I'm in the process of generating ideas for a literary research paper for Honors Brit Lit seniors, and I'd appreciate input from anyone who teaches a similar course and has an assignment that works well. Thanks!
I have had students research life in the Middle Ages before/during/after reading The Canterbury Tales and then have them connect the historical facts of the time period to the topics presented in the tales. For example, they might research the Catholic Church and its various "people" such as Friars, Prioresses, Pardoners etc. and then compare to the characters in the tales. Another topic is knights and yoemen. Doing the research helps them see the ideal versus the real or the satirized version in the tales. Having the students do the research is more engaging than any powerpoint I could put together!
Thanks so much for all the responses!
I have used the theme of Representations of Men and Women, tracing through from Shakespeare's 'Othello' and sonnets, into some Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories such as 'The Adventure of the Speckled Band' and Thomas Hardy's 'Tony Kytes, the Arch-Deceiver'. Novels such as Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights', Hardy's 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' and 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' create interesting discussion, as do Dickens' texts. The poetry I use then tends to be First World War; Owen, Sassoon and Vera Brittain for some balance. Of course it is possible to keep going to the present day - but there are too many possibilities to mention here!
The first semester of each year I teach a Brit lit section. We read Beowulf, Sir Gawain, and a few selections of poetry ("The Wanderer", "The Seafarer", and "The Wife's Lament"). What I would suggest is to examine how the definition and characteristics of the hero have changed or stayed the same over time. For example, what was the epic hero?; why did this terminology come to exist?; what are other types of heroes as created by cultures and/or generations?
We have asked students who their heroes are for years. Why not have them research the idea of the hero and why they are so important to our own cultures?
What I normally do is pick a theme or a topic to work on. The past two years I have chosen bildungsroman and Gothic literature. Then, I have taught two examples of this topic, teaching Jane Eyre and Great Expectations for bildungsroman and then Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray for Gothic literature. Whilst teaching these texts, we have looked act the various aspects of the theme or topic we are looking at. Having taught these texts, I gave my students a list of other bildungsroman or Gothic novels that I think are suitable, and then they have to compare and contrast one of the novels that we studied in class with their own choice. This always works really well as it gives them their own novel to study independently, whilst studying another novel in class gives them a helpful start on key themes and ideas.
I have found that it is most helpful to start by providing either a list of authors or a list of titles for students to choose from. Then (because in my experience, even by the senior level research skills are still very low) I have seen the most success with compare-contrast type of assignments/prompts. I either have students compare a similar theme in 2 or more works, compare the same author's style or technique in two different pieces, or compare different voices of criticism on one text.
Mainly, I aim to shorten the scope of their research so that they can put the most effort into the analysis and the actual paper, rather than have them discouraged by the amount of material to sift through. Hope that helps.
In addition, I always provide a list of prompt questions for them to create their own guiding question from. At the high school level, I just think kids still need a lot of hand-holding, and I want to give them as many tools as I possibly can that they can take with them to college. I usually create several open-ended questions with certain words which can be altered to "fill-in-the-blank." Does that make sense? I have had a very positive response to this method and don't feel so much like I'm personally creating each student's thesis statement for them. *Smile.*
With the huge amount of material to cover in the senior year, I have the students do their research papers to help teach the material we will not get a chance to study. Students draw a slip of paper with an author and one of the author's works to research. We spend lots time in the library because many of my students do not have materials/access at home. Once we have explored the world of research and documentation, students present the information to the class (for most, this is to read the paper aloud to the audience). The audience has a copy of the outline to follow and a copy of the literary work being discussed ( in their textbooks, usually). The teacher has a copy of the research paper. This speeds up the paper grading process immensely. The audience sees the organizational ideas of the student writer and are exposed to other authors and writings.