1. Take a look at several of the papers that you have written about literature in college. What do they have in common? What process did you use to complete them? How did you learn to write the standard critical paper about literature?
2. Select a short story, novel, or poem that you know very well. As an exercise, generate as many different kinds of writing assignments about the text as you can, as quickly as you can. Try to include a variety of forms (journal entries, essays, narratives) and a variety of audiences (teacher, peers, younger students, newspaper or literary magazine) in the assignments.
3. Choose one of the assignments you have listed above and develop a tentative plan for giving the assignment to students. How would you prepare students for the assignment? What would they already have to know to get started? How would you evaluate their efforts? What would you have them do as a follow-up?
4. In order to teach writing, it is important that you understand your own composing processes, especially if you want to model those processes for your students. Conduct a descriptive study of your own or -a peer’s composing processes while responding to a literary text. Think about the strategies you used in discovering a topic and then in organizing, revising, and editing your draft.
5. One of the most straightforward ways of helping students understand how an essay writer may manipulate an audience is to ask them to write a brief imitation of an author’s style. Before doing that, however, it would probably be a good idea for you to try it yourself. Choose an essay that you admire and then try to write a piece in imitation of it. For example, you might want to approximate a male version of Syfers’s voice and write an essay entitled, “Why I Want a Husband.”
6. Look through several anthologies of essays and choose three to five that explore a particular theme (much as the three essays in this chapter explore the subject of gender roles). Decide on the order in which you would ask students to read these essays. Then, in small groups, exchange the essays and discuss how your selection would work with particular groups of students.
7. Choose an essay that you know well and develop some instructional activities for it, drawing on the four perspectives. In what ways will your activities be different when working with essays than when working with other literary forms? How will they be similar?
Activities: How Do I Get Them to Write?
Informal Writing: Notes and Annotations:
Dennis Sumura (1996; 2002) argues that informal writing in the form of the Commonplace Book—a written record of thinking and notes of multiple re-readings of texts, can be used to reflect the cultural and autobiographical meanings of their responses in specific contexts:
The Commonplace Book activities…show that the common-sense understanding of what constitutes self/other, mind/body, personal/collective, fiction/non-fiction, literary/non-literary do not exist as tidy demarcated categories but, instead, exist ambiguously and fluidly in relation to one another. Most significantly, these activities illuminate the processes by which human beings experience a sense of personal identity and, importantly, how these experiences are necessarily organized by remembered, currently lived, and imagined identifications and relationships. This helps readers of literary fiction to understand that, while literary engagements are to be considered imaginary, they are not to be considered less influential than other experiences.
He also argues that the Commonplace Book can be used to explore and construct one sense of identity. He draws on the idea of the main character’s use of the Commonplace Book in The English Patient, in which the character keeps a record of his experiences as a means of defining his identity:
The English patient’s Commonplace Book shows how humans have developed cultural artifacts and practices that function to help develop and maintain a sense of self. The Commonplace Book is not merely a collecting place for bits and pieces of interesting information the English patient has gathered. Because it is continually subjected to rereadings, and is read and discussed by others who are trying to come to know the English patient, the Commonplace Book functions as an ever-evolving cultural archive that requires ongoing interpretation. As a person who has chosen to live a geographically nomadic existence, the portable Commonplace Book becomes a crucial artifact, assisting him with the needed and ongoing process of interpreting an historical, contemporary and imagined identity. The importance of the Commonplace Book for the English patient helps illuminate how human identities are organized by memory, narratives and cultural artifacts. Maintaining a coherent sense of self, paradoxically, is not so much a project of self attention but, rather, one of attending to the many relations on which an ongoing sense of self depends. A sense of self, then, emerges as much from the imagined as from what is understood as ‘real’.
There are a range of different kinds of notes geared to achieve different purposes. Jim Burke (2002) identifies some of the following types of notes (see the Website for specific descriptions):
- Episodic Notes: identify distinct scenes or moments in the text
Hierarchical Notes: organizing ideas into a hierarchy.
- Inference Notes: analyze a fictional character by finding and interpreting quotes by or about the character; then a space at the bottom of the page asks students to make inferences about the character
- Plot Notes: graphic organizer designed to be used with fiction [see Burke link on Website]
- Reporter's Notes: [use notes to] arrive at a deeper understanding of what they read.
- Sensory Notes: use their imagination to help them see what the author is writing, to hear what the language sounds like.
- Summary Notes: used while reading a book or article which must then be summarized.
- Synthesis Notes: directs students' attention to the crucial aspects of a fictional text.
- T-Notes: compare and contrast (books, characters, past and present, etc)
- Target Notes: generate/expand as well as narrow/refine depending on the needs of the assignment or task.
Informal Writing: Journal Prompts:
Over the ten days of teaching The Great Gatsby, Dan Gough gave students the following daily journals prompts:
1. “Write about the American Dream? What is it and what does it mean to you? What are your dreams for the future?” He then showed the students a video clip from a show “Rich Girls” featuring the teenage daughters of nouveau riche families such as the Hilfiger's and the Hiltons, leading to another journal writing prompt, “If money was not an issue…What effect would wealth have upon the dreams that you wrote about earlier?”
