Earlier this month, I mentioned that I begin my unit on Julius Caesar with several pre-reading activities, due in part to the difficult nature of the text. Specifically, I shared a reading strategy called Phony Document and demonstrated how I use it along with excerpts from Plutarchâ€™s biography of Julius Caesar before we begin the play.
Another pre-reading strategy I use with Julius Caesar and other texts is called Story Impressions, developed by William J. McGinley and Peter R. Denner. In this strategy, teachers list a series of words and/or phrases that will appear in a text students are about to read. After giving students this list, students are asked to write a short story about what they predict will happen in the text based on the list of words provided.
Hereâ€™s what I personally like about Story Impressions.
- They can serve more than one purpose. Sometimes, I push students to think carefully about the words and to make predictions that are as accurate as possible. Other times, I encourage students to be more creative with their interpretations of the words and with their stories, emphasizing more the creative writing aspect of the activity. Furthermore, depending on my objectives, I tailor mine to emphasize different things about the text, such as vocabulary, characters, setting, themes, or conflicts.
- Story Impressions can be effectively used with virtually any size work, from a short poem to a long novel.
- Theyâ€™re relatively easy to develop. When I teach literature circles, for instance, and I have six different groups of students, with each group reading a different book, sometimes I start off with Story Impressions Iâ€™ve created for each book. Because theyâ€™re fairly easy to write, this is a much more manageable goal than, oh, say writing a phony document for six different books. (I wouldnâ€™t recommend trying this unless youâ€™ve content with your I-Have-No-Life status.)
- Story Impressions can be successfully used with individuals, pairs, or small groups.
With Julius Caesar, for example, I present the following directions and list of words:
Using the words below in the order in which they appear, write a story that is your guess as to what happens in the play Julius Caesar. Your story must be written in complete sentences and all words must be used. Please underline each word as you use it in your story.
After theyâ€™ve written their stories, I have students share them and we discuss possible meanings for certain words. For instance, many donâ€™t know that a taper is essentially a candle, and instead guess that it is personâ€™s name or a place. This is a nice segue into discussions about any number of things you wish to emphasis. With Julius Caesar, I try to keep discussions relatively light, only emphasizing a few key points, since most of our discussions on the play are rather heavy.
Stay tuned: My next educational post will include a during-reading prediction activity on Julius Caesar, and I have a great activity called Mystery that I recently used with Fahrenheit 451 (one thatâ€™s easily adaptable to other texts) to share soon as well. Oh, and on the I Seriously Couldnâ€™t Make This Stuff Up If I Tried Front, I recently discovered Iâ€™ve been regularly doing something idiotic for approximately ten months now, so naturally that storyâ€™s itching to be told.