Tag Archives: responding to novels

60 Second Recap

If you haven’t checked out 60 Second Recap, you’re in for a treat. 60 Second Recap is a collection of video clips covering the plots, characters, symbolism, and more of favorite classic literature for teens. But it’s not a dry, overly-academic examination. It’s a lively conversation hosted by a real-life, somewhat zany hostess named Jenny (you can find her on Twitter).

The site’s overview gives you a sense of the tongue-in-cheek humor that’s behind this great site:

“Eat your lima beans,” Mom used to say.

And now that you’re out on your own, honestly, are lima beans a staple of your culinary repertoire?

There, in a lima bean, lies the problem confronting the great works of literature. We’re all forced to read them in school so we can get good grades so we can go to a good college so we can get a good job so we can forget all about that literature they used to force us to read so we could get good grades.

The 60second Recap™ aims to break this cycle of canonical irrelevance. We want to help teens (yes, teens of all ages!) engage with literature. We want to help them see it not as some chore to be endured, but as — dare we say it? — the gift of a lifetime. How? Through the language of our time — the language of video. Video that’s focused, engaging, informative … and short enough to hold just about anyone’s attention.

Smirk if you must. Consider this yet another mile-marker on civilization’s road to perdition. But here’s the fact: You won’t get non-readers to read by forcing them to read more. You’ll get them to read by opening their eyes to the marvels awaiting them between the covers of that homework assignment.

With the 60second Recap™, teens finally have an alternative to the boring, text-based study guides that have burdened them for generations. And — who knows? — maybe that’s just what they’ll need to begin a love affair with literature, one that will last a lifetime.

In addition to the videos on classics such as Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, Frankenstein, Lord of the Flies, and Hamlet, users will find a section called Recap Resource which includes a Dictionary of Terms (allegory, motifs, subtext, protagonist, etc.) and How to Write a Paper (that Won’t Put your Teacher to Sleep).  Again, these are presented in video form, which them much less intimidating for the average high school user.

The site also features an area for video responses from users, and another for users to request titles for recapping.

I highly recommend you visit the site and give it a look! I’m curious to see how it will change as it grows.

Know another great site for teachers working with novels? Find me on Twitter!

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Teaching Metaphorically

In response to my prior post about Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject, I received an email from Adriana who asked, “Can you give an example of a metaphorical lesson? Not a lesson that teaches about metaphors, but a lesson that uses the idea.”

While I had a few ideas, I thought the best way might be to show a lesson in action. Check out this clip from Mr. Langhorst’s 8th grade in Liberty, Missouri. It’s a perfect example of an extended metaphor.

I love this approach! In my third and fourth grades, where I’ve taught the Revolutionary War as well, I’ve taken a slightly different approach. Students were presented with a letter from the school board, announcing that due to last year’s low test scores several drastic measures would be put into place: extended school hours, summer school for all students below a 3.5 average, school on Saturdays, and no more Physical Education. Students became quite upset that neither they not their parents were in attendance at this meeting, and that they were being punished for last year’s bad scores (purely fictitious as well). Seeing how distraught my students were, I graciously allowed them to draft letters to the testing coordinator (Mr. Itzal LaSham) expressing their feelings. Without fail, students created the most articulate, persuasive writing of their lives! When read aloud, the letters of protest were impassioned and convincing.

But then I wondered aloud, “I’m not sure if we should have done this. Perhaps Mr. LaSham will get upset, and call your parents. Are you guys really willing to take that risk?” Out come the erasers, but not for all. Most students are so adamant in their beliefs that they refuse to erase their names, no matter what the consequences!

It’s usually at this point, although sometimes much earlier, that some student will exclaim, “This is exactly what happened to the colonists! We’re being forced to live by rules that we didn’t help to make.” And eventually, of course, I do let students in on the secret: The letter is fictitious, and so is the testing director (Mr. It’s All a Sham). We then discuss the similarity between their letters and the Declaration of Independence. Both documents express extreme dissatisfaction, but the latter is further expressing outright rebellion. Should the colonists lose this war, the bold Declaration will serve as King George’s hanging list.

