How do I grab students' attention while teaching literature?  I'm a new teacher, so I need some help.We will be reading The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I have a freakish interest in novel artwork--you know, the art on covers of classic books.  (I have 22 different editions/covers for The Scarlet Letter, for example.)  I nearly always start a lit unit by showing them all the book covers and asking them what they expect to read about, who the novel is being marketed to, and what seems to be the key element to watch for in the work based on what they've seen.  They're generally chomping at the bit to see what their book cover design is going to be by the time we've finished.  Works for me, anyway.

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kimfuji | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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I've been teaching for over 20 years; and I think it's good to compare what's happening inthe novel, short story or poem to something that is happening in the news. I think that the students need to see that the subjects in the stories are like people in our everyday lives. Especially I like to speak regular everyday English when I teach Shakespeare or older styles of English so that they can see what is really going on. I want them to notice the action and how all people's basic emotions and reactions are the same.

If we get them engaged in literature the world would be a better place. When they get angry they could write an "Angry Poem" or an "Angry Story" and publish it to tell the world what they think of, instead of acting out in some unacceptable angry way in the world.

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dkgarran | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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You might consider asking students to create an "action figure" from the novel. They would need to provide attractive packaging which indicate that they've read and understand the book, an action figure which should be handmade, and a few "accessories" which would reflect objects that are of importance to the character.

You can also ask students to create a billboard or poster to advertise the novel to potential readers.

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ssengupta | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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This happened years ago when I was a starting assistant professor of English, entrusted to teach a course in "Introduction to Literature," to inmates from a New York prison. The syllabus called for Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads (1798)!

When I arrived at the classroom the students were scattered all over the room, sitting on desks, chatting, even smoking. They just took a casual glance at me and went back to whatever they were doing. The more I said, "Excuse me!" "Please pay attention!" the more their noise grew. I was holding a Complete Works of William Wordsworth and panic stricken, looking out the window. Outside was the South Bronx, one of the most dilapidated, bombed out communities in New York City.

Suddenly, I noticed the street sign outside: Lennox Avenue.

I turned my face to the classroom, full of African American and Latino students. In their stony, dark faces, I suddenly saw the face of Langston Hughes and remembered his poem, "Lennox Avenue Mural."

Gathering all my courage, I shouted over the noise of the classroom:

What happens to a dream deferred

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Feeling like a cinema star and an ass, I engaged the stares of the students. They had all stopped talking. I recited a large section of the rest of the poem and ended by saying, "Gentlemen, this poem is about you!"

From that moment I became their favorite teacher.

Need I turn this episode into a concept about teaching?

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ksduncan | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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How do I grab students' attention while teaching literature?  I'm a new teacher, so I need some help.

We will be reading The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman.

One of the best ways that I have found to get students interested in literature before getting into the heavy reading is by allowing them to make modern day connections with it. As the others responders have suggested, anticipation guides can work very well. The easiest way to develop one is to come up with a list of questions that address central themes and conflicts in the book. Have students fill it out without telling them what it is for, then allow for class discussion. After the students have had this opportunity, explain to them that you are going to read a book that addresses all of these issues. Another activity I have used over the years is journaling. I would pose open-ended questions for students. They did not realize that the questions addressed issues the characters faced until we were into the novel, and then they were able to make connections and relate to the characters. I also think it is essential to provide background information to help the students gain an understanding of the setting, especially if it is a period piece. There may be some documentary videos you can use or articles for them to read. I always spend a ot of time researching online before I begin teaching a new piece. There are tons of resources out there that tecahers have already developed and just waiting for you! 

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appletrees | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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The key to engaging students is peak their interest. Find a way to connect the theme, characters or story line with current events or other things (music, movies) that the students can relate. Real life applications.

I think you mean 'pique' their interest...yes?

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appletrees | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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My absolute favorite way to grab students' attention in the mainstream of literature is by using modern movie clips (incredibly short ones, that is) to illustrate a point.  I just LOVE to do this.  In my experience, nothing gets kids talking about literature at home more than this method.  In fact, on parent night, I give the parents a sample "class" by using a clip and a piece of literature to illustrate my point.  And THEN I beg them to listen to their kids when they come home talking about movie clips and the literature related to them!  : )  But I'm going to admit that I am generally a motivator, in that I do well with students who NEED to be motivated (and not ones that already are).  I therefore prefer lower-level students for this reason.

This being said, here's just one example:  When I teach Poe's concept of "single effect" I show a clip from one of my favorite horror movies called Paperhouse.  It's a G-rated clip that shows a girl drawing a picture of a house, being made fun of in class, having an epileptic fit, and then running toward the house she drew.  Freaky!  Then we do an involved comparison activity to find if Poe would consider the clip as an example of single effect.  The general consensus is always "no" because of the laughter in the classroom.  Very true.

