Dear Dr. D’
I want to teach the writing program, a literary work, grammar, vocabulary. I don’t know where to start or how to get it all in. I wanted to begin with Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; but I’m now thinking I should start with a short story. What should I do?
Slow and Steady Wins the Race! Easy for me to say, right? The fact of the matter is that I spent many years wishing in February that I had slowed down in September. So, let’s talk about how to get it all in without losing your mind. Your kids need you, so we have to keep the teacher healthy and happy. Here is my recommendation if you want to jump into literature at the beginning of the school year: START WITH YOUR CENTERPIECE: THE NOVEL OR THE DRAMA OR THE CHAPTER BOOK and have everything revolve around it!
Step One: Make a list of the novels and/or dramas that you plan to teach this year (For those of you who teach only excerpts, I want you and your administrators to reconsider this decision. A novel or drama is a journey that the teacher and his/her students take together. Everyone benefits from the rich vocabulary and rigor of completing a long work; the indepth discussions that find themselves continuing at home; the laughter and tears of getting to know the characters and each other in the classroom; and the rigor and rewards of completing a full novel or drama.)
Step Two: Determine in which order you are going to teach the works during the year.
Step Three: Now, set your table.
Place setting for Guest #1: Writing Prompts — For each work, create a set of writing prompts that you give the students (two to five prompts that can be used for the final essay; two to five prompts (literary and expository) that can be used to guide reading throughout the work) — Read the earlier Blog about Prompt Writing!
Place setting for Guest #2: Vocabulary, the talkative aunt
- Select the vocabulary words from the novel/drama/chapter book.
- Give the students the words and definitions before they start reading. I have a workshop on this.
- 10 words per week ahead of their reading. Practice them each day. Repetition. When they see the word in the text, they’ll yell out, “Dr. Louis, that’s one of our words!” And you’ll nod like it is a surprise to everyone!
Place setting for Guest #3: Themes — the parents
- Think of the many themes in the first work. See Analytical Response to Literature guide, 4th edition for “Discovering Theme.”
Place setting for Guest #4: Other Fiction and Nonfiction — children of themes
- Essays – find nonfiction (current and historical events) that relate to the theme. (Create an expository prompt.)
- Short Story — find a short story that goes with your centerpiece.
- Poetry — find a poem that goes with your centerpiece.
Place setting for Guest #5: Film Night — the favorite uncle who only comes around occasionally
- Tuesday night is Film Night with Family. I like to do this to get the families involved, but some of our kids don’t have this option, unfortunately, so this must be optional, or you can have an AFTER SCHOOL film presentation. Each week that you are reading the work, select a theme and find a companion film or documentary (Ken Burns’s new Civil War documentary is coming out in September. For those of you teaching novels with an African-American focus, consider novels with African-American themes (e.g., Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry).
Place setting for Guest #6: Grammar – the grandparents
- What grammar, mechanics, usage, syntax are your studying? In the above texts (“texts” include film), find places where you can teach the grammar;
- Pull sentences from the various texts that demonstrate the conventions you are teaching;
- For your JSWP Shaping Sheet, tell the students they must highlight or circle/underline the rules you are studying; and
- Grammar Mondays — Grammar tutoring — English department — Each week, one teacher takes a convention and presents it for tutoring. Anyone can come, and everyone who comes gets extra credit. Rotate the responsibility.
Integrate all of these while you are reading your novel, drama, chapter book.
Finally, create a syllabus — your menu — to send home, showing the parents what you will be doing with this novel, drama, chapter book as the centerpiece. Dates, Prompts, etc.
Everyone wins! It’s a hearty meal!
Keep reading and writing!Warm regards,