The Air I Breathe: Belonging, Gentrification, Race, and Power

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Standards for this Guide

Read The Air I Breathe in the Magazine


Most adolescent students are living in the midst of community change, whether in the form of urban gentrification or rural development, and they sense how these changes are tied to race, place, power, and belonging.

Yet they don’t always know how or where to talk about what they, their families, and their communities are experiencing. As one high school student puts it: “We see [urban change and gentrification] happening right here. Nobody’s doing anything about it. We’re not talking about gentrification in school, as if it doesn’t affect us. As if we can ignore it ’til school’s out." (Kinloch, Valerie. “Literacy, Community, and Youth Acts of Place-Making.” English Education, vol. 41, no. 4, July 2009, pp. 316-336.) Students need a space in which to explore the complex intersection of race, place, power, and belonging that touches each of their lives in different ways.

In these lessons, students will read and study the essay “The Air I Breathe” and use it as an entry point for social critique and the exploration of past and present realities of belonging, gentrification, displacement, power, race, and place.


Standards met through this curriculum

Learning Outcomes/Essential Questions

Students will:

  1. Use reading strategies to build vocabulary and enhance comprehension and critical thinking.
  2. Analyze informational text and structure using evidence.
  3. Explore issues of belonging, gentrification, displacement, power, race, and place while demonstrating their ELA and history/social studies skills through reader response, discussion circles, writing responses, and/or whole-group discussion.

Essential Questions:

  1. What contributes to our sense of belonging to a place or community? What detracts from it?
  2. What are some of the consequences of economic and urban growth, and who is responsible for these consequences?
  3. Who benefits and who suffers when places change and grow, and why?
  4. Why is it important to know the history of where we live, and how does this history shape the ways we live in the present?
  5. What are the obstacles and opportunities that people experience based on their racial identities, and how can we best address these obstacles to create more equal opportunities for all?

Depth of Knowledge (DOK)

Levels 1, 2, 3, 4

For more information on DOK, see DOK Slide Wheel


Computer and projector on which to share multimedia such as “Future: Portland” short films and “A Hidden History” presentation (optional)

Devices on which students can write and publish responses (optional)


Download All Files for this Guide (zip file)

Reading Scoring Guides

ODE Informational Text Reading Scoring Guide (English)

ODE Informational Text Reading Scoring Guide (Spanish)

ODE Informational Text Reading Scoring Guide in Student Language (English)

ODE Informational Text Reading Scoring Guide in Student Language (Spanish)

Writing Scoring Guides

SBAC Explanatory Writing Scoring Guide

ODE Informative/Explanatory Writing Scoring Guide (English)

ODE Informative/Explanatory Writing Scoring Guide (Spanish)

ODE Writing Scoring Guide in Student Language (English)

ODE Writing Scoring Guide in Student Language (Spanish)

Social Science Scoring Guides

ODE Social Science Scoring Guide (English)

ODE Social Science Scoring Guide (Spanish)

ODE Social Science Scoring Guide (Russian)

ODE Social Science Scoring Guide in Student Language (English)

ODE Social Science Scoring Guide in Student Language (Spanish)

ODE Social Science Scoring Guide in Student Language (Russian)


  1. Review all resources and decide which components you will include and how many lessons to allot for this curriculum. (Note: Almost every component can be used as a stand-alone piece or combined with other components.)
  2. Read and take notes on the “The Air I Breathe” essay.
  3. Review and prepare your chosen handouts.
  4. Decide what format, roles, and expectations you will require for the discussion circle activity. (See the Discussion Circles section of Instructional Plan for more information.)
  5. Preview and prepare optional warm-ups and extensions, such as “A Hidden History” and/or “Future: Portland.”

Reading Strategies

  1. Model and instruct students to use the AVID® Marking the Text: Social Studies strategy as they read the article.
    1. Before reading, number the paragraphs. (A paragraph begins at any break in the text, even if it is not indented.)
    2. While reading, circle key vocabulary, dates, names, places, events, and important numbers/statistics.
    3. After reading, go back and re-read sections, underlining strong images, descriptions, dialogue, and author’s reflections.
  2. While reading, pause at various places and model the think-aloud strategy to demonstrate comprehension/summarization of the text.
  3. Model and instruct students to use the Learn-Read-Discuss strategy.
    1. Introduce major concepts of this curriculum using the warm-up. Ask students to use the think-pair-share strategy to discuss and process these concepts using the warm-up questions.
    2. Students read article (using teacher’s designated strategies).
    3. Students engage in individual reflection, then small- or large-group discussion, synthesizing information from the warm-up and article.
  4. TAG Option: You may choose to give advanced readers the SOAPS Text Analysis handout for tracking the author’s argument and purpose during their reading. Students’ observations using this strategy can be incorporated into later lesson steps, such as discussion and writing responses.

