Preschools are hubs of creativity. When my children were in preschool there wasn’t a day that went by that they didn’t bring home some piece of artwork they made. We accumulated a lot of paper rapidly.
Once students get into high school, however, a lot of the creative activities that were common when kids were younger fall by the wayside. We don’t allow our students to create artwork every day unless they signed up for art. But there’s a tremendous value in finding ways to include creativity frequently in our classroom, and not just because it’s more fun than worksheets. In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros writes:
“Creativity is where we start to think differently, and innovation is where creativity comes to life. To me, the first goal is to get students to see themselves as creators because the real learning begins when students create … The learning happens when we take what we know and make something of it.”
So how can we build the opportunity to create into the study of literature? Here’s an example.
When I teach Pride and Prejudice we analyze Mr. Collins’ marriage proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. For those who haven’t read the novel, here’s an excerpt from the speech:
“My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly—which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford—between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh’s footstool, that she said, ‘Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.’ Allow me, by the way, to observe, my fair cousin, that I do not reckon the notice and kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of the advantages in my power to offer. You will find her manners beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity, I think, must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered with the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite.”
I like to borrow an old AP Language and Composition exam prompt when I ask students to work with this passage. The prompt asks students to analyze the rhetorical strategies used by the speaker to gain Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. We quickly find out that Collins receives a “no” for an answer, and even out of context it’s easy to see why.
It’s a great activity, and an effective way to analyze a passage of literature. But what happens when we take it one step further and tap into kids’ creativity?
Adding Creativity to the Response
So the next task is: Design a proposal that Elizabeth would accept. Now we are starting to involve more skills in a richer task. In order to do this well, students need to know:
- Elizabeth as a character so far and what she wants in a husband
- Elizabeth’s views on marriage
- Who could possibly propose so that she would accept
- The language of the novel so that the proposal seems authentic to the time
- the culture of the novel that dictated the circumstances of marriage proposals
There are other things that might come into play too. Does her father’s influence play a role in who she might accept as a husband? Is she sufficiently mature to make a good decision at this point in the novel? It’s a challenging task, but still one that allows student to have some fun if they choose.
The word “design” is important in the prompt. Students are, in essence, designing a solution to a problem. They aren’t just analyzing. They are creating. And when we find ways to add creativity in our lessons, we not only engage them, but we develop their problem solving skills and give them ownership of their learning.
And who knows? They might just learn how to deliver a knockout marriage proposal when the time is right.
Looking for more creative assignments? Check out the posts below.
David Rickert is a high school English teacher in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. He has been teaching for over 20 years and has taught virtually every grade and every subject. David is passionate about developing lessons that make difficult language arts subjects fun and engaging. He is also an author on Teachers Pay Teachers.
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