Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Having students choose lines from literature that interest them gives every reader, regardless of ability, a "way in" to a text, and is an excellent starting point for reader-response activities. As teacher Alfredo Lujan demonstrates in his classroom, students might be asked to find a line that "jumps out" or "tickles" them, and to give a brief explanation why. This exercise helps readers connect what they are reading with their own lives. Like most of the reader-response strategies, this one can be adapted by the teacher to suit the class and the purpose of the lesson. Once students identify the lines they find most interesting or important, they can share them in pairs or small groups, or record them in a journal along with comments about why they chose the lines. The lines can then become a starting point for a whole-class discussion.
Teachers who want to go further with this technique -- when reading, for instance, a particularly dense or difficult text -- can have students use the chosen lines to make connections to other things they are reading or learning about. For example, a line like "wrap their babies in the American flag / feed them mashed hot dogs and apple pie / name them Bill and Daisy," from Pat Mora's poem "Immigrants," could link to photos and news stories about immigrants or to other works of literature that describe the immigrant experience. Students might create collages to illustrate the lines, or write essays in which they trace how the meaning of a powerful line such as this resonates in several different works.
Still another use of the technique is demonstrated by teacher Greg Hirst, who models it with his students by reading James Welch's poem "Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat." He has them choose five or six important words in each stanza; he then has his students narrow the important words down to "one absolutely critical word" per stanza. By making these choices, he says, his students are drawn deeper and deeper into the poem.
An extension of Hirst's idea is the technique of having students create a poem with lines from a text. To do this, teachers should have students identify a theme, character, idea, motif, or pattern of some kind in a text. Next, students should choose lines from that text that illustrate that theme or pattern. Finally, the students rearrange their lines into some new form -- poetry or prose -- that illustrates this theme powerfully. They can then read their new poems aloud, post them in the classroom, illustrate them, or present them as a theater piece.
Note: Teachers using this technique should generally refrain from publicly praising or censoring students for their choice of quotes from the text. If students are led to believe that there is, in fact, one "right" answer, the freedom and spirit of exploration necessary for true reader response will be jeopardized.
This exercise is a non-threatening way to open up discussion of a text. Readers of almost any ability will be able to choose at least one line, and once students see that there is no "right" or "wrong" reason for choosing a line, they will feel free to give honest and emotional responses to what they read. The exercise also ensures that each student contributes and that the more vocal students are not allowed to dominate. It is an easy way to have students focus on the words of the text itself so that any discussion that follows is grounded in that text.