Tag Archive for Steinbeck

Non-fiction: Letters of Note Overview

Incorporating more non-fiction is a consistent goal within most English curriculum planning. Common Core expectations focus on literary non-fiction and analyzing rhetoric as does AP, Honors and IB curriculum.

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But supplements can be difficult and time consuming to find.  Trolling through websites can eat away at my sanity especially as we march closer and closer to the end of the year.   Between AP tests and state mandated testing it can feel as if there just isn’t time.  No time to find material and certainly no time to implement it.  It’s easy to give up, become frustrated and revert back to all “Gatsby” all the time.

Never fear. Letters of Note is an excellent online resource for a classroom teacher of English or History. Shaun Usher, website curator, has compiled over 700 letters that span centuries and whose topics range from Stark Trek to the Civil War.   While letters include the handwritten notes of celebrities and iconic historical figures, some of the best correspondence is that of people we do not know.

With a post per day, it’s more than likely you will be able to find a new non-fiction supplement each week for things you already teach.

This week we’ll highlight some of the best letters and discuss how to seamlessly employ them within your preexisting classroom structure.  Expect letters from Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, John Adams, Steinbeck and more.  Expect letters ready made for teaching style. But most important, expect assignments about the role of correspondence in modern culture.  All will be easy to implement, and all will help enrich literature and rhetorical analysis.

Tiny Texts: The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories

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Between blog posts, tweets, and RSS feeds, I find myself swimming in a sea of “tiny” text.  While all of them are informative, I’m not always certain that this hyper reading makes me a better reader. As with anything that we consume, sometimes it’s necessary to stop and reflect upon style and craft.

The amount of work that goes into tiny “texts” is evident when you examine Joseph Gordon Levitt’s hitRECord, an “open collaborative production company” where together a variety of artists collaborate and create.  You can join and collaborate or simply browse the “layered” art in mid construction.

Have students watch the actual background video on Gordon-Levitt’s project as a way to get them thinking.  Consider using the questions below as a starting place.

  1. What is the argument Gordon-Levitt makes about the difference between social media, exhibitions, and studios?
  2. What is his argument about business and collaboration?
  3. What is the value in this type of project?  How does it differ from something like a Turntable app?

Among these creations is The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, sixty-seven “tiny” illustrated texts that cleverly tell amusing and endearing stories.  It’s useful for several reasons.  It’s a great way to have students read for detail/language and sometimes even “pun” in a very small space.  They can’t get distracted or sidetracked because of the size.  hitRECord offers several examples that you might show your students.  Either discuss the value of this type of project or think bigger.  I’ve included an animated version below to further the idea of what is possible!

  • It’s also a perfect model for students’ own unit projects.  Partner the above exercise with authors or texts that use sparse style, i.e. Hemingway’s In Our Time or Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and have student mimic these authors’ styles with their own tiny, illustrated stories.
  • Use it as an assignment to finish a study of The Glass Castle, Hope in the Unseen, or Unbroken.  Have students write memoirs or personal essays in conjunction with our Twitter Memoir assignment.
  • Consider having students take slim but weighty texts like The Awakening, “The Yellow Wallpaper” or Heart of Darkness and choose the most significant portion of the text and create their own stand-alone tiny story from that “moment.”