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Scene from the play METAMORPHOSES
For Educators:
Journeying to Create
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Lesson Plan

This lesson is designed for English classrooms, grades 9-12

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
  1. Understand through watching a video interview the ways that a journey can change an individual.
  2. Write a descriptive paragraph about a place that uses imagery and tone to create an effect.
  3. Alter the effect of a paragraph by making different language choices.
  4. Explain the meaning of connotation in language.
  5. Explain how both inward and outward journeys can be a source of creativity.
  6. Write a journal about a trip that influenced them.
  7. Evaluate the journal as a potential source for a creative project.

Related National Standards

Language Arts Standards

Writing, Standard 1
Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

Writing, Standard 2
Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing.
Writing, Standard 3
Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions.
Reading, Standard 5
Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
Level IV, Benchmark 4
Understands writing techniques used to influence the reader and accomplish an author's purpose (e.g., organizational patterns, such as cause-and-effect or chronological order; imagery, personification, figures of speech, sounds in poetry; literary and technical language; formal and informal language; point of view; characterization; irony; narrator).
Viewing, Standard 9
Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.
Level IV, Benchmark 1
Uses a range of strategies to interpret visual media (e.g., draws conclusions, makes generalizations, synthesizes materials viewed, refers to images or information in visual media to support point of view, deconstructs media to determine the main idea).

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson

Four 50-minute class periods. (Note: While this lesson plan can stand alone, it is recommended that it be used to lead in to one or more of the Extensions for this lesson that allow students to further showcase their own creativity while addressing additional national standards benchmarks.)

Materials Needed

Part I (3 Days)

  • World map
  • U.S. map
  • Pushpins, one for each student in class plus 2
  • Index cards
  • Student notebooks
  • Copy of 11/29/02 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS interviews with Gregory Nava, Julie Taymor, and Sherman Alexie (Note: A free transcript of this program is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS (
  • TV/VCR
Part II (1 day)

  • Student notebooks
  • Copy of 11/29/02 NOW WITH BIll MOYERS broadcast (see Part 1)
  • TV/VCR
  • Slides or transparencies of paintings by Frida Kahlo

Backgrounder for Teachers

This lesson looks at the concept of where creativity comes from by focusing on the impact of inward and outward journeys. The November 29, 2002 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast features the thinking of three artists who talk about specific journeys they have taken and the impact it has had on their creative work. (Note: A free transcript of this program is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS (

The first artist interviewed is Julie Taymor, who directed the films FRIDA and TITUS ANDRONICUS. She also won two Tony awards for her work on THE LION KING on Broadway, serving as director and also designer of the production's fantastical masks and costumes. Please note that Bill Moyers also interviewed Taymor on the October 25, 2002 broadcast (see related transcript).

The second artist is Gregory Nava, who may be best known for the classic film EL NORTE, a movie that told the story of a brother and sister struggling to make it to California from Central America. In 1996 he directed SELENA, based on the Latino pop star and starring Jennifer Lopez. Recently, his activities focused on the PBS TV series AMERICAN FAMILY - the first ever to feature an all-Latino cast. Please note that Bill Moyers also interviewed Nava on the February 15, 2002 broadcast (see related transcript).

The final artist featured is Sherman Alexie, a writer of novels, short stories, and poems. He has also turned his work into acclaimed movies, including SMOKE SIGNALS and THE BUSINESS OF FANCY DANCING. For more information on Alexie and his work, see NOW's list of recommended Web sites.

While this lesson plan can stand alone, it is recommended that it be used to lead in to one or more of the Extensions for this lesson that allow students to further showcase their own creativity while addressing additional national standards benchmarks.

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

Students will have some familiarity with map use and general geographical knowledge. They will also understand the basic elements for writing a good paragraph.

