Sometimes a lesson is magic.
Daily, I start A.P. Lit with a poem on the digital display. We read it out loud. Sometimes they identify lit terms in action, or we'll talk about interpretations. Sometimes we just read without discussion.
So, it wasn't unusual for them to see the lyrics to "The Whole Wide World" by Wreckless Eric displayed. I didn't play the song, though, and no one recognized it from the movie. I asked them to read it and chat about its major themes. They were eager to watch the film, so discussion was short. I started the DVD.
When Will Ferrell sang the song a while later, though, a ripple of recognition ran through the room. It was very distinct--almost electric. One of the kids said, "Oh, Mr. Van Pelt!" They knew what the song was about searching for one love. If I hadn't done the poem at first, maybe a couple kids would have listened to the lyrics and realized they paralleled the film's concerns, but most would have missed it. Instead, everyone knew the song as if it was their favorite piece. It surprised them, but it also deepened the experience in that moment because the literature reached a spot they were familiar with, a place where they already had knowledge and feelings and associations. In other words, they experienced as a group, a full blown allusion that worked.
Here's the YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jS7AD-lqwA
What have you done that was magic?
An activity that I did recently was to have my students make mobiles based on the characters in A Tale of Two Cities. They had to choose pictures and adjectives to symbolically and verbally describe the character. I then had them present them. They are colorful and beautiful, but my favorite part was listening to them explain why they chose their symbols!
I am really pleased with what I have done this term with my Grade 12 students. We have worked on two bildungsroman novels, Great Expectations and Jane Eyre, focusing on how the central protagonist changes and develops and is able to assume their role in society at the end of the novel because of their experiences - both positive and negative. In addition we wated The Motorcycle Diares, tracing Ernesto "Che" Guevara's path from trainee doctor to revolutionary. One of the key assignments my students had to do was, based on their study of these texts, write a reflection identifying 5 key stages in their lives which have helped transform them into the people they are today. The results were great and I received some really thoughtful reflections even from those students that are normally "turned off" by English. I will be definitely using this approach again! It seems to really help Grade 12 students reflect on who they are, where they have come from and where they would like to be.
One of my "perfect lessons" occurred last year, when I was teaching a piece of literature that neither I nor my students connected with -- "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder. While it certainly has its merits, and paints a poignant portrait of life in Grovers Corners, my students found it to be a pure snooze-fest, and I can't honestly say I disagreed.
As an activity to stimulate the kids' involvement and engagement with the piece, I had them work in cooperative learning groups and form 3D maps of Grovers Corners, using descriptions and directions from the text itself. Landmarks had to be accurate to the stage manager's description of the town, using Crayola Model Magic, sheets of foam board, markers, bent-out paper clips, and anything readily available. The students consulted one another and the text, and the end result was an unforgettable class project. When we returned to reading the play, the students were all much more eager to see how things developed, as was I. I plan to use the "3D Map plan" again this year, even though I'll be teaching The Crucible during our drama unit instead. It should be interesting to see how this group portrays Salem.
I envy wherever it is you teach. I once taught at a middle school whose principal was a former math teacher. I was told in no uncertain terms that poetry was "a waste of time" since it wasn't addressed on Florida's FCAT test. Thankfully, I no longer teacher there, and the sorry excuse for a principal is now retired and no longer hindering the teaching of language arts.
My magic was borrowed from the late Sandy Lynne who devised a strategy called poem sketching. This remarkable man comprised hundreds of word four word groups to be used as inspiration for poetry. These were the "bait". Three of the words would fit one would not. For example: winter, homeless, cold, and garden. First, the students would pick their topic and then their word group (or their words and then their topic). After that they use each of the four words in three or more sentences about their topic. When they have finished writing and revising their sentences, they put line breaks into the sentences to create the poetic flow they want.
This had my kids who "don't do poetry" writing remarkable things, and even more than that, 88% of my students completed the work and turned it in on time.
Recently, I taught a lesson that introduced Romeo and Juliet. I found modern songs that referenced this play. I gave the students copies of the lyrics of the songs to read. As they read, they had to find allusions to Romeo and Juliet and then explain what the quoted lyrics meant. After the activity, we watched the music video for Taylor Swift's "Love Story." The students enjoyed this activity and found it interesting that the untimely tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is applicable to modern-day love and relationships.
I managed not to mention in my post that the movie was Stranger That Fiction. This is what happens when you trim like crazy to stay under 1,500 characters.
That is a cool sounding lesson. What age group?