Friday, October 28, 2011

Reading in the Classroom: Edgar Allan Poe & Figurative Language

With Halloween coming up on Monday, we -- of course -- had to read some Edgar Allan Poe in my classroom this week. Since my students are middle school-age, not high schoolers, we kept it fairly tame. We read Poe's famous poem "The Raven," and I also discussed the short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" with my eighth-graders.

We began our week with a review of figurative language terms. The students practiced differentiating between examples of idioms, similes, metaphors, hyperbole, imagery, and alliteration, among others. We then played a review game which divided the class into two teams and encouraged learning with some old-fashioned competition. After that, we then dove into Poe's life with a short video from Discovery Education.

Although I don't always believe it's necessary, I felt that some background on Poe was needed for my students to understand his writing. The loss of his mother, adopted mother, and wife truly affected his life and his writing. It created the basis for his terror-filled tales.

I brought "The Raven" to my middle schoolers' level and sparked their attention by first showing them a clip from The Simpsons first Treehouse of Horror episode, in which they animated "The Raven." The bookworm Lisa begins reading the poem aloud to her siblings, then the scene transforms to Homer as the poem's narrator and Bart as the stately raven. The two act out the poem as James Earl Jones narrates.

Their interest piqued, we then read the poem itself and discussed it stanza by stanza. Then we pulled it all together, as the students identified figurative language examples in "The Raven." Listening to their conversations about whether this line or that line was an idiom or an example of hyperbole was one of those "teacher moments" that make it all worth it.

The next day my eighth-graders and I looked at Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart." They read the story last year, but we reviewed the plot by watching a short 1940s animated version of the tale. Many, many versions exist, but I felt as though this seventy-year-old film was the most creative and the most appropriate for my students. We then wrote out a plot diagram for the film to ensure that they recalled the story and had understood the short film.

Their final assignment for the week involved summarizing the plot of "The Tell-Tale Heart" in one of two ways: by creating a comic strip based on the story or by writing an acrostic poem based on the story. With either choice, students also had a choice of completing their assignment on computers or by hand.

The website ReadWriteThink is a partnership between the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Verizon Foundation's Thinkfinity, and it has amazing resources. Both the Comic Creator Tool and the Acrostic Poem Student Interactive are available on their website (as are hundreds of lesson plans and other tools for learning).

Although Poe's work was written over 150 years ago, my students still found meaning in his writing -- and they enjoyed it! At least I think they did -- they do always tell me that my idea of fun and their idea of fun are two different things.


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