Regardless of our years of experience in the classroom, we have all likely experienced the student who finishes that book you assigned and proceeds to slam it down on the desk in a flourish of drama, shouting loudly to the rest of the class that they have finally finished. This is generally associated with as much distraction inducing noise as humanly possible, with an eye roll so severe that you fear their eyeballs may pop right from their heads.
They are so very excited to have finished that challenging text that they hope to never think on that text again. They are ready to move swiftly and efficiently back to their smart phones to peruse their various social media apps.
Then, as we, the ever dutiful educators, ask students to reflect on a text and its meaning, we are often met with that dreaded question: “So what? Why do we care about this text or the author’s message within?” In other words, ‘why do I need to spend one more second thinking about this text?’
I have compiled some easy to implement ideas that you can incorporate in your post-reading lessons to help students answer those questions for themselves.
We often ask students to identify the theme as they finish a novel. This is a very important step in truly understanding the author’s message- we know this. But, students are still often left wondering that dreaded ‘so what’ question. Our students often struggle to connect the themes of the past to their lives today. We know how naturally egocentric our students are, so they don’t naturally make that connection between characters of the past, and their lives today. That said, when our students can make that connection; when they can understand how a novel written years, decades, or even centuries ago is still relevant to their lives- they can answer that ‘so what’ question for themselves.
A Collaborative Activity To Get You There:
Let’s get our kids talking about this very question. I pair my students in small groups and provide them with chart paper which contains a T-Chart ready for student use.
Students collaborate to craft a written response to these questions. Then, I ask these groups to take this activity a step further to craft images or symbolic visuals to represent that thinking. They can draw these images or find these in images/symbols on the internet. They could include drawings, art, newspaper articles, social media posts, political cartoons, etc. This activity gets your students moving and collaborating, but most importantly discussing the relevance of a given text in their own lives. When groups have finished this activity, I create a gallery walk (read more about gallery walks here) to allow students to view and discuss the important ideas their peer’s have created and shared. To close out this activity, I will ask students to personally reflect, either in a short extended response or as an exit ticket, on the question: “What does this theme mean to me personally?” This final step asks students to connect the author’s message and/or the relevance/significance of the text to their own lives, while providing them the necessary scaffolding to get them to that place.
Possible Essay Question to Follow:
Essays often leave students shaking in their proverbial boots, but by far the most interesting and engaging essay prompt I have every given asks students to write about how the text relates to the life of a modern teenager.
Track the Topic:
I often ask students to track the development of a theme topic as they read through the text. This helps students build an answer to that ‘so what’ question as they explore the text. For books/stories with a strong central idea, I will often share that theme topic with them right from the start of the story. For example, with the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, I ask students to consider the theme topic of social justice throughout the text. Then, as students monitor the development of this topic, they are better able to write that theme statement at the close of the story. They are understanding the deeper meanings in the text as they read. I often support students with the graphic organizer pictured below. This is part of my To Kill a Mockingbird Theme/Character Analysis Essay Lesson. Click on the image to the right to learn more about this lesson!
Reverse the Question
When I provide students with a short story or nonfiction piece, I will often have students complete an exit ticket that asks them that asks them to reflect on the reason why we are reading the text. I explain that I don’t want the ‘because my teacher said so’ response. I ask them to really reflect on the stories/articles relevance to them personally as well as society as a larger hole.