Teachers are understandably anxious about taking on fresh texts in the classroom because a new book means a whole new scheme of work and set of resources – a time consuming job for professionals whose enthusiasm is often stretched rather thin by the amount of tasks they have to cram into each working day. The problem is often compounded when teachers contemplate teaching diverse texts, which may not only be new, but also unfamiliar. In this blog entry, we explore creative ways to approach and reflect on diverse texts in the classroom, hopefully providing teachers with the inspiration they need to take the plunge and try out some genuinely multicultural material.
Primary pupils complete a guided reading activity on Chicken in the Kitchen.
There is something rather magical about opening a box and discovering what’s inside… Teachers can raise intrigue and create curiosity around a new text by creating a wonder box, full of objects and images that link to their class reader in some way. Allow pupils to open and explore this box group by group, or choose a series of volunteers to come to the front of the classroom and draw something out of the box to show to the captivated audience.
Stuck for ideas? A teacher using Chicken in the Kitchen in the classroom might include the following objects in their box: a feather, a yam (or sweet potato), a pepper, a bag of flour, a piece of wood, a mask (an African mask or picture of one if possible), a colourful scrap of material and a speech bubble saying, “Hello”. Any objects difficult to source can be replaced by pictures printed from Google Images (copyright restrictions allowing).
So, open the box, let the objects out and the fun begin! The variety of items in the ‘Wonder Box’ should provide pupils with a hands-on experience that will get them guessing about some of the key ideas in the book they are about to read.
Teachers could even challenge the gifted and talented amongst their class by asking them to draw out a concept map, suggesting possible connections between the different objects in the box and how they might link together to form a story.
To start, designate a wall or an area of the classroom as the ‘Wall of Questions’, making sure there is plenty of room available. Ask pupils to look at the cover of the book they are about to read together and, after some preliminary guided reading discussion, ask everyone in the class to write down any questions they might have about the characters and events depicted in the cover illustration. Questions could be addressed to one of the main characters shown, or to the author or illustrator, or they could even be more abstract.
All questions should be written on individual post-its and stuck to the ‘Wall of Questions’. Allow pupils to browse the questions on the wall and see if there are any that they can answer at this stage. Questions should be answered by the pupils writing directly onto the same post-it or choosing a different colour post-it for their response. This activity could be repeated at different points in the book and questions could be answered by the pupils after each round has been stuck to the wall. Alternatively, the teacher could wait until the book has been finished before the pupils start answering the questions.
Higher ability students should be encouraged to think of ‘big’ questions, particularly when they have reached the end of the text. For example, a pupil having read Dragon Dancer might ask: does good always win over bad?
This activity works well if you would like your pupils to reflect on their preconceptions about cultures and traditions that seem very foreign to them. Every child in the class will need an A4 piece of paper divided in half: one side should be entitled ‘Before’ and one should be labelled ‘After’.
Before reading the new text, or even looking at the front cover, tell pupils where the story is set. Based on this information, ask them to draw pictures in the ‘Before’ box to illustrate their expectations for the story: what characters and events would they expect to feature in a story about Malaysia, for example.
Once the pupils have finished reading the story, ask them to draw pictures to represent their key impressions of the text in the ‘After’ box. Pupils can then consider the difference between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ pictures in their boxes: where did their initial ideas about the culture in question come from? What sources, such as TV programmes, films, books or advertising, influenced their ideas? Why was the reality so different from their first impressions? More able pupils should be encouraged to reflect on the dangers of stereotypes and prejudices and how we can prevent these being generated in the first place.
This is an activity that should be completed once pupils have read and enjoyed a diverse text in the classroom. To create a character map, pupils will need to draw out a wiggly path, to represent a journey, on a clean sheet of A4 paper.
The first task pupils need to do is to draw a picture at the start of the path to represent the main character and his or her feelings at the beginning of the story, and then another picture at the end of the path to represent the character at the conclusion of the story. For example, a pupil having read Phoenix Song might show Arohan at the beginning of his journey sighing and looking fed up whereas by the end, he could be drawn as proud and jubilant, demonstrating that he has achieved something he hadn’t believed possible. Secondly, pupils should draw pictures along their ‘path’ to represent the key milestones that occur in the text – those that help shape the character into the kind of person they are at the plot’s resolution. Pupils could even name the milestones using mini signposts that would appear at various points along the character’s path.
This activity could be differentiated to suit a range of different abilities. Some pupils would benefit from an outline sheet, showing where each of the key milestones in the story appear, while other pupils could be asked to consider the pacing of the story and the relative positions of key events in the text. The latter activity could lead to a productive high-level discussion about the structure and ‘shape’ of stories.
This activity creates fantastic display work as well as bringing out pupils’ creative talents. In order to create a class quilt, each pupil should be given a small square of paper on which they can draw and decorate what they see as the most memorable moment from the story that they have just read. Teachers can be as creative as they like with this activity and could offer pupils a range of different materials (felt, tissue paper or dare we say it…glitter) with which to create their memorable moment. However, for those teachers short of time, this works just as well with good old fashioned colouring pencils.
Once all pupils have finished their square of the quilt, allow them some time to arrange the finished product for display. For example, pupils could consider whether similar squares should be grouped together or whether the key moments chosen by pupils should be arranged chronologically.
Sorting the quilt squares may provoke some pupils to consider the range of different interpretations of the text. Very able students could be asked to reflect on why readers interpret texts in such different ways.
One of the directors records their memorable moment from Chicken in the Kitchen on a quilt square.
The opening screen of the Morfo app.
This is a high tech activity to finish, which utilises the iPad app, Morfo. This tool enables users to create an animated head shot, using a photo or picture that they have uploaded to the app. Pupils will need to take a photograph of the main character from the cover of the text to complete this activity (or more artistic students could draw their own version of the main character). Then, focusing on a key moment in the text, ask pupils to consider how the main character is feeling at this point. Morfo provides a modern twist on the traditional hot-seating activity, as pupils can then animate the picture of the main character they have uploaded to the app, by recording themselves talking about their feelings in the role of that main character. Pupils should be encouraged not to use accents to represent their character at this point in the activity, as there is the danger that they will quickly veer into the use of stereotypes.
If pupils don’t have individual iPads to use, this activity can work just as well with the teacher animating the Morfo at the front of the classroom, based on suggestions from the class.
Overall, this is a rather gimmicky but genuinely fun way for pupils to empathise with the main characters in the story they have read, consider their feelings, and understand the way that they have been shaped by the culture in which they live. For more information about the app, see: http://www.morfoapp.com/.
These activities should hopefully provide teachers with fresh ideas about how to approach diverse texts in the classroom. The first activity can be instrumental in generating wonder in young pupils and a thirst for new and interesting stories. The ‘Wall of Questions’ should reassure pupils that they shouldn’t be afraid to interrogate new ideas and experiences, while ‘Before and After’ may lead them to consider their own preconceptions about other cultures and traditions. Both the character map and the use of the Morfo app should provide students with an opportunity to empathise with people living very differently from themselves and finally, the ‘Quilt of Key Events’ allows pupils to share and appreciate the variety of interpretations that a diverse text can generate.
For more ideas about ways to approach our texts in the classroom, please check the Education page of our website (www.lantanapublishing.com/education). All resources available here are free for teachers to download.