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K–12 teaching and learning · from the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

In completing this lesson, students:

  • think analytically about the various themes and significant events in a complex work of literature--a novel.
  • learn to interpret their reading and respond creatively by constructing an illustrated poem that reflects important themes and/or events in a particular novel.
  • reference details from the novel in creating their poems and illustrations.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

2-3 hours

Materials/resources

  • blank computer for printing or handwriting poems
  • various art supplies for illustrations

Technology resources

  • computer lab with word processing capabilities
  • printer

Pre-activities

  • This assignment serves as a culminating activity for a unit of study on a novel. After reading and discussing the novel in its entirety, students focus on themes and important events in the novel’s plot.
  • We review what the theme of a literary work is and brainstorm possibilities of themes for the novel we have studied. These can be themes that apply to the whole novel or only to certain parts of it. Students generate as long a list as they can in class and copy it down for future reference.
  • Once the list is completed, students go through the list and find the themes that appeal to them most. They may also list events from the plot that they feel are central to the novel’s meaning. The themes/events students choose will be the basis for their poems.
  • At this point, students look through the novel to find details to support the themes/events they have chosen. Students copy phrases or sentences from the novel that reflect the ideas they have chosen to write about.
    • Ex: In discussing possible themes for the novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, students identified the idea that “feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t work” as a theme. Those students who were interested in this idea then found the place in the novel in which the author makes this observation. They copied phrases, images, sentences from the novel that showed in detail this idea of the uselessness of self-pity. They then incorporated some of the prose from the novel in their poems.
  • Some mini-lessons in writing certain types of poetry are helpful. I discuss forming stanzas and rhyme scheme. We look at couplets, triplets and quatrains. I review what an acrostic is--many students find it helpful to have some kind of format to use, and the acrostic, in which students write a poem around the vertical spelling of a word or words central to the meaning of the poem, is one that is easy to use in connection with this assignment.

Activities

  1. After choosing a few important themes/events and finding details to support their choices, students are ready to write their poems. This can be the most difficult part for some students. I try to encourage them to get away from the idea of rhyme. Although some students have a natural inclination to rhyme and do well with it, many others get bogged down in striving to rhyme and lose the ideas they are trying to convey.
  2. I make very few requirements for the structure of the poem. The final poem must be a minimum of twelve lines--it’s interesting how much some students can convey with only three quatrains. And many students opt to write several more than twelve lines. Again, the poem does not have to rhyme. And it certainly does not have to be written in complete sentences--sometimes a series of images works best.
  3. The poem must include several details pulled from the novel. These details must relate directly to the theme(s) or events about which the student has chosen to write.
  4. As students are writing, they may seek help from each other. I encourage them to share ideas and proofread each other’s work. When necessary I will pair students to make the work less difficult.
  5. Once a student believes he or she is finished with the poem, I will proofread it for spelling, capitalization, format, etc. I have students write their first drafts on paper and then type the corrected poems on the computer.
  6. Students use appropriate computer commands to create a left justified margin and move their poems to the center of the page. I do ask them to capitalize the first letter of each line. They may choose a size and font that they feel suits their poem. But it must fit on one page.
  7. Students do another check for spelling and get me or another student to compare their typed version against the original to see that all corrections have been made. Once that is done, students print their poems.
  8. After the poem is printed, students begin illustrating their work. They may work directly over the writing or around it, but they need to be careful to ensure that the poem can be read through the illustrations. The only requirement for illustrations, whether they are computer-generated or done by hand, is that they reflect the details in the poem. I try to discourage random illustration that doesn’t relate to the student’s writing.
  9. Students may glue their finished product on a sheet of construction paper to make a “frame.” When everyone is finished, I give students the opportunity to share their work with their classmates. Then we put the poems on the wall for an attractive display.

Assessment

In assessing this assignment, I grade for four areas:

  1. following directions--Did the student fulfill all the requirements?
    • focus on theme/events
    • include illustrations that reflect the writing
    • have at least 12 lines
  2. use of details--Did the student include plenty of specifics from the novel in writing the poem?
  3. effort--Did the student put a lot of time into the writing and artwork and work carefully?
  4. correctness--Did the student make sure all corrections were incorporated in the final copy?

I assign a letter grade A, A-, B+, B, etc., each given a specific numerical value, for each of the four sections. Then I take an average for a final grade.

Students generally do well on this assignment as they enjoy it and tend to put effort into their work.

