Encapsulate Your Learning: Time Capsules in the ELA Classroom

Treasure Box with Stop Watch

In December 2021, historians in Richmond, Virginia, uncovered not one, but two, time capsules that had been embedded in the base of a Confederate statue. The country watched with anticipation, eager for the chests to give up their secrets. 

It seems no matter how old we are, time capsules never cease to capture our imagination. Whether it’s the longing to be part of history, or the idea of long-lost secrets finally being revealed, time capsules trigger a childlike sense of wonder like few other historical artifacts do. 

Because of this, time capsules are a great resource to bring into academic settings. And since they are so versatile—they can literally be filled with nearly anything we can think up—they allow for easy integration into any classroom setting. Believe it or not, this time of year is a great time to introduce time capsules into the classroom as they can serve as review and synthesis tools for a range of learning tasks.  

  • Thematic Review: Include all of the novels, short stories, poems, and other texts you have worked with over the course of the year. Then, challenge students to work in groups of three to four students to develop a multimedia presentation that explores how the texts work together to develop an understanding of a common theme. Mix it up by providing different groups of students with different time capsules or different theme topics and see how their findings change. 
  • Skill Review: Fill your time capsule with the names of literary devices and organizational structures you have explored this year (for example: metaphor, personification, compare/contrast). Then, provide students with a writing prompt and challenge them to incorporate these devices and structures into an analytical argument. 
  • Literary Analysis: Fill your time capsule with items connected to a book that students have been working with. Then, ask them to select x number of items from the time capsule and use those items to fuel a literary analysis essay. For example, if they draw the name of a character, an object from the story, and one of the story’s big ideas, they would craft a literary analysis essay in which they argue how the author uses characterization and selection of details to develop a theme. 
  • Elements of Drama: Ask your students to each bring in one item to place into a time capsule. Then, on a designated day, open the time capsule and ask students to work in small groups, selecting x number of items and using those to inspire an original one act play that correctly employs the dramatic elements you studied earlier in the year. 
  • Self-Reflection: Ask students to fill a time capsule with items connected to this school year, including both academic and personal artifacts. Then, have them craft a self-reflective note either to their future selves or to your future students in which they reveal the significance of the items they included. 

The list above only scratches the surface of what you can do with time capsules in your classes, even at the end of the year.  

Explore our full lesson plan, “Keeping Time,” which includes a creative writing component, by clicking the button at the end of this blog. Like what you see? This is only one of the twenty great lesson plans included in my new book, Artfulness: Formula-Free Creative Writing Explorations for Secondary ELA Classes. As you begin daydreaming about what changes you will make in your classes next year, I hope you consider bringing a little Artfulness into your classrooms. Your students will thank you for it. 

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