2. After the students began reading, he gave them another prompt, “How do you feel about the characters that you have met in the Great Gatsby so far? Do any of the characters remind you of anybody that you know? How have the female characters been portrayed so far? ”
3. “Literature often reflects the time period in which it is created. What have you learnt or did you already know about the period in which The Great Gatsby was written?”
4. “What are your impressions of Gatsby? Do you believe the account of his past? Why/Why not? Given Daisy's story, what do you think will happen next in the novel?”
5. To help students think about the role of symbols: “Write about your school mascot. Why is your mascot a good symbol for the school? What are some other symbols of schools or businesses that you can think of? How do these work?”
6. “Have you ever wanted to repeat the past? How realistic do you think Gatsby's dream is?”
7. “What is great about the Great Gatsby? What are your opinions of Gatsby now that you have finished the novel? How great was he and why?”
8. “The Great Gatsby is a novel about … Avoiding a simple plot summary, discuss what you think the novel we have just read is really about. What is Fitzgerald trying to do in his book?”
9. “Write about the group work that you have done during the Gatsby unit. How well do you think your group worked together? What could your group have done better? What could you have done differently? All in all what are your feelings about working with a base group?”
In teaching the book, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, a series of short stories based on his experiences in the Vietnam War, Jon Koch developed the following journal prompts designed to achieve the following objectives:
- Discover the complexity and utility of storytelling through O'Brien's implicit and explicit explorations within The Things They Carried.
- Realize the nature of multiple perspectives and interpretations on a topic that is controversial and very real, war.
- Become distinctly aware of how our possessions, actions, words, etc. all combine to exhibit who we are to the people around us, and how we are all defining ourselves at every moment; we are all political at all times.
- Develop some form of working appreciation for what truth in writing/storytelling truly entails.
- O'Brien is constantly writing down memories, often repeating the same ones over and over, some of them merely fragments. Create a poem or short account about a fuzzy or vague memory, going over it again and again, or rewriting it over and over, until it seems complete (not necessarily factual, but complete, how you remember it).
- Free-write about how you feel and act when you've done something illegal, something you know you shouldn't have, or something with negative consequences or repercussions. Get to the nitty-gritty details like O'Brien does.
- Write about a line of events where a friend and you vacillated between being friends and enemies over a period of time, or because of a certain issue or occurrence. What were your feelings during each stage of the relationship? Did you perform malicious or kind acts according to the status? Were there periods of guilt or swells of pride because of your actions? How did the situation normalize?
- Begin a correspondence of whatever nature you choose, only it must be connected to the Vietnam War. Examples are a soldier's letters home, letters to a soldier from home (or both), a soldier's daily journal, a family member's daily journal, a soldier's letters to administration, draft boards, God, girlfriend(s), etc.
- Select three of O'Brien's qualifications for a true war story. Formulate a working definition for what O'Brien considers “true” in storytelling. How are truth and factual accuracy related?
- On page 134, Henry Dobbins says, “The thing is, I believed in God and all that, but it wasn't the religious part that interested me. Just being nice to people, that's all. Being decent.” Free-write about what being decent means to you. Should we always be decent? Why are there so many people out there not being nice to others? Are there instances where not being decent or nice is acceptable? Are being decent and being nice synonymous?
- “Why” is an important question in relation to these chapters. There were countless things in Nam that did not seem to make sense. Was it more advisable to try and find answers for senseless questions, or was it better to say, “This is Nam, man,” and let things be?
- Write the story of an experience you had, or even one that you heard about, only manipulate the “happening-truth” so that the story becomes “truer” to how you remember experiencing it—how you felt.
Computer Mapping Tools:
The software application, InspirationTM, can be used to create maps on the computer. Sue Erichsen’s students at Walter Panas High School, Westchester County, New York, used InspirationTM to compare the literary elements in the various worlds or "sivilizations" that Huck Finn experiences in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Working in small-groups, students created graphic organizers depicting each of Huck's worlds and then discussed them as a class.
The following is an example of an Inspiration TM map for Pip’s relationships with different characters in Great Expectations.
From: Using Inspiration in the classroom
Body biographies. Another visual tool is the use of body biographies to portray different aspects of characters. In responding to Hamlet, students used butcher-block paper to draw body biographies of the different characters in the play that included their interpretations of the different character attributes (Smagorinsky & O’Donnell-Allen, 1998; Smagorinsky, 2002). These “body biographies” served to foster interpretations of some of the conflicting attributes and allegiances of the different characters in the play.
The following are some directions for constructing body biographies:
1. Have students in small groups cut a 7-foot-long sheet from a roll of paper. Place the sheet on the floor and have one student lie down on it. Another student draws an outline of the first student's body on the paper.
2. Students in each small group then fill in the body outline with artistic representations of the character's traits, relationships, motivations, and experiences. These may include relevant quotations and original text about the character. Body biographies require students to think carefully and reflectively about both content and aesthetic details. The following concerns might underpin a rubric for evaluating students' Body Biographies:
- Placement of the artwork is important.
- Students should be advised to help their audience visualize the character's virtues and vices.
- Using color helps symbolize traits of the main character.
- Using symbols also helps capture the character's essence.
- Using poetry can be effective for portraying hidden dimensions of the character.
