Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Introducing a Novel

Problem: “The problem is one commonly faced by literature teachers: not only how to introduce a longer work of fiction that students will read in common but also how to engage them in reading.”

One Solution: “Here is what happened when, on impulse, I presented my students directly with the opening line of William Armstrong’s Sounder (1969, New York: Harper). The eighteen students, who had no books in hand, were arranged in a circle, with me seated among them, holding a paperback copy of the book. From it, I read aloud (three times) the first sentence: ‘The tall man stood at the edge of the porch.’ ” [From just this first sentence, here are the students’ questions:

How old is the man?

How tall is he?

Why is he standing on the porch?

Why stand on the edge of the porch?

Why not be sitting, instead of standing?

What is the man’s name?

What is the man’s race?

What does the porch look like?

Is it the front or back porch?

What is the porch attached to—house, trailer, or what?

Whose porch is it?

What is the man wearing?

How long has he been standing?

What is he looking at?

What else is on the porch, like furniture?

How is the man standing—slouched, straight, or what?

What season is it?

What is the time of day?

Is he alone, or are there people with him? P. 62.

The author, having engaged the students with the first line, followed with the rest of the first paragraph and again elicited questions. The students read to answer the questions.

Comment: Good method for motivating students to read. I have another tried-and-true method of previewing a long novel. The students read for ten minutes somewhere in the beginning of the novel, summarize what they have read and raise questions to which they want answers. Since they have read different pages near the beginning, their summaries will be somewhat different. I put key words for the questions on the board.

Next, they read in the middle of the novel, starting on different pages near the middle. Again, they read for ten minutes, summarize and raise questions. I add key words to the questions already asked.

This time, they read three-fourths through the novel for ten minutes, summarize and raise questions.

Finally, they read near the end, but not the end, summarize and again raise questions. I arrange the questions in the following manner: questions of fact, interpretation and judgment.

The students gain a knowledge of the author’s style. Oddly, sampling as they have, they do not have a clear understanding of the plot. In fact, they raise more questions than answers as a result of the sampling. Try it. It works. RayS.

Title: “Student-Made Questions: One Way into a Literary Text.” Barbara Hoetker Ash. English Journal (September 1992), 61-64.

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