BlueCerealEducation's Content Challenge
Since I have become BCE’s acolyte, I guess I must answer the challenge he set forth: to “talk content” to him. I love discussing content with people other than the ELA teachers who are as old and dusty as the books they insist must remain in The Canon (I have a really good story about that…). I constantly work to make classical literature applicable to students. If it ceases to speak to society, why continue reading it? The last few years I have taught 8th-12th pre-AP/AP English, so I do use more classical literature than I probably would in a traditional class—however, I had over 1,000 personal books (ranging from classical to current YA) for students to check out and read on their own time. Yes, my books stayed checked out. To bring literature to life, I incorporate as many visual components as I can, whether I use a forensic video about Caesar’s death or Lego Beowulf or Seven Pounds when we discuss moral dilemmas. I also love offering projects or creative writing as a “final” assessment for major works or units. I always give students several choices, including written options. By the way, I do not consider myself a creative person. I suck at any craft or art project. I am mostly an auditory person, but I have taught myself to be more visual to help me reach more students. I have had some stunning and hilarious projects over the years.
P.S. I will mostly include my original ideas. When not mine, I will notate that. If something peaks your interest, contact me—I am happy to share!
P.P.S. I’m not counting my preface as part of my 1200 word limit, BCE. Eviscerate me if you must…
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. I found a website to tour Ellis Island. Great for my students who may not travel outside Oklahoma. (Not totally mine)
2. Flowers for Algernon (excerpt): I put up the Rorshach inkblots. Thus begins some lively discussion on what we see. (Not totally mine)
3. The Giver: Students pretend they are the Giver and must transmit one memory to Jonas. I have had some stunning “memories” written over the years.
4. Anne Frank (excerpts): I send home a letter to parents/guardians explaining students need to spend two hours in isolation: no technology, no talking, no noise (such as water running). They record their thoughts, during isolation, in a diary-like entry.
5. Students build their own websites to review poetry types/terms.
6. Students build a website as a memorial to a historical event or person.
1. Inspired by Apple’s campaign “Here’s to the Crazy Ones,” students research world-changers and create a PowerPoint/Prezi. I have parameters for their search (male/female, other countries, etc.).
3. Romeo and Juliet (I loathe, by the way): students make brochures about depression, suicide, etc. they could “give” to the characters to help them escape their destructive behaviors.
4. Of Mice and Men: make George and Lenny’s dream farm, movie of scene(s), make a soundtrack, collage of words/images, write what happens to George after the book ends. (See pics)
5. A Raisin in the Sun: design or choose a symbol to represent a character, write journal entries for one character, write an additional scene, or design a coat of arms (Not mine)
1. I have several things for The Hunger Games (mostly mine).
2. Comparative myth project: students look for commonalities (also discuss Jung’s collective unconscious).
3. Dante’s Inferno: partners are responsible for teaching one Canto and creating a visual representation (See pics). Sometimes have them create a Circle of Hell, focusing on symbolic punishment—not revenge.
4. Alice in Wonderland: rewrite Jabberwocky (not mine); write another adventure where Alice encounters another literary character, write a story of Alice’s journey at your school, make a movie, make a soundtrack and movie poster (do not use existing work), make a diorama (see pics), or make an Alice board game (see pics).
5. Julius Caesar: students make a newspaper (inspired by an idea for The Crucible, but this is mine)
AP test prep hampers me some, but I do some interesting analysis essays if anyone is interested J
1. Tropes and schemes bingo helps students learn the eight million literary terms.
2. The Crucible: newspaper assignment (partly mine); rewrite and film a scene, write an epilogue, be a character and write journal entries, write a letter from Elizabeth to John in jail
3. Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (moral perfection section): students and I each list five personal areas to improve. We make a chart like Franklin’s and keep track for a weekend.
4. Romanticism: we go outside (without technology) with pen and paper. Students find a spot and empirically observe nature. They write/sketch what they observe and their feelings.
5. Spoon River Anthology: students choose 5-6 different characters. They answer questions and prepare a presentation. My favorite part: using a private Facebook group I create, they write posts for each of their people. Since this is private to our class, they can get silly or very honest (if you have read Spoon, you know it can be frank). We also make connections using a bubble cluster on butcher paper—helps them respond to the appropriate characters on Facebook.
1. Summer 2013 students read Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil. When they returned we ate pears and tried to describe a pear, as is attempted in the book.
2. Beowulf: read Beowulf’s boast and write our own. We drink wassail and boast and toast each other (not mine). I also have a security assignment to fortify Hrothgar’s mead hall (mine).
3. Canterbury Tales: students watch TV for a weekend and focus on stereotypes. They write an informal essay the next Monday.
4. Hamlet, Othello, and/or Macbeth: I split the class into two groups. Each group takes one play to read, analyze, and do projects. Ultimately, they teach their play to the other half of the class. They must take one class period for each play. (partly mine)
5. Read Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” with Humanism. I also use “Allegory” when we re-read The Giver last year. I see Giver as a re-imagining of the Cave.
6. Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year (excerpts): also read from other works on communicable diseases. Students pretend a plague hits town. They can make up a disease and take any role. They write journal entries of their experience. I have had many “blood-stained” journals!
7. Lady Mary Montagu’s “Letter to her Daughter”: Students write advice letters to their future sons and daughters.
9. William Blake: do 1-2 “Inner Child” days. We eat childhood snacks and play games (Red Rover, Red Light/Green Light, etc.) on one day and eat cereal/pop tarts/etc. and watch cartoons in our pajamas on the second day. Ultimately, after reading several selections from Blake’s “Songs of Innocence/Experience,” students write their own “Songs.”
10. Rime of the Ancient Mariner: students have made comic strips on ToonDoo.com
11. To alleviate some of my seniors’ stress, I assigned Winter Break homework: watch a Christmas movie—do not analyze it, participate in a family tradition (without your phone), ask your family what you were like as a child (bring me a childhood picture), re-read a favorite childhood book, color a picture and bring it to me.
12. In May, seniors write at least one thank you note to a teacher (from any grade). I provide the notes.
13. In May, seniors write letters to their future selves. I keep the letters and mail them five years later. Yes, I actually do this. For the Class of 2014, I’ll also mail their childhood pic and the picture they colored.
I push myself to bring literature to life. I share my passion for literature and the joy I find in reading. Ultimately, I want students to discover universal elements that interconnect us. No matter our outside differences, the human condition crosses all barriers and binds us. As I quote all the time from John Donne’s “Meditation 17”:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.