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English Language Arts
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
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  • Grade 12 ELA
  • Writing
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Conveying The Truth Through Self-Portraits

    Conveying The Truth Through Self-Portraits


    What is an artist’s responsibility to truth? What is the role of truth and facts in poetry, nonfiction, and fiction? Students will explore these questions as they consider the truths they want to convey in their self-portraits. They’ll also start interviewing people who know them well.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.

    Alternative Self-Portraits

    • The links or suggestions your students share can be a valuable resource as they begin to craft their own self-portraits.
    • Have several volunteers who feel very strongly about what they found explain their examples.
    • SWD: Be sure that all SWDs feel encouraged and welcomed to share even though they may work at a slower pace or need more wait-time than their peers. As you’re facilitating the discussions, be aware of how much SWDs are sharing. If you consider it necessary, speak to the students about the importance of allowing enough time for everybody to participate.


    Look over your homework from the previous lesson.

    • What was your favorite of the self-portraits you found?
    • What did you like about it, and what can you learn from it?

    Share your responses with your classmates.

    • What made the self-portraits you looked at compelling?
    • What techniques might you be able to adopt?

    Truth and Facts in Memoir

    • Poll students for their responses
    • Look at the results with your class and briefly hear explanations from several students (representing both sides) about why they feel the way they do.
    • ELL: Make sure that ELLs do not avoid this activity. It is important for ELLs to share out loud so that they can hear their own voice and get used to talking in front of large groups.

    Work Time

    Decide whether you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement.

    • Memoir should be scrupulously factual.

    Share your opinion with the class.

    Truth and Facts in Poetry and Nonfiction

    • Read the poem and the article with your students, discussing how “truth” and “fact” overlap but may be seen as separate in art.
    • SWD: Be sure students with disabilities understand the meaning of truth and fact in art. Consider providing examples.
    • Annotations are available for “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” and “Just the Facts.”

    Work Time

    With your teacher, read the poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” by Emily Dickinson and the article “Just the Facts” by Danny Heitman.

    • Annotate each text as you read.
    • Discuss how these two pieces influence your ideas about “truth” and “fact” with your classmates.

    Truth and Facts in Fiction

    • Make sure your students read the introduction, which explains how this story, though presented as truth, was actually not at all factual.
    • ELL: Allow ELLs who share the same primary language to use that language when working together. Encourage students to help each other with grammar or vocabulary, when appropriate.
    • Suggest students complete three to five entries in their Dialectical Journal. You can modify that range based on the needs of your students.
    • SWD: Monitor that this group is engaging in the activity productively and successfully. If that is not the case, explain Dialectical Journals again, and/or assist SWDs in creating them.
    • An annotation is available for “The Man I Killed.”

    Work Time

    “The Man I Killed” is a vignette from Tim O’Brien’s collection The Things They Carried. It portrays, in great detail, O’Brien’s first experience killing an enemy soldier and the emotions that surround this event.

    A later vignette from the same collection, however, makes it clear that the story was entirely made up. O’Brien first admits that he only saw the man killed—and then tells his readers that is made up too; not only did he never kill anyone, but he never could make himself look at the faces of those who had been killed. He is writing from a guilt that has no concrete cause and thus, nothing factual he can affix his obsession to.

    O’Brien argues that sometimes “story-truth”—a “truth” that deviates from the facts—is truer than “happening-truth.” As you read, think about both whether you agree with him and what “story-truths” he is working to convey through this vignette.

    • Complete a Dialectical Journal entry, noting essential truths O’Brien told in this story, even if the story wasn’t factual.
    • Then, consider why O’Brien made up such a story and what overall truth he was trying to convey. Write two or three sentences explaining your opinion. Include evidence from the story to support your opinion.

    Open Notebook

    You Have a Choice
    You can choose whether to work independently, work with a partner, or work in a small group. Let your teacher know what you choose.

    Truth and Facts in Your Self-Portrait

    • Explore various possibilities with students. For example, even if they want to embellish or stretch the truth in their portraits, they could explain what’s factual and what’s a portrayal of a deeper truth in their Artist’s Statement.

    Work Time

    Share your thoughts with your classmates and teacher:

    • What responsibility to truth and facts will you have in your self-portrait?

    Journal Entry 1

    • Remind students that the ongoing journal entries during this unit will be a great resource when they begin to outline, plan, and create the chapters of their self-portraits.


    Complete a journal entry.

    • What essential truth do you want to be sure to convey in your self-portrait? Explain what you want your audience to know about you, and begin to consider ways (factual and artistic) that you could portray this truth.

    Open Notebook

    Through Others? Eyes

    • Emphasize that your students will need to collect stories from others for the Through Others’ Eyes activity; this assignment is not one that students can leave for the last minute.
    • A copy of the Through Others’ Eyes letter is available in case you want to print it and distribute copies to students.


    We all have a perception of ourselves that is based on our memories, ideas, and experiences. Some of us are much more likely to remember negative rather than positive moments: times of embarrassment, failure, or disappointment. Sometimes we remember how successes felt, but we don’t stop to think about what got us there.

    Over the next few days you will compile a list of memories that show you at your best—at times when you succeeded, contributed to a goal, helped someone, and so on. However, these memories won’t be your own—they will be the memories of people who are close to you. Then, you will analyze these memories to discover what key qualities in your character have helped you shine in these moments. You’ll be able reflect on these qualities as you think about what traits to highlight in your self-portrait.

    • Begin to work on the Through Others’ Eyes activity. Ask as many friends, family members, teammates, coaches, teachers, and so forth, as you can to provide anecdotes about you: anecdotes that show you at your best, most true self. Try to interview at least four people, ideally from different parts of your life. An example of a letter you could ask interviewees to complete is provided.
    • You will need to conduct several interviews to complete this activity, so it’s best to get started soon. Bring all of your completed interviews to class with you for Lesson 6.

    Journal Entry 2

    • Remind students that the ongoing journal entries during this unit will be a great resource when they begin to outline, plan, and create the chapters of their self-portraits.


    Complete a journal entry.

    • What “self” do you portray through your social media presence? Is this self your “true” self? Is it factual, or does it deviate from facts in order to portray a deeper truth (or fiction!)? Is this self the self you want to show the world?

    Open Notebook