Teaching Strategy

Part One: Traveling Outwards (Three 50-minute class periods)

Day One: The NOW interviews (Taymor and Nava)

  1. Put a map of the United States and a world map on your bulletin board, with a pushpin or tack in each marking the location of your school. Have additional pushpins ready, one for each student.
  2. On an index card, have students list places they have traveled to; give them two to three minutes. Then ask them to circle the place that seems the farthest away to them.
  3. Have students share the farthest locations to which they have traveled. As each student answers, locate the place on the map and insert pushpin. Who has traveled the farthest from home?
  4. Optional activity: Before you take the maps down, have several students who are detail-oriented and reasonably good in math measure the distances, consult the map key, and calculate the class total distance traveled. This does not have to be done during this period, however.
  5. Explain to students that we take many journeys in our lives and that these journeys can shape who we are. Give them ten-fifteen minutes to write a journal entry about a journey when they encountered someone or something that affected them profoundly. Make clear that this journey might not be the same one they have talked about. Collect the journals.
  6. Introduce the video by saying that they are now going to meet two individuals whose travels have shaped the way they live their lives. Explain that the first person they will see is Julie Taymor, who directed the film, FRIDA, as well as THE LION KING on Broadway. She also designed the fantastical masks and costumes for THE LION KING. Remind students to watch for any journeys described, lessons learned, and personal changes noted. Ask them to also note what the role of art is in the lives of the people she encounters in her travels. Then, play just the section of the Taymor interview where she describes her own influences and travel, especially her trip to Bali. (To help cue the tape, please see the transcript.)
  7. Locate Bali on the world map. Explain its existence as a Hindu island in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. Unfortunately, the recent bombing in Bali may have made this area more familiar to students.
  8. Discussion questions on Taymor:
    a. How did Taymor's accident and the subsequent rebuilding of her touring group in Bali affect her?
    b. What elements of Balinese culture does she describe?
    c. What is the role of art in the lives of the Balinese?
    d. How did her experiences there shape her perception of her own work?
  9. Explain that the next person they will watch is filmmaker Gregory Nava, whose work includes the films, EL NORTE, SELENA, and the PBS TV series, AMERICAN FAMILY. Focus student viewing by asking them to note any journeys described by Nava, what he learned, and how he changed as a result. Then, play the interview of Gregory Nava.
  10. Locate San Diego, California, and Mexico on the world map.
  11. Discussion questions:
    a. Why did Nava go to Mexico?
    b. What did he study there?
    c. What are some of the things that he learned about pre-Colombian mythology?
    d. How did these new insights shape his life?
    e. Is the concept of 'ollin' still valid for us in America today? How could we use it to shape our own lives?
    (N.B. If students are not able to answer these questions fully, you may wish to replay the interview to help them.)
  12. Assignment: Imagine that your teacher has won a million dollar lottery, and he/she has decided to give each of you $10,000 to travel to some place you've always wanted to see. Choose the destination that you would most like to travel to and research to see what it is really like. Come prepared to write or talk about it tomorrow.

Day Two: An imaginary journey

  1. Have students turn to a new sheet in their notebooks.
  2. Dictate the following questions, giving students time to write the answers in their notebooks.
    Imagine that you are standing in the destination that you have chosen. (See the Assignment from Day One.) Close your eyes and imagine what you can see around you. [Make sure students understand that they should visualize a single location, not an entire country or even a town-just what they can see from where they are standing.]
    a.What do you see from where you are?
    b. What sounds do you hear?
    c. What is the weather like? Temperature? Wind conditions?
    d. What kind of building do you see in this location? Describe it.
    e. If you were to eat a meal there, what kind of food would it be?
    f. What distinctive smells might you notice in this place?
    g. What kind of music might you hear?
    h. If you had a pet while you were there, what kind of pet would be most suitable? Why?
  3. Have the students share their ideas in groups of three or four.
  4. Explain that students have just created images. Review meaning of imagery and stress the importance of using concrete detail.
  5. Have students write a draft of a 6-8-sentence paragraph describing their destination and trying to make it sound very appealing.