- Consider contrasting the character's self-view with the views of others.
- As most characters change across the events of a novel, consider using artwork to show this transformation.
North Central Regional Lab: Comprehension Strategies: Body Biographies
Students can also create coats of arms that portray different aspects of a character or illustrations of characters (For examples of coats of arms, illustrations, and body biographies):
Reflecting on Students’ Uses of Informal Writing Tools:
Because tools function to serve specific purposes, you can then observe and reflect on students’ uses of these tools to determine whether they have achieved these purposes. If they are having difficulty, you can then provide them with more modeling or clarify your prompts. In a teacher reflection study (see Chapter 13) reflecting on her 10th grade students’ uses of various writing tools in response to Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street, Larissa Anderson, (2003) identified differences in students’ ability to use these tools. She also recognized that some of these differences were due to the types of prompts she employed.
Larissa examined these types of perspective-taking thinking in students’ responses to different journal prompts: (Bardige, 1988): “face value thinking,” “composite picture thinking” and “multiple lens thinking:” “Face value thinking” signifies students considering an issue in evaluative or summary terms; their thinking is “one dimensional” and void of inferences and opposing perspectives. When students engage in “composite picture thinking,” they see a situation as existing in a context and they augment their personal experiences by empathizing with the experiences of others. Finally, in “multiple lens thinking,” students understand a situation as being ingrained within a larger social framework. In both systems that categorize levels of perspective-taking, the stages range from viewing a situation self-subjectively and without analysis, inferences, or empathy to understanding a situation as a dynamic context that has a system of beliefs (p. 8).
Here are the prompts, followed by some sample student responses:
- Cisneros’ writing is very unique and poetic. Copy into your notebook 2 examples from pages 3-25 where you were surprised or moved by or interested in her writing style. In a short paragraph for each example you copy, explain qualities from each passage that make it powerful or interesting. Make sure to balance your quotes with your own words.
- This quote really gave me a sense of what the car felt like to ride in, and I was surprised by the way she described it. It really made me feel as if I too was riding in the car with the rest of the kids.
- From the way the author used the words she picked, I could feel EXACTLY how the main character must have felt.
- When I came across this quote it really struck me in the way that I feel about my sister and our relationship.
She notes, regarding students’ entries, that they reveal “face-value” perspective-taking because the students make meaning of the text by filtering it through their experiences. These responses are not surprising given that the question for this entry asks students to choose a quote that they find surprising or moving, which demands that students respond on a personal level. Some students, however, respond on the “composite-picture” level of perspective-taking, showing that they look below the surface for the character’s motivations and that the character’s actions are understood within a context.
The following are examples:
- This quote by Esperanza shows that she has a great desire to have a friend to be there for her and someone to have fun with.
- The House on Mango Streetgives a large picture of cultures that are shown in the book.
- Esperanza writes the story in first person explaining her views on life. The setting is very key in this story. Esperanza explains the neighborhood she lives in and what it is like to live in a lower-class community.
She notes: This last excerpt is interesting in that it not only reveals recognition of the character in a context, but also, this student demonstrates an awareness of a social issue: the economic inequality Esperanza experiences. This reference to social inequality is not found in any informal writing entry where the student has a face-value perspective.
And, she cites instances of students adopting “multiple-lens” perspectives:
- Esperanza is ashamed of the house she lives in because she is continuously comparing herself to the “dream life” with the perfect house and perfect neighborhood. . . . She finally realized years after the story takes place that life is different for everyone and her life story could turn into something unique that none of her classmates or teachers could write. While noting that “this student confuses the character (Esperanza) with the author, Sandra Cisneros…the student still understands that ‘life is different for everyone,’ demonstrating her ‘multiple-lens’ thinking skills.”
Larissa noted that this first prompt was most likely to evoke “face-value” perspective taking. She contrasts this with another prompt:
- Copy into your journal 2 excerpts that are examples of some social inequalities Esperanza is exposed to. How does her awareness or ignorance of these inequalities contribute to her sense of self, and further, how does this contribute to her goal(s) for the future? Explain a goal Esperanza has. Given the context of her world, how is this goal idealistic? How is it realistic?
She found that this prompt was more likely to evoke “multiple-lens” thinking because it asks them to reflect on Esperanza’s actions and goals within the larger context of the class structure, thinking reflected in the following entries:
- This tells us that Mamacita struggles with speaking English, and longs to be back home where she is normal. I think this greatly [a]ffects Esperanza because it shows her how lucky she is to have grown up in America, and not have to struggle with conquering another foreign language, just to survive.
- If Esperanza is hearing all of these things that her mother tells her about how hard it was for her to grow up in a community that looked down on the financially insecure, imagine how she feels. . . .She probably feels like there is either no chance in trying very hard in school, or she feels that she needs to ‘beat the system’ and try as hard as possible . . .
- I think Esperanza truly notices a class structure here. It is the wealthier people who live in the houses with the gardens on the hills. . . .Their houses are on a hill, which symbolize their high stature in society, while Esperanza on the other hand, lives below.
- Esperanza feels ashamed that she has to dream of having a better house . . . .Because Esperanza is so aware of the inequalities in wealth and poverty, she has greater self-confidence and pride.
