Today students arrive to class with their completed Evidence of Character Change in Gilgamesh the King worksheets. The first three questions require the inclusion of quotes and I am eager to see what the students came up with. Do they agree on the traits exhibited by the main character? What quotes do they chose to demonstrate their analysis of the story?
One way to find out is to collect their responses on sticky notes and place them on chart paper. Around the room, I hang three charts simply titled Beginning, Middle, and End. To get every student involved, I hand out three post-its to each person and instruct them to fill out each one in this way: 1. Add B, M or E to show what part of the story it refers to; 2. Write the quote included in their response; 3. Write the character trait from their response. Once all the quotes are placed on the charts a couple volunteers arrange them into categories. Most agree that the Gilgamesh is selfish and cruel, which is evidenced by the way he forced people of his kingdom to work, “Men fainted from work and hunger. Food grew scarce. The people cried out for mercy, begging Gilgamesh to stop but he would not listen.” Then in the middle of the story something extraordinary happens and it does not escape the students’ notice. Most of them accurately identify the turning point as the moment when Gilgamesh is saved from death or injury by the very person he was trying to defeat in battle: Enkidu. He is amazed and comes to understand “what it means to be human. He was no longer alone. He had found a friend.” At the end of the story both Gilgamesh and his kingdom are at peace because the king spends his days looking for way to “make the city a happier place.” This activity provides the students with an interactive way to summarize this story.
The fourth question asks students to predict whether the king’s change of heart will be lasting or if he will lapse back into his old ways. A description of how we share this information appears here:
Debates of this type capture the students’ interest and they are all eager to participate. This makes it the perfect time to push them into some in-depth thinking by asking them to analyze the phrase “what it means to be human.” They come to the conclusion that people need companionship. Gilgamesh knew nothing of what it feels like to connect with and relate to other people. In other words, his big problem was loneliness. Even with all his strength, power and wealth he still felt empty. They cite examples from other stories and come to the conclusion that authors throughout time have put characters in a position to learn this important lesson.
The accuracy of the students’ predictions will be revealed as they read the second book in the series The Revenge of Ishtar and answer a set of comprehension questions. For the rest of the class student work independently, except for few students that I work with in a small group. To build comprehension, we read a few paragraphs at a time and then summarize what we have read. Advanced readers do this intuitively, whereas struggling readers benefit from explicit instruction. As we go along we mark up the text by noting important events.