I have never done a project like this before, but like the Personal Timeline Project, I'm hoping that this project will engage the students and help them connect with Great Expectations. Most students LOVE creative writing; they love the freedom of it and who can blame them! It's not often that we allow ourselves this kind of time for pure imagination, especially once we get to high school, when it's tempting to let testing drive our curriculum. I think that this project will provide an outlet for creativity, invigorate our reading of the text, and help connect the act of writing with that of reading. I'm excited by the possibilities!
Once a week, on Friday afternoons, we will take a break from analyzing the text to work on our narratives, using our knowledge of Dickens as inspiration in our own work. I have intentionally placed this lesson at the end of what I consider the Foundation Unit of this novel because I want it to serve as an informal assessment. In essence, the work they complete today will show me how they have understood about the ways in which setting, characterization, conflict, and mood interact. Although they will not start writing their narratives today, the graphic organizers are so specific that a completed one will provide enough information to assess their knowledge of the text thus far. I plan to collect the graphic organizers at the end of the period, so that I can chart the best course of action for next week.
I will spend the first 10 minutes of class explaining the project: that they are going to write at least three related, but separate, episodes of a narrative; that it will be a Friday afternoon project, and therefore something to look forward to; and that it is a chance to be creative.
I will hand out the graphic organizer I made for this project and walk them through both sides of it. First, we will look at the blank side, which they will fill in with their own ideas. Then we will examine the back side, which has been filled in as if Dickens wrote it to outline the first few chapters of Great Expectations. This side of the graphic organizer should help clarify any confusing information or miscommunications, especially since it outlines all the things we have been talking about for the past three weeks.
Before I set them off to work independently, I will let them work in their groups from Chapter 5 to talk through some ideas. I expect that this project will be really exciting for the more naturally creative kids, while it might completely paralyze others who "aren't creative" or "can't write." I want to give them a chance to talk through ideas so that the excitement spreads and those negative attitudes change. The quieter students may also be more apt to ask questions in the smaller groups than in front of the entire class. I expect that they will build on others' ideas through the discussion, which will in turn, help them write clearer and more thoughtful narratives (SL.9-10.1). I expect a least a couple of high school romance stories; I hope for some mystery or a good sci-fi; no matter what, I just want them to find something that drives them forward. Therefore I set few parameters: they can cover just about any topic and I don't have a problem with swearing. When asked about swearing, I just say, "as long as you feel it's necessary for the story." There's power in that statement, some how. They feel powerful and in control because they make the decision, not me, yet they also know that I will question decisions later and it has to make sense (W.9-10.4).
Once we get to work on the graphic organizers, I expect it to be quieter. Students will move their chairs back into place and begin to work mostly independently. They can ask questions and think through some of their ideas with their immediate neighbor, or with me, but I want to make sure that everyone is working on their own stories and plans.
This project is designed to be fun and to serve as a break from reading, but it is still important and educational. I want students to practice their writing skills, while we read. This is a low-stakes way of engaging them and giving them an opportunity to write an organized piece that demonstrates an understanding of the elements of a story (W.9-10.3). I also have the next weeks in the back of my mind, wherein students will be writing two 5-paragraph compositions, and this narrative assignments will hopefully help them maintain their skills, but in a different format (W.9-10.3c).
In the last few minutes of class, I will collect their graphic organizers, so that I can plan a lesson for next Friday that matches their needs. I will also give them their homework assignment, which is to read chapter 7 of Great Expectations. I will encourage them to take notes as they read, but tell them that I won't be collecting the notes for a grade; instead those notes might help them in other ways (quiz.. hint.. hint).