Big Shoes to Fill: A Teambuilding Lesson

By Deborah Menkart

Grade Level: Middle School+
Time Required: One class period


This lesson helps build community among the participants, and makes it clear that civic engagement and activism starts with us — it’s a people’s history.

In this activity, participants write and share about the many ways they have “taken a stand” or in “whose shoes they are walking.”  When the shoe stories are posted around the room, there is a constant reminder of the ways in which we can all walk for justice and who has inspired us. The variety of stories and strategies demonstrates that the path to social justice is made up of the work and approaches to many people and organizations.

The activity is based on a Philadelphia Folklore Project Exhibit on Social Change. One of the sections of the exhibit featured the shoes of over a hundred people who had worked on issues such as housing, labor, the environment, education, neighborhood, and more. Some of the people featured in the exhibit were well-known, but most were everyday people who worked.  For example registering voters, advocating for kids, on an orange hat patrol, as a union organizer. Here are a few examples of cards that were displayed with each shoe:

These shoes walked the following walk: 1962 Core Restaurant sit-ins, Route 40 Aberdeen, MD, 1963 Martin Luther King speech —Kiyoshi Juromiya

These shoes have seen lots of changes. They fought to clean up neighborhoods. They see kids now able to play outside. They see abandoned cars moved. —Peaches Ramos 

I see myself walking in the shoes of the ordinary folks who have power in their numbers and in their righteousness. —Ellen Somekawa


  • Students will use their own lives as the central content and text by writing stories about their personal histories and listening to others’ stories.

  • Students will develop descriptive writing and editing skills by forming creative shoe stories.


Materials and Preparation

  • Make colorful shoe templates from construction paper or card stock. Prepare enough templates in advance-- one for each student plus a few extra.

  • Write these prompts (or your own) on easel paper or display on a whiteboard.

    • In whose footsteps are you following, and why?

    • When did you “take a stand” or “walk the walk”?

    • If your shoes could talk, what story would they tell of a way in which you have walked for justice?

  • Select a wall that the students will be posting their shoe stories (If there is not one wall, you might want to post them around the room to create a “road for justice.”


1.) Give an introduction and brief explanation and history of the activity based on the provided introduction. Tell students that they will be writing and sharing about the many ways they have “taken a stand” or in “whose shoes they are walking.” 

2.) Introduce them to the posted prompts, and tell them that people write many different types of shoe stories.  Tell them that you will read a sample shoe story, but they are not required to imitate it if they want to write in a different way.  Read the sample shoe story: 

These shoes sat idly on my feet for so many months, watching as my brother and sister made wrong decision after wrong decision.  In mid January, these shoes finally walked me to my desk, propped themselves up on the footrest, and sat patiently as I crafted a letter to my family.  Keeping my feet warm while I typed into the night, these shoes wrapped my feet as I dotted the last “i” and crossed the last “t.” In mid February, these shoes walked me to the mailbox and helped me send the letter home.  Without these shoes, my family wouldn’t be what it is today.

3.) Depending on the time left, you can either have participants share their stories in small groups or go around the room and ask all to read.  (If there is not enough time for everyone to listen to each story, form small groups, and encourage those groups when they are finished to post their shoe stories and walk around reading the others’ stories that they did not get to hear.)

4.) One they have been shared out loud, have the participants post their shoes on a pre-selected wall.  Ask them to post the shoes so that they form a road — the road we are making for justice.