There is a lot of information out there about what to do on the first day of school. But what should you do on the second day of school to get students engaged in the subject matter of English classes? In previous posts I did a post on using the Tolstoy story “Three Questions” to remind students how to interact with text. In another post I did the same with the Mary Oliver poem “Mindful.” In this post I’ll talk about using an image: the Adrian Tomine New Yorker cover above.
In some cases, I’m not quite ready to start reading a poem or a short story on the second day of class. Some students need to be eased into the analytic process with text, and an image is a good way to bridge the gap, even though it requires a lot of the same skills of interpretation or inference. Here are the steps:
1. What do you see?
For this exercise. I ask kids to tell the “story” of the cover. What’s going on here? What does the image communicate to you? For a large number of students, this is a surprisingly difficult task. The know what’s in the picture, but they can’t adequately tell what the image communicates. I tell them to keep looking. Eventually they get it. The image is of a man and a woman with similar interests who might have started a relationship, but will likely never meet again.
2. How were you made to see it?
Once they’ve interpreted the image, the next task is to have students determine how they arrived at that conclusion. How do you know that’s the idea that you’re supposed to arrive at? A good question to ask is: what would happen if the man and woman were reading different books? What would be lost? Also: why are their faces the only two you see? Have the students continue to look at the image for more clues to how Tomine put it together.
This might also be a good time to ask student to give the picture a title and see what they come up with. (The actual title is “Missed Connections.”)
3. Real life connections
Obviously high school students are interested in relationships, so next I use this image to start a conversation about the strange nature of relationships. Everyday you have the potential of missed opportunities like this: people that could become your best friend or boyfriend or girlfriend (or yikes! Spouse!) but circumstances dictated otherwise. I will often talk about the opposite: the random ways that we sometimes get into relationships with other people. For instance, I met my wife in a graduate school class. If I had not taken that class, or gone to a different school, or picked a different undergraduate major, we wouldn’t be married.
Of course there are students that believe that there is only one soul mate for each person and you’ll find that person eventually no matter what. That’s a great discussion too!
Obviously working with an image like this involved the same analytical skills that we want students to approach anything they read or see. We want them to not only understand it, but develop an understanding of how it works through repeated readings and close analysis. You could follow this activity with either the story or poem from previous posts.
If you’re looking for a fun way to review the Parts of Speech during the first week of school, check out my set of comics and activities called Grammar Comics: Parts of Speech.
More great teaching activities can be found at my store.
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