AUTHENTIC CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

One of the surest ways to motivate students to not only write, but to write with passion, purpose and power, is to make sure they have an authentic audience.

Jill E. Thomas


The following ideas are from teachers who have created within their classrooms the kinds of literacy contexts that require students to engage in authentic reading, writing and producing. Each of these projects is built around a real purpose that is relevant to the students.


CREATE BROCHURES

In her elementary Cycle One Immersion class, Mme Brand tells her students that she is fed up with winter and wants to go somewhere hot for the spring break. She asks for their help. The students pore over brochures she has brought in looking at the way they are put together, the kind of writing that is used, and how the visuals and text work together.

They talk about the purpose for brochures and why people read and produce them.

Each student selects a destination and produces a bilingual brochure.

The brochures are displayed for others to read.

PREPARE FOR GAMES DAY

In Catherine Goodwin’s elementary Cycle One class, students work together to create original games for their classroom ’Games Day’. Students learn how to use graphic organizers, write instructions and create posters to advertise the event.

CREATE A SCHOOL-WIDE PROJECT

At a small elementary school in downtown Montreal, teachers were able to spark school-wide interest by connecting learning to a project that was relevant to the students.

The Park Project was developed in conjunction with the renovation of a small, neglected park adjacent to the school building.

Students in each cycle worked with their teachers to decide on the kind of input they wanted to have, and the best way to communicate this to the city.

  • Cycle One students decided to draw pictures of the park they wanted.

  • Cycle Two students interviewed the workers, made more detailed plans of ideas for the park, and created a Powerpoint to present these ideas.

  • Cycle Three students, skeptical that the new park would be kept any better than the old park, researched ways that people can effect change. After exploring how the structures and features of public service announcements make them an effective means of persuasion, they worked in small groups to produce their own video clips. During this project, the students recorded their brainstorming ideas, made lists of props, wrote release forms for the actors, and created storyboards to help with the filming of the PSA. See Help Keep Our Park Safe.

TELL THE STORY OF YOUR COMMUNITY WITH WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY

"Quebec Roots: The Place Where I Live" is a community-based project supported by the Blue Metropolis Foundation and DFGJ-MEQ. A short documentary video of the project describes the process and the power of this project. Students across Québec, from elementary to the end of secondary, capture the community in which they live and work in photographs and words, for a real audience that they are unlikely to meet in any other way.

During the course of this project they decide:

  • how to show the stories, histories, celebrations and landmarks of their community in photos

  • the most effective or powerful type of writing to go with the photos e.g. poetry, prose, 1st person, captions, etc.

Individual classes can use the same process on a smaller scale to provide an authentic context for writing and producing.

See ABCity for the simple classroom project that led to Quebec Roots.

MAKE A BOOK TRAILER

Book trailers are similar to movie trailers, in that they are designed to promote a book or a movie to a target audience. The primary difference between the two is that a movie trailer uses existing footage from the actual movie, whereas a book trailer must convert the theme or message of the book into images. The key is to convey a sense of what the book is about without giving anything away, since a successful book trailer should motivate its audience to read the book in question. Book trailers can include a range of techniques, from authors reading a passage to a monologue by a main character to the depiction of key scenes from the narrative. The length of an average book trailer runs anywhere from 30 seconds to about one minute. Video, animation or photos are used in book trailers. If students want to include music in their book trailer, they should be reminded to use music that is copyright free.

PHOTOGRAPHY PROCESS

The following photography process was used by Andrew Adams as part of a class project called You Don’t Know Me. This same process can be used whenever students are being asked to take their own photographs in order to convey a particular message for a particular purpose and audience.


IMMERSION INTO PHOTOGRAPHS

  • Share photographs with the students that are similar to the ones they will create. In this project the students analyze and discuss candid images of people in public places, in their natural element. Ask students to consider how the photographer was able to create atmosphere, show relationships and illustrate an idea or a concept.

  • In small groups have students consider key questions for deconstructing visual images. Have each group select one person to record the key points of the group discussion. At the end of the exploration have groups share their discoveries with the class.

  • Students can record their findings in their journals as reference for producing their own photographs.

PREPRODUCTION

Working with a partner, students consider the following questions, share their ideas for their individual piece, and receive feedback as they begin to think about the visual text that will accompany the important theme suggested by their final piece of writing.

  • What is the central theme of your writing?

  • How can that theme best be shown as a photo?

  • Where would you place yourself in the photo?

  • What gesture and expression would be effective?

  • Will there be others in the photo?

  • What is the best setting for your photo?

  • How will the photo be framed? In other words how will you direct the audience to the story you want to tell.


Students sketch their photo idea and explain their production choices - e.g. angles, kind of shot, location, etc.

PRODUCTION

  • Working in pairs students shoot their photos.

  • Have students take several shots.

POSTPRODUCTION

  • Download photos.

  • Students select the photograph they want to use with their writing and create a final layout.

  • Final pages are organized by a student editing team into a class anthology.

  • The anthology is shared with the intended audience.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Check out the projects in Into the Classroom for more ideas on creating authentic purposes and audiences for student reading and writing.

Jill E. Thomas addresses Learning for Justice in her article Creating Authentic Audiences for Writing Students.

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