Larissa notes that the: “these students recognize Esperanza as embedded within a social context, they are aware of symbolism, and they see the perspectives of multiple characters, or multiple perspectives of one character, they are using multiple lens thinking.” She attributes much of this to a prompt that “directly asks students to not only to recognize the character(s) as embedded in and influenced by their social context, but it also asks them to consider how a situation could have multiple layers or meanings. Specifically, the question asks about how Esperanza’s goal could be seen as idealistic and realistic. Subsequently, 21 out of 27 students wrote an entry using a “multiple-lens” perspective in their thinking.”
Students could discuss other examples of authors using authors rewriting of texts such as the following:
William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
William Shakespeare, Hamlet: John Updike, Gertrude and Claudius
William Shakespeare's The Tempest: Suniti Namjoshi, Snapshots of Caliban
William Shakespeare, King Lear: Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet: Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurent: West Side Story
William Shakespeare, The Tempest: Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost
Homer, The Odyssey: Derek Walcott, Omeros
Sophocles' Antigone: Jean Anouilh, Antigone
The Book of Job: Archibald MacLeish, JB
The Book of Genesis: Anita Diamant, The Red Tent
Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre: Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
Beowulf: John Gardner, Grendel
Euripides, Electra: Eugene O'Neill: Mourning Becomes Electra
Euripides, Orestes: Thomas Berger, Orrie's Story
King Arthur legends: Marion Bradley, Mists of Avalon
Cinderella, Anne Sexton, “Cinderella”
Sleeping Beauty: Jane Yolen, Briar Rose
Robin Hood: Richard Kluger, The Sheriff of Nottingham
Snow White: Fiona French, Snow White In New York
The Three Little Pigs, Jon Scieszka, The True Story Of The 3 Little Pigs!
Jennie Blake describes her student teaching activity involving adopting uses of different perspectives in teaching Catcher in the Rye. The students adopted the perspective of Holden Caulfied as a teacher of a high school senior, Prissy, a character in a novel Downer’s Grove by Michael Hornburg:
This book was like Catcher in the Rye’s Holder Caulfield, but from a female perspective, and it was this girl Prissy and she was you know 17 years old and senior and in high school and it just kind of followed her along, and she’s kind of disgruntled and has a negative attitude and you know has like a transformation and you know experienced all these things. So I used like the first chapter of this book along with the beginning of Catcher in the Rye and had them read both that chapter and then the beginning of Catcher in the Rye and then I had them write as if Holden were Chrissie’s teacher in high school, her English teacher, and she was just turning in her last paper, you know, what would Holden say to her and why would he say this to her. What advice would he give her knowing that he’d been in a similar situation or he was just like her? And all the responses I got were amazing because so many people in my class would say, well if I was Holden and if I was a teacher and I had to tell a student like myself what to do or what not to do, then this is what I would say.
Creating alternative audiences for writing:
In some cases, you may want to create alternative audiences for the students’ writing. These audiences may include fictional audiences will never read their writing: the text’s author, a character in the text, an historical figure, a critic who espouses a certain lens (i.e., “feminist critic”), etc., or actual audiences such as students in another class or school (in an online writing exchange), members of a blog, or an online journal that publishes student writing. For example, as part of unit on The Things They Carried, Bridget created the following assignment for use in her Spring, 2004, student teaching:
You have now had the chance to put yourself in the position of a person who was affected by the draft that occurred during the Vietnam War. We are currently involved in a conflict in Iraq. You have read letters and written letters from a GI who is in action. You are all under the age of 18 and are not affected by the draft yet. Your assignment is to pretend that President Bush has issued a draft to encourage support for the War on Terrorism. You should write a persuasive essay that:
- clearly states your thesis that is pro or against the draft
- is written in the five paragraph essay format which means you should include three forms of evidence to support your thesis
- you should have an introduction and conclusion that state your thesis
- you should have at least two drafts when the paper is handed in and the first draft should have the signature of one of your classmates.
Developing Writing Assignments:
In her student teaching, to help her high school students define the relationships between poetry and culture, Amanda Bekkum
had students read various poems portraying poet’s sense of a local culture: “Ode to La Tortilla,” “Ki no Tsurayuki,” “Our House in Hadong,” “Nikki-Rosa,” and “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio.” She first asked students to freewrite about how they would define “culture.” Students then shared their definitions with each other, leading them to examine how culture pervades their lives. The students were then assigned to one of five poems and responded in writing to the following questions:
1) What is the title of your poem?
2) Who is the author?
3) What culture is represented by your poem? What words/images make you think that?
4) What elements of the culture does the poet write about? (sports, food, heritage, etc.)
5) What is the overall mood of this poem? List the words or images that give you clues.
6) In your opinion, does the author speak of his/her culture or cultural event favorably or not? Why or why not?
Then, students met in “same poem” groups and prepared to share their responses to questions 3-6 with the entire class related to how specific aspects of each poem reflected the unique aspects of the poet’s culture.
Children’s literature. Students could create children’s literature texts to share with or read to children in local schools. Students could first study characteristics of children’s literature—the use of illustrations to convey story development and characters, age-appropriate language and situations, engaging storylines, and imaginative/fantasy settings (for background material on writing children’s literature, see Koehler-Pentacoff, 2002; Lamb, 2001; Ramos, 1999; Schulevitz, 1997).
