Create your own dystopia! Creativity, choice, and voice!

We are wrapping up a dystopian literature unit. During the unit, we have studied civil disobedience, dystopian characteristics in several short stories, and have written an essay evaluating the satire inherent in a piece of dystopian literature as well as the civil disobedience in that literature as well. This next week we are finishing up the unit. In addition to a test and a BreakoutEDU, I thought it would be fun to have students create their own dystopias.

View the assignment at this link.

In this assignment, the main goal is for students to have an outlet for their own voices through creativity and choice. Students get to pick an issue in their own lives or their community (or the world), and then exaggerate that issue in the form of a dystopian satire. Students get to choose the issue, and then they also get to choose how to create their dystopia. I am having all students write a quick summary of their dystopian world; however, all students get to choice how to creatively bring these worlds to life. Some of the websites I’ve suggested are Canva, Storyboard That, and Adobe Spark.

I have several digital choices that I’ve come up with including simply writing it out as an actual story, to creating an infographic or a comic or even a propaganda video. I’ve even left it open for students to propose their own ideas for creation if they want. I’m excited for all the creativity!

Students can work in small groups, pairs, or alone as another layer of choice. In order to give some audience to their creations, I’m setting this assignment up as a contest as well. As we do with most projects, students will post their work to Google Classroom and will view each other’s work. In addition, I will have students vote on the dystopia creation that they feel best embodies a dystopia, is the best example of satire, and is the most creative.

Judging books by their covers: using imagination to teach elements of fiction

“Never judge a book by its cover” is a cliche of which most our students are aware. This lesson takes that cliche, and turns it on its head to help students use their imaginations, creativity, and collaboration to better practice the understanding and application of story elements.

In the lesson, small groups get a book and are asked to imagine a plot and theme of the book based only on the title and what they can see on the front cover. Groups imagine these elements, draw a plot diagram, and then present their stories with the rest of the class. At the end, groups then get to read the inside/back cover and students are always excited about how their plots are similar or different from the actual book.

This lesson is meant to cover the CCSS standard for 8th grade ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.2, which reads: “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” (English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature » Grade 8). Depending on what elements your focus on, you could use this lesson with many grade levels based on this specific standard.

This lesson is ideal for students as a review/extension activity. Personally, I implemented this lesson after noticing through assessment that my students were still struggling with plotting out the conflict of stories that they had read. I wanted a lesson that included creativity instead of simply reading another story and drawing another plot diagram. My goals for this lesson also included having students work together collaboratively and to get them excited to share their ideas with each other. These skills (creativity, collaboration, and communication) are three of the four 21st century skills that are students desperately need.

These elements can be changed however it best suits your students’ learning needs. The elements that I focused on in this lesson are: protagonist/antagonist, dynamic/static characterization, conflict, narrator, theme, and a plot diagram (setting, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution). As stated, you can change these around as suits your students’ needs, focusing on those terms that they need the most reinforcement in.

The lesson hook is to tell students that today they are going to judge books by their covers. I prepared for the lesson by grabbing enough books from my classroom libraries to have the class split up into groups of 2 or 3. I made sure the covers of these books were engaging and interesting looking and only had a title and author on them. That way students would have enough material to spark their imaginations, but not any plot points that would stifle those same imaginative juices.

I let each group pick a book, making sure to emphasize that they must judge the book solely on its cover. Then I emphasize to the students that they are to use their imaginations and collaborate together to complete the imaginative task laid before them.

I project a list of questions that students are to answer. Students typed up their answers on a document and used an online drawing tool OR my white board to create their plot diagram. (You could get this to students however you see fit based on technology available in your class.) I made sure to emphasize (going along with the standard) that their theme, characters, setting, and plot all needed to be connected to that main idea summary that they began with.

Imagine a story creativity questions

  1. Write a 1-3 sentence summary of what happens in the book.
  2. What is the conflict? (and what type is it)
  3. Who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist?
  4. What is the setting? (time, place, AND social context)
  5. Draw a plot diagram for the story
    1. Remember that CLIMAX is where the conflict undergoes some change
  6. Is the protagonist dynamic or static and how?
  7. Is the antagonist dynamic or static and how?
  8. What type of narrator is it? (1st, 3rd limited, 3rd omn.)
  9. Write a theme statement for the book

I then had students present to the class, while making sure that everyone could see the cover of their book. Finally, after presenting, each group read the back cover/inside cover.

