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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

1 Question That Encourages Students to Connect to Literature

1 Question That Encourages Students to Connect to Literature

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As a student teacher, I am always looking for creative and engaging ways to help my middle school students connect to the literature in English class without reverting to the overdone personal reflection journal entry. Of course, there will always be times when students just don’t particularly enjoy a text in the curriculum, but I still want them to be able to understand what they are reading by making personal connections and viewing literature through a wider lens.

While reading The Outsiders and facilitating discussion this school year, I learned very quickly that the question, “How can you relate to this?” often produced silent stares rather than eager hands shooting into the air, but that asking, “Have you seen a TV show or movie that reminds you of this story? Or a song?” initiated much more frequent responses. That was the moment I realized I had to start doing things a little bit differently.

I devised an ongoing extension activity about making personal connections in an effort to tie their individual preferences, prior knowledge, and cultural backgrounds to the literature being read in class. The question, “What does this remind you of?” turned out to be one they would actually think about, so I started from there.

The extension activity simply asked students to bring in anything that reminded them of something in the book; this could be song lyrics, a film clip and a few paragraphs describing a movie or TV show, original artwork, a poem, quotes from other books, a news article, or anything else they could think of. As this was relatively new territory to them, I had to provide multiple examples before they really latched onto the idea. I read a poem, a comic strip, and a children’s book and introduced each one by saying, “This reminds me of .  .  . from the story.”

Suddenly, they began to see the themes in the novel as applicable to other areas of interest in their lives, and the creative genius of my students started overflowing. Because this activity offered them the freedom to tap into what they knew best and to be as creative or as analytical as they desired, they obliged. As an ongoing activity for the year, it also provided consistency and supported long-term planning and thinking in an educational system that often produces disconnected lessons and activities.  

While I will continue to seek out activities that implicitly allow for differentiation to engage students in their own personal learning process, I think this was a good place to start.


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Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

What a great idea! Just by changing your words, you can change the result. Your first question, "how can you relate to this?" forces students to personal things about themselves in an impersonal way -- by saying it to everyone. You second question, "what does this remind you of?" while it may enable students to reveal something personal, it does not have to. Students can make connections that are insightful, creative, and sophisticated while still guarding their own privacy. I love the extension activity of bringing something in. Bravo!

(1)
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

This is great. Did you have students post their connections? I could see an ongoing wall of connections where students could add new discoveries as they read the book. They could also add them to an ongoing digital space, like Padlet.com. And then later on, if you want them to write about connections from one text to another, they could go back to those places for ideas. Thanks for sharing this, CC -- great observation, reflection and revision on your part!

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CC's picture

Thanks, Laura! Putting those connections on a digital space is a great idea. For now, we are displaying connections on a bulletin board in the classroom, but a digital space would let parents have ready access to their kid's creative genius.

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