A Sample Unit:
Susan Gottlieb organized her five-week poetry unit for use in her student teaching at the 7th grade level around five different components related to the idea of play:
1. Performance/Display: Students’ showcasing their learning and creativity, as well as participate in creative small group and individual work.
2. Reading aloud: Reading aloud excerpts from Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust, a novel in free verse,
3. Playing in order. Playing creatively, playing to learn, playing with form/conventions, and playing with content/meaning
4. Poetry workshop: In a weekly “poetry workshop” day, students give and receive feedback; students will also keep a poetry notebook for works in progress.
5. Poetry fair: Students will perform/exhibit their work, followed by a Poetry Feast & Celebration.
- Introduce Unit, including the major projects to come – especially the Message in Music Presentations on days 5 and 6 – as well as the novel I will read aloud; introduce the idea of improvisation to “loosen up” creative muscle and improve flexible thinking.
- Play “I Spy…From a New Angle” – begin with students seated. Have them write what they see/hear/smell/touch/taste. Then have them move to a new position and/or location and have them write about their new perspective.
- Play “Morph” – This is an improvisation game with objects. Students will “morph” everyday objects into other things; to be played in large and small groups. Message in Music Project. Students should choose a song they like, print out the lyrics, and create a visual aid – poster, t-shirt, CD or album cover, video, etc. – that represents their song; they will give an oral presentation of their song and the meaning it has for them.
- Play “Hey Taxi!” – This improvisation game takes four people and four chairs. Students establish a character voice and movement – and enter an imaginary “taxi” (student #1 is the “driver”). One by one, students establish their character/voice and then, as other students come into the “taxi”, all occupants mirror the newest occupant.
- Play “Rhyme Time” – Another improvisation game in which performing duos spontaneously create rhyming couplets and engage in conversation with one another; note: the conversation must make some sort of sense!
- Play “Poetry Corner” – Another improvisation game similar to “Rhyme Time” but with four people creating a quatrain, rather than dialogue, on a topic of the class' choosing.
- Complete “Poetry from a Hat” – Hand out 3 slips of paper to students. On the first slip, students should write a noun; on the second, two adjectives; on the third, a verb. They should choose words carefully and be as creative as possible. Mix the slips into three separate hats and have students draw one slip from each hat. Have them create a rough draft of a poem using those words, emphasizing creativity over finished product or style.
- Complete Minilecture – Introduce use of poetry notebooks to record ideas, images, feelings, etc. Briefly discuss concept of poetry as: 1) flexing creative mental and emotional muscle; 2) showing, not telling; 3) using imagery, sensory detail, and other poetic devices as lenses for viewing and writing poetry.
- Complete “Pictures of Poems” – Try out this concept of imaging by reading aloud a poem (see resource list) and having students draw a picture that represents the scene/details from the poem (Purpose – to practice “seeing” and expressing a poem).
- Complete “Poetry Photos” – In small groups, provide digital cameras for students to capture images that help to tell a story about themselves and things that intrigue them for a “found” poem to be written later.
- Complete “Message in Music” presentations – students will present their choices of lyrics and messages (Visual aid = 30 points; presentation = 30 points for a total of 60 points).
- Complete reading from Out of the Dust, a novel is set in 1930's Dust Bowl Oklahoma and is written through the voice of 14-year-old Billie Jo Selby whose family experiences great tragedy and some final measure of hope during this devastating time; lay a brief groundwork for the novel and explain what free verse is; begin reading aloud excerpts to students (pp. 3-15). In journal, students should answer the prompt: “Billie Jo loves playing the piano. What is your favorite activity or passion? Describe how you feel when you are doing it.” Students should record three vocabulary words in their notebooks. Homework – For each of today's three vocabulary words, look up and write the appropriate definition/meaning from the story in your poetry journal, and create a sentence of your own.
- Introduce Out of the Dust Research Project; they will research one aspect of the book – the author, specific references in the book such as the Dionne Quintuplets or the Oklahoma Panhandle, or historic information such as the Dust Bowl, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, music or radio serials from the 1930's, etc. Students have a choice of topics/issues that interest them and about which they want to know more; they will need to research, reflect, and write a short report (1-2 pp.) or PowerPoint on their topic, citing their reference(s) (due day 20).
- Complete “Found Poem” – provide students with newspapers, magazines, and other multi-genre writings; students will select words, phrases, and sentences that intrigue them and that they can use to tell a story about themselves (as Billie Jo does); from these gleanings, students will craft a “found” poem and add pictures they took with the digital cameras on day 4.
- Complete “Search for Meaning and Relevance” – review poems as a large group (and then in smaller groups); discuss the meanings and relevance of specific references, phrases, and symbols within the poetry; discuss how to glean meaning from poems and relate them to students' lives.
- Complete Minilecture – discuss with students how to effectively conduct computer research on a topic of their choosing and list references they find for their reports (handout provided with citation style).
