Monday, February 27, 2012

Using Popular Media to Interpret Literature

Half of your students didn’t finish last night’s homework because they were glued to Facebook. Instead of getting mad, get even. Creative teachers can use kids’ fixation with social media, popular music, movies, and celebrities to their advantage. Consider some of the following ideas:

You Be the Casting Director
Tell your students they are in charge of casting a movie version of a book or short story the class is reading. Ask them to choose movie stars or other celebrities to fill the main roles and explain their choices. Maybe Tobey Maguire would play The Great Gatsby’s Nick perfectly because he is soft-spoken and meek, just like Nick, whose function in the book is to report all the action without really being a major player in its events. Perhaps Liv Tyler would be an ideal Ophelia because she is beautiful enough to make Hamlet fall in love with her, but her big eyes give her the look of a love-sick girl who ultimately falls victim to the combined whims of Hamlet and her father.

Play it Again, Sam
Pick several pivotal scenes in a text your class has read and ask them what background music would fit. Students can select songs based either on their lyrics, or their overall tone. “Soldier” by Eminem might be the perfect song to accompany the opening of Fahrenheit 451 when Guy Montag is determinedly setting houses aflame to burn the books inside. Aaron Copeland’s “Hoedown” (from Rodeo) might capture the frantic excitement of the boys in the beginning of Lord of the Flies when they first realize that they are in control of a tropical island.

Friend Holden on Facebook
Another strategy can build on an article by Elizabeth C. Lewis in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. Ask students to make a booklet with various pages showing what various literary character’s Facebook pages would look like. Who would write on Holden’s Wall and what would they say? What Favorite Quotations might Atticus Finch list? What Activities and Interests would Ebenezer Scrooge post on his page? To whom would The Crucible’s Abigail send a friend request?

Far from being frivolous, these kinds of activities promote the kind of deep processing that leads to learning. Students who engage in critical comparisons and creative interpretations are honing the kind of higher order thinking skills they’ll need to get the most out of literature, or any subject they study.

Images used under Creative Commons by uten44, Jay Cameron, and Kevin Stanchfield.

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