I can think of two instances that may address Lynne’s question. During a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ unit I wanted to try and help students get a deeper understanding of the obstacles facing Romeo and Juliet. During the balcony scene Juliet asks “What’s in a name?”, wondering why people with their two last names couldn’t be together. I created an exercise called “What’s in a name?” in which students were asked to write about perceptions their last name conveyed. Many of the responses students gave were quite personal and showed that they were aware of how their peers perceived them.
The second was a creative writing lesson I created for a ‘Tom Sawyer’ unit. Students were to take elements from the novel, elements from their own life and experience, then combine them into a fiction narrative. One stipulation was that anything taken from the novel had to be represented the way it was in the novel. Tom had to behave like Tom, for instance. Every student finished the assignment and I had a great time grading them. I also had no trouble getting volunteers to read their stories to the class.
One thing I’ve noticed is that adolescents are eager to share/think about/write about their own story and are more engaged with assignments that make a personal connection.