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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Celebrate Something! Creating Culminating Activities for Reading Units

Most of us meticulously plan how we'll begin and carry out our novel studies and units, but the culminating events are often an afterthought. Should our novel study simply end with a test? Is that any way to honor this glorious novel which we held so closely to our hearts these past four, five, six weeks?
I would recommend that we plan a culminating activity to close our units. In its simplest form, the culminating activity might be:
  • a film version of the book (even a bad adaptation!),
  • a theatrical version of the book, 
  • a magic or variety show,
  • a reader’s theater production of scenes from the book,
  • individual or group art, writing, or cooking projects,
  • presentations of writing and other projects based upon the novel, 
  • a call to action or service, or 
  • a theme-based party.
The culminating activity could also involve a combination of these. Many years ago, we arranged to see a private showing of the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (before it was even opened to the public), as that movie was premiering just as we completed the novel. Talk about great timing! 

But as we viewed "sneak peeks" on the Internet, I saw that my students were mesmerized by the costumes and armor of the four main characters. We therefore launched into an art/research/tech project creating family shields complete with heraldic symbols which reflected each student’s personal traits and
preferences as well as those of their families. The bulletin board display of these shields later appeared on the website of Walden Media, a co-producer of the movie. Kids were pretty psyched to see that their creations had a world-wide audience.
If you choose to throw a theme based party, I suggest you focus on the five senses. Below are two plans illustrating culminating events which my class has celebrated in the past (back in the good old days of third and fourth grade).

Novel: Because of Winn Dixie
Theme: Identity
Party Overview: This is a gathering of new friends, based upon the party which Opal and Gloria throw at the end of the novel. In the novel, the gathering takes place in Gloria’s overgrown backyard, and the food and drinks are an interesting orchestration of many hands.
Look: Since the book’s party was held at night, all lights in the classroom were off. Each desk contained a brown bag filled partway with sand, containing one battery operated candle. These were in place of the
luminaria which Opal created for her party. Some white Christmas lights were also hung. Several students printed out or collected dog pictures which they posted around the room, just as Sweetie Pie Thomas had at the party; after all, "every party needs a theme."
Sound: Taped recordings of crickets played throughout the party. Later, a thunder soundtrack was added to create the approaching rainstorm. The music teacher played guitar and led us in a few songs, just as Otis did at the party. We also played some bluegrass and country music when we weren't singing ourselves.
Taste: “Dump Punch,” pickles, and egg salad sandwiches were on the menu, just as they were at Opal’s party. Since the students made the sandwiches themselves, they were much more willing to try them!
Smell: A spring scented air freshener was placed on the vents. It made the whole room smell like a Southern garden (at least, how we imagined it might smell). The air freshener had never been used before
in the class, and was never used again, which made that smell unique.
Feel: In keeping with the “new friends” theme of the party, we brought in another class to share the theme. The closeness of that many people in that setting we created made the party truly memorable.

Genre: Tall Tales 
(especially as influenced by American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne, Cut From the Same Cloth: American Women  of Myth, Legend, and Tall Tale by Robert D. San Souci, and Big Men, Big Country by Paul Robert Walker)
Theme: Larger Than Life
Party Overview: An old fashioned, lumber-jack type breakfast.
Look: The students ate at one long table, which was set up in a glassed-in foyer on a snowy day in January. Red and white checked table cloths and old-fashioned lanterns set the scene. Also, students were dressed as their favorite tall tale characters, or as tall tale characters of their own creation from a unit writing assignment. Book boxes (book shaped dioramas containing summaries and a three-dimensional scene) were hung nearby.
Sound: In the background was a recording of traditional American folk songs played on fiddles and banjos. Later, students read aloud their original tall tales.
Taste: Students enjoyed a Paul Bunyan sized meal of pancakes and bacon, washed down with hot chocolate. Twenty students (and some parent helpers) ate over 80 pancakes and 80 pieces of bacon!
Smell: The food was cooked there, in that room, from pancake batter that students made from scratch. The smell of pancakes and sizzling bacon mingled with pine shavings which were sprinkled on the ground to give it that “woodsy” smell.
Feel: The blustery cold day visible through the windows, contrasted with the warm food inside, made for a close, comfortable gathering.

Does every novel or unit lend itself to this type of activity? Absolutely not. When we read a Holocaust themed novel, for example, a party is NOT appropriate. Instead, we might write an argumentative piece on why the Holocaust should be studies in middle schools (some schools think it shouldn't). 

Can we even launch these types of parties anymore, with all the food and festivities they entail? Perhaps not. But I think we owe our students a bit more closure than simply saying, "Please pass your books to the front of the class." As Cesare Pavese once said, "We do not remember days, we remember moments." 

Let's give our students one moment to remember.

What do you do to bring closure to your studies? Please leave a comment below!


Katie @ Youth Literature Reviews said...

These are all such incredible ideas! Thanks for sharing with the Kid Lit Blog Hop. I've bookmarked this post for later reference and I'm now following your blog by email.

Mrs. Armstrong said...

Culminating events are much welcome in high school as well. When I taught Great Expectations, I would host a high tea, complete with costumes, tea sandwiches and of course, Mrs. Havisham's wedding cake. The great thing about celebrations with older students is that they can prepare and bring many of the treats. This activity was always a highlight of our year.

Melinda @ Mom on the Make said...

I LOVE these ideas. My kids would love to put on a theatrical version of their books. I also like the art project idea. I'm going to try this with the next book that my 9 year old reads. Thanks so much for such great inspiration!

Sibel Hodge said...

Stopping by as part of the Kid Lit Blog Hop. What an amazing post - loving these ideas :)

Cool Mom said...

Wow! What fantastic ideas. I especially love the bags of sand with the battery operated candle. Fantastic ideas and I couldn't agree more with your statement, "But I think we owe our students a bit more closure than simply saying, "Please pass your books to the front of the class."
Well done with this post. I found you through the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

Nancy said...

Wish I was aware of your blog when I was teaching! What great ideas! Visiting from the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

Keith Schoch said...

So many great ideas! And I love that a high school teacher is among the bunch, since so much of the fun and celebration of reading seems to dissipate when kids begin reading "for real" in high school.