Student Ownership: Prompts & Novella Month

You’re looking at one of my student’s illustrations. The prompt was to read a description and draw the cover of a new book (coming laaaaaaate spring, btw):

Marcus likes being a young Roman mage, but such a conspicuous combo presents problems in provincial Egypt after he and his parents relocate from Rome. Despite generously offering magical medicine to the locals, this young mage feels like an obvious outsider, sometimes wishing he were invisible. Have you ever felt that way? Marcus searches Egypt for a place to be openly accepted, and even has a run-in with the famously fiendish Sphinx! Can Marcus escape unscathed?

The result in all classes was some pretty amazing buy-in before we even got to the first page! The prompt I chose also generated class content—the source of that class’ Picture Talk—for which students don’t have to be artists like this one; stick figures are great, especially the really silly ones that get everyone laughing…

Student Ownership
This is a new buzzword in place of what’s been known as “personalization.” In the world of second language teaching, there have been personalized mini stories (unfortunately referred to as PMS), personalized questions & answers (PQA), and people often present at conferences on personalizing texts (i.e. connecting to students’ lives), much of which is achieved with collaborative storytelling. Whatever it was, is, and will be called, the result is almost always more engaging for students, with many activities generating course content. Here are some prompts to use with novellas that not only keep student ownership in mind, but also generate content. For example, you could edit and type up student texts in the target language, and/or project/share a drawing and describe it with Picture Talk.

How would you have ended this chapter/book?
– Write a new ending.

What cover would you have drawn?
– Draw a new cover.

How would you have depicted this character?
– Draw a new version of the character.

Novella Month
For three weeks in February, students will read a novella in groups (breakout rooms). Think “book clubs.” They’ll each choose a book from the ones at home that we haven’t read as a class (Syra sōla, Drūsilla in Subūrā, Pīsō perturbātus, and Pīsō et Syra et pōtiōnēs mysticae). They can switch books at any time, although they’ll have to catch up on their own to where the new group is. The reading process is just like we do in class (i.e. take turns, no one has to read Latin, reading to understand, etc.).

When done, groups need something that shows their understanding and thoughts about the book. Think “product.” The group gets to choose the product, too. For example, they could decide to each write reviews, rewrite from a different perspective (English or Latin) on individually or together, change the ending entirely, illustrate something that wasn’t depicted, etc. The Plan is for this to last three weeks. If a group chooses a short book, and/or reads fast, they’ll just spend more time on the product.

It occurred to me that the last thing I wanted to do was waste three weeks with students in their breakout rooms not really doing anything. Although I’m a top fan of “just read” instructions, novella month book clubs aren’t independent reading, and groups need a bit more direction, guiding, and support. Aside from “making the rounds” and being available when groups call me into their breakout room, I’ll give groups some prompts each class that go into their notebook (then become evidence of learning for the gradebook). I’ve decided on a mix of general prompts, as well as those specific to each book. For the book-specific prompts and questions, I’ll simply ask students where they are in the reading each day, make a note, then come up with something to ask them at some point next class. Here are some ideas that will work with any book:

General Checkpoint Prompts:

  • What other story does this remind you of? How did that connection help you understand the story better?
  • How are you alike, or different from any of the characters in the story?
  • How does this story make you feel? When have you felt that way in your life?
  • How does what you know about this genre help you understand the story better?
  • What other books have you read with similar characters or themes?
  • What is the message, or lesson of this story?
  • What lessons did you learn in the story that can help you in life?
  • What can you figure out that isn’t directly in the book? What clues did you use to figure that out?
  • Why do you think the character(s) acted the way they did?
  • How is the setting important to the story?
  • What do the character'(s)’ choices, or actions tell you about them?
  • What is the mood, or tone of this story? What makes you say that?
  • How did the character(s) change during the story?
  • What traits do the character(s) have? What clues in the story make you believe that?
  • What questions do you still have? What are you wondering?
  • What would you like to ask one of the characters?
  • What would you like to know more about?
  • If you were to reread this, what would you be trying to figure out the second time?
  • What are the most important parts of the story so far?
  • What do you want to remember after reading this story?

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