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Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama can be a powerful book prompt for discussion, reflection, and analysis. The ideas below are meant to help busy educators incorporate the Kansas Reads selection into their classroom.

The Kansas Reads one-book/one-state project encourages Kansans to read the current selection Dreams From My Father and participate in discussion with others who have also read the book. Students are certainly invited to participate with teachers and community members. How can your students be involved?

Use the book for:

  • a literature selection
  • an extension group
  • suggested reading outside of class
  • a read-aloud (selections suggested below)
  • an activity prompt
  • a book discussion group

Themes and Curricular Connections

Personal themes  
Family relationships Character formation/development
Impact of parents, absent parents Influences
Identity Choosing life's path


Societal themes:  
Differences in place Racial identity and perception
Urban renewal Influence of education
Change Issues of social class
Cultural influences


Additional curricular connections  
Memoir writing Study abroad and ELL programs
Genealogy Kenya
African-American history Indonesia
Significance of college Presidents as authors

Timeline Overview of the Book

The following timeline is presented to give an overview of the time period of the book and assist in planning related lessons:

Parent's heritage:  mother born in Kansas and moved with family, father born in Kenya and did study abroad in the United States
Barack Obama born in Hawaii 1961
Moved to Indonesia in 1967, stayed 4 years
Returned to Hawaii to complete school
Attended college first in Los Angeles at Occidental College and then at Columbia University in New York, graduating in 1983
Moved to Chicago in 1985 and worked as a community organizer
Went to Harvard Law School in 1988

Related Standards (.pdf)

Activities and Writing Prompts

Examine a person or experience that helped shape your character. Explain to your reader who/what the influence was and how you have been shaped by that person/event.

Interview a family member about their influences.

Write about your goals. How are they similar or different from others in your family?

Create a graphic organizer that shows personal influences. (Feel free to use example provided.)

Track and document where you and your parents have lived. Compare to others in the class.

Consider the topic of community organizing. Identify one issue in your school or community that you would like to change. Outline what the issue is, what steps you envision for change, and how you would identify and involve key players in collaborating on this issue.

Reflect on turning points in your life. Can you identify when turning points have been? Was it a precise moment or a gradual decision? What have been the repercussions of that choice?

Use fiction to examine alternate realities in your life ("what if?" scenarios). Ideas prompted by the book: absence or presence of a parent, different choice made in life, living in a different location, etc.

Discussion Questions

How has cultural identity played a part in Kansas' development?
How do you think people's backgrounds influence their goals, personalities, attributes, etc.?
Considering what you know about the President, does this book influence your perception or understanding of him? How?
If this book reflects Obama's background, how do you see the influences reflected in current practice or policy?

(see more at the 'Questions for Discussion' link to the left)

Programming Ideas

Arrange for an exhibit that focuses on ethnic and/or cultural groups of your area.

Traveling exhibits from Kansas Museum of History related to ethnicity in Kansas:

  • Black Women: Achievements Against the Odds
  • Brown vs. Board of Education, in Pursuit of Freedom and Equality
  • Continuing the Tradition: Mexican American Folk Art
  • From Far Away Russia: Russia Germans in Kansas
  • Kansans of African Descent: Selected Portraits
  • Native American Folk Arts: Living Traditions
  • A Photographic Narrative: The Indians of Kansas
  • Southeast Asian Traditions from the Homelands
  • Those Who Came Before: Mexican Americans in Kansas 1900-1950

Traveling trunks from Kansas Museum of History related to ethnicity in Kansas:

  • The African American Experience in Kansas
  • Mexican American Immigrants in Kansas
  • Volga German Immigrants in Kansas

Resources from KSHS related to cultural groups (traveling exhibits, trunks, online exhibits, etc.) http://www.kshs.org/teachers/classroom/theme/cultural.htm

Host a guest speaker or panel discussion to examine cultural identity, memoir writing, study abroad, and/or impact of earlier generations. 

For possible speakers, see:

Sponsor a student contest - possible ideas: writing about a memory or influence, art that symbolizes your influences or cultural identity



Previous Kansas
Reads Projects

The Virgin of Small Plains

In Cold Blood

The Learning Tree

Kansas Center for the Book

Kansas Humanities Council