Legacy Speeches: Sharing Our Stories

Savannah, Mallory, Shaun and Tristan turn seventeen today…a new chapter in their stories and mine.

“You must read and write as if your life depended on it. Poetry is the liquid voice that can wear through stone.” Adrienne Rich

In my last post for Three Teachers Talk, I shared an excerpt from a poem written about my quadruplets’ birth. Today, they turn seventeen. Those four babies indelibly marked my life. They are part of my story, as I am part of theirs. Wondrous new pages are written every day in our stories and our students’ stories.

As an eighth grade teacher in a K-8 building, I understand that eighth graders wear the mantle of a particular nobility by the time they “graduate”from our building. As our school year draws to a close, one of the eighth graders’ rites of passage is to compose Legacy Speeches in our writing workshop.

It’s a privilege to walk on the holy ground of transition beside my students, as they traverse the territory between their elementary and middle school years, and high school. What do I love best about Legacy Speeches?

  1. They allow students to be wildflowers. Legacy Speech is an opportunity for each student to reflect on his or her unique journey. It is the idea behind George Ella Lyons’ well-known poem, “Where I’m From” expanded.
  2. Legacy Speech invites students to recognize and thank people who have mentored them during their formative years.
  3. Legacy Speeches encourage metaphorical thinking.
  4. Legacy Speeches express deep hopes in uncertain times. 
  5. Legacy Speeches allow students to share favorite pieces of writing that they’ve composed in our writing workshop, OR favorite mentor texts.
  6. Legacy Speeches invite students to speak for a live audience.
Let’s take a closer look at the elements of a Legacy Speech!

So, what is a Legacy Speech? It is an address that each eighth grader writes as a reflection on his or her life journey. We begin the speeches by doing preliminary thinking and writing about the four “pillars” of the speech. The Legacy Speech Pillars are:

  1. Life Cast List: The first pillar begins with this question: If you had to compose a cast list for your life, who would “make the cut,” and what has each person contributed to your story?
  2. Life Artifact: What object would you use to represent your life? Why?
  3. Deep Hope: Write a hope statement for yourself, your family, or your class as you leave middle school.
  4. Favorite Composition or Mentor Text: Eighth graders are asked to use their speeches as a “platform” for sharing part of a favorite composition they’ve written OR a favorite mentor text from this year with a larger audience. What difference has that piece made?

This year, to make the process as easy as possible for students, I shared my pillars on Google slides, and many of them chose to do their prewriting using Google slides as well. An example of one of my cast list slides is linked here.

After drafting their pillars using Google slides or docs, the students and I transitioned to rough drafting, and enjoyed a First Page Review Day when we had the opportunity to share our drafts with at least one other writer in our workshop. 

Every year, I write a new Legacy Speech beside my students rather than pulling the same speech out again and again. This keeps the process authentic for me and reinforces the sense of community in our classroom. An excerpt from my draft featuring some hopes for my current eighth graders is linked here. The end of the year is challenging, whether your students are eighth graders on the brink of high school, or seniors starting new chapters.  I’ve found that Legacy Speech’s offering of autonomy helps to keep students engaged in learning more than they would be  if I were mapping out every step of the adventure for them.

What’s next in our workshop? Students are presenting their speeches this week, and then they will conclude the year by sharing final portfolios. Eighth graders design portfolios consisting of FOUR favorite compositions from their year in workshop (plus their Legacy Speeches). Once again, they choose the pieces and write rationales reflecting what they learned from composing each piece.

What are your favorite ways to invite students into writing at the end of the year?

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