Day Three: Altering tone
  1. Group students in pairs.
  2. Have students read each other's drafts of paragraphs.
  3. Explain the concept of positive and negative connotations of words. Connotation is the emotional impact of a word, the emotional baggage it carries.
  4. Illustrate connotation by putting the word "thin" on the board. Then brainstorm synonyms: "skinny," "slim," "slender," "svelte," "emaciated," etc. Which words are positive? Which are negative? Which get chosen for the names of dietetic foods? The difference in these words is what we mean by connotation.
  5. Give students fifteen minutes to re-write their partners' papers, using the same place, the same elements, etc., but using words with negative connotations to create a picture of a very unappealing place.
  6. Ask for volunteers to read their pairs of papers in front of the class. Define tone: the author's attitude toward his subject. Discuss how language choices have altered tone in these paragraphs.
  7. Assignment: Of the two paragraphs you have written personally (from Day Two, step 5 and Day Three, step 5), select the one you like better. Write another draft, improving it with concrete words and details so that you create a single, unified impression on the reader.

Part Two: Journeying Inward (One 50-minute class period)

  1. Review the previous days' activities with students. They have listened to a video with two artists explaining how their travels have shaped their lives. They have created descriptive paragraphs of the places they would most like to journey to. But what would happen if you couldn't travel far?
  2. Play the video segment by Sherman Alexie, "Open All Night." Focus student viewing by asking them to take notes on the journey described by Alexie and the impact it has on him. Discuss:
    a. What is an insomniac? [You might do some vocabulary work here, using etymological root words and spin-off words like "somnolent" and "somnambulist."]
    b. Why is Alexie an insomniac?
    c. Where does he go when he can't sleep? Whom does he talk to?
    d. How does his insomnia influence his creative process?
    e. Are there any costs to him because he works this way?
  3. Ask students: What if you couldn't go out at all? Would you have any other way to travel?
  4. Tell students about writers and artists who could not travel far: Emily Dickinson in Amherst; Anne Frank in her hiding place; the paralyzed Christy Brown or Christopher Reeve; Martin Luther King writing his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" or Thoreau writing his "Essay on Civil Disobedience" after being locked up for nonpayment of taxes as an antiwar protest; Thomas Merton in his monastery. Explain that sometimes journeys can be inward. Are Sherman Alexie's night wanderings an example of outward journeying, inward journeying, or both?
  5. Remind students of Julie Taymor's journeys. Remind students that Taymor has made a new movie on the life of a well-known female artist, Frida Kahlo. Tell them that you are going to show another piece of Bill Moyers' interview with her in which she tells about Kahlo's inspirations. Play that section of the tape, asking students to note what influenced Kahlo's creative process. (To help cue the tape, please see the transcript.)
  6. Discuss:
    a. Why did Kahlo have to find her inspiration from within when she first started painting?
    b. How did that influence her later work?
  7. Show students some slides or transparencies of Kahlo's work. For each screen, have them free-write (jot down ideas in rapid sequence without worrying about punctuation, spelling, even evaluation-just write!) in their notebooks about what they observe, their reactions to the paintings, the effect that they think the artist was trying to achieve.
  8. Go back through the paintings and have students share their ideas.
  9. Discuss: What other sources can you think of for creativity? What sources do you have for your own creativity?
  10. Pass out the journal entries that students did on the first day. Have them brainstorm how they could use that journal as a source for a creative project.
  11. Closure: Use exit cards: Have students write down three important things they have learned from the last four days. Hand the cards in as a ticket to get out of class, or post in central location for students to read later.

Assessment Suggestions

Evaluate student thinking, writing skills, and participation by assigning points for:

  1. Classroom discussion
  2. Journal entry from Day One
  3. Rough drafts of two and final draft of one descriptive paragraph(s)
  4. Exit cards

Extension Ideas

It is recommended that the teaching strategy above be used as an introduction for one or more of the following interdisciplinary activities:

