Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life of Pi: Summer Reading

During the summer prior to the 10th grade year, students are sent home a letter welcoming them to the 10th grade honors English program and providing them details with how to annotate a text.  The students are asked to read and annotate Life of Pi by Yann Martel over the summer and be prepared to discuss this text and be tested on it as soon as the school year starts.
 As a teacher I LOVE summer reading.  Here's why: any reading helps students immensely in all walks of life, annotating helps them to retain more the learning from the previous year and this allows me to gather data quickly from students at the start of the year to see what they already are rock stars at and where there are holes in their learning.
Inevitably, there are students who transfer into my class right as school starts and need time to complete the reading, so I have designed a few activities to accommodate for these students and to still offer the students who have completed the reading an opportunity to further their understanding of the text.  At the same time, I do want to test students and see what they are coming in with, so I try not to give too much direct instruction.  The goal is to see where they are starting at.
I start by demonstrating how to complete a close-reading of a text.  I open the book to any chapter (all of them are pretty short in this text) and we work together as a class to annotate the chapter well.   We read the chapter aloud.  I provide notes/guidelines on all the aspects they were asked to annotate for over the summer and then I assign each group a specific aspect to annotate for: literary devices, character, plot, connections (text-to-text, etc.), diction, summary/paraphrase, etc.  I give the class time to work together in their small groups before I call them back together.  I model annotating/close reading on the board and ask each group to share out.  As they share, I add their annotations to my text on the board and encourage all of the students to beg, borrow and steal.  After all the groups have shared every students leaves with a text that is annotated perfectly.  Doing this right away sets a tone for the rigor of the class and also allows students some extra time to adjust their annotations before they turn them in for a grade if they feel their summer annotations are sub-par (they usually are).

The next two days the students do in-class discussions that follow a seed card model.  I love this idea and learned it at Indiana University.  This gives the kids a chance to explore ideas about the text (all kinds of ideas) and gives me the opportunity to evaluate their discussion skills.  The first day of seed card discussion is lead by me.  I create and provide two sets of seed cards (one set for each row).  A seed card has two sides - on the front is a short piece of text (a poem, non-fiction, etc.) or an image that relates to the novel currently being read and on the back side is a quote from the text that is especially interesting/compelling.  These two elements do not have to be related.
Here is an example of the front of the seed card.  This seed card generally draws kids to talk about what supplies Pi had with him and whether he had the 10 essentials, etc.  There is actually a part of the text that gives a very detailed list of the inventory on the life boat and students usually reference this list when they have this seed card.  I should note that this seed card is a very direct/literal connection, but I also have and encourage more thematic connections (I have a favorite card with a realistic scene on top and a mirror image of a fantasy image on the bottom) or connections with non-fiction texts (I have a short blurb about the Donner party that the kids always like to discuss).

This is an example of an interesting quote from the text - the back of the card is only to be used if they feel stumped or run out of things to discuss in relation to the front.  During this first discussion they usually do, but as the year progresses and their skills grow they find that four minutes is hardly enough to fully discuss these cards.

I put the kids in four rows - two rows facing each other and give each student a seed card.  Here is the basic desk set-up.  Obviously, as many desks as needed can be added.

I ask them to first silently consider the seed card and how it relates to the text - they are required to find a passage from the text to support their opinion.  I time this and generally give 2 minutes.  Next, for the discussion.  Students are asked to share their seed cards with their partner - they have to explain the card and share the relation to the text.  I time this as well - 4 minutes, 2 for each partner to share.  I instruct them to discuss the quote on the back (what it means, where it fit in the narrative, how it applies to their life, etc. if they run out of things to say about the front).

Next, students are asked to rotate - see the desk set-up diagram above.  I have the outside rows stay put and each student on the inside rotates one forward - the kids at the front go to the back.  When they get to their new partner they introduce themselves (this is the start of the school year) and then exchange cards.  They are not allowed to discuss their cards at this point.  They are timed again (2 minutes) they consider the card and find a supporting passage.  Then the discussion starts.  They explain this new card AND the partner adds on thoughts/ideas presented during their previous conversation(s).  The rotation continues.
While they are discussing the seed cards I am evaluating their discussion skills.  Are they able to present their idea clearly?  Are they able to build on the ideas of others?  Etc.  I will use this information to inform the learning opportunities/instruction in regards to discussion skills later in the year.
At the end of class or once they have rotated back to where they started, I call on students to share interesting/intelligent ideas presented by their peers.  This serves as a good get-to-know you activity for the students and also allows me to clarify any questions that the students might have.
That evening for homework students are asked to come up with their own seed cards - they must have all the same elements that mine had on them.  The following day the students do a discussion based off their seed cards.

I keep their cards to be used when they make bulletin boards for this assignment:

Next students are given a short-answer test on tone and theme and a multiple choice test on literary elements.  This is a common assessment and while points are given for it, they are minimal.  The assignment is meant to gauge what skills they currently have and what skills they are lacking.  This data will inform my teaching throughout the remainder of the year.
The final activity for this unit involves a compare and contrast of the novel and the movie, but with a slightly more academic twist (I have found that this twist really encourages students to look not only at movies critically, but at texts more critically  as well).
We begin by a day of non-fiction reading and notes on cinematic devices - the students read a short article called Mise-en-Scene and the Four Ps.  This article gives them a very brief set of lenses through which to critically watch a movie and understand the decisions made by the director.  The notes involve images/short videos highlighting each device and them paraphrasing the device in their own words and finding their own examples from films they are familiar with (they really like this part).  I also show them examples from modern movies of each of these techniques in action.  Before watching Life of Pi, we watch an example of what Mise-en-Scene analysis sounds like with the film Wall-E:

Here is another example that I use from time to time.  It shows the director taking a passage from a text and transforming it into a movie scene.