Instructional Plan

Before Reading

  1. Introduction/“A Hidden History” Warm-up:
         Tell students that they will complete a warm-up activity to help them better understand the essay they will read (Listen-Read-Discuss strategy). They will explore a document that examines the question: “Why aren’t there more Black people in Oregon?”
         (Note: You may choose to have students work with “A Hidden History” document or “A Hidden History” interactive timeline.)
         Before students examine the document/timeline, they will describe and share anything they already know about the topic. Present Part I of the warm-up, and ask them to answer as many of the questions as they can. This is a brainstorming session, so encourage them to include information related to any of the questions, even if they are not sure of its accuracy at this point. Give them time to think and record their responses, then conduct a think-pair-share to review responses as a class before moving on.
         Introduce the Part II questions, then project “A Hidden History” to the whole class or provide a handout for each student (or pair of students) and lead them through the timeline and statistics.
         Give them time to answer the Part II questions, then conduct a think-pair-share to review responses and reactions.
  2. Vocabulary (optional differentiation):
    1. Frontload vocabulary and concepts from the essay prior to reading. Provide definitions or ask students to look up and record definitions. As an alternative, delay adding definitions until after reading, and ask students to use context to determine preliminary definitions as they read.
    2. Ask students to identify and circle vocabulary words in the essay as they read.
    3. After reading, review and clarify vocabulary words, and ask students to write down the sentence from the essay that uses each word.


  1. Discussion Circles:
         Before reading the essay, present the discussion circles roles and rubric handouts. Divide students into groups of four and assign roles or allow them to choose their roles. Do ensure that a responsible student is selected as the Discussion Director for each group, as that role requires not only individual preparation, but strong leadership and facilitation skills for the discussion circle.
         After reading the essay, give students class time to prepare for their individual roles or assign preparation as homework.
         Depending on the size and skill level of the class, allot 20­–40 minutes for discussion circles. Each group member will have 5–10 minutes to share and discuss their prepared work in their circle.
         If you have a large class, you may want to allot more time simply to allow yourself more opportunity circulate around the room and observe each group. You may also want to consider collaborating with a colleague so you can take turns visiting each other’s classes and share supervision duties.
         Review the rubric and expectations before splitting into circles. Especially with large classes, it can help to remind students to form tight circles and to speak just loudly enough for their fellow group members to hear them, as this will cut down on excess noise interference generated by multiple simultaneous discussions. Circulate from group to group, pausing long enough to assess each individual’s participation according to the rubric.
         Use a hand or audio signal to alert students of their remaining few minutes, and ask Discussion Directors to help bring discussions to a close.
         Either at the end of class or the next class meeting, debrief the discussion circle process with students. You may require that they complete a self- and/or group reflection and evaluation using the rubric. You may also consider requiring that they turn in all prepared notes and written materials to be included as a portion of their overall discussion circle assessment.
  2. “Future: Portland” short film analysis and discussion (optional extension):
    Note: This extension may be incorporated before or after reading “The Air I Breathe” essay.
         Present the “Future: Portland” handout and explain to students that they will watch a short film created by the author of “The Air I Breathe” that relates to the same themes and Essential Questions explored in the essay.
         Screen the film at least twice: For the first screening, ask students to simply take in all the visuals, audio, and overall ideas. For the second screening, ask students to listen more carefully for the specific comments made by people in the film.
         Lead students through the steps of the handout, then give them time to respond in writing and/or verbally with partners or small groups. Then, elicit responses in a whole-group discussion.


  1.  “The Air I Breathe” Final whole-group discussion:
         Ask students to prepare all of their notes and previous work on “The Air I Breathe” essay and other texts such as “Future: Portland” and “A Hidden History” if you have incorporated those. Share the discussion rubric and discussion handout with Essential Questions and give students additional instructions on discussion expectations and format. Set up instructional time to include discussion preparation, the discussion itself, and debriefing after the discussion. You may want to have students turn in their notes for a writing portion of the overall discussion grade. If you choose to have students complete a writing response instead, share your specific expectations and timeline, then allot instructional time and support for the assignment as needed.


ELL and SPED Supports: Scaffolded assignment options, vocabulary, reading strategies

TAG Extensions: Leadership opportunities during literature circles, discussion, and/or Socratic Seminar; SOAPS Text Analysis handout to use during and after reading; additional resources and related reading, optional extensions

Assessment/Student Performance Tasks

  1. Discussion circles/reader response and discussion (Formative)
  2. Warm-ups/extensions (Formative)
  3. Final discussion/writing response (Can be used as formative or summative)

Additional Resources/Related Reading

A City’s Lifeblood

An Oregon Canyon

What It Means to Say Portland

The Numbers (short film)

Optional Extensions

A Hidden History

Future: Portland and Future: Portland 2 (short films)

Finding Home at the Mims (short film)