Honor Multiple Intelligences with Book Projects

How do you assess the reading of novels in your classrooms? I try to vary my assessment throughout the semester and use reading logs, literature circle activities, whole-class discussion, tests, and book projects. Although I have a love-hate relationship with book projects (they can be annoying to grade and may tempt students to plagiarize), I think that they empower learners by encouraging them to use their multiple intelligences, which may not often be valued in school.

Here are strategies that help make book projects more enjoyable and effective:

Give students choices.

For my most recent project, to individualize instruction, my students had the following choices:
  • Create a “comic book” chapter for your novel with frames that have illustrations, color, captions, and text. 
  • Here's an example of a student's alternate ending
  • Write a two – three page new ending for your novel. It may be an ending that you would have preferred or one that just changes the outcome in a plausible way.
  •  Make an audio book for at least one chapter in your novel. Read each character’s lines with expression and differentiate voices of characters and the narrator.
  • A literary feast for John Grisham's Bleachers.
  • Enjoy a “literary feast”! Create a written menu with choices symbolizing literature elements (character, setting, plot, conflict, and/or theme) from your novel. Choose and prepare one of the foods to share with the class.

Diorama for The Book Thief
  • Build a three-dimensional construction. Create a book cube, cereal box, or diorama which illustrates your book’s major literary elements.
    Diorama for The Lovely Bones
  • Create a 5-10 slide Power Point presentation, Prezi, or other multimedia presentations that analyzes the author’s style of your book.
  •  Produce a digital book talk, a video with a book trailer (like a movie trailer) to share with the class. I borrowed this idea from this web site.
  • Design a “message in a bottle”: Use a plastic bottle and decorate it with a title, the author, cover image, and other symbols related to the book. Then write a letter to a future reader enticing them to read and giving a review of the novel. This idea came from someone in my #2ndaryela group.

Reduce grading-time with oral presentations.

I can assess my students’ learning while I listen and watch my students give their presentations (and they get practice with oral communication skills). I use a rubric that I can easily mark. You can get a copy of it from my Google Drive here. This year, I made the rubric two-sided and asked students to rate their expected performance before presenting. They gave me their self-evaluation at the beginning of their presentations. This required students to look closely at the grading criteria and gave me insight for my evaluation.

Help prepare them for the projects.

I give students 3 - 4 weeks to read the books and inform students that they will be receiving a project assignment. Near the end of their reading, I assign the project and require students to complete a planning sheet. This is a short assignment in which students respond to questions about their project selection, materials needed, and time management. They also include brief notes on basic literary elements with several text examples. When I read their responses, I can provide feedback before they work on the project, and it helps prevent them from procrastinating.

Sometimes, we watch videotaped presentations from former students. The students discuss the performances, evaluating eye contact, voice, and body language. Recently, we watched my very first students who were in 6th and 7th grades. My juniors were impressed at the skills these former students display (and noted how old I am ;) 

Require students to listen to their classmates.

Give students a “Book Talk Record” where they list the titles and authors of their classmates’ books and rate whether these books sound interesting for future reading. My students keep the book talk records as a tool for the next time they need to choose a book. 

Create a book project exhibition.

I display the best projects on top of my classroom cabinets. It’s an easy and piques my students’ interest in the books. Over the years, I’ve acquired quite a few!

I’m always looking for new ideas for my book projects. Do you have project ideas to share? Please comment below.



Since I teach American Literature, every day in my classroom provides instruction for the founding ideals of our country and reflects the fact that we have not always lived up to those principles. United States history teaches us that the desire for American rights is also the desire for human rights and has been an on-going journey for many people in our country.

Seminal United States documents and other classic texts communicate essential American themes, and a presidential inauguration makes teaching about equality, freedom, and diversity especially relevant.

With this in mind, I’m offering some ideas for making this instruction engaging for secondary students (make sure to get the FREE rhetorical analysis graphic organizer below).

1. Start with music. Music reveals a lot about what is going on in the country at a particular time and also about the sentiments of the people. Song lyrics are much like poetry, so as students listen to and read lyrics, they can highlight words and lines that exemplify attitudes about America.
I use classic American songs from different genres and time periods and have often used the following: 

Star Spangled
Banner by Francis Scott Key, Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday, This Land is Your Land Woody Guthrie, The Times They Are a Changin’ by Bob Dylan, Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen, Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue by Toby Keith, and American Idiot by Green Day. You can find additional songs at this link.
After practicing with these songs in class, I ask students to bring their own song selections, which demonstrate themes about America. Frequently, I incorporate this lesson with others lessons for poetry and art as an introductory unit to American Literature.

