Emily Francis


W.M. Irvin Elementary

Concord, NC

After moving to the United States from Guatemala at age 15, Emily experienced school as an ESL student firsthand. Inspired to go back to school and change the things that hindered her as a student, she became a teacher. Emily shared her practice of creating an identity quilt with her 4th grade students to inspire other educators.

Show Way: Identity Quilt Project

As an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher, my job is to analyze my students’ needs and develop their linguistic and communicative competence in English-speaking, reading, listening, and writing. One of my goals is to help them achieve a proficient level of English that will allow them to function independently in the classroom and in society. Another goal is to ignite in them the love for their native language and diverse cultures.

I am saddened by the fact that the majority of my students do not see their native language and heritage as an asset. When students do not see themselves in curriculum or in lessons, they get a message that who they are is not important. For this reason, I believe it’s imperative to use diverse texts in the classroom. In order to achieve my goals, I thought about delivering a lesson where my students can develop the English language and also learn to appreciate their language and heritage.

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson

We started by reading a book by one of my most favorite authors, Jacqueline Woodson. The book is called Show Way. Ms. Woodson dedicated the story to her family in loving memory of the women who came before her. This is a story of bravery, telling about family members who would make “Show Ways” (quilts) with secret meanings that mapped to freedom. This story is one of hope and courage that inspired many generations, including the author. Though students might need some background about slavery, our focus was mainly the characters’ actions and the production of the quilts. After reading several pages, we stopped on page 14 to ask high-order thinking questions such as: Why did Mathis take a piece of her mama’s blanket? What came out of that little piece? 

We stopped again on page 24 and discussed how the quilts were not needed anymore to “show ways” but were at this time made for a different purpose: to earn a living and to remember heritage. We stopped again on page 30 and discussed what was happening in history and why the girls had pieces of “show ways” patched inside their dresses. Students shared how everything the family has gone through made them strong and helped them stay together. We talked about how the family struggles were making the “scared” feeling fade away and finding strength in their heritage and their accomplishments.

Our Personal “Show Way”

The quilt created by Emily’s class

We ended the book with a discussion about why Ms. Woodson became a writer. She wanted to share her family stories and inspire others to value their heritage and have the courage to share who they are. My students were able to see for themselves how important it is to accept, value, and share our heritage and family’s story.

Each student took a few minutes to think about their own family stories. We made a list of who might’ve impacted our family in any way, listing great-grandparents, grandparents, mom and dad, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters, and even neighbors. The class thought about how each individual contributed in some way to who we are today.

Students shared their ideas and were able to gather ideas from their peers as well. We then made a list of what makes us who we are. What food do we eat? What languages do we speak? Where does our family like to go? What does our family like doing together? When does our family get together? What holidays or celebrations are we part of? Do we (or anyone in our family) wear a different outfit?

After brainstorming and sharing ideas students were given a 12×18 piece of white construction paper to fold. Students were to add something that represents them and their family to each section in the sheet. As students were making theirs, I made one too.

Our Classroom “Show Way”

We all had the opportunity to share our individual sheets and learned so much about each other, asking questions for further understanding. Our students were very supportive and respectful of everyone’s family representations.

Once we all shared, we decided to make a list of our similarities.  We realized how we share so much! As a class, we talked about the need to be proud of who we are and the importance of sharing our heritage. We decided to put all pieces together and create a “Show Way” quilt just like Ms. Woodson’s family to show our appreciation and to remember our foundation.