personalized account of an historical period
  • A unique and engaging way for students to explore a topic and show the depth of their knowledge and understanding
  • Format contains multiple components, each allowing for some degree of student choice, to increase student interest and input
  • Contains an unusually helpful introductory project overview, which combines a few words from the teacher as well as orienting concepts from the students
  • Writing style is engaging and carefully done
  • Compelling combination of writing, portraiture and the creation of artifacts
  • Highlights the candid exploration of troubling topics
  • Portrait of historical character is very well done
  • Demonstrates a format in which individual work can be assessed

Relevant Resources

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can analyze how specific dialogue or incidents in a plot propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
  • I can analyze the connections and distinctions between individuals, ideas or events in a text.
  • I can write narrative texts about real or imagined experiences using relevant details and event sequences that make sense.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
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