My students have been discussing theme and how to analyze for it seemingly all year. I have seen their growth, I have seen their understanding as they feel like they are mastering tough concepts. I tell them that analyzing text is really just practice for being better human beings, for being able to read verbal and nonverbal cues in any given social situation and being able to navigate it successfully. I am not sure they fully believe me, not yet anyway, but in order to help them understand that these skills are really human skills and not just something an English teacher wants them to do, our focus is shifting back to inference. That skill that we have been teaching for years, that skill our students have been exploring for years. I needed new ideas and here is what I came up with.
Using wordless picture books
I need my students to fully believe that you can read situations and text in many different ways and that how you understand something sometimes depends on the very lens you come with. Wordless picture books put us all on an equal playing field, students are not tying their understanding into direct language decoding, but instead reading the pictures and filling in the gaps. I love to see how different their ideas can be based on their background.
Using America’s Funniest Videos
Students, at times, forget how much inferring they already do throughout a day. So I played a few clips from America’s Funniest Videos and stopped them before the “fail” happened. Students used background knowledge, as well as reading the evidence in the video to try to guess what would happen. We only watched about two minutes but it was hilarious and worth it.
I love a good “whodunit” story and gave groups of students the same story today to solve. Could they figure out who the murderer and more importantly, back it up with the correct evidence? I loved the way students dissected the text, tried on possible solutions, and then attempted to solve the mystery.
Using half a story, at first.
I love a great story with a twist and was delighted to be handed a great short story about a vampire today from one of my amazing co-teachers. I plan on giving students the beginning half of the story and have them do a characterization of the main character together. Then they will get the second half of the story which reveals that the main character is a vampire, clues were strewn throughout the first half, and we will now go back to find them. This is a great lesson for kids to truly understand; sometimes we don’t know what we have missed until we have gone all the way through the text and then start over.
Asking them what happened.
Another great way to use stories with a twist is to ask them what actually happened, especially when the story is rather ambiguous. I like when students have to wrestle with a text for awhile and can land on opposite sides and still both be right. A story I have enjoyed using for this is the story My Dog by Kevin ONeall.
Using music videos without the sound.
Something we will be trying tomorrow is looking at music videos, I will be using ones from the 80’s, but without the sound playing. I will play a minute or so of the video and see if they can figure out what type of song it is and what the lyrics might be about. We shall see if they can come even close. A fun one to use will be Meatloaf’s I Would Do Anything for Love or Bjork Human Behavior.
Using short movies.
I love the idea of using various media with students and so it makes sense to use a short film to ask them what happened. This movie, Francis, is 7 minutes long and a little bit scary. I cannot wait to see what the theories of my students will be when I ask them; what happened to Francis?
If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 . Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.