Overall, this was a fun and engaging activity. Students were hooked from the beginning and my formative data showed me that students engaged in the elements of fiction at a higher rate than previously in the class. It worked well to engage students in three of the 4 C’s and was highly aligned to a CCSS standard.

I encourage you to try this lesson out with your students, at any grade level.

 

Keeping students engaged in the classroom

Would you want to be a student in your own classroom? If you have children, would you want them to be students in your classroom? This morning at the TIES 2016 conference, I went to a presentation by fellow English teacher Pernille Ripp. I was familiar with Pernille since I have wanted to implement her Global Read Aloud, and I was very excited to hear her speak about student engagement.

I really enjoyed listening to Pernille speak about how to keep students engaged. After hearing her speak, it dawned on me that actually I’ve been “about” student engagement this whole time. Pernille spoke about having your students enjoy school and having students enjoy school and be engaged because of their enjoyment, NOT because they are being forced to or are doing so because of possible consequences.

Pernille asked everyone the two questions that I began this blog post with. Would you answer yes to those questions? If not, why not? She really emphasized that, as a teacher, if students aren’t engaged and aren’t enjoying our classes, we should ask them why.

Pernille said that she does the hard work of asking kids what they like, what they don’t, and then contemplating how you could possibly go about changing that.

Overall, she said the deal breaker was making students feel welcome in their classroom. Here were some very simple and quick ideas for more student engagement based off of these ideas.

  • Let students pick where they sit
  • Ask students how you can make your lessons better
  • Pay attention to what we take away (ability to sit where they want, go to the bathroom, listen to music while they work etc) and then try to give them some of that choice back
  • Stop talking so much! Try to only talk 10 minutes per class

These were just some really simple ideas. I already try to let students pick where they sit and try to not talk more than 10 minutes a class. I also let students listen to music. However, there is so much more I can do. I hardly ever ask students what works for them and what doesn’t. I will start at the end of this unit I’m currently on this Friday.

Creating our own commercials

We have also been learning about rhetorical devices: ethos, pathos, and logos. After analyzing them in commercials, students created their own commercials.

First, all students had to write a script in a Google doc template. This template had them think about the big 5 questions when analyzing media, but for their own commercial. They also had to plan out each scene and how they were going to use rhetorical devices.

Next, students created a 4-slide Google presentation. Each slide simply had one image on it. Each slide was a scene in their commercial.

Third, students used Screencastify to talk over their presentation using their script. This created their commercial. Students posted these to Google Classroom.

Lastly, students viewed and critiqued each other’s commercials using a Google form.

Tomorrow they are going to find logical fallacies in their own commericial and other students’ commercials. I specifically teach fallacies after having them create the commercials because it creates a special kind of horror when they realize all the fallacies they’ve used. : )

Creating memes to learn logical fallacies

We are currently learning about logical fallacies in my class. After learning 8 basic fallacies, today was a day to practice.

First, I wrote a script of a play in which the 2 politicians debating (Smith and Jones) used fallacies. The debate moderator (Doe) asked the audience (the class) to identify the fallacies. The kids enjoyed it and they learned how to spot the fallacies “in the wild.”

Next, students created memes that were examples of fallacies. We used Google presentations and Google image search to do this. Here were the steps:

  1. All students got on an editable Google presentation. Each student got their own slide.
  2. Students then found a meme image on google images. You can do a search for “blank meme” and lots will come up
  3. Students put this picture in their slide.
  4. Using word art, students inserted words over the picture to illustrate a logical fallacy
  5. We then went through them as a class and guessed which fallacy each meme was illustrating.

It was super fun! If you’d like to see any of them, just check out this presentation.

Published in the local paper!

A class project my students did was published in the paper. In order to teach argument structure, students picked a local issue that they cared about. They then figured out who was a possible change-maker for the issue. Then, they wrote a letter and sent it to that particular change-maker.

Many students received letters back, but even if they didn’t, this was the most engaged that they had been so far this year. It just goes to show you that an authentic audience and purpose really does go a long way.

You can read the article here.