- In poetry journals, brainstorm some emotions Billie Jo must have felt and some images you have after hearing this passage. Start a poem that tells a story about your own life, based on one or more emotions and images in your list. Homework –bring a draft of a poem for peers to review – it can be the poem from a hat, found poem, story poem from today's journal writing, or another poem that students want to work on some more.
- Complete Minilecture – discuss with students the rules and guidelines for an effective poetry workshop; break students into small groups of 3 or so.
- Complete Poetry Workshop – in small groups, have students review one another's work and ask specific questions of the author.
- Complete Minilecture – discuss elements in a Poetry Toolkit (metaphor, simile, personification, sound and rhythm); brainstorm examples as a class for each and play as a class with clapping and tapping out different types of rhyme and rhythm
- - Complete “Poetry Toolkit Crossword Puzzle” – have students complete a crossword puzzle that includes terms from their Toolkit/
- Complete reading from Out of the Dust and in poetry notebooks, as they hear the reading aloud, have students jot down 1-2 examples of a metaphor, simile, personification, onomatopoeia, alliteration, etc. that they hear. How does the author use this device to help her tell the story?
- Complete “Prose Into Poetry” – Provide students with passages from a short story or novel (maybe from The Grapes of Wrath?). Have them turn the prose passage into a poem, using the Poetry Toolkit devices they have learned.
- Complete Minilecture – Discuss the use of sensory detail to enhance poetry.
- Complete “Feeling the World” – Pair up students and give each pair a blindfold (long strip of cloth). One student should wear the blindfold and become the “blind” poetry explorer; the other is a “guide.” Have students take turns in both roles, experiencing the world through touch, smell, hearing, and even taste, while being guided through the room and nearby hallway area. Then have students record their impressions in their poetry notebooks.
- Complete “How Does this Word Mean?” – Students choose a word that has multiple meanings – like run, lap, bar, etc. In poetry notebooks, they create a poem that uses several meanings for the word, but still makes sense overall. Then, they take that poem and change the common word (in each case) into a more “poetic” word that doesn't change the meaning significantly.
- Complete “The Really Bad Poem” – Students work together in small groups to craft a “really bad poem” using the lines they brought in. They should work on breaking rules for effective sensory detail, use of poetic devices and rhythm, imagery, and word choice whenever possible. Groups share their Bad Poems with the class and the class votes on the worst.
- Complete Minilecture – Discuss types and characteristics of poems – limerick, cinquain, diamante, acrostic, concrete, communal – and look at examples on handout.
- Complete “Playing with Form” – Students should pick 2-3 forms to “try out” by writing poems in their notebooks; they can use the form conventions as a template.
- Complete “Communal Poetry” – Students take turns performing a few poems for two or more voices (from Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman and “Frog Serenade” by Georgia Heard), then work in pairs to create a short poem for two voices on a topic of their choice
- Homework –bring a draft of a poem in progress for peers to review.
- Complete Poetry Workshop – in small groups, have students review one another's work and ask specific questions of the author. List some poems you might include in your Poetry Fair Presentation.
- Complete Minilecture – Discuss other approaches to creating poetry, such as the “recipe poem.” In a “recipe poem,” writers model their writing on the form of another poem or use a “list of ingredients” to create a poem, line by line. Look at several poems – e.g., “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks, the 15-sentence character portrait poem, or “To Get to Fresno” by Lawson Inada – to get a sense of the “ingredients” in these poems.
- Complete “Recipe Poems” – using “ingredient templates,” have students create their own version of one of the poems introduced about something in their own life or experience.
Day 17 Minilecture – Discuss with students the ideas and formulas of haiku poetry (i.e., based on natural world, spiritual insight, strict form, etc.)
- Complete “Nature Haiku” – Bring students on outdoors exploratory with their poetry notebooks; students should observe the natural world and take notes; then have students bring their notes back to the classroom and draft one or more nature haikus.
- Complete Minilecture – Discuss the characteristics of an ode or praise song. As a group, read several odes – classic and modern. Discuss the specific poetic devices included in an ode.
- Complete Ode to an Artifact” – Distribute items (e.g., rock, twig, tree bark, feather, etc.) to students and have them study the item for several minutes. Then guide students to write responses to several prompts, such as “What does this item look like?” “What texture does it have?” “From a different angle, describe a person it may resemble,” and so on. Finally, have students draft an ode poem to their object, using their Poetic Toolkit and imaginations and incorporating the characteristics of ode poems.
- Complete “Writing Poetry with Music” – Play CDs – classical/instrumental and up-tempo – during this work time; allow time for students to continue developing their poetry and/or draw illustrations for their poems.
Students should sign up to bring an item for the Poetry Feast and Celebration and also consider reading aloud a poem they have written.
- Complete Poetry Workshop (Work on Poetry Fair Projects) – in small groups, have students review one another's work and ask specific questions of the author; also begin with student/teacher conferencing about Poetry Fair project.
- Complete Activity – Poetry Workshop (Work on Poetry Fair projects and student/teacher conferences)
Students present their poetry to the class as a display of their poetry and drawings, book of poems, live individual or group performance or video, group choral reading with props and costumes. Rubrics for the above projects: Message in Music – Assignment is to present lyrics to a song with a strong, clear message with both a visual aid component and an oral presentation explaining the message or meaning of the song (including CD/tape of song).
