A few weekends ago, I went to the CATESOL Regional Conference. I attended one session about thematic courses by Mary Soto. The presenter had a lot of great ideas about course design using themes. With Soto’s permission, I’ll highlight one key idea that really stuck out to me – using various genres to engage students in creative responses to readings.
In a thematic course, students will do a lot of reading related to the course theme. As language teachers, it’s our job to come up with ways to help our students engage with the readings in meaningful and useful ways. Soto suggested that using various genres as assignments is an engaging and interesting way to help students dig into a reading.
The idea is to think about the story students are reading and come up with an assignment that has them engage with the text using a different genre. For example, imagine your class is reading a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. One assignment could be to have students design what Dr. Kings Facebook page would look like if it had existed back then. What would his latest updates be? What types of things would he share on his page? Who would his friends be? All of these tasks will require the students to reflect on what they’ve learned about him in the book and make connections with what they know about Facebook. You could extend this to a discussion assignment by having the students share what they create with their classmates and explain why they included each element.
Now imagine that you have students read a current article about the controversy surrounding football players kneeling during the national anthem. You could ask students to write a Tweet from Dr. King about this topic, having them synthesize in an interesting way what they’ve learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the football player’s protest and the controversy surrounding it.
In her presentation, Soto mentioned a number of different genres that could be used. Below are some of them.
- Diary entries
- Graphic novels
- Police reports
- Textbook pages
- Facebook pages for a character
- Facebook posts
- Fanfiction continuation of the story
- Advice letters about something happening in the plot
- Soundtracks for the story with songs for specific parts of the book
- Social media profiles
- Cards: sympathy, thank you, valentines day, etc.
As an example of ways that she has used these, Soto shared some assignments she gave while her students were reading The Hunger Games. She had her students write valentines day cards from one character to another, quite fitting given the love triangles in the plot. She also had her students write an advice letter to Katniss at one point in the story where she was faced with a challenging choice.
Soto emphasized the importance of modeling and teaching a particular genre before having students use it. Although many of our students might be familiar with the layout of a Facebook page, not all will be. Other genres will be less familiar to our students. Bringing in examples is a must, and you may also consider giving students a chance in class to start the drafting process.
I really liked how creative Sotos ideas were. I can see how these types of assignments can help students connect with a reading in an engaging and fun way. I’m excited to try some genre assignments in my class this fall.
Soto mentioned a couple of other resources that I found useful. One was the idea of a positive/negative graph to outline what happens in a story. This was the first time I had heard of this type of graphic organizer. Basically, you create a graph with five points positive and five points negative and then a timeline. Students will write major points of the story on the graph and decide if it was a positive or a negative thing, and to what extent. The students will have various opinions, which will spark interesting discussions as well. You could have students write words or sketch the events. See the example graph below.
The last thing she mentioned was a story map graphic organizer that ask students to take notes on the characters and plot. I recreated the organizer based on Soto’s, and you can access it and the graph at the link below.
Positive Negative Graph