Building Community With Me Museums

All, Teaching

I was first introduced to the idea of the me museum during my first Invitational Summer Institute with the Morehead Writing Project. I had always used some sort of icebreaker at the beginning of each semester, but it was not until my introduction to NWP work that I began to understand the crucial role that community plays in learning and writing together and I got more serious about class introductions.

Ever since that first ISI, I have concentrated on building community at the beginning of each semester. Building community always involves two essential components for me: six-word stories and me museums. Yet I have rarely mentioned me museums on this blog — clearly a major oversight!

So what exactly is a me museum? A museum is a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited in curated collections. A me museum is a curated collection about the individual.

I have no idea where the me museum idea originated, but I have often seen versions used in elementary classrooms where students bring in a few carefully selected items in a paper bag or shoebox. In fact, the version I was introduced to specified that we needed to select a container that was as meaningful as the objects it held. The idea for both is similar to the many all-about-me posters you see elementary students create — which are in turn a low-tech version of what I assign my students to create.

The me museums I direct my students to create are always digital. It makes it easier to share outside of class, refer back throughout the semester, and teach students a new digital presentation tool in the process. My current tool of choice is TES Teach because it is an easy-to-use mashup tool that can use an existing Google log-in so students don’t need to create a new account. Students can create or upload the artefacts they choose to share and/or provide web links.

I like to give my students some guidelines or a framework to follow and then create my own me museum for inspiration. One of the ways I like to introduce the me museum to my students is by sharing the children’s story Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. I actually own a copy of the book that I can, and do, read to my students, but I often like to use this video because I adore the narrator’s accent.

For a long time I liked to use a similar framework – asking students to include five artefacts to represent themselves just as Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge uses five items to revive Miss Nancy’s memory in the story. However, more recently I have used a nine-part frame asking students to include three items to inform us about their past and where they come from, three items to inform us about their present and where they are now (such as hobbies, jobs, major etc.), and three items that represent their future and where they see themselves in five or so years. See my example here. There are infinite options for me museum structures that can be adapted to your unique teaching context. You can take inspiration from all-about-me posters for younger students or perhaps focus on exploring identity and how we choose to represent that identity.

Do you use me museums to build community? How do you instruct your students to curate their me museums? How do you build community in your classroom? Looking for more ideas about starting the year off write?

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