The end of the year will be here soon and like any teacher right now, especially senior teachers, I’m worried about keeping my students engaged through the spring. That might seem like an impossible task, but I’ve found that short individual presentations from each student can keep everyone interested. I’m trying to think outside the box, the literal box of my classroom and school, to keep things fresh, interesting, and meaningful. I want them to keep reading, writing, and having great conversations.
We spend so much of our own time looking for great poems, paintings, or songs to pair with literature to help our students simplify the complicated ideas in literature. Why not let them do the work and share a little bit of who they are by presenting on something they love?
It doesn’t really matter when or how we ask students to connect fictional literature to the outside world. When I tell people I teach English, they will often tell a story about how they connected one of their favorite songs to a novel in a presentation. For many students, it becomes a defining moment for them, and one they will never forget.
In my end-of-year course evaluation, almost every student will talk about how they appreciated the opportunity to interpret literature in a more creative way. The essay will always have value, but fun, short projects and assignments will always be the thing that sticks after they graduate.
Here’s my list of five short assignment or larger project ideas for this spring:
1. Favorite passage
This is always a great place to start a project because the passage or quote becomes the foundation of the project and what they will remember about all of the literature they read. Keep it open – if you teach seniors let them choose from any novel, poem, short story, or essay they read in high school.
2. Conversation with Friends or Family
It’s important that students take the ideas and conversations that happen in class outside the classroom. It’s the point of everything we do. Instead of just hoping that they talk about the ideas in literature, I’m going to ask them to create something they can take with them, a record of the conversation with someone in their family. The audio might not need to be live – it’s fairly easy to send short audio clips of responses to questions through email.
3. Nature and Places
Students can compare the many, many places in literature to the places in their lives. Places symbolize the consciousness of a character or the emotion of a moment. The fictional places in a novel create an atmosphere just like the situations we experience in real life. The places in real life may be familiar places or they may be places that a student has only seen one time. When we soak in all of our surroundings, we become a part of what we see. The places we have been – especially the places we remember –represent who we are. When we ask students to connect the places of literature to the places of real life, we ask them to understand the meaning and beauty of the world around them.
In the past, I’ve asked to students to present paintings, short clips from songs or movies, or video clips that they love. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from these presentations. It helps me understand so much about who they are and what kind of world they want to live in. There are so many surprising ways to connect the visual and auditory arts with literature. It could be the lyrics or the colors or the symbolism.
I broadly define culture as food, dress, architecture, religion, sports, hobbies, science, politics, history or anything that influences groups of people or represents who they are. I remember one year a student wore an Indian dress and danced for the class, another year a student played guitar and sang a song they wrote. Another student played a video of himself skateboarding. One student played a musical instrument they bought in Mexico while traveling with their family. Another showed pictures of a knife he made himself. One student learned to play “Mr. Jones” by the Counting Crows because he said he remembered me saying it was one of my favorite songs.
I created a project I called The Creativity Project and this year we’re working on a Love + Stories Project. They are similar in approach, but each has its own set of quotes to guide the conversation and assignments. I know nothing will be easy this year, but I’m trying as hard as I can to keep conversations positive and fun.
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers