Magazine Feature

Toolkit for “Uncommon Ground”

This toolkit accompanies the article “Uncommon Ground,” and provides a classroom activity to celebrate diversity and build common ground by making personal story quilts.  

The stories in “Uncommon Ground” show us the value of sharing information about ourselves and our cultures, and the benefits that come from really listening to each other. There are many ways to invite students learn about each other’s beliefs, practices and cultures. This toolkit outlines one activity that can be used to help students confidently and proudly talk about themselves and actively listen to each other with a desire to expand their understanding

Making personal story quilts can be a powerful way of showcasing our differences and highlighting our commonalities. The National AIDS Memorial Quilt is a good example of this practice. Friends and family members of people who have died from the disease create a quilt panel that showcases their loved ones’ interests, skills, cultures and backgrounds. The panels are then sewn together to illustrate the many ways people from differing backgrounds are linked together through this epidemic. 


Making Personal Story Quilt Panels

  • Students can make their quilt panels on paper or cloth.
  • Ask students to bring in images that highlight their families’ backgrounds, cultures, practices, beliefs and traditions.
  • To help students think about these items, you could ask:
    1. Which holiday is most important to your family?
    2. Who lives with you? How are the people with you related?
    3. Do you have a favorite food that your family eats?
    4. What makes you different from others in the class?
    5. What is something you are proud of about your family, culture or heritage?
  • Students could also pick pictures out of magazines or draw images onto their paper or cloth quilt panel.
  • Once students have each made their personal quilt panels, connect the panels with glue, tape or thread. Consider displaying the quilt by hanging it on a wall or draping it over a table.


Sharing Students’ Quilt Panels

1. If you are able to display all the quilt panels together, allow students time to walk around and see each other’s panels.

2. Have students pair up and take turns talking and listening about their quilt panels using the following questions: 

  • What did you enjoy about making this personal story quilt?
  • What are you most proud of about your cultural history or background?
  • What is one thing you wish other people understood or knew about your family’s traditions or your cultural heritage?

3. Do a second round of talking and listening in pairs, this time focusing on talking about what students learned about each other, using the following questions:

  • What is one thing you learned about me?
  • Did listening to me make you think about anything differently?
  • What is one thing you and I have in common?
  • What did you like about learning about me?

4. Allow time at the end for a brief full class discussion of this activity. Encourage students to talk about what they liked about listening to and learning about each other.