Next we watch a short scene in the movie - students are required to take notes throughout the movie about the cinematic decisions of the director.  After the first scene I stop the film and we discuss the cinematic elements that we noticed.  After this the students generally feel pretty confident and they watch and take notes.  I have found that thinking critically about a film is something that these students have never done before and they are actually really good at it.  It then becomes a very transferable skill to critical thinking about the decisions of an author later on.
After watching the film students are asked to analyze the differences between the approach of the director and the author of the same character or scene.  They only have to look at one, but they are expected to include in-depth analysis of the devices used by each and commentary about these decisions - why would the director make this decision while the author made a different decision? Students are required to reference literary and cinematic devices.  Giving them some guidelines about how to watch a movie critically helps to avoid overly simplistic comparisons that do not involve much analysis.  They finish their analysis up as homework and turn in the analysis and their annotated texts.

This also serves as excellent practice for their first quarter independent reading assignment where they are asked to read a novel that has been turned into a movie and analyze the difference between the approach of the author and the director towards the development of a specific character.

At the end of this fairly short unit, I have collected data on my students discussion skills, annotating skills, writing skills, recognition of literary elements, and ability to think critically.  All of this data will be used to inform my teaching for the foreseeable future.

This year, the district threw us a curve ball and has decided that our first unit must be on character development - meaning I had to add something into my unit to really focus on character development and to prepare my students for the district mandated unit test.  First of all, I changed all the assignments that I had already designed to focus specifically on character development (without an option to analyze other elements).  Next, I designed a group presentation made especially to help the students analyze character development.

Here is a new assignment that I am integrating to meet the district mandates this year:

Goal: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Required Vocabulary:  I expect to SEE and HEAR these each of these words in your presentation.  Please check each box as you utilize the vocabulary within your presentation.

Used in
Text Evidence






Dynamic Characters

Static Characters


External Change

Internal Change

Flat Character

Round Character


In a small group - assigned by Mrs. R - you are responsible for creating a DYNAMIC presentation (the format is up to you) during which you will share your group's analysis of the character Pi and how Pi contributed to key elements of the novel The Life of Pi including plot and theme.  DO NOT divide the questions up and assign a group member to discover the answer to individual questions, rather come to a consensus as a group as you work to answer each question and search for evidence to support your inferences.  The work should only be divided once your group has reached a consensus in reference to the questions.  Make certain that EVERY question is addressed within your DYNAMIC presentation.  Please check off each box as you integrate the question into your presentation.

Assigned Group:
Contact Info.
Contributions (to be completed at the end)

Within your presentation, you need to address the following questions (but not necessarily in this order), making certain to use text evidence in support of EVERY answer:
Is Pi Patel a flat or round character?  Dynamic or Static?
What is the MAIN conflict that Pi faces?  What type of conflict (person vs. __________) is this?
How does diction contribute to the characterization of Pi Patel?  Please make certain to include a reference to both connotative and denotative meanings of words and sentence structure.
Create a plot diagram and identify at least TEN major plot points.  How does Pi's character contribute to EACH of these plot points?
What is ONE theme presented by Martel in The Life of Pi?  How does the character of Pi help to develop this theme over the course of the novel?
Identify THREE other characters from The Life of Pi.  For each character please analyze: are they flat or round?  Dynamic or static?  How does these three character EACH contribute the characterization of Pi Patel?
Identify TWO internal changes and TWO external changes that Pi undergoes and the impact that each of these changes has on his characterization.
Finally: Pi Patel - friend material or nah?  Explain.

Schedule for work:

Day 1 - Assignment Explained/Introduced & Groups Assigned:
Day 2 & 3 - Question/Evidence (Possible Round Robin/Gallery Walk with Questions)
Day 4 & 5: Presentation Creation
Day 6: Practice Presentations
Day 7: Presentations to Class

Originally I thought that I would start by introducing the assignment and then on Day 2 have kids do a gallery walk with the questions, but at the last minute I switched it up, I posted the eight questions above around the room and had kids rotate in random groups from one question to the next (without any explanation that they were working on the same questions that their first large assignment would be based around).  I did this because it left them more room to just explore the questions in depth - without searching for the "answer".  I required that kids spent 3 minutes reading previous comments and coming to a consensus about answers, before they were allowed to write.  This discussion was really helpful - not only did they review the summer reading, but many of the English terms they were about to need knowledge of for the large assignment.  I encouraged them to include text evidence to support their opinions directly on the poster.  I gave them 5 minutes for writing and then they rotated to the next question.  At the end of the activity we came back together as a large group and shared interesting insights we had while completing the activity.  Here are some of the posters after the activity:

When I grouped kids for the assignment, I tried to make certain they were not in the same groups as they were in for the gallery walk, this way when they come together with their large assignment group they will come with different opinions and their discussions will, by default, be more dynamic.

I also created a pretty snazy little bulletin board to accompany the unit this year:

No comments:

Post a Comment