Last week I did a post titled YA in the Classroom? YES You Can! In that post I mentioned an outside reading project I have my AP students work through as their final reading assignment of the year. I want to share it with you, getting your thoughts and ideas on how to make it even stronger.
The project itself came out of desperation of an AP teacher who felt the grading overload on her back. Spoiler alert: the “her” is ME. I wanted to do something new and different with my students where they would not have to complete another dialectical journal or DIDLS assignment. (Actually, I was convinced that had I given them one more, they would have taken me up by my pinky toe on the flag pole in the front of the school.) I sifted through reading strategy books I owned, a research project our AP Lit. teacher used, and read through a few sites on the Internet.
Thus was born “The Final Outside Reading Project.”
It holds a lot of educational value while also allowing students the freedom to read what they choose (as long as I approve it) and work on those reading/writing/thinking skills.
This is the top of the handout I give to students. They must choose a theme and tie their novel into it.
My favorite comment on this part is, “I want to read _____ novel but I don’t know what theme I would place it.” OR, “Is it wrong if _____ (novel) is sold to you as ____ theme? What if you don’t agree?” Here’s what I tell my students: can you sell it to me? If you can justify why you have placed your novel with that particular theme, then the answer is YES!
Once students have chosen their novel, I have them write their name and choice on a sticky note and leave it on my desk. I sort through the sticky notes. If I have an issue with a title, I write the student a note and stick it on his/her desk. If they do not hear from me, their book is approved. This saves a lot of class instruction time. It also makes it easier on me because I have a spreadsheet where I write down their titles.
I do not allow more than one student to do a book for this project per class period. I may have four students who want to do Divergent, but they all must be in different classes. If my kids did all the same books, it becomes a stale project.
Here is how I explain the project from the get-go, as a three-step assignment.
Here are the journals I assign. There are two, and they each serve a different purpose.
Each prompt needs to have at least 5 THOUGHTFUL sentences, but no more than 8, of commentary. Then, I want you to find three quotes to solidify your commentary. Yes, three quotes PER question.
1. The theme of this novel is…
2. This character reminds me of…
3. This description makes me feel…
4. The setting gives the effect of…
5. Details seem to be out of place/effective/important…
6. I didn’t expect the character to do this/to react this way…
7. The attitude(s) of the author/characters makes me feel…
There are 18 questions total for journal one, and I’m giving you a sampling of the first seven. The rules for the journal are above as well. It is time consuming. It asks students to think about what they are reading. Most of all, it is asking students to find text evidence. By the time they finish with journal one, they have written 90 sentences and found 54 pieces of text evidence.
For the ending of the novel—you will answer all six questions using quotes as support for your answer. Each answer should be 5 to 8 sentences in length, including your supporting evidence (quotes).
1. What is your final impression of the novel? Explain.
2. How do you feel about the ending? Could the novel have ended another way? Explain.
3. Sometimes novels leave us feeling there is more to say—did this novel do this? What do you think
could have happened?
Journal two deals with the ending of the novel and students have six questions to work through on this one. This journal is all about reflecting on what they have read, finding meaning, and finding a way to work it into their synthesis and/or argument essays on the AP exam.
What is above deals with the written portion of the assignment. There is also a presentation, and this is where students have an opportunity to be artistic, which is a gift because in AP, that opportunity is rarely there. Some students really shine with this portion of the presentation and others do not – and that’s okay. It is about hitting all of their strengths.
For the presentation, I do not give a lot of guidelines. I inform them of what is required for the artistic element of the project, but the presentation is 100% up to them.
After you have completed your project, we will have presentations for everyone’s novels. This way, we get to experience, even if only for a moment, what everyone read.
What you need for the presentation:
· Your novel is being made into a movie—you are in charge of creating a movie poster. (If your novel
has already been made into a movie, you must choose different actors.)
· A book jacket of your own design
· A bookmark for your novel (You only need 1, but feel free to make enough for everyone in class if
you have the time/energy.)
· A magazine advertisement (I will show you a few examples)
Remember, you are working around a theme. Your poster, book jacket, bookmark, and magazine ad should reflect this theme without you having to directly state it.
· Everyone will be “stationed” around the room. You will set up your poster, book jacket, bookmark,
and magazine advertisement in your area.
· First, we will take a few minutes to mingle and go around the room to look at what everyone created.
· Then, you will be given the floor for a two-minute pitch of your novel. What you tell us during the pitch
is 100% up to you.
Now, as I teacher I understand that visuals are quite important. I have made five collages with nineteen examples of my students’ work.
This is just one example of The Book Thief. I believe this was 100% hand-painted, but don't quote me on that.
I loved the work the student did on this one. It was original, there was an interesting use of color, and I could tell you really enjoyed her book choice.
Here are four examples: The Princess Bride, If I Stay, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy
It does not show in the picture, but the Hitchhiker's had lights that wrapped around and lit up - which was cool. The If I Stay was breathtaking in person with the choice of color. The student used photo paper for all of her presentation pieces.
Here are two interesting ones: A Clockwork Orange and Thirteen Reasons Why
The clock really worked, and it was so cool because you could hear the "tick tock" as time passed. I loved her book cover as well, which she hand-drew.
He did a great job with Thirteen Reasons - I was really impressed.
Here is a sample of magazine ads. Students seemed to struggle with that the most. They were fine with all other aspects, but they were not too sure what to do for the add.
Many used quotes from the book jacket, and others did this...
Here are five other examples of what students designed for this project. I tried to take pictures of all artistic levels to share with my students for next school year. Some are very lovely and done by hand, others are interesting and technology was used to create it. All I was looking for was original ideas.
And that is my Final Outside Reading Project I assign to my AP Lang. students. This was their best project of the year. During the presentations of the books, many had a lot of energy because they really enjoyed the book they chose.
Some students chose books they had previously read, and I allowed it. To me it did not matter if they had already read the novel. What was important was the level of thinking they were going to get out of it. After all, they could not complete those journals without re-reading or glancing through those books.
I would love feedback on this. Do you have other ideas that I could incorporate? I am always looking for ways on how to make this project even more interesting for my students.
What do you do in your classroom that is interesting?
If any of you would like a copy of this project, shoot me an email with "Reading Project" in the subject here and I will send it to you.