"Seeing the Unseen" Student Writing Lesson

What would happen if you deliberately spoke to or smiled at people you might usually ignore- cashiers, the homeless, or someone of a different ethnicity?
Eyes by Ahmed Sinan

Photo by Ahmed Sinan

The YES! Magazine article, "What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other," by Akaya Windwood, is a story about what it might feel like to live in a world where people don't acknowledge your existence.

Students will use Akaya Windwood's story to write about the risks and rewards of acknowledging people we don't treat as important, or people we fear.

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    YES! Article and Writing Prompt

    Read the article:"What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other," by Akaya Windwood.

    Writing Prompt: Imagine you accept Akaya Windwood's invitation to intentionally notice people you would normally ignore. Who would you notice? What would change for you and for that person?


    Writing Guidelines

    The writing guidelines below are intended to be just that—a guide. Please adapt to fit your curriculum.

    • Provide an original essay title
    • Reference the article
    • Limit the essay to no more than 700 words
    • Pay attention to grammar and organization
    • Be original, provide personal examples and insights.
    • Demonstrate clarity of content and ideas

    This writing exercise meets several Common Core State Standards for grades 6-12, including W.9-10.3 and W. 9-10.14 for Writing, and RI.9-10 and RI.9-10.2 for Reading: Informational Text.*

    *This standard applies to other grade levels. "9-10" is used as an example.

    Evaluation Rubric


    Sample Essays 

    The essays below were selected as winners for the Winter 2013 Student Writing Competition. Please use them as sample essays or mentor text. The ideas, structure, and writing style of these essays may provide inspiration for your own students' writing—and an excellent platform for analysis and discussion.


    The Smile That Brought Hope by Sumaiyah Mustaphalli, Grade 6

    Read Sumaiyah's essay about how the smile of the young grocery bagger gave her hope for her soon-to-be-born sibling.


    Taking That Extra Step by Nizhone Hickman, Grade 9

    Read Nizhone's essay about his challenge of opening up to strangers and his commitment to keep trying.


     The Humbled Lawyer by Adam Dales, Mercyhurst University

    Read Adam's essay about how he was humbled by the kindness of someone he would normally ignore in a depressing area of town.


    Finally Seen by Reyna Flores, Grade 7

    Read Reyna's poem about a misunderstood young girl and a lonely old woman who find each other.


    Response by author Akaya Windwood to student essay winners admiring the students' bravery to open up on the topic and amazed that they all wrote about interconnection.


    We Want to Hear From You!

    How do you see this lesson fitting in your curriculum? Already tried it? Share with us—and other teachers—how this lesson worked for you and your students.

    Please leave your comments below, including what grade you teach.