How to Introduce the Value of Literature: Symbolism Show and Tell
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Every year we’re tasked with instilling a love of reading literature in teenagers that would much rather be playing sports, hanging with their friends, traveling with their family, getting to know their siblings and friends, having good conversations, going on long walks, reading the news, clicking around on social media and websites, and watching television. We have a lot of competition, so it’s important to start strong: we must immediately start the conversation about meaning-making. About world-creation.
The good thing is, this year, our students will be thirsty to know more about the world they live in. They might feel disconnected from it. Like it’s foreign. It feels that way even to the adults. I’ve never seen people so confused about the future. Like how did we get here?
This year, we need to be right there with our students. They’re going to have a lot of questions, they’re going to have a lot to say, and we’re going to need to listen to all of their stories and emotions. We’re going to need to listen carefully to what they have to say about the world they live in. The new normal is not normal. If we’re teaching behind a screen, then we need to put our humanity right in front of them. Let’s forget the virtual space between us. We need to make them smile, laugh, and see “the pure potential of the clear blank spaces” (from An Explanation of America: A Love of Death, by Robert Pinsky). Let’s get excited about this blank canvas year.
Every year, I gather the most inspirational quotes I can find about the value of literature. I let students read them, respond in writing, and then share what they wrote with the class. For the next activity, I usually put a rock from my backyard in the middle of the class. I have them look at the rock for a while, then I have them write anything they want about the rock. Some tell stories, write rhymes, or personify the rock. We talk about the science of the rock. We talk about time. What if I asked you all about this rock in 10 years from now? Then we talk about symbolism and the symbolism of the rock.
This year, since we’re starting virtual, I’m opening it up. They’ll need to find an object in their home. A symbol. An object with meaning. I think I’m going to talk about the birdhouse in my backyard. Show and tell, with a symbol. What happens when every word has meaning? Every phrase? Every image on the screen? Every experience? Every person? What happens when we understand what we’re looking at on a deeper level?
We can either sit back this year and go on autopilot, or we can be Americans. We’re a people that desperately want to problem solve. To work together despite our differences. We always want to be better than who we were. Let's start with connecting words to reality.
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