Useful Reflection Activity or Morbid Thinking?

In one of my high school English classes, I had to write my obituary.  I had only been alive on Earth for about 16 or 17 years at that point.  What had I really done?  I didn’t accomplish anything great.  I certainly didn’t have any awesome or horrible things happen to me.  So, why did I need to write about my boring and short life.  I think I could have summed up my life in one sentence back then: Mark Holt was a 16 year old boy who died having accomplished nothing.  End of story.  So then, why do teachers still use this activity in their classrooms?  Why should students be forced to contemplate their demise at such a young age?  Might it inspire them to Carpe Diem?  The assignment certainly didn’t make me want to go hike the Appalachian Trail.  While I love the idea of reflection, I wonder about the true purpose of this assignment and how it affects students.  Is it a useful reflective writing exercise or an activity in morbid thinking?

Yesterday afternoon, while I was driving alone listening to one of my favorite bands, I started thinking…  When I die, what songs do I want to have played at my funeral?  How do I want people to think of me when I die?  My thought process did go down a scary road for a bit before I steered it back on track.  I then started pondering the idea of my life’s playlist.  What songs would be on my 10-song playlist that best summarize my life?  I generated a short, but incomplete list in my head: And We All Return to our Roots by The Forecast, Just Breathe by Pearl Jam, and something by Coheed and Cambria.  I still have lots of thinking and planning to go.

Later that evening I discussed this idea with my wife.  She thought it was very interesting.  Then I asked her, “Could I use this in the classroom?”  Have my sixth graders experienced enough music and life to complete this reflection activity?  I doubt it, but I do think the ninth graders at my school could wrap their heads around this and have a ton of fun doing it.  What songs would they include?  What song best tells their life story?

So, while writing one’s own obituary may not be the best reflective writing activity, perhaps having students think about their life in terms of music might.  There are a lot of extension activities that could come from it.  They could explain why they chose each song.  They could narrate it as a video or podcast.  They could create a movie of their life with the playlist as the soundtrack.  Music, for many people, is the best medicine, healer, companion, and drug.  So, what songs would be on your 10-song playlist?

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