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How many essays could a student write, if a student did write essays?

Ok, so that was my lame attempt at a play off of the rhyme about the woodchuck. Bur really, though…how many times do we ask our students to write papers over the novels that they have just read? Sometimes the answer is, a little too often. As much as we try to vary the prompts that the students are writing about, it’s still another paper that they have to write. And my World Lit students were starting to get tired of writing literary analysis papers. (To be honest, it’s sometimes hard for the teacher to keep reading essays that are all so similar as well) So this time…my students didn’t.

Recently, my students finished reading the choice novels for the quarter. They were able to pick from Troy, Like Water for Chocolate, The Stranger and The Namesake. So what could I do to assess all of these students who had read different novels? The obvious choice would be another literary analysis paper. But that’s no fun. Another could be to have them take tests over their respective novels. Again…no fun, and that doesn’t always show the understanding from the students about the book.

So instead, I gave the students Choice Projects. This way the students were able to find the medium that best fit them to show their understanding of the novels. The students were able to pick from the following:

  1. Draw a comic strip/graphic novel of your favorite scene from the book (8-10 panels)
  2. Write 2 newspaper articles, including pictures and captions telling about major events in the book.
  3. Choose 8-10 songs that fit the mood of different scenes in the book. Write an explanation (justify) why you selected that particular tune for each scene.
  4. Choose a character from the book and create a scrapbook or memory box of special memories and mementos. Be true to the character and write a description of each item and an in-depth explanation of its significance to the character and connection back to the text.
  5. Write a collection of poems that represent the novel. They can retell the story, can represent characters or can represent themes. Poems should be a total of 30-50 lines combined. Write a paragraph explaining how your poems represent the novel.
  6. Create some sort of visual art work (2D or 3D) to represent the novel. The artistic work must be turned in with a 1-page (minimum) description of why the subject of he artwork is important to/representative of the novel.
  7. Using the Background Research done previously in class, create a brochure for your novel.
  8. Make a test for your classmates over this novel. Include at least 25 questions, with a minimum of 5 multiple choice, 5 True/False, and 5 Short Answer.
  9. Write a summary of each chapter of the book on a separate sheet or PowerPoint slide and create a picture or clip art to go with each summary.
  10. Write an essay over your novel. See me for specific novel options
  11. Like Water for Chocolate ONLY – Make one of the recipes from the novel. Write a 1-page (minimum) paper on what role this food played in the book and its importance. How was food a driving force in the novel?

What was great is that every single one of these options was chosen at least once. I am very impressed with the work that my students have done for these projects. (Everyone of course especially loved the sharing of the food.) But these options have allowed my students to shine in their understanding of the novel.

There were some poems created by students that were absolutely fantastic and 100% captured the novel. I also had a student do a modified version of the scrapbook option, and I loved the effort and ideas that she came up with.

What was really great about these Choice Projects through? I had projects turned in by students who normally do not turn in anything except for smaller things that we do in class together. By allowing these students choose something that interested them, they bought into it more…they truly made it their own. I also loved the responses from students who chose to make a test. Many of them remarked about how difficult it was to come up with questions. I found this rather amusing, because they gained a new respect for teachers and the quizzes and tests that they are given.

I know that student choice is something that is being pushed by education systems around the country, but let me tell you that I have offered choice projects in previous years and at different grade levels and they have always been successful. This year my World Lit students proved to me once again that when they are given choice, they will succeed and they will push themselves to do well with the boundaries that they set for themselves.

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