Sunday, November 2, 2014

Engaging Activities and Projects for Literature

Engaging Activities and Projects for Literature
By Jill Jenkins
            In the old days, teachers used to assign a short story or a number of chapters in a novel and expect everyone to prepare for a discussion, a quiz or a multiple choice test.  It was not a very effective method of teaching literature and as time went on it became less effective. Fewer students completed their reading so discussions became impossible, quiz scores dropped and test scores became abominable. As a result, teachers began developing more creating methods of reaching the reluctant readers and the struggling students.  Some that I have found effective during my forty years of teaching include: The Literary Spreadsheet, the Dice Discussions, The Cartoon Strip Test, the Learning Journals and a creative project. 

The Literary Spreadsheet
            If you are lucky enough to teach in a high-tech schools that has Smart Boards, this is an activity that you can project on the board and through discussion complete it as a class.  If you are lucky enough to have lap top lab or IPad lab, this could be a drag and drop activity, but if you are in low budget school, buy a lot of glue sticks and scissors at your local dollar store and let the students really cut and paste this activity.  Give each student a spreadsheet that looks like this or project it with you are in a high tech school. Better yet, put the chart on the board and put the lists on laminated sentence strips and distribute them to the students. Have the students place them correctly on the chart.
Name Implies
Bill Sikes

Bull's eye



Mr. Bumble

Mr. Gamfield

Mr. Sowerberry

Mrs. Mann

Mrs. Sowerberry

Mrs. Thingummy


Noah Claypole

Oliver Twist

Oliver’s mother

The Artful Dodger

The Gentleman in the white waistcoat

Have that students select information from each of the following lists and place it in the appropriate place on the chart.
·         The nurse at Oliver’s birth
·         The doctor at Oliver’s birth

·         The foster mother
·         The Beadle
·         The chimney sweep
·         An official at the workhouse
·         The undertaker
·         The undertaker’s wife
·         The undertaker’s maid
·         The undertaker’s assistant
·         Oliver’s mother
·         Bill Sikes' Girlfriend
·         The house burglar
·         Bill's dog
·         Fagin's pickpocket

Name Implies
·         A thin woman with no teeth

·         All Over Twist
·         Acts like a man
·         He’s a fat bumble bee with a bad sting
·         He plays a bad game

·         He appears to be a sour berry, but he is really a sweet berry.
·         She is a sow
·         She is a Char Woman with ah Harlot hidden inside
·         He brings the flood.  He is the clay of the earth

·         She is a fancy lady with a nanny hidden inside
·         He is psychotic
·         He is the target of Bill's aggression
·         He escapes after picking pockets

·         “Lor bless her heart, no! when she has lived as long as I have, sir, and had thirteen children of her own, and all of ‘em dead except two, an d them in the wurkus with me, she’ll know better than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart…”
·         “The old story. . . no wedding ring, I see.”
·         “Please, sir, I want some more.”

·         “Why I’m olbliged to keep a little of in the house, to put in the blessed infant’ Daffy when they ain’t well . . .”
·         “Oliver . . .Do you know this here voice, Oliver?... Ain’t you afraid of it, sir?  Ain’t you trembling while I speak?

·         .  He would make a delightful mute, my dear.”
·         “I am nobody: don’t consult me, pray. I don’t want to intrude upon your secrets.”
·         “Oh, you little wretch! Oh, you little un-grate-ful mur-de-rous hor-rid villain!”
·         “Work’us, how’s your mother?”

·         'Let me see the child, and die.'

·         "When such as me, who have no certain roof but the coffin-lid, and no friend in sickness or death but the hospital nurse, set our rotten hearts on any man, and let him fill the place that parents, home, and friends filled once, or that has been a blank through all our wretched lives, who can hope to cure us?"
·         'if you speak a word when you're out o'doors with me, except when I speak to you, that loading will be in your head without notice. So, if you do make up your mind to speak without leave, say your prayers first.'

