My beat this year is all about exploring how students can write their way INto texts and use their writing (or others’) to learn more about literature. If you’re looking for new ways to use writing in a literature study or hoping to blend writing workshop into a course where it doesn’t seem like a workshop should fit, then this beat is for you!
It’s that bittersweet time for prom and spring concerts, for the election of new officers and the proofing of yearbook pages, for writing out last unit calendars and adjusting the “Ken Burns Effect” swipe on the senior slideshow. And, for many of us, it’s time for external exams.
Don’t let my first languid sentence fool you: at this time of year, I’m feeling anything but leisurely. These are the minute-by-minute days when items just keep piling up on my to-do list. One of those items was to create a set of paired passages for my seniors to use as practice for the IB Literature Paper II exam, a comparative analysis of at least two of the four works we studied this semester. I wanted to gather unexpected pairs, pairs that employed the plays students avoided in their practice writing, pairs that thrilled my nerdy English brain. If only I could find the time to sit down and do it!
And then, last week, just as I stopped to catch my breath, I had a little bit of a brainstorm: didn’t my students need to make their own connections on the exam? Shouldn’t they be practicing how to turn our texts around like prisms and catch the light of inspiration at new angles? And didn’t I have a device in my purse that could capture quotes at rapid speed? Yes, yes, yes!
I dug my copies of our plays out of my overflowing teacher tote, pulled my phone out from between the couch cushions (already strewn with some of the other contents of that teacher tote) and started snapping photos of favorite and obscure passages from each play. Enough with trying to find a PDF text or awkwardly holding a book open with a forearm so I could type out a passage!
Once I was done photographing quotes, I opened up a new Google Slides project and pasted one quote photo onto each slide. I created enough quote slides for my largest class and then made copies of the slide deck for my other two sections. Above each quote I wrote a quick instruction for students to pair the passage with a particular play (usually the least likely choice) or a passage from a play of their choice. Then, I made a sample slide that shared a quote, a paired passage, and a brief list of the connections I could make between the passages. My sample slide looked like this:
When students arrived in class the next day, I shared the slide deck with them and asked THEM to make the pairs of passages. Like I had, they could snap pictures of passages and paste them on the slides to save time. When I created the list of quote slides, I had pairs in mind, but I was surprised to see the new and unexpected passages that students selected instead.
Now, my classes have a an easy-to-access resource for remembering quotes, making comparisons between texts, and (if students’ connection lists featured them) reviewing dramatic conventions at work in passages and whole plays.
As I look at students’ work during this practice, I can see what they understand (and, unfortunately, I can also see what they’ve missed or when/where they haven’t read very closely). I look forward to doing something like this earlier in the year next year, and I think that a tool like this slide deck could be used for other purposes:
- Share “before and after” photos or screenshots of drafts and revisions to demonstrate HOW students revised a paper and share their best revisions with classmates
- Make a set of slides with mentor sentences; each student must write a sentence modeled after the mentor text. The class could peruse the slide deck for future writing inspiration.
- Pair passages from students’ own writing; what do they notice about their style when they see unrelated lines side by side?
- Make a set of art slides: can students find passages from your course readings to pair with the images and explain the connections they see?
- Make a deck of quotes about life or literature; can students find passages to support or contradict those claims and explain how they’ve linked the passage to the claim?
This “lightning bolt” lesson led my students back into our texts and yielded a useful tool for review, which is exactly what needs to happen for us at this time of the year. If this lesson is also what you need, I hope you’ll try it out and let me know how it goes on Twitter @MsJochman or in the comments below! And if it buys you more time to clean out that teacher tote and write the script for that senior award you have to deliver, all the better!