By Jennifer Unger
Confucius stated, "Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without." Who am I to argue with this great philosopher? As a teacher of English, I have always used music when I teach poetry. I always start the unit by asking, "Who likes poetry?" There are always a few hands in the air (mostly girls who compose their own love poetry to their current crush). I then ask, "Who likes music?" Amazingly, almost all hands are voraciously waving and wanting to share their favorite artists and titles. Then I hit them with the realization that music is indeed poetry, so those who love music, love poetry. I go over the poetry devices and show them a slide show of examples in songs. As a first assignment, I ask them to bring in the lyrics to one of their favorite songs (school appropriate, of course). In pairs they are given a list of poetry terms and definitions. They are then to annotate the song identifying at least five devices in their pieces. We continue to use music as we work through the poetry unit. They will look at a narrative poem and a narrative song (such as Hazard by Richard Marx- I try to use songs from my heyday) in order to find voice and other commonalities. They also find a poem and a song that share the same theme (e.g. Finding strength from within) and create a digital project explaining how both works support the theme using text evidence and images.
Poetry lessons are perfect connections with music, but after spending most of my hall duty saying, "Take your headphones off, please," I recognized that students spend so much time listening to music, and I hate to quash the things they are passionate about, so I have been using it more and more in my other units. Some of the examples in which I have used music are:
These are just some of the ways I have taken their love of one form of art and connected it to another form. I have had such luck and love with these assignments. Students take great care in their work and the other students enjoy listening. It doesn't seem all that amazing that these lessons work. People from the beginning of time have turned to music as a way to celebrate, teach, relax, and praise.
"Where words fail, music speaks."- Hans Christian Anderson.
WVCTE is wondering...
Is music part of your class? What creative ways do you connect students' love of music with literature? Would these activities work with your classes? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Jennifer C. Unger teaches English 10 inclusion, English 10 Honors, Speech and Broadcast Journalism at Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County, WV. This is her 17th year of teaching. She values being able to teach her students new ideas and introduce works of literature for them to dissect. Her favorite part of the job, though, is learning new things from her students. Her favorite parts of life are her daughters, Kylie and Katie. She is treasurer of the newly formed WVCTE.
By Tina M. Rantanen
At the end of each unit I like to explore what the students learned by letting them to use their artistic sides. This gives them another way to express what they have learned in addition to the discussing and writing we have done throughout the unit. I realize that some students are like myself and can’t draw very well, so I try to give them alternative ways to be creative and expressive. Over the years I have used two of the following examples.
Figurative Language Illustration
I love teaching Night every year with my freshmen. The book is poignant and short. Most of the students find it interesting and very different from Anne Frank that many were exposed to during eighth grade. When we have finished reading, we go back through the book and find examples of figures of speech. We specifically look for hyperbole, irony, metaphors, metonymy, paradox, personification, and similes. Then I ask them to pick one to illustrate on a large sheet of paper or poster board. I tell them the more creative they are the better! Over the years I have received some amazing projects. If possible, I take pictures of the projects and then post them to the school’s website. Students are then able to share their projects with family and friends. I have used this with other books like The Things They Carried. The projects turned out just as creative and interesting.
Not Your Typical Character Sketch
Of Mice and Men is another favorite of mine and the students usually enjoy it as well. After we have finished reading, I put them into random groups. I like groups of four the best, but 3 or 5 work also. I have each group pick a card that has the name of one of the characters on it. I use 8 characters, but I take out some of them for smaller classes. Each student receives a piece of copy paper where they have to draw what they think their character looks like. Next, as a group they pick who draws the best features to put on the final copy. They also choose a quote that they think embodies their character the best. Then, they are given a large sheet of paper. Each person in the group must draw some aspect of the character. They have to color it, and include the quote. Finally, as a group they share their project with the class explaining what each person contributed, and why they chose the quote. These are displayed in the classroom for all to enjoy.
Whose Phone Is This?
I have tried several final projects with Romeo and Juliet. My current favorite is one that I tried for the first time last year. A colleague shared it with me. It is called “Whose Phone Is This?” Each student is given a sheet with the opening screen of a cell phone on it. They are asked to sketch the wallpaper of the character that they chose and color it. They have to explain why the image would appeal to their character. Next, they have to write two emails that the character would have received from other characters in the story. Finally, they have to write three song titles with artists’ names that would likely be on the character’s song list. They also have to explain why they choose those particular songs. (I admit that I only knew about half of the songs.) However, if the explanations were sufficient, I didn’t have to be familiar with the song. The reasons that the students used were the best part of the assignment. In most cases it really showed their upper level thinking skills. I will use this activity again, and it can be used with many different stories.
