Frustrating adventures in literature

Here’s something I’m struggling with right now:

In my grade 12 online English course, the students are at the stage in their independent studies where they are developing thesis statements.

Problem: All the thesis statements read something like:

In the novel the author shows that history repeats itself.


Life experience is more valuable than formal education.


Love will conquer any obstacle.

Here’s how I’ve prepared them:

  1. They’ve prepared an annotated bibliography of  a variety of secondary sources connected to their novel so they can get a sense of how scholars write about literature.
  2. They’ve written a series of blog posts about their novels on specific topics: character development, symbols and imagery, themes, and finally potential thesis statements.
  3. I’ve given them a How to Generate a Good Thesis Statement handout.

If they were in a face to face class I would have done more modelling of developing a thesis statement but that’s a bit tough to do online.

Some of my students seemed confused, and downright angry that I was expecting them to consider literary devices in their thesis statements. So I created this little video that comes complete with a science analogy:

The problem as I see it is this: My students read literature without being conscious of the fact that novels are constructions. That all media are constructions (Save that for another post)! It’s like they think of the novel as something that just spontaneously came into being. They don’t consider that someone wrote their novel and that he or she made conscious choices about how to convey their ideas using a variety of techniques.

So what do you think? Have you encountered similar problems. Do you have any tricks or tips to share?

Crowdsourcing a Lesson Plan

I would really have preferred to title this blog post “Pimp my Lesson Plan” but then I figured it might be considered inappropriate by those who are not familiar with this particular usage of the word “pimp.” If you’re still confused see “Pimp my Ride.”

Anyhow, so yesterday I started teaching my grade 12s about different schools of literary criticism, beginning with Reader Response.  I always feel like I need to do a really good job of explaining the purpose behind literary criticism right at the beginning of the unit. In the past, I’ve used analogies. Here’s the analogy I used to use:

That works, but this time I wanted to try something a little different, so instead, before I even started discussing literary criticism, I had two students come up to the front of the room and close their eyes. Then I gave each of them an object to hold and describe. One student got this:

while the other got this:

Then I asked them to describe the objects while keeping their eyes closed. As you might expect, they focused on the tactile features of the object. The matryoshka doll was hard and smooth and the student even felt the ridges of paint. The boa was light, soft, and flexible. Then I had the students open their eyes and describe the objects. This time the doll was “feminine, colourful, curvy” and the boa was … well … “red” (upon reflection the boa wasn’t the best choice). The point was that the object didn’t change, just their perception of what was important about that object. I explained that when we study a text, our perception of what is important about it changed depending on the lens we use to view it. These different lenses are different schools of literary criticism.

Then I went on to the slide with the cat. After that, I did a four corners exercise where I presented statements that either represented a “reader response” attitude toward literature, or the complete opposite. Students decided to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statements and explained their reasons.

Finally, we did a short note explaining some of the key features of reader response theory.

In short, I’m happy with this, but I’d like to know what you’d do with it to make it better. I guess what I’m asking is, will you pimp my lesson plan?