In nearly twenty years of implementing this lesson, students have been faithful to not share it with their siblings or friends, and each year’s new class faithfully falls for the trick: hook, line, and sinker. But the real payoff is that years later, when students return from high school and college to visit, they’ll ask, “Did you do the letter yet?” and they’ll vividly recall every aspect of the lesson, including (here’s the clincher!) its point.

Now that’s a lesson that sticks.

If you’re a social studies teacher, check out Eric Langhorst’s blog for more great resources and insights. You may also want to check out the six elements of “stickiness” found in Dan and Chip Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

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Two Hot Resources

By sending you over to Literacy is Priceless, I’m hooking you up with two hot resources. First of all, that blog itself. Lots of web and tech resources for bringing literacy into the 21st Century.

Second is the topic of that post, which is the Shmoopwebsite. Shmoop is a fabulous collection of resources in the areas of literature, history, and poetry. I love free stuff! Everyone knows that about me. But at this site I especially appreciate thshmoope section of each resource called “Why Should I Care?” Next to free stuff, I love relevance! “Why should we care about this stuff?” is the grunted (yet valid) motto of every middle and high school student, and these well-written and funny selections answer that question (check out the Why Should I Care? for 1984).

Plan to spend some time there.

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Reading Strategy: Quote Analysis

Resource RoomGrade 5 teacher Jan emailed to say, “My students want to read and read and read, and it seems that they’re rarely slowing down to think about what they’re actually reading. Is there one simple thing I can try (immediately!) to get them to think more about what they’re reading?”

I’ll assume that we’re talking about fiction, and for starters I would recommend using quote analysis. Quote analysis is certainly nothing new; I used it informally for years before seeing it in a Resource Room lesson plan for Holes a few years back. I like the format presented there; it makes sense, and it’s readily internalized by students. (Click on that link above to check out Susan Jones’ four steps for yourself).

The activity doesn’t end there, of course. This analysis leads to discussion about the character:

  • What does this quote tell us about this character’s traits?
  • Is this behavior consistent with what we’ve seen so far, or is this a change?
  • If the character is changing, what factors or variables are bringing on these changes?
  • Think of the audience for this quote. What might be their reaction?
  • How does this quote advance the plot?
  • What future actions might occur as a result of these words?
  • Say the words aloud. Can we “hear” different interpretations of the message depending upon how it’s said? (Have students alternately emphasize one word over the others).

You can download a recent quote analysis sheet I used for Swindle and adapt it for use with your own novel. Again, I take no credit for this strategy or format, but recommend it whole-heartedly.

Have another idea for Jan’s speedy readers? Leave a comment or drop me a line.

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Tools for Teaching

You’re reading this post at the old How to Teach a Novel site. Continue reading this post or the most recent post at the new site.

mosaic-toolsTeachers often email me asking for ways they can help their students organize thoughts during the reading process. Yeah, that’s about as specific as the requests get. But not a problem; I wrestle with the same challenge in my fourth grade class and when working one-on-one with older students in tutoring situations.

My advice? Check out the resources at the Mosaic Email Group’s Teaching Tools. If you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for, or if you’re simply interested in investigating what has worked successfully in other teachers’ classrooms, this is a great place to start. You’ll find dozens of assessments, lists, organizers, prompts, posters, and more in both Word and pdf format. While there, visit the main page to learn about the origins of the site and to join their email group. This is an excellent way to collaborate with like-minded professionals who are seeking to bring their professional practice to the next level.

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When Will We Ever Use This Stuff?

You’re reading this post at the old How to Teach a Novel site. Continue reading this post or the most recent post at the new site.

“When will we ever use this stuff?” is an oft heard refrain in middle and high school classrooms, and I’ll admit I often asked that question myself (most often in Math and Science). According to Carol Jango, it’s a valid question, especially when students are asked to write responses to literature. After all, apart from college professors, who does that in real life?

In her NCTE white paper titled “Crash! The Currency Crisis in American Culture” Carol provides some answers. Jago has taught middle and high school for 32 years in Santa Monica, California, and directs the California Reading and Literature Project at UCLA. She is president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English and has written four books in the NCTE High School Literature series.

After you check out her white paper, be sure to weigh in at the NCTE ning. The follow-up comments make for interesting reading as well!

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