So WVCTE is wondering…
What types of final projects do you use in your classroom? And how can you use and adapt this lesson for your own classroom? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Tina M. Rantanen teaches English 9H, 12H and English 12 at Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County, WV. This is her twentieth year of teaching and she loves the difference between her freshmen and seniors each year. She is a member of the newly formed WVCTE and is the English Department Chair at Spring Mills High School.
by Melissa Elliott
Some of my students from the 2016 graduating class will never forgive my daughter. I was on maternity leave when they were in my AP English Language and Composition class and read The Great Gatsby. My long term sub had my lessons and I assured them that it would be the same. They have assured me it was not.
So much of what we do as English teachers is share our passion and experience with a book. Years ago, during a discussion about the novel, a student stopped, looked at me and said, “You love him.” She was correct. I have loved Jay Gatsby since I was a junior in high school.
I have also hated Daisy. So much so, that I was called into a professor’s office due to his concern over my hate of her and by association, Zelda. As an adult, I understand her more but I am an idealist and a hopeless romantic. Love should conquer all, but sometimes, as the modernist led us to==it doesn’t.
I believe that great works of art are mirrors. For the most part, I would classify myself as a New Historian. However, when it comes to The Great Gatsby, for me it was always personal. I share some of my experiences with my students. I share how often I have read The Great Gatsby, starting at 16, 19, again at 27 and every year since. My love of this novel has raised it to mythic status. Parents have sent in Peanuts comic strips with Gatsby allusions, numerous pieces of artwork from students decorate my room, and this year my AP class dressed in 1920’s attire and all signed a copy of the book as my end of the year present.
But the Blame Game is about what students think. As a culminating activity for the novel we play The Blame Game. This was adapted from a lesson/idea I found many years ago.
Here's how it works:
Before class, I set up the activity by hanging character sheets evenly spaced around the room. To create a character sheet, simply write the names of major characters from the novel at the top of blank sheets of paper. I also include a "Someone Else" as a character sheet--you would be surprised how many people want to blame the dog or Pammy. (Sidebar: A teacher asked why the TV was named George.)
To begin, I give students these instructions:
Depending on our year and previous discussion, the number of questions will vary from 5-8. As a culminating activity, I am able to assess my students' learning without a test, even though I often explain it as a “review game.”
Below is a sample of my actual question sheet to show its development. What could begin as a Bell Ringer question turns into a whole day's activity. (Please excuse my handwriting and any spelling errors. I verbally give these questions.) The first two are always in order.
This can throw some students for a loop. I use it, however, to bring up one of my favorite things: specificity in language. Responsibility has more of a legal definition to it and blame is more of our emotional response. In any level class, creating an awareness of language and how it is used to frame a question can be valuable discussion.
The remaining questions follow:
Responses & Reflections
After students have answered on the character sheets, I ask the groups to share. This allows for students to see how other students rationalize their choices and engage in whole class discussion. It is recommended that they use their books and those that do are able to provide solid textual evidence as support.
This activity usually lasts one full 45-minute class period but could easily be a two-day activity. This is also easily adapted for any grade level or literary work. This is usually one of my students’ favorite activities with the novel. They also enjoy some of the other subtle aspects of this activity. First of all, they are out of their seats and moving. The fluid groups are based on their opinion; they are not “stuck” all period in one group or with the same people.
I enjoy seeing their perspectives on my favorite American novel. I have had classes hate Jay and feel he is a “creeper”, and romantic classes who see his adoration and devotion as admirable. I invite all of them to reread Gatsby when they are older and see if they have changed their minds.
What text could you use this activity with? What questions would you ask students? Do you have an idea for extending the activity? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Melissa Elliott currently teaches Shakespeare, AP English Language and Composition, English 12, and 12 Honors at Martinsburg High School. Melissa is originally from Staten Island, NY and taught middle school for two years before relocating to West Virginia. The 2016-2017 school year marks a decade with Martinsburg High School and her husband. She is member of the Executive Committee of WVCTE and an AP English Language Reader.