In recent years we have moved a long way from teacher-led Practical Criticism Q&A. As learners we are always searching for fun ways to explore texts. Experience demonstrates that allowing children to be creative is an excellent way to build critical engagement. Fun means deeper learning, and in my view, play cultivates questions.
So let's have the courage to allow our students to play with plots and create their own interpretations of them. This approach need not displace traditional literary/critical writing exercises. Rather, it serves as a way of incubating enjoyable and engaging point(s) of entry to the text.
How does this approach work? I'm not going to write up a detailed lesson plan, but you will find a short case study below. The newspaper model can be adapted to any text. (I recently worked with this approach using Charles Dickens's Great Expectations.)
The project briefly sketched below will also help the learners to be more aware of style, tone, and the target readership. These are key skills and competences for any professional writer. And for the GCSE Exam.
I was asked recently how one might develop a school newspaper based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The task outlined employs writing and literacy, ICT, visual analysis, and both individual research and collaborative team work.
Allow plenty of time to research the stories, to design the newspaper and to master all the technical skills. It's also an excellent way to examine professional roles and expectations, and to engage in practical group work.
Essentially, the key to any news story is answering these questions:
Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?
Creatively, maybe you could attempt one or more of these 'treatments' as a part of your newspaper
(1) write in the style of a celebrity gossip column and fill in the characters' background, hobbies and status
(2) provide a map of the happenings, or photo of the forest, and other key locations
(3) use images of the key characters to go alongside your text
(4) provide eyewitness reports of strange happenings and weird sightings of fairies etc
(5) parents' perspectives on their missing children with quotes from them
(6) have a legal expert explaining that those who disobey their parents will be put to death
(7) employ an astrologer to predict what will happen next
(8) record the views of trained psychologist
(9) print a statement from the police
Try to use different writing styles for each of these in order to gain a top class mark. You could also record short video clips, inlcudingh the latest news and interviews. Let me know how you get on!
Further Information on the author of this blog
A chapter on Sex and Death in the Eighteenth Century was published by Routledge in May 2013. Ian is currently working on a book about the grotesque in the eighteenth century, based on his doctoral thesis. Another related project will consider the treatment of cancer in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
“Poststructuralist Performances” in Research Methodologies for Drama Education, ed. Judith Ackroyd
Shakespeare Activity Day Applying Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences
Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory Applied to Shakespeare
First World War - 1 Study Day: Applying Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences
How to Make a Newspaper in Microsoft Word 2007
Practical Software Guide
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)