- Exemplary: Clear explanation of message/meaning of song and effective presentation of the song, singer, and two selected lyrics with explanation of why you chose this song
- Proficient: Fairly clear explanation of message/meaning of song and mostly effective presentation with almost all required components evident
- Developing: Somewhat clear explanation of message/meaning, but several required components are missing
- Unsatisfactory: No presentation given
- Exemplary: Highly creative and very effective in displaying your song
- Proficient: Creative and mostly effective in displaying your song
- Developing: Fairly clear and adequate for displaying your song
- Unsatisfactory: No visual aid present
Other Ideas for Writing Stories:
Going beyond formula fiction. Teachers often assume that writing within such formulas involves little creative effort, and should therefore be discouraged. However, rather than passively reproducing these forms, adolescents often use the writing of formula stories to explore issues of their own gender identity. Based on an analysis of British early adolescents’ story writing, Gemma Moss (1989) found that they mimicked formulaic genre stories, with males typically writing adventure stories and females writing romances. But in writing the adventure stories, males examined their own dilemma of being judged as “superior” or “inferior” by other males. And females explored issues of females’ and males’ understanding and approval of each other. Moss found that rather than simply accepting cultural stereotypes, adolescents—particularly less-advantaged students—were actively reshaping the conventional forms.
Developing conflicts. Students could also develop conflicts around characters’ conflicting allegiances to different worlds they inhabit, conflicts students experience in having to continually negotiate differences between their family, peer-group, community, school, and workplace worlds. For example, the highly interactive PBS website for a program on “Borders” (see the Website) features three students Cecilia Garza, Gilberto Perales, and Kate Gándara, from border towns in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. Cecilia and Gilbert were raised in a rural community and have experienced the struggles and triumphs of small town life along the Texas Mexican border, while Kate's experience is grounded in the bigger border town of McAllen, Texas. Cecilia and Kate have recently left their rural homes for college, while Gilbert is in the process of applying to college.
These students are continually struggling to succeed in school and become successful in college. Cecilia received support from an extended family network as well as a nonprofit organization, Llano Grande Center, where she worked. In 2001, she became a student at Columbia University in New York City. At the time of the program, Gilbert was a senior in high school and, like Cecilia, worked at the nonprofit organization. Kate, worked as a ballerina for the South Texas Dance Theatre as well as a the nonprofit and began as a student at Emerson College in Boston in 2001.
While working for the Llano Grande Center, these students engaged in a community based research project in which they examined their own identities related to negotiating different borders in their lives. This including conducting oral history interviews with family members, relative, and friends about their own experiences in what are often highly conflicted cultures related to links to Mexican versus American cultural worlds. Based on their research, they developed some narratives that are on the Borders website.
Students could discuss these stories and then use them to describe borders and barriers in their own lives that could serve at the basis for their own stories. For example, students are often conflicted about their allegiances to achieving popularity with their peers based on peer-group norms versus conforming to the school, family, or community norms. This places a student in the ethical dilemma of having to choose between these conflicting allegiances based on their own desires, needs, or goals. By having their characters work through such conflicts, students may then vicariously be working through ways of coping with these ethical dilemmas.
Point of view/perspective. Authors differ from their narrators in that narrators function as active characters in the text by describing or reflecting on events. A first person narrator assumes a particularly active role in shaping events in a narrative (Lothe, 2000). In contrast, third person narrators tend to remain more aloof from the events. These narrators are often addressing their own audience within the narrative—the narratee, who difference from the implied audience or the actual reader. Students may choose between an omniscient third-person point-of-view in which they provide descriptions of how characters are thinking about events—“Mike was thinking that his mother didn’t notice that he was upset with her”—as opposed to a first-person point-of-view—“I saw that my mother didn’t see that I was upset with her.” Students may choose an omniscient third-person point-of-view if they want to make explicit a number of different characters’ thoughts. For example, a speaker may switch from Mike’s point of view to that of the mother’s—“His mother knew that Mike was upset with her, but didn’t want to get into an argument with him.” Students may choose a first-person point-of-view if they want to dramatize the internal thoughts of a main character in ways that portray that character’s traits. “I saw that my mother didn’t see that I was upset with her” serves to portray the “I’” sensitivity and empathy for his mother.
Students may portray characters’ perspectives and attitudes through descriptions of characters’ emotional reactions and descriptions of events and other characters. For example, if a character believes that everyone in the world is out to do them in, then a student needs to portray this character’s paranoid outlook through use of frantic, overwrought language.
Beginnings and endings. As they move to completing their stories, students need to work on beginnings and endings that serve to engage readers. One limitation of many opening sequences is that they attempt to overload the reader with all of the information about the characters, setting, and conflict, as opposed so opening up the beginning of a key event hooks in a reader. Similarly, effective stories reach an ending without a lot of additional moral statement or commentary about what happened in the story.
Multi-genre narratives: Graphic/digital stories. Students could also produce stories employing a multi-genre format that includes a range of different media (Eisner, 1996). For example, students could create multi-genre hypermedia stories that incorporate sound, images, video-clips, voice-overs into their stories that serve to illustrate their stories, as well as graphic or comic-book versions of their stories based on studying comic book forms (de Vos, 2001).
