Quick Tip Tuesday: Framing the Text

November 17th, 2009

“As the teacher, what you do (or don’t do) before your students read a major literary work will determine their level of motivation and interest,” writes Kelly Gallagher in his book Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. In this week’s Quick Tip, Kelly shares some of the framing strategies he uses before teaching George Orwell’s 1984. Poems and Internet searches, along with other strategies help students get the most out of a challenging text, even before they begin to read.

Before beginning major works, I often assign Web searches. Prior to a class’s reading George Orwell’s 1984, for example, I give my students this assignment: Next week we will begin reading George Orwell’s classic, 1984. One of the central characters in the novel is named Big Brother. When I search Google for the phrase “Big Brother,” over one million examples are found. Obviously, the phrase “Big Brother” has become a permanent part of our culture, and it might help us when we begin reading the novel if we understand what this phrase means and how it’s used. By next Friday, please complete the following “Search for Big Brother” assignment: Search the Internet for references to “Big Brother.” You might use Google.com or Yahoo.com to assist your search. Find references to Big Brother in at least three different genres. You may choose from the following, or find other categories:

• Books (other than 1984)
• Newspapers
• Magazines
• Music
• Poetry
• Business
• Art or theater
• Television or film
• An organization or business
• Speeches
• Essays
• Humor (jokes, cartoons)
• Letters to the editor
• Editorials
• Political cartoons

Try to find examples from different genres that seem to be addressing the idea of “Big Brother” in the same manner, theme, or idea. Try to find examples that your classmates will not find. Print these examples and include a paragraph of your own, explaining what you think the phrase “Big Brother” means. Explain how you think this meaning cuts across the different genres you have selected. Bring the examples and your explanation to class Friday. Be prepared to discuss and share in groups.

On the due date, students get together in groups and share their Big Brother examples and their ideas on what the phrase might mean. After each small group has had time to share, a person from each group is randomly chosen to share a “big idea” with the entire class, and I write their ideas on the overhead for the whole class to see. I also take the students’ Big Brother examples and turn them into a collage on the bulletin board.

This activity is an effective warm-up to the reading of 1984 because the discussion that ensues from the Web search is student-generated and always rich. It allows many of the book’s themes—oppression, totalitarianism, invasion of privacy—to surface and be discussed prior to the students’ reading the novel. This strategy could be adapted to fit any book that might be unfamiliar to readers. For example, students beginning Wiesel’s Night might search “genocide”; students preparing for Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter might search “witch trials.”

Anticipation Guides

Anticipation guides, developed by J. E. Readence, T. W. Bean, and R. S. Baldwin (1985), can be used to frame the major ideas and themes that students will find in the book they are about to begin. These guides help them understand that as long as books have been written, literature has expressed universal truths about the human condition. In reading Romeo and Juliet, for example, students will discover that many of the issues in this four-hundred-year-old play are still relevant to them today. Before having them open to Act I of Romeo and Juliet, I often ask students to consider the issues they are about to encounter in their reading.

I express these issues in provocative statements and ask students to what degree they agree or disagree with them. Figure 3.1 presents an anticipation guide for Romeo and Juliet, the left-hand side of which students complete before reading the play.

After recording their opinions on the various statements, students use the items on the anticipation guide as starting points for discussion (and often writing and debate). These discussions get them thinking about the big ideas they will soon discover in the play. Upon completing the reading, the students revisit the anticipation guide and complete the right hand side. Sometimes reading the work solidifies beliefs they already had, but often they find that significant shifts in their thinking have occurred as a result of their reading the work. Students complete the unit by choosing one statement from the anticipation guide that speaks especially to them—a “hot spot,” one might say—and use this statement as the basis of an essay.

Theme Spotlights

While anticipation guides prompt students to think about many of the ideas they will encounter in a text, the theme spotlight assignment focuses students’ attention to one major theme to be studied. Figure 3.2 is an example of a theme spotlight for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, though this strategy can be easily adapted to any major work. By inspiring rich discussion and passionate writing, theme spotlights help prepare students to consider the big ideas in the work they will read. They may also suggest further activities. For example, students who complete the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde theme spotlight might then chart the degrees of evil found in the book.

Focus Poems

One way to prepare students for a major literary work is to let them read thematically related poetry beforehand. From these poems, students are asked to make inferences about the major work they are about to read.

For example, in preparing to teach All Quiet on the Western Front, it may become readily apparent that students know very little about World War I. This lack of knowledge can make it difficult for them to get into the novel. To help bridge this knowledge gap before they begin to read, students are given packets of poetry written during or about the war. They are asked to read all the poems more than once and to begin generating a list of things they can infer about World War I simply from reading the poetry. In Figure 3.3, for example, students were able to gain insight about World War I from reading Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est.” In addition to “Dulce et Decorum Est,” other Owen poems that are excellent to help students understand World War I include:

“Miners”
“Greater Love”
“Apologia Pro Poemate Meo”
“Futility”
“Sonnet”
The World War I poems of Siegfried Sassoon and Isaac Rosenberg are also excellent. Among my favorites of Siegfried Sassoon’s poems are:

“They”
“The Rear Guard”
“The General”
“Glory of Women”
“Everyone Sang”
“One Passing the New Menin Gate”
Isaac Rosenberg’s poems include:
“Returning,We Hear the Larks”
“Break of Day in the Trenches”
“December 30th”
“Louse Hunting”
“Dead Man’s Dump”

These poems and others can be found by simply searching “World War I poetry” on Google or any other search engine.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Reading

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