Another example follows my mini-unit on Uncle Tom's Cabin.  I always show the short play from The King and I and do a really fun chart activity comparing and contrasting the two versions.  SO much fun!  However, the general way that I teach novels is by showing short clips of the chapters we read in the midst of the unit.  I really don't like showing whole movies at all.  (The kids hate that.)  ; )

Finally, another method of enhancing student interest is by having one or two major literary "events" per year.  During my Transcendentalism unit, I always have the kids memorize their absolute favorite quote that proclaims who they are (preferably from literature).  Then I schedule a day to take them outside into nature, have them run to the top of the highest hill I can find, and have them scream the quote out at the top of their lungs!  Transcendentalism at its finest!  Always something to remember:  becoming one with nature that way.  : )  My second "event" is a real "speakeasy" party after reading The Great Gatsby.  I give students extra credit for dressing up as flappers and gangsters, . . . and I truly teach them the Charleston and the Tango while they sip wine (Cheerwine, of course) and beer (root beer, of course), with a dance contest at the end of class.  My profile picture is the photo of me as a flapper at one of these shindigs.  : )

Good luck to you in this endeavor, for I believe that making the literature of the ages interesting to kids today is the true art of our craft!  : )

 

It's great to hear that you use the film "Paperhouse" for your classes! I think this film is one of very few excellent examples on film of contemporary Gothic. Not only does the main character create a structure out of her own imagination, but a friend who seems also to be a possible love interest.

 

I also like the idea of events using costumes, dance, and fod and drink. I have found engaging students' five sense is an excellent way to get them interested in literature. Now if only there was a way to use this approach in teaching Composition!

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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My absolute favorite way to grab students' attention in the mainstream of literature is by using modern movie clips (incredibly short ones, that is) to illustrate a point.  I just LOVE to do this.  In my experience, nothing gets kids talking about literature at home more than this method.  In fact, on parent night, I give the parents a sample "class" by using a clip and a piece of literature to illustrate my point.  And THEN I beg them to listen to their kids when they come home talking about movie clips and the literature related to them!  : )  But I'm going to admit that I am generally a motivator, in that I do well with students who NEED to be motivated (and not ones that already are).  I therefore prefer lower-level students for this reason.

This being said, here's just one example:  When I teach Poe's concept of "single effect" I show a clip from one of my favorite horror movies called Paperhouse.  It's a G-rated clip that shows a girl drawing a picture of a house, being made fun of in class, having an epileptic fit, and then running toward the house she drew.  Freaky!  Then we do an involved comparison activity to find if Poe would consider the clip as an example of single effect.  The general consensus is always "no" because of the laughter in the classroom.  Very true.

Another example follows my mini-unit on Uncle Tom's Cabin.  I always show the short play from The King and I and do a really fun chart activity comparing and contrasting the two versions.  SO much fun!  However, the general way that I teach novels is by showing short clips of the chapters we read in the midst of the unit.  I really don't like showing whole movies at all.  (The kids hate that.)  ; )

Finally, another method of enhancing student interest is by having one or two major literary "events" per year.  During my Transcendentalism unit, I always have the kids memorize their absolute favorite quote that proclaims who they are (preferably from literature).  Then I schedule a day to take them outside into nature, have them run to the top of the highest hill I can find, and have them scream the quote out at the top of their lungs!  Transcendentalism at its finest!  Always something to remember:  becoming one with nature that way.  : )  My second "event" is a real "speakeasy" party after reading The Great Gatsby.  I give students extra credit for dressing up as flappers and gangsters, . . . and I truly teach them the Charleston and the Tango while they sip wine (Cheerwine, of course) and beer (root beer, of course), with a dance contest at the end of class.  My profile picture is the photo of me as a flapper at one of these shindigs.  : )

Good luck to you in this endeavor, for I believe that making the literature of the ages interesting to kids today is the true art of our craft!  : )

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Everyone has such wonderful suggestions! One strategy I find most successful is to connect to something in the lives of the students.  Whatever we read, there is some connection to a movie, a song, a situation the students have experienced, a current event, or something that the students have some knowledge and understanding of.  This is what most of us call "scaffolding," a term used by Vygotsky, one of my favorites. When we use what the students already know, we can make connections to go beyond what they know to what they need to know. 

Since a classroom is a  collection of individuals with different knowlege and experiences, scaffolding is  more complex than finding one way to connect.  There may be a dozen ways of making that connection to something in a student's life.  While I do not hold pop culture very dear in my personal life, I find that having some knowledge of it goes a long way to making these connections for students.  What stars do they care about?  What music do they listen to? What movies are they seeing?  What neighborhoods do they live in? What in their cultures might help them to see the relevance of what they read? 

Good luck to you.  I hope you find good ways to carry out your mission. 