·         'I suppose you don't even know what a prig is?'

     Obviously you could use this activity with any book and you could select different categories. (Charles Dickens is famous for choosing character names that reveal something about the character.)  Although this activity benefits all students reading any piece of literature, it is especially useful for pieces of literature with a great many characters.  I have used this activity with E.S.L. students, special education students, regular students and honors students and it seems to benefit the understanding of all groups, but especially the struggling students. I have used it as an assessment and as a group activity to help those who are having a difficult time.  It does increase students’ understanding of who the characters are and what role do they play in the story. 

The Dice Discussion
     I originally saw this idea on, but now I see it is available through Scholastic Education. If you don’t want to purchase the dice, create dice out of card board and put your students into groups of four.  Each group has two dice.  On each dice you write the following:  I predict, this reminds me of, the reason he did this, this character’s flaw is, and this character’s strength is.  On the second dice list the names of six characters from the story.  Each student rolls the dice and answers the combination of character and verb to the group. 
     Another version of this activity is to give each student a set of dice with 12 questions written on them.  For example, if my students were discussing Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and rolled the dice, the students choose between the two questions he rolled to answer to the group.  If the student rolled: Noah Claypole is both a bully and coward.  What behaviors can you identify prove his is both a bully and coward.  Think about how he treated Oliver and Charlotte.  Think about how he behaved when he claimed to be Morris Bolter.  The second dice asks: If honorable behavior means you behave in a manner that helps another even if it harms you, whose behavior is more honorable: Rose, Nancy or Mr. Brownlow?  The student selects one the two questions and presents his answer to the group.
Cartoon Strip Tests
     Cartoon Strip Tests works well as both an interactive activity and an assessment.  I have used it as both.  It’s effective with plot heavy novels like The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Odyssey, Percy Jackson and Lightening Thief or even The Hunger Games.   You can either have your students fold their paper into squares or you can give them a paper with the squares already created.  If you have the benefit of a high-tech school there are cartoon creation application and programs available.   The form I give my student looks like this:
“The Story of Cicones”

“The Story of the Lotus Eaters”

“The Story of the Cyclops”

“The Story of the Cyclops”

“The Story of the Bag of Winds”

The Monster Cannibals”

“The Story of Scylla and Charbyllis”

“The Story of the Cattle of Helios”

The student simply creates a cartoon strip retelling the story.  Some very artistic students can create amazing artistic creations; others simply tell the story. Regardless, the students get a clear picture of what happened in the story.  You can just give them a blank piece of paper and let them decipher what is important, but I found that most students have poor “crap-detectors” so they have difficulty selecting the important parts. Both methods have benefits.  Students who are more visually oriented get a summary that helps them member the details of a complicated plot.

The Learning Journal
     The Learning Journal works really well when combine with the Discussion Dice Activity.  Students who get an opportunity to read, talk and then write have better retention than those who do just one or two of the activities.  I know many teachers use learning logs so students can jot down what they learn at the end of each period and they are excellent tools, but I find that if I give them a question that requires the student to review through the reading material and find details from the story to support their answer, they recall the book in greater detail when I give them an assessment on the reading.  As a result questions like those I asked on the dice are more effective tools to increase the students’ comprehension:   Noah Claypole is both a bully and coward.  What behaviors can you identify prove his is both a bully and coward.  Think about how he treated Oliver and Charlotte.  Think about how he behaved when he claimed to be Morris Bolter.  If honorable behavior means you behave in a manner that helps another even if it harms you, whose behavior is more honorable: Rose, Nancy or Mr. Brownlow?  Students are asked to write the question and answer in at least one page.  This will reinforce what they learned in the reading and the discussion.  The physical act of writing makes the learning more permanent.
The Term Project
     The term project allows the teacher to expand learning beyond the material in the novel.  For example, the term project below on Oliver Twist requires student to apply the social problems introduced in the novel to a third world country where poverty couples with these other social problems.  The student then learns the interrelated aspect of poverty and other social issues. Furthermore, since the student is required to collect data and interpret it in graphs on their visual aide, the students develop skills in numeracy and can understand the interconnection of various school subjects. The term projects on Romeo and Juliet allows the student to develop a greater understanding of the historic time period.  Furthermore presenting these term project to the class means that student researching develops the greatest understanding, but the student observing all increasing his/her understanding.  The term project is a creative outlet so it makes learning more enjoyable; as a result, it creates students who are more likely to read independently after they leave school. The term project on The Odyssey helps reinforce the structure of the epic poem. Since the term project can be either a group project, it helps students learn to work cooperatively. Other projects include an individual project to meet the needs of the less social students.   Students should be give choices and should incorporate a creative use of technology.  Some term projects that I have found successful include the following:
Term Project from The Odyssey

