I continue to teach virtually 140 minutes a week English with my 7th graders as COVID-19 explodes around us. As we settle into the 2nd quarter we wanted to increase our focus on independent reading, as well as center our community in a read aloud. Looking ahead to December, we will be doing virtual dystopian book clubs and we wanted to provide students with some scaffolds leading into the discussions we hope to have them have do while recognizing that students are in many different parts of their reading journey. The COVID reading slump is significant, some kids are still not reading, and some still struggle with sustaining their attention to a text even when they are reading.
With all of this in mind, we decided to focus on a read aloud in November; Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson. A few key factors led to this incredible book; it is a beautiful story of family, community, and friendship and how you navigate hardship. It is free verse, it is accessible for all kids, and it is short. We knew we would only have 7 x 70 minutes for the read aloud and for the mini-lessons, that’s not a lot. Alongside the read aloud, we wanted students to focus on their independent reading books but also give them a little more urgency in their reading. While we do not have students write about their reading all through their year, we wanted to use this month to get them set up for discussions and deeper explorations into their texts. In the past, we have used one-pagers for this work or character autopsies. I have loved the art component of these assignments, as well as the brief glimpses of text analysis it would provide us with but had to wrap my head around doing this digitally as I cannot assume access to art supplies. We could use these projects as a way to review and introduce new concepts without students having to write a literary essay.
As I searched online for digital options for this project, I found many for sale but none of them seemed to fit what I wanted to introduce to our students or even review. So I decided to create one that fit our needs and hopefully would also be manageable for the students and not create an unnecessary burden in their reading lives, as did my amazing colleague, Liz.
So here is a copy of what we are mostly using with students. This one is a bit longer than the one I am using but I like all of the options provided here. I envision this being cut down to fit the unique needs of your students, I would not assign all 13 slides. This is not anything new or hugely innovative but it does help us see where students are at in their reading comprehension, as well as help guide them.
The first slide is a review of story elements. One of the concepts we see a need to develop is simply recognizing narrator, as well as the setting’s effect on the story.
The next slide speaks to plot diagram, while we discuss that not all stories are told in this way, we do want students to be able to recognize different parts of their stories as a way to think about their own writing as well. Many of my students are still working on figuring out the climax of a story so this provides them with a review of some of these components.
We will be discussing conflict in our story more than once, this is a slide I did not assign this time though due to time constraints.
Analysis is a huge focus in 7th grade and we want students to find meaningful quotes and then be able to discuss why they are meaningful to them. This also leads into work about connections to our books and to the world, as well as how literature can be powerful and lead us to action.
Characterization is also a major focus as my students are developing people watching skills. We discuss a lot how analysis in literature is really just practice for how to read life situations and that when we can read people and situations well, we can often navigate them more smoothly. Tracking one character and how they change throughout the story is proving to be interesting for many students as they can often see the changes happening but don’t necessarily understand why the character changed.
In 7th grade we expand upon theme, moving from theme idea to theme statement. Many students are great at recognizing theme ideas but have a harder time putting into word what specifically is being said about this theme. For this slide I want them to have an introduction but not dive too deep into it yet. In our dystopian unit, we dive much deeper into power structures, societal messages, as well as what calls to action a text provides us with, this therefore serves as stepping stone into that work.
Finding images or drawing images that have a connection to the text is another way to deepen our understanding and analysis of a story. When we can see beyond the story and conceptualize further connections, we are digging deeper into our analytical skills and complex thinking. One way to practice this is to ask students to move beyond the obvious and think of abstract representation and connections to the curriculum.
The slides attached also have 3 choice options; a deeper dive into the setting, finding a song that connects to the story, as well as timeline slide – all comprehension strategies that will further the understanding of the book.
We have made a few adaptions as well for some students: A few students are refusing to read outright or this work is simply too overwhelming, so they are working through these using a short story instead. We have also discussed having students record answers rather than write them out if needed. Students could also choose to do this by hand and do more of a true one-pager with a bigger emphasis on the artistic components which are downplayed here, rather than this digital version. In my student version I also link to the one I am working through with students, as well as have videos explaining how to fill it in.
As always, feel free to use, or let me know how you would improve it, this is definitely a work in progress and always hindsight is 20-20. After releasing this to students to start working on Sunday, there are already many things that I would do differently, this is therefore the new and improved edition.