Supplemental information

This lesson can be conducted with students of any age who are familiar with the ideas of theme and plot. I always find this an interesting lesson to conduct. It has served on more than one occasion to generate interest in poetry in students who, prior to working on the assignment, insisted they couldn’t write poems. It is also fun to see the variety of interpretations students make regarding one work of literature.

This strategy can also be used for finding the focus of informational writing.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 6
          • 6.RL.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6–8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
          • 6.RL.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
        • Grade 7
          • 7.RL.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6–8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
          • 7.RL.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
        • Grade 8
          • 8.RL.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
          • 8.RL.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 6

  • Goal 5: The learner will respond to various literary genres using interpretive and evaluative processes.
    • Objective 5.01: Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive literacy program by:
      • using effective reading strategies to match type of text.
      • reading self-selected literature and other materials of individual interest.
      • reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher.
      • discussing literature in teacher-student conferences and small group discussions.
      • taking an active role in whole class seminars.
      • discussing and analyzing the effects on texts of such literary devices as figurative language, dialogue, flashback and sarcasm.
      • interpreting text by explaining elements such as plot, theme, point of view, characterization, mood, and style.
      • investigating examples of distortion and stereotypes.
      • recognizing underlying messages in order to identify recurring theme(s) within and across works.
      • extending understanding by creating products for different purposes, different audiences and within various contexts.
      • exploring relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts and/or experiences.
    • Objective 5.02: Study the characteristics of literary genres (fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry) through:
      • reading a variety of literature and other text (e.g., novels, autobiographies, myths, essays, magazines, plays, pattern poems, blank verse).
      • interpreting what impact genre-specific characteristics have on the meaning of the work.
      • exploring how the author's choice and use of a genre shapes the meaning of the literary work.
      • exploring what impact literary elements have on the meaning of the text such as the influence of setting or the problem and its resolution.

Grade 7

  • Goal 5: The learner will respond to various literary genres using interpretive and evaluative processes.
    • Objective 5.01: Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive reading program by:
      • using effective reading strategies to match type of text.
      • reading self-selected literature and other materials of individual interest.
      • reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher.
      • assuming an active role in teacher-student conferences.
      • engaging in small group discussions.
      • taking an active role in whole class seminars.
      • analyzing the effects on texts of such literary devices as figuarative language, dialogue, flashback, allusion, and irony.
      • analyzing the effects of such elements as plot, theme, point of view, characterization, mood, and style.
      • analyzing themes and central ideas in literature and other texts in relation to personal issues/experiences.
      • extending understanding by creating products for different purposes, different audiences and within various contexts.
      • analyzing the connections of relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts, and/or experiences.
    • Objective 5.02: Study the characteristics of literary genres (fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry) through:
      • reading a variety of literature and other text (e.g., mysteries, novels, science fiction, historical documents, newspapers, skits, lyric poems).
      • analyzing what effect genre specific characteristics have on the meaning of the work.
      • analyzing how the author's choice and use of a genre shapes the meaning of the literary work.
      • analyzing what impact literary elements have on the meaning of the text such as the influence of setting on the problem and its resolution.

Grade 8

  • Goal 5: The learner will respond to various literary genres using interpretive and evaluative processes.
    • Objective 5.01: Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive literacy program by:
      • using effective reading strategies to match type of text.
      • reading self-selected literature and other materials of interest to the individual.
      • reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher.
      • assuming a leadership role in student-teacher reading conferences.
      • leading small group discussions.
      • taking an active role in whole class seminars.
      • analyzing the effects of elements such as plot, theme, charaterization, style, mood, and tone.
      • discussing the effects of such literary devices as figurative language, dialogue, flashback, allusion, irony, and symbolism.
      • analyzing and evaluating themes and central ideas in literature and other texts in relation to personal and societal issues.
      • extending understanding by creating products for different purposes, different audiences, and within various contexts.
      • analyzing and evaluating the relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts, and/or experiences.
    • Objective 5.02: Study the characteristics of literary genres (fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry) through:
      • reading a variety of literature and other text (e.g., young adult novels, short stories, biographies, plays, free verse, narrative poems).
      • evaluating what impact genre-specific characteristics have on the meaning of the text.
      • evaluating how the author's choice and use of a genre shapes the meaning of the literary work.
      • evaluating what impact literary elements have on the meaning of the text.