In the age of digital, one might be tempted to diminish or even forget the importance of the written word in education. Fortunately for our learners, their teachers most certainly have not and literacy skills, along with other valued core skills, continue to occupy their rightful place in the curriculum despite and because of the growth of the digital classroom.
Literacy isn’t just restricted to the study of books. However, analyzing a piece of quality text or even a well-known story can reveal much about what’s great and progressive about reading and writing, and also provide endless opportunities for more in-depth study and learning, for example:
- Story building – how a narrative is constructed and how this impacts on the reader.
- Themes – the exploration of a book’s main elements.
- Character analysis – who are the main characters, what shapes them, why do they do what they do?
- Cause and effect – who or what makes things happen. Events are connected.
- Quotes and other memorable pieces of writing – why do they affect the reader so, why are they memorable?
- Significant events – what are those happenings that determine the outcome of a story or the fate of a character? What matters?
- Language study – focusing on grammar, parts of speech (adjectives, adverbs, nouns…), technique.
- Identification – gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves and others from the people, places, and events described in a story.
Popplet is present in many classrooms. Fortunately for us, teachers and learners often publish impressive examples of their Popplet work. Popplet’s easy-to-use and powerful features make it a very useful addition to any lesson, especially in the literacy classroom, as you will see.
Learning From Books
Although Christmas has just passed, let’s take Charles Dickens’ much-loved cautionary tale, A Christmas Carol, as an example and demonstrate how to transform the construction and language of this timeless novella into a highly effective literacy learning tool.
The activities outlined below can be applied to any book but we chose this one because its study offers a multitude of learning opportunities…and because we love it! So, let us proceed with the backstory.
Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens was a master storyteller who wrote mostly about what he witnessed around him in 19th-century London. Such was the reach of the written word, he was today’s equivalent of a superstar, undoubtedly the world’s most famous celebrity throughout much of his adult life. He was a writer much concerned with inequality, of which there existed a great deal in England, where all of Dickens’ stories (at least in part) are set. It’s worth noting that most of Dickens’ work was originally serialized and published weekly, much like the TV series of today. The complete novels were published later in book form. For those who could not read (a lot of England’s poor!), there were public readings, a phenomenon unique to Dickens’ work at the time. A Christmas Carol was not serialized but published in its full form on December 19th, 1843. The book completely sold out by Christmas Eve the same year – a blockbuster.
Understanding Stories and Writing
Most narratives can be grouped into linear or non-linear. A Christmas Carol is most definitely non-linear. In fact, the personification of Time is one of the author’s main literary ploys. How Dickens gradually reveals the life-shaping events of the main character, the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge, is pivotal to the story’s success. Few texts can so simply and comfortably refer to an imaginary future from the perspective of the present as Dickens does with his “The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come”.
There are a number of activities that aid students in building an understanding of plot, character, and technique and some would require them to have read the whole book, while with others the book could be read gradually – chapter by chapter. (A Christmas Carol consists of five Staves rather than Chapters. Staves are how sheet music s organized, and this is, of course, a song!).
We have some ideas on how learners can make the most of books. These activities are mainly taken from those already published by the Popplet community. These ideas come from work done by kindergarteners to college-goers.
Since A Christmas Carol was published 176 years ago, one might expect a lack of response from learners at this point. However, unless the age-group is very young, it’s highly unlikely that they will not have encountered the story in some form. There have been (and continue to be) countless adaptations and productions in multiple genres of the tale. Also, the surname of the story’s main character, Scrooge, is now synonymous with mean and miserly behavior. Dickens’ work is so well-known that he is one of the few illustrious writers who even has his own adjective! – “Dickensian”.
Suggested Pre-reading popplet building activities are:
- Brainstorm everything your students know about the book and its author. This activity could go in a multitude of directions. If the learners know of the infamous Scrooge, this is the way into the book. If they have heard of the story, then they almost certainly know more.
- If they have heard 0f Charles Dickens, then they know much more and this may pave the way for learning objectives outwith literature and overlap with History, Social Inequality, Politics, Child Poverty…
- None or little feedback? Don’t worry. Introduce them to some of the characters and some of the most up-to-date renderings of the tale and see if this jogs their memories. If it doesn’t introduce your students to A Christmas Carol and have them do some targeted research – we don’t want to give away the ending! Choose carefully the links they browse. A good idea is to create a short description of story and characters and go over it with them.
- Create a popplet about the author like the one below of another famous writer who also earned their own adjective, “Orwellian”:
In all of the above activities, have your students create popplets about what they know or learn. They can work alone or collaborate in groups. Alternatively, the teacher could create a single popplet with the class and share the results. If the students create their own work, they should be given the opportunity to share with the class.
The language of A Christmas Carol is archaic and can at times be difficult. In the case of younger students, there are excellent versions adapted by age. Teenage students should definitely be encouraged to study with the original version. There may be vocabulary they don’t understand; we suggest that if they are to read the text out with the class, then they take note of these words and share them with their classmates.
- Have the students read the book one Stave (Chapter) at a time, summarizing each Stave by creating a popplet and maybe adding short character descriptions using images.
- Students more adept in the art of popplet creation could also create vocabulary popplets to explore and share with their classmates.
- Memorable phrases can also be recorded at this point. These may be put on the main popplet or a separate board could be created.
- Students create Character Popplets (a favorite Popplet activity); there are very few main characters in this tale, and an adequate description of the main players in the story would eventually serve as an excellent representation of the story itself.
One could dispense with Pre-reading and Reading stages and have the students begin their analysis at this point. Like Scrooge himself, the path one takes is entirely one’s own. With a text so rich in learning, be sure to extract as much value as can be gleaned in the no doubt too short a time designated you for its study. That said, let us move forward.
- Narrative: Linear versus Non-linear. As discussed above, A Christmas Carol is the quintessential non-linear narrative. An activity, which will lead to a deeper understanding of why this is is to have the students to create linear popplets – taking a young Scrooge as a starting point – and compare them with their previously made popplets representing the order in which the story is originally told or with the text itself. Prepare a list of questions focussing on the differences and how or if they think the story was improved by being presented in its non-linear fashion.
- Character analysis: Have the readers create a popplet or popplets of the main characters – there aren’t so many. Include their behaviors, their importance, and influence on the story and on the other characters. Make sure they include Scrooge. (TIP: Have them leave Scrooge until last). Sharing these popplets will lead to much discussion as students rarely see characters in the same way.
- Why did Ebeneezer Scrooge change? This might be a profound philosophical debate, but then again, it might not. So, this popplet isn’t only for the older more advanced students, it’s for everyone – the sooner we learn the better! Cause and effect popplets here!
- What can we learn from Ebeneezer Scrooge? Why is this tale so enduring, so popular? It’s not unique in this: Fairy Tales endure, but they are short and memorable and with a clear message. Create popplets from this discussion.
Like all books and stories, this blog post must end. We have chosen a classic book by one of the world’s greatest ever story-tellers but you can use any book. There are very few books that you can’t learn from, even if it’s how not to do something! Books really still are our most valued and versatile resource and teachers and Popplet can help readers learn from them.
How are you using Popplet in the literacy classroom? Are you using Popplet to study books? Have you or your students created any popplets about books? If you have, we would love to see them. Share with us, the Popplet community on Twitter or our Facebook page.