  •    A project for Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist: Research a social problem presented in the novel.  Write a three to five minute speech on your research and present it with a chart that graphs the data that you discovered. Research a foreign country that is currently experiencing a high level of poverty among its citizens.
  • Read a book about the poverty in the country and complete either a “Tops Report” or a book report on it. (100 points)

  •    Write a five-paragraph essay on the country answering the following questions: (100 points)

  •    What are the causes of poverty in the country?

  •      Natural disaster

  •     Distribution of wealth

  •      Political problems

  •    Lack of natural resources

  •    Geographical features

  •     What are the effects of poverty in the country?
  •    Hunger
  • Homelessness
  •       High mortality rate for children 
  •      Teenage pregnancy

  •     Low education levels

  • High crime rates

  • §       Poor health care
  •     Child labor 
  •    Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • How can we help solve the problem?

  •   Present your findings to the class in a 3-5 minute speech.

               Include the following on your poster    
                        Create a poster as a visual aid that includes:
                Three pictures or photographs
                         Three graphs comparing the country’s statistics to the same issues within the United States of America
¨         Homelessness
¨         High mortality rate for children
¨         Teenage pregnancy
¨         Low education levels
¨         High crime rates
¨         Poor health care
¨        Child labor
¨        Drug and/or alcohol abuse
¨       Hunger
 Term Projects for Romeo and Juliet

  • Ø  Create a three-dimensional model of the Globe Theater, Please do not make it from anything editable.  I do not like visitors, e.g. mice ants etc.  Label the areas.

  • Ø  Memorize and perform either Romeo’s famous soliloquy from ACT II  “What light through yonder window breaks….” Or Juliet’s from the same act: “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo…” or if you prefer ACT IV and Act V, choose Juliet’s soliloquy before she takes the portion or Romeo’s before he takes the credit.

  • Ø  Write and present a three to five minute speech using a visual aide. Consider one for the following topics:  weapons used during the period, clothing worn during the period, Shakespeare’s life, or games and amusements during that time.

  • Ø  Find a partner and memorize and perform a scene from Romeo and Juliet. Your choices include the balcony scene, Juliet trying to persuade the nurse to her what Romeo said, Friar Lawrence’s scene when he tells Romeo that he will marry him to Juliet or when he tells him to stop weeping and be a man, or the fight scene in ACT III.  Remember to wear a costume, memorize it block it and use props.  Create a television news poison. Remember you must memorize it, block it and wear a costume for full program that discusses at least five events from the play.

Term Projects for The Odyssey

  •   In a group of three to five students, create a story of an epic hero of your own.  The hero must be helped by one of the gods, have some magical power and defeat a horrible monster or an enemy with magical powers while on a long journey home.  Present it to the class as an I-Movie, a Power Point Presentation, a Google Presentation, or as a book.


     These are just four activities that can increase student comprehension.  Any of them can be adapted to any piece of literature or age group. These interactive activities make literature more accessible to E.S.L. students, reluctant readers and struggling students in general.  They also enhance the experience for honors students.