Oh that dreaded Lord of the Flies multiple choice question. It has haunted me since my youth. Because of this, I have made it my mission as a teacher to create quizzes and activities that allow students the creativity to explain their knowledge of what they read, as opposed to just bubbling in an answer. I have tried to create quizzes that go beyond just comprehension and really ask them to apply their knowledge. One strategy I have been employing with my students is something I have dubbed the “interpretive mindmap.” A mindmap is like a graphic organizer. They are boxes linked together by conceptual lines. Some lines have arrows on one end to indicate the action on something.
Now, to complete this successfully, students have to have some background knowledge of how to construct a mindmap. It isn’t just as simple as drawing boxes and lines. The students have to be able to explain how the lines connect the boxes. In the beginning of the year I give them various mindmaps as viewing guides to films or to discuss literary time periods. Many times I will give them a mindmap with words in the boxes and they have to write a description over the lines, requiring them to think about the use of arrows on the line itself. Below is a mindmap from the website bubble.us (described in more depth below) I have created for viewing The Crucible to model how to go about constructing a mindmap.
To turn this into a quiz, I determine 7-10 “elements” from their reading. These elements can be literal, thematic, metaphorical, or a combination of the three. It is the students’ job to examine the list and determine what relationships exist among the elements provided. They will then construct a mindmap reflecting their awareness of the relationships. Sometimes this is challenging and based largely on interpretation. To meet these ends, I allow the students to narrow down the list and choose which 5-7 elements they can best connect.
Instead of memorization or recall, I’m asking students to synthesize their knowledge while still indicating comprehension.
Below are several elements I have given students for them to construct their interpretive mindmap.
Europe, sunshine, moss, flowing hair, woods, wolf/squirrel, Hester, Pearl
Intended Answer: A mindmap that reveals that Hester accepts her sin in the woods when she and Dimmesdale decide to move to Europe together. While in the woods there is a flood of sunshine and Hester is able to finally let her hair down and the animals (wolf/squirrel) go to and accept Pearl, who has drawn an “A” on her chest with moss from the brook.
The Great Gatsby: After reading chapters 3-6, I give the students the following elements to construct into a mindmap.
Intended Answer: When a young girl, Jordan was friends with Daisy and saw her speaking to a young lieutenant in her white roadster. Several years later, serving as a bridesmaid, Jordan saw Daisy the night before her wedding was to be held at the Seelbach Hotel, a rich, luxurious hotel in Louisville. Daisy was drunk on sauterne, clutching a letter. To heal her Jordan and Daisy’s mother gave her ammonia spirits, an ice pack on her forehead, and placed her into a cold bath that caused the letter to turn into snow. Daisy was married the next day wearing expensive pearls given to her by Tom Buchanan.
To raise complexity, teachers can select more abstract and obscure elements that really challenge the students’ comprehension. Another way to raise complexity is to ask students to then synthesize their notes on the relationships into one cohesive sentence/thesis. This causes them to speak to a larger theme/argument conveyed through the elements. Also, some students who aren’t visual thinkers would rather draft it in sentence-form. I’m usually fine with this as long as the response conveys the relationships clearly.
Because of time and space restrictions, I usually just ask them to draw the mindmap on a piece of paper. However, I have asked students to use online programs for more significant quizzes (like a unit test) or for small activities (like asking groups to create a mindmap for a specific chapter of their reading) and then they present their mindmap to their peers.
While there are a variety of online graphic organizer makers, my personal favorite is bubble.us. This site allows students to adjust the size, color, and type of line. Also, it is much more user friendly than some of the other sites.