Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Five Paragraph Theme as Paint by Numbers

So I am just finishing up Bruce Pirie's Reshaping High School English, which was a pretty good book--has some valuable suggestions for approaching texts (which I will list in a bit) as well as some really nice reflections on the practice of teaching high school English.

One I like in particular is in reflection of the five paragraph theme--many of us in the cohort seem to sheepishly think that the five paragraph theme is a necessary evil. I don't know if I entirely agree--I think that there are other tools to show the usefulness of a thesis and conclusion, of topic sentences and such. He wrote about how an art teacher wouldn't have his or her students learn to paint by using paint by numbers, so why should we use a cookie cutter formula in our English class?

Here are a few random ideas I copied down from the book:

(Of course, if we were to give these as assignments, we would write them better--this was just a jotting kind of thing to remind me of the ideas out there!)

Journal Writing/Writing Assignments:
1. Brainstorm interview questions for character as if for an important news story.
2. Predict the outcome (not from the book I read, but one I wanted to take note of)
3. Create a dream for a particular character at this point in the story.
4. Interview a parent or sibling of a character in the story.
5. Rewrite the end of the story. (Also not in the book, but a typical assignment)
6. Imagine the characters meet 5 (10, 50, etc.) years later. What happened? (His advice was to do this as a playacting thing--spur of the moment where the class decides what happens next)
7. Two characters from different stories are stuck in an elevator. What do they talk about? (This was from Brian Goldberg's Romantic Literature class where the Ancient Mariner and Cristabel were stuck in the elevator.)
8. Write a short story using a theme we have explored or scene not played out. (The example in the book was where one student expanded on Tess of the d'Urbervilles and wrote about the execution from the farmer's point of view. The student discovered his own feelings towards having to read the book when writing the story.)
9. Have a conversation with the author of the text.
10. Have a character discuss the text with the author (or a character from another story or another author or another combination).

In-class Activities:
1. Brainstorm questions you would ask character if you had the chance. One student volunteers to be the character and is put in the "hot seat." Students can have time outs--other students can offer alternative answers, volunteers can ask to be replaced or ask advice from fellow students, teachers can expand on things, etc.
2. Living tableaux--frozen pictures to represent a scene (students become the tableau) (instructors can choose to allow a little movement or words too)
3. Act out a time in the future that the characters meet again (ex: Nora returns one month later in A Doll's House for an item)--allow pauses to discuss what might happen next
4. Statues... this is a complicated one to explain... Pirie used Lord of the Flies as his example. Warming up, students walk around the room as if they are Jack or Ralph... they make statues representing these two characters. Then they pair off--walk slowly towards one another as one Jack or one Ralph and slowly become the other character. Or, another activity would have claps as slow motion pauses (one movement per clap) and as they approach one another, make a movement (so Ralph could want to shake his hand and Jack could want to hit Ralph and the students would have time to react to the other's motions.)

There were more points, but I had been marking them with post-its rather than copying them down into my binder (which is how I am going to keep track of things in the future). I will try to put up these sorts of ideas as I come upon them; there's a lot of useful stuff out there!

While I was reading the book, I also began to think about how to teach the research unit. I think I will have them do a webbing activity for the brainstorming part--take an idea and make branches of all the possible ways to write about it. (I will do a webbing activity for myself this weekend as I try to figure out what I want my Master's final project to be on. I think I would like to review some part of the writing process and how successful that part might be... prewriting, grammar instruction, etc. We'll see!)

PS: Here's something amusing... I was looking around the NCTE for good books on teaching Journalism and I found this position statement on accepting Journalism Courses in English Curricula. (It seems like one of those obvious things--they had to vote to accept it and post it on the internet???)

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