Not-Just-The-Same-Ol’ Book Report

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Kelly

Many of us grew up having to write and present book reports. Even for those of us who loved to read, these reports were often boring and tedious. Unfortunately, this type of traditional book report still rears its ugly head in some classrooms. As educators who seek to promote a love of reading in our students, we know that simply asking our students to write pages about what they read and experienced in a book is not the best approach. But what else can be done? Rather than simply saying “Create something”, I like to give my students a few suggestions on how they can respond.  Here are some reader’s response projects that my students have enjoyed creating and sharing with the class.

Character Soundtrack

Ask students to select a character (usually their favorite) from the novel and choose five major moments of the book that reveal something about that character.  They will then find five songs that they believe accurately represent the character at this moment and make a five-song soundtrack for this character. Lastly, I require that students write a description of the instance and the connection that each song has to the character and the moment in the book (including page numbers).  For high school students, I ask for textual evidence in the form of direct quotes. In order to make this easier, you may want to introduce the projects before students read the book and suggest that they mark or highlight their favorite lines and pages about the characters.

The obvious downfall to this project is that it’s very difficult to work on in class since downloading music isn’t allowed on most school campus. Students can, however, look for lyrics and then download their songs on their own at home.

The Front Page (Newspaper articles)

For this assignment, students choose three major “news worthy” events from the novel. They then create the front page of a newspaper, including three articles (about three different events), pictures, headlines, and titles. I encourage them to use a real newspaper as a model.

Character’s Journal

Students can select and follow one character from their novel and create their journal.  I have found that this is usually most interesting if students select a minor character, or a character who doesn’t speak much in the novel. Students write 5 one-page long journal entries about different points in the novel from the character’s perspective. Students can even enjoy binding them together in a “journal” and creating a cover. I showed students my journal from high school (which was covered with magazine clippings, pictures, and other objects) as an inspiration for their covers.

Dramaturge

A dramaturge is someone who focuses on the social particulars of a certain time period. As the dramaturge for their book, students choose either to examine the food, the clothing, or the music of setting. This is especially fun when students know very little of the historical and cultural background of the novel. How students present their research is up to the teacher; it could be in traditional report format, presentation board, multi-media presentation, or even through a pamphlet. I have asked also students to present their findings to the class in the form of the food, song, or visuals.

Theme Billboard

Students create a “billboard” that displays a theme from the novel for “by passers” that catches their attention. Students are highly encouraged to pay careful attention to colors, symbols, motifs, important quotations, and figurative language used in the novel to help them develop their ideas.  I have required an added writing assignment in which students provide an explanation of how the author presents that theme in the novel, including textual evidence and page numbers, but that can be at the discretion of the teacher.

Each of these projects allows students to respond to the novel in a meaningful way, while still focusing on important literary objectives. I highly recommend providing students with strong examples of your expectations before they begin. Then, sit back and watch their reading come alive!

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