Publishing stories on-line. Students are often motivated to write given the potential of publishing their stories. The web site contains a number of on-line sites that not only publish students’ stories, but also provide students with feedback from both experts and peers.
Autobiographical narratives. One of the most basic narrative forms is the autobiographical narrative. In the autobiographical narrative, the writer recalls a past event or events in their life that portray the nature of the past self or identity of a particular period in one’s life (Barros, 1998; Olney, 1998; Quigley, 2000; Rosen, 1999). Autobiographical writers portray the past self through specific practices and from the perspective of one’s past point of view. In recounting the often traumatic experience of going from a small elementary school to a larger, more impersonal middle or junior high school, a high school student recaptures these difficult experiences from the perspective as a sixth grader or seventh grade coping with the challenges of entering a new school.
Writers portray the past self not as an isolated, autonomous “individual,” but as what Paul John Eakin (1999) described as the “relational self” who is constructed through social relationships with others and social institutions. This means that students could focus on portraying specific instances of social interactions with significant others who serve to define their particular beliefs and attitudes associated with the past self. For example, in portraying tensions with an overbearing, strict father, a student portrays how she began to define her own beliefs through resisting her father.
Students often assume that autobiographical writing involves recalling a lot of past events in their life, for example, the fact that they broke their leg in second grade or hit a home run in a championship game in fourth grade. Simply highlighting events in a laundry-list approach does not portray events in detail to portray a past self who is experiencing these events. Students are more likely to be successful in showing their past selves participating in and reacting to events if they focus on a single, particular past event, as opposed to writing summaries about a series of events. By focusing on one event, they can then develop that event through descriptions of particular actions or dialogue, as in writing a short story.
To recall certain details from past experience, students could free write about specific aspect of past events. They could also browse through photos, yearbooks, letters, writings, art work, diaries, and other artifacts or visit past sites or places in which an event occurred, experiences that can evoke memories of past events. They could also interview people who knew them at the time of the event, asking them to recall perceptions of their actions or identity. And, they could conduct family history or genealogy research to capture information about past family members that may be relevant to writing about past events.
In writing about past events, students are often concerned about recalling details of events exactly as they happened. In some cases, if they cannot recall all of the details, they give up on their writing. At this point, you may want to discuss issues of memory and past events, noting that people’s versions of the past may differ as they age. You may also want to note that it is often difficult to capture all of the details exactly as they happened, in some cases, requiring a fictional version of details.
As part of writing autobiographical narratives, students could also read examples of autobiographical essays, noting some of the techniques employed—setting the scene in a manner that creates a cultural world, adopting a past point of view consistent with one’s past self, employing dialogue to portray identities and relationships, or implying what one learned about one’s past self through the portrayed experience.
Students could also study full-length autobiographies, examining how speakers’ perspectives shift during their lifetime. Many of these shifts are related to persons’ experiences with others who serve as mentors or role models. For example, in Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the main character develops an increasing sense of agency given her experiences with her feisty grandmother who show her how to stand up to racist taunts by a group of white boys. Or, they could examine the ways in which the writer’s past selves were influenced by shifts in cultural contexts, creating a challenge to their previous sense of self. In all four of her autobiographies, as Angelou moves through different worlds, she adopts different identities as daughter, student, dancer, writer, poet, and activist.
Students could also study examples of biography or memoir writing that employ similar techniques to portray another familiar person—a parent, grandparent, relative, friend or someone whom they study within the context of their work. For example, in Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir and Tis: A Memoir Frank McCourt describes his parents and relatives growing up in Ireland by adopting both a sympathetic, but also a critical perspective on their working-class culture.
From reading full-length autobiographies, students may gain a sense of the differences between past versus present points of view, noting how writers often adopt a past point of view to capture past events as they experiencing those events. They may also note tensions between past and present points of view, tensions that suggest changes in their identities.
Students could also organize their autobiographies around particular topics or themes (see the Website for examples):
- Literacy autobiographies. Students could write literacy autobiographies in which they describe their experiences with different types of experiences with a range of different literacies associated with reading, writing, drama, viewing, computer use, or social interaction. They could recall instances in which they acquired use of these different literacies and how those literacies served to bolster their sense of self as competent in employing these literacies and/or their social relationships with others. Students could use these literacy autobiographies in conjunction with their literacy portfolios. You can also learn much about your students’ literacy development from these literacy autobiographies. You may also want to create your own literacy autobiography in conjunction with developing your portfolios.
- Identity autobiographies. Students could portray experiences in terms of defining their identities in terms of gender, class, race/ethnicity, or age associated with being a member of a particular culture. For example, they may recall instances in which they became aware of the importance of being a female or male within a culture that celebrated or challenged those gender categories. Or, they could portray instances in which they become aware of how their race or ethnicity was a factor in defining their identities
- Travel/migration stories. Students could write about their travel or migration experiences, portraying their experiences in visiting or moving to a different place or culture. In writing about these experiences, they could focus on the challenges of having to adapt to a different world or culture.
- Survival/close-call stories. Students could recall instances in which they survived certain challenges or close-calls. Or, they could create fictional versions of such stories. For example, they may recall the experience of becoming lost in the woods on a camping trip.