2. Connect current issues to literature. American literature is rife with stories and texts about the struggle for equality. One of my favorite lessons uses an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom with an article and video of Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Malala Yousafzai. My students always admire her bravery and are amazed that she is a teen like them. We watch her addressing the United Nations in 2013.  Then through analysis of Douglass’s and Yousafzai’s messages, students note the connection between education, equality, and freedom.

3. Use powerful speeches. Teach rhetorical literacy and let students learn history through the words of important American leaders. One of my favorites is Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”. She uses biblical allusions and rhetorical appeals such as ethos, logos, and pathos to fight for women’s rights. Here’s a three-minute video performance  of the speech by Kerry Washington.
Students have designed memorials to honor the first responders and innocent victims of 9/11.
Another significant speech is Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address."  It provides an excellent example of parallelism, and I use it to inspire students to write their own speeches. After reading Lincoln’s message to honor the soldiers who fought in The Battle of Gettysburg, I encourage students to honor veterans and other heroes by designing their own memorials and dedication speeches.
One former student designed her memorial and wrote her speech to honor Trayvon Martin.
This year I've added Lyndon B. Johnson's Speech to Congress on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  To help students gain a stronger understanding of the argument in the speech, I created this free rhetorical analysis graphic organizer to accompany our reading of it.  American Rhetoric.com is a website with many more resources for significant speeches.

Do you have more ideas for teaching the founding ideals of our democracy?  How have you collaborated with other content area teachers to infuse these principles into your instruction?  Please share in the comments.

Thanks to ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures, you can get more amazing freebies and ideas below!


A Thank You Letter to Parents

Dear Parents,

This week I returned from winter break to my job teaching high school students. The ten-day vacation was needed- I was tired and out of patience before we left for the holiday. Upon our return, we had six hours of standardized testing, so I knew it would be a challenging week.

But I really enjoyed my week back because of you, parents, and your children. I’ve been teaching adolescents for 19 years and they can be difficult at times; however, this week reminded me that many of them are kind, responsible, and hard-working. It was a wonderful start to the new year, and I want to share my appreciation.

So thank you for…
1. Valuing education. No doubt, you expect your children to try their best and earn good grades. You likely read to them when they were younger and may have volunteered in a classroom. You’ve discussed college and encouraged your children to seek post-secondary education when they finish high school. As their teacher, I know this because these students come to school with a desire to learn and work diligently, even on really long and boring assessments.

2. Teaching respect. Although I may get an eye roll on occasion (they are teenagers after all), I know your children won’t swear at me, harass me, or threaten me. They do not challenge every direction I give. Furthermore, they respect their classmates, and don’t bully their peers. You’ve modeled respect for authority and clearly set these expectations at home.

3. Allowing failure (and the consequences that may accompany it). No one is perfect, and you realize that your child may make mistakes. He or she may not study for a test, or may procrastinate, or may skip class one day. These behaviors may result in failing grades or disciplinary action.

It’s normal for teenagers to test adults, to see what they can get away, and to bend the rules. But they also have to learn that there are consequences for their choices. Fortunately, this often helps them from making the same mistakes in the future.

4. Setting boundaries. Of course, you love your children, but you realize that you are not your child’s friend. Your social life is separate from your teens lives. In fact, you may set a curfew and probably have rules about the use of technology in your house. Maybe your children aren’t allowed to use their cell phones during dinner, and you surely expect them to finish their homework before playing more video games.

5. Expecting responsibility. Your children have chores, clean their rooms, and may help care for younger siblings. At an appropriate age, they will likely have part-time jobs. You may even require them to save money to help pay for their cars or college. This teaches them a good work ethic and discipline. They realize that they will need to earn success and they’ll likely have a better appreciation for money.

I wish I could say that every parent teaches the importance of these ideas at home, but regrettably, I can’t. But for the many parents that do make their homes a training ground for school and for work, thank you again. And some day in the future, I expect that your children (and my students) will thank you for helping them become healthy, productive, and compassionate adults.

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