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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One really short and simple, but very effective, method I sometimes used to first introduce a piece of literature was to write a list on the board that reflects the content of what my students would be reading. I would do this at the beginning of class, without any explanation. This got their interest at once. (What was I doing?) As the words went up on the board, their interest would grow, but I wouldn't answer any questions as I kept writing.

For Macbeth, for instance, I might write a list like this one.

Murder

Blood

Betrayal

Blood

Suicide

Witches

Greed

Insanity

Blood

By the time I finished, interest was established, and I would move on to another general introductory activity that required their participation before handing out the texts.

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charcunning | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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First off, if you do not find the literature fascinating, neither will they! Pick things that are high quality but that are also very interesting.

Students come with so little prior knowledge. I basically teach a history lesson before each book we read! This helps them be grounded in the story and not lost--if they don't get the setting, they misunderstand half the conflicts and character actions!

Also, remember that they can draw about the book, find songs that relate to the book, write poems, build things...they can do ANYTHING; they don't just have to sit and write.

 

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In reference to Post #2, the anticipatory guide is extremely successful with all types of students.  I use them often with struggling, at-risk students as well as with my AP students.  A key to success with these guides is to leave room on the guide for students to support their "rating" with examples from real-life, other texts, or personal examples.  This not only gets a better discussion going, but it also helps students learn that they must be able to support their opinions logically.

A method that I use to encourage class-wide participation is a grading weight which assigns 33% of the overall grade to students participating orally in the discussion at least once, 33% for a complete, well-supported guide, and 33% for students listening to one another without interrupting, etc. This might sound challenging to keep track of, but as I assist with the discussion, I use a class roster and check off students for listening and participating.

Year after year, my students tell me that this is their favorite and most profitable activity in my classroom.  Below is an example of instructions and then one of the statements from my guide for The Scarlet Letter.

Instructions: Each statement below is connected to ideas discussed in The Scarlet Letter.  Rate each statement by whether you agree or disagree with it.  Use the letters below.  Write at least one example after each statement to support your opinion.

S =  Support (You agree with the statement.)

Q = Qualify (You agree but can also think of situations when the statement is untrue.)

R =  Refute   (You disagree with the statement.)

 

1. _____ Punishment has a positive effect on the recipient.

Proof: ___________________________________

___________________________________

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hero5 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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It is best if you can snag their attention from the very beginning. Try to find or come up with an introductory activity that will give them a lot of great background knowledge. The Midwife's Apprentice is historical fiction and it's history they are probably not familiar with. Many will not even know what a midwife is. Something akin to this activity http://trackstar.4teachers.org/trackstar/ts/viewTrack.do?number=98365 is a lot of fun for kids and gives them a chance to explore without you just feeding them the information. Then, while they read they will see things from that research and get excited and connect to it! I use trackstar.4teachers often with my students and they really enjoy it. There are activities already made that you can use or you can come up with your own. I'm sure there are many other ways to grab their interest but if you can introduce the information to the students before they even see the book - the will enjoy making their own connections.

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pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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As an English Teacher, one thing that my students pay attention to is my depth of knowledge of a story.  You must PREPARE, PREPARE AND PREPARE.  If you don't know the book that you are teaching, get reading, get analyzing, start developing insights into how you will present the text, how will you make it relevant to their lives.

One of the first things that you learn in teaching is that a good lesson allows the students to make a connection with the material.  Immerse yourself in the book and go to school armed with expertise on the work.

Your students will be impressed with your knowledge, and they will get into the reading if you are excited about it yourself.

After you read the book, use the eNotes study guide on the book, buy the lesson plan and use the creative suggestions that are provided in the really great lesson plans that are available at eNotes.com.

Good Luck!

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Introducing children to literature is a challenging process, but if it is done right, there can be much from which to draw and can set the stage for returning to prereading assumptions during and post reading.  The website below can assist with some basic strategies to open the reading process.  One strategy that can be done is to open with an "anticipation guide," which are a series of statements which evoke a variety of responses from students.  The statements should have relevance to the novel, and are used to open discussions that arise from the novel.  For example, an anticipation guide statement for this book might be, "Women have an easier time in life than men do."  Students can rate their responses on a scale of 1-5, 1 being strongly disagree and leading to 5, which indicates a strong agreement.  Another statement could be something like, "Poverty can be overcome by anyone and everyone."  These statements are intended to start the discussion about the issues which will be brought out in the text.  As you read the text, these statements can be revisited and it would be interesting, once the book is done to see if students have changed their opinions about the statements.  When making anticipation guides, make sure you frame the statements as one that will evoke debate and discussion.  Another prereading activity could be for students to scan the book, examine the covers, and generate a list of questions/ predictions/ assertions they have about the book.  Somewhere in the classroom, write down all of them and keep them up in the classroom.  As you read the book, during class, refer back to this list and answer each question, validate each prediction, or modify the predictions that were off base.  This is another prereading strategy that can be revisited in the phases of during reading and post reading.

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