It's OK to judge literary works. Here are some activities and mini lessons to teach about making judgments with your high school students.
A Thumbs Up Experience
I was really excited about teaching my favorite short story. I was the only one.
"So class what do you think?"
"This story sucks!" said Bobby Nobrane.
"Why?" I asked
"It just does."
"I don't know."
In fact, nobody knew. In frustration, I slammed the book shut on my head, knocked myself out, and dreamed about Siskel and Ebert. They told me to use some making judgments mini lessons and teach students how to establish criteria for judging stories and books.
I woke up hours later, classroom empty. I saw some papers on my desk. At the top was written Making Judgments Mini Lessons.
I now share my Making Judgments Mini Lessons with you.
Mini Lesson #1: Establishing Criteria
Judging and evaluating literature requires the same steps as evaluating anything.
- Establish criteria. Before asking students to judge a literary work, have them establish what makes a story good. Be specific.
- The criteria can reflect the individual's preferences.
- Criteria should also be based on a general set of standards.
Common standards include plot, characters, believability, humor, etc. Different criteria should be present for different genres. Science fiction, for example, should have a futuristic component as part of the evaluation. Romanticism should have a component dealing with supernatural occurrences and death. Naturalism should have a component for evaluating the ambivalence of nature.
By specifying certain criteria for specific literary movements and genres, students, in turn, evaluate types of literature while learning about different eras.
Mini Lesson # 2: Using Graphic Organizers
Using a graphic organizer helps students organize their judgments.
Using previously established criteria, make a chart. Use as many standards as possible. A sample chart for a short story might include the following column headings:
Criteria: Under this column, students would write the standards for a good short story. Criteria might include suspense, plot development, depth of characters, use of irony, use of figurative language, use of ______.
Head the next three columns as follows: Meets Standards, Neutral, Doesn't Meet Standards.
- In the last column, have students rank the criteria in order of importance. This is where making judgments becomes subjective. One student might consider plot very important; another might regard figurative language more important.
The same chart could be made for poetry, but with different headings--rhyme, rhythm, meter, sound devices, figurative language, imagery.
- As or after students read, have them fill in the chart.
- As an extension activity, assign a review of the literary work, using specific evidence from the text.
Mini Lesson #3: Frankenstein Lesson Plans: Judging Characters
Making judgments mini lessons are not limited to judging an entire literary work. Students find that judging and evaluating characters within the work helps them make connections. The following mini lesson has been taken from my Frankenstein Lesson Plans. It involves judging whether or not Dr. Frankenstein should create a girlfriend for his monster.
- Fold the paper in half long ways (hot dog style).
- Draw four lines going across the paper. You should have 2 columns and four rows.
- At the top of the paper, identify Dr. Frankenstein's problem.
- Underneath the problem, write Dr. Frankenstein's desired result from solving the problem.
- Write down possible solutions in the left column: (1) Create the girl monster; (2) Don't create the girl monster; (3) Pretend to create the girl monster; (4) Leave this up to your students.
- In the right column, write the pros and cons for each solution.
- Write a persuasive letter to the doctor advising him on the matter.