By Teachers, For Teachers
Sometimes it’s difficult to get students interested in literature, especially the classics. Spicing up lesson plans with some creative projects allows students who are not traditionally academically successful to show what they’ve learned in a slightly different way. The results can be refreshing and rewarding!
Here are ways you can spice up your lessons as well have examples of what I have done in my classroom.
Creating a classroom party around a themed book topic can be fun and educational.
My Great Gatsby Party
This is the first year I’ve tried this project, but it was fun and really successful. I printed a simple backdrop from the Internet, a drawing that looked like Gatsby’s mansion. I posted a sign above it that read “Gatsby’s party.” As extra credit, I challenged students to find examples of 1920s fashion and create themselves in the likeness of a flapper or a bootlegger, somebody who would appear at Gatsby’s lavish soirees. It works best if students are given guidelines (size, type of paper). I asked for figures that were cut out, on cardstock or poster board, and six- to eight-inches tall.
Other Literary Theme Activities
Lord of the Flies
Have students print out primitive figures and paste their head on with “war paint,” or have them print out photos of themselves in regular clothes, then “distress the clothes and hair, and add face paint.
Have students pose with a favorite book, print out the photo, and make a gallery of “mug shots.”
Romeo and Juliet
Have students create masked figures of themselves attending the Capulet party.
Very few teachers like the idea of reading about 90 research papers. Instead of assigning research papers on a piece of literature, you can have students write a two-page analysis of how the writer’s life was reflected in his or her work.
They get to learn about famous playwrights in a unique way. Have them put an artistic twist on it by creating a mask of their assigned person. This can work with any novel or play in addition to any author, poet, inventor, historical figure, artist, or mathematician you are studying in your class. All you would need to do is adapt the assignment to the person who is being studied.
The Symbolic Portrait Project
My senior creative writing students needed to do a research project, so I had them do this alternative research assignment. In addition, I had them create a “mask” of the playwright. I printed what looked like a 3-dimensional kabuki mask on white cardstock and gave one to each student. They were to use collage, paint, drawing, or any other method to portray the work, life, and themes of the playwright. I had them add a nameplate to the bottom of the portrait.
When I hung them up, I had a gallery of playwrights that created a stunning exhibit in my room. I did have to remind my students that I did not want a photographic image of the playwright, but a symbolic image. I also assigned playwrights so I wouldn’t have twenty of the same person. This required making a master list of playwrights I knew could be researched.
One assignment/lesson plan that’s really fun and creative is having students mimic the distinctive writing style of an author that is being studied.
The Diary Project
I had my students read Excerpts from Adam’s Diary by Mark Twain. They had to then write a seven-day diary for a fictional character using comedy elements we’ve studied in class (juxtaposition, wordplay, rule of three, sarcasm, what if).
More Literature Imitation Projects
The Catcher in the Rye
Direct students write graphic novellas in their own voice about their own adventures in much the same way Holden Caulfield recounts his New York experience. Requiring students to put illustrations on every other page of their novella makes for interesting reading.
Have students write letters or diary entries in the Puritan style and manner of Abigail Williams and John Proctor.
The Telltale Heart
Students can easily think of ways to modernize Poe’s tale of mystery and guilt. Anthem: Ayn Rand’s short tale of a dystopian future doesn’t use the pronoun “I” by design. Ask students to write a short piece about themselves without using the pronoun “I” .
When studying poetry, especially classic forms, students aren’t that thrilled with the old-school topics (think Ozymandias, the old battered statue warning of the impermanence of fame. ) Try using poems that have specific patterns and then ask students to write parodies substituting modern celebrities or issues for humorous effect.
Lady Gaga Poem Project
I took the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem Richard Cory and used the iambic pentameter to pen a masterpiece about Lady Gaga. It caught their interest and emphasized the form of the poem.
More Modernized Poetry Projects
Ask them to write love poems to an object rather than a person, in sonnet form.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Replace water with some other beverage that’s school appropriate, and change the setting of the ocean to the local mall, and see what happens.
When studying a particular historical timeframe or event, try adding a spin on it by creating a more personal connection. Give students roles to play during that event. Then assign a writing research assignment where they must maintain their roles.
Vietnam Role Play Writing Assignment
When I taught the novel Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Meyer, I wanted my students to know more about the Vietnam War. I made a list of possible roles people played during the war, from hippie peace protester to draft dodger to enlisted Army private to Vietnamese chicken farmer. I gave these people made-up names, a brief description of each and their perspective on the war, and then told my students to create a dossier on their character.
They had to use their own faces in the photo, whether it was clipped and pasted or manipulated digitally. With research, they also had to write a letter as this character, a five-entry diary of an eventful week as if they were the character, and find three items that might have belonged to the character and include them in the dossier. We then had an exhibit of our characters, and students could learn about the various roles of people during the war by reading the “personnel files” of each character.
Have students research the royal families and gentry of Scotland and do family trees.
The Scarlet Letter
Have students research the people's roles of people during colonial times or Puritan society.
What do you do to put an extra twist to your assignments and lesson plans? Share in the comments section!