1. The island of Bali in Indonesia is a unique Hindu culture in an archipelago that is predominantly Muslim. As Julie Taymor noted in her interview, art is an integral part of the lives of the Balinese people. Each village has a distinctive dance tradition, with roles often handed down within families; dances are performed for religious reasons, rather than primarily as showpieces for tourists. Stone and wood sculpture is a specialty of Balinese craftsmen and the making of batiks is another art for which they are well known. Here are some activities using multiple intelligences that will help your students show their own creativity:

a. Hindu mythology is extraordinarily complex. Begin by researching and retelling to the class the story of Rama and Sita, the two royal Indian lovers who left their palace and lived simply in the forest until Sita was kidnaped by a demon and carried off to captivity on Sri Lanka. Rama's rescue of his wife with the assistance of his best friend and a living bridge of monkeys will appeal to many students. The story can be found in the Hindu epic, "The Ramayana." For useful information on "The Ramayana," see the online resources provided by Syracuse University.

b. Work with an art teacher to help students create Indonesian-style shadow puppets for the characters in the tale of Rama and Sita. (Shadow puppets were one of the sources of inspiration for Taymor.) Student groups could also make shadow puppets to represent characters in other literature, film, and myth. Have students write a script for their shadow puppets. Work with a drama teacher to perform them for the class. Consider having the students perform the shadow plays for a local elementary school. An introduction to Shadow Puppetry in Indonesia is available at The World of Puppets. (Be sure to scroll down to the section on Indonesia.)

c. If possible, work with an art teacher to have students create small batiks, using wax and dye. In Bali, the wax is applied with a small pipe called a 'tjantung', but there are other possible techniques. Obviously, this is more of an undertaking than the shadow puppets. Alternatively, you might invite a batik artist from your community into your classroom to demonstrate the art. For more information on Balinese batiks and how they are created, please see and

d. Villages in Bali have gamelon orchestras that accompany dance rituals with their specialized gongs. Have a student research the history and nature of these orchestras. Give students an opportunity to listen to their music. Listening samples of such music can be accessed at:

e. Students might be interested in researching Balinese dance, included story lines, costume, and traditional movements. The Kechak dance, with dancers portraying monkeys and a Balinese lion, is particularly interesting. Have students explain the results of their research in a Power-Point presentation.

2. Taymor's work on THE LION KING should be of interest to students. The story of Simba is a Disney adaptation of an ancient African epic from Mali, the story of Sundiata. The concept of the journey is central to this epic. There is an excellent picture book version called SUNDIATA, by paper artist David Wisniewski. Read the story to the class, allowing them time to look at the pictures. (If they have worked with shadow puppets, they will really appreciate the cutting and layering that Wisniewski did to create his scenes of the ancient African kingdom.) The story, of a boy who is physically handicapped but who triumphs over all odds to become a great king, will appeal to students. Have students compare, in a chart or an essay, the similarities and differences between SUNDIATA and THE LION KING; they might also explore how basic storylines might be adapted for different audiences and eras. (If time allows, you could let students watch the Disney video, but most of them are probably familiar with it.) Or you could invite your students to take the same theme and write a short story using that theme with other characters in another setting.

3. Use the theme of the journey to introduce students to a major work of literature about how characters are transformed by a journey. For example, you could consider the following:

a. Homer's ODYSSEY

b. Mark Twain's ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. You might also consider some of his non-fiction travel writing, such as ROUGHING IT (his travels by stagecoach through the mid-nineteenth-century American West), LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI (the tale of how he learned to be a riverboat pilot) and INNOCENTS ABROAD (his adventures as a young reporter in Europe and Palestine).

c. For very strong AP students, James Joyce's ULYSSES.

d. For younger students, a selection of fairy tales that involve journeys: HANSEL AND GRETEL, PINOCCHIO, THE LITTLE TAILOR, PETER PAN.

e. Malory's MORTE D'ARTUR, the quintessential book of journeying by assorted knights. More modern versions are T.S. White's ONCE AND FUTURE KING, Marion Zinsser Bradley's MISTS OF AVALON, and Thomas Berger's ARTHUR REX.

f. Native American literature often uses the journey as a motif, usually leading to transformation. Leslie Marmon Silko's CEREMONY and N. Scott Momaday's HOUSE MADE OF DAWN, as well as Momaday's THE WAY TO RAINY MOUNTAIN, would work well.

