Literary Boot Camp

10:30 PM Sarah Koves 2 Comments

Every year I begin my Honors and AP English classes with Literary Boot Camp.  It is just that....a tough, training-introduction to my class and upper-level English.  I have been doing this for years, and I know I heard about it at an AP Conference years ago, but for the life of me, I cannot remember where or who the speaker was.

This unit always starts on the first day of school.  After going over my syllabus (a post I am working on), I hand out literature books and begin our first unit.  Yes, I give homework on the first day of school; I am that teacher, but for good reasons.

I institute Boot Camp every year for two reasons:

1) Students don't usually have a lot of homework during the first week of school, so me asking them to read two stories isn't much.

2) It sets the tone for my classroom and our year in these advanced English classes with elements such as required reading (I always struggle to get dear students to read) and depth of analysis.

I focus on the basic elements of literature:

  1. Plot
  2. Character
  3. Setting
  4. Theme
  5. Point of View
  6. Symbolism
  7. Style and Tone
  8. Irony

I began planning this by photocopying the table of contents for our literature book.  The nice thing about this unit is that it can be adapted to any textbook.  I then highlight all the short stories in the book (I use a similar plan to create my poetry units, which I will post on at a later date).  I then assign stories to the above elements based upon content.

I give students the whole reading plan for the unit at once and go over the first day's terms.  I make a deal with my students that I will never give them something at the end of class (without giving them significant class time first) that is due the next day ( other than the first day of school).  The young adults have very busy lives, much like we teachers do.  I want them to learn to plan their lives and their reading as part of that.  This way if a student has a late game, he or she can do a little extra the day before.  Aren't we trying to teach them real-life skills?

The next day students come in with the reading for that day completed (hopefully).  I give them a reading check quiz.  These are questions that come on a CD with our textbook.  They aren't always the greatest, but they get my point about having to read across to the students.  They also focus on elements other than what happened in the story such as vocabulary and analysis.  These items are discussed on the title page of the selection and in the margins of the selection itself; I do tell students this and remind them as we work through the days.

In addition to the quiz, the students also write briefly about how the story reflected the element or elements of the day.  Then dear students share their thoughts on the elements as they relate to the story.  I do very little talking during this sharing; I try hard to let their ideas and thoughts run the discussion.  I only intervene if they are wrong about factual information (ie year published) or if they get totally side-tracked (ie next week's football game).  I created a new Literary Discussion Anchor Chart this year after seeing this pinspiration.

What unit do you tailor for the first of the school year?

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