Talking Across Time: Identity Formation Collages

Directions to do as an art project:

  1. Tell the students that they are going to create “dialogues” across time in the form of collages. One “speaker” will be a young person about their own age in the early part of the 20th century. This “speaker” explains to an older person how they are becoming different due to the work and social experiences they are having in America. They may also tell the older person what values they received from the old country and the older generation they intend to hold onto. The other “speaker” in the dialogue is the older person. This person will explain to the younger person what s/he believes is important to hold onto and what s/he thinks about the changes the younger person is describing.
  2. Have students begin by identifying one to three things each “speaker” will “say” in the collage. These can be quotations from the primary sources that speak to a particular idea, such as peer group identification or clothing, for example. Students may also choose to focus on more general ideas such as the way in which work gave young people time away from the protective eyes of parents in order to experiment with new language and new types of recreation. Students can also include text, such as direct quotations from the primary sources, to develop or make more clear their ideas about identification and generational differences.
  3. Give each student a piece of cardboard on which to make their collages. (See materials required for suggestions of materials for the collages.) Explain that their work should be “mixed media,” including both 3-D objects glued on and writing or images made with the markers or paints. Have students choose objects to create a collage of their dialogue. Whatever items they choose should somehow fit symbolically with their ideas, e.g. different fabrics representing each generation and each idea. Make glue, markers and paints, and all the materials for the collages available to students to either make their collages in class or to take home to make for homework.
  4. When students have completed the collages, hang their pieces around the room for everyone to view and invite discussion about what students see the collages saying about the experience of early 20th century immigrant workers and assimilation into American society. You may choose to organize this as a museum tour, in which some students are tour guides and some are visitors, and then they switch roles.

Directions to do as a writing activity:

  1. Give the directions in Step 1. Invite students to create a series of letters or two parallel journals of entries for each “speaker” to explain themselves to each other.
  2. Instruct students to use direct quotations or paraphrases from the primary source documents in their writing. Tell them to add texture and depth to their writing by using the quotations to guide some creative writing about the “speakers’” feelings and attitudes.
  3. When the students have written, revised and finalized their writing, invite them to share excerpts from their writing with the class, and encourage discussion about what students see the pieces saying about the experience of early 20th century immigrant workers and assimilation into American society. This stage could also be done online, as a blog.


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Talking Across Time: Identity Formation Collages." (Viewed on April 25, 2024) <>.