g. Many science fiction and fantasy works deal with the subject of journeys. Students will certainly be able to suggest some, but you can also consider classic novels like H. G. Wells' THE TIME MACHINE or Jules Verne's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. This might be an opportune time to try the technique of literature circles in your classroom. (See for additional guidance.) A science fiction film like the original STAR WARS or E.T. is another possibility.
4. After students have seen the "Open All Night" piece by Sherman Alexie, have them view the film SMOKE SIGNALS, which is based on three stories from his collection THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN. In discussion, have them explore how each of the main characters, the nerdy Thomas and the over-confident Victor, is transformed by their journey from the Spokane Indian reservation to Phoenix to claim Victor's father's remains. It sounds depressing, but it is actually a film with great humor and tremendously appealing characters.

5. After students have viewed the interview with Gregory Nava, have them view his film, EL NORTE. Have your students write three one-page diary entries from the point of view of either the brother or sister. The first entry should be dated the day they leave Guatemala, the second, one day of their journey, and the third, a day after their arrival in the United States. This assignment could be easily expanded. Have students try to project the events described from that character's point of view, choosing language that reflects the character's feelings.

6. Students who are interested in art might visit a gallery to view paintings by Kahlo or other female artists. If no such trip is feasible, there are numerous Web sites that provide online galleries, such as the Artchive ( At this user-friendly site you can find works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, their biographies, and links to additional female artists.

7. Have students research the traditions of the Mexican Day of the Dead. One elementary school in Maryland uses that day to recognize formally the relatives and friends that students have lost and the experience seems to be a very positive one to help students deal with their loss. Many links to the Dia de los Muertos can be found at:

8. Invite to your classroom someone who has made a long journey to get to the United States, either an immigrant or a foreign exchange student; be sure to find someone who is comfortable making such a presentation. Have your class brainstorm questions well before the interview, phrasing questions that will promote more than one-word answers. You might consider giving your guest a list of questions beforehand, with the understanding that impromptu follow-up questions might be asked. Plan with your class how the interview will be conducted: who will ask which questions, who will introduce the guest, who will take care of refreshments if any, what manners are expected, who will write a thank you note afterwards.

9. You might follow suggestion #8 with an American guest who has lived or traveled extensively overseas: an exchange student, a member of the military, or a returned Peace Corps volunteer. (The Peace Corps has a list of volunteers who are available for speaking assignments.) The Peace Corps Web site provides a set of non-fiction stories by former Peace Corps volunteers, appropriate for middle and high school students. The stories explore cultural differences encountered by volunteers who traveled from the United States to a country in Africa, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and Eastern Europe. This activity featuring an American who has spent time overseas might also be a chance for some of your own students to gain some special recognition.

10. Frida Kahlo's relationship with the artist Diego Rivera was a loving one, even if it was rather unconventional. Have your students research other relationships that shaped artists' and writers' lives. Some examples are Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot, Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, Will and Ariel Durant, Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, Michael Dorris and Louise Erdrich, many of the pre-Raphaelite painters, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. They can present their findings orally or in a short research paper.

Related Resources
In addition to the extensive resources referenced in the Teaching Strategy and Extensions sections of this lesson, please see the following:

An extensive collection of author interviews, poetry, visual arts, mythology resources, theater, and photography. Resources include the interviews of Gregory Nava, Julie Taymor, and Sherman Alexie featured in this lesson.

Aztec Folk Tales
The San Diego County Office of Education publishes numerous "Cyberguides" to useful materials for middle and high school students. One, on Aztec legends, would tie in nicely with the Nava interview. It includes many creative activities for students, such as creating a diamante poem, writing a poem about a volcano, composing a persuasive letter as an Aztec noble or Christian missionary, and creating a folk tale poster.

About the Author
Eileen M. Mattingly has been teaching English and social studies since 1968. She currently teaches and chairs the English department at McDonough High School in Pomfret, Maryland. She has developed teaching materials for multicultural literature for Charles County, Maryland and has presented a workshop on Native American literature for the National Council of Teachers of English. She is currently working on a Teacher's Guide to the novel "Ceremony" for The Center for Learning and serves as a curriculum consultant for the Peace Corps "Voices from the Field" project.

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