There are a lot of posts out there on what to do on the first day of school: set expectations, go over the syllabus, do some icebreakers, go get textbooks, cry that your summer is officially over.
But what do you do on the second day when it’s time to start in with your subject matter? How as, language arts teachers, can we set the stage for what our students will do during the year, and how do we teach them how to interact with texts?
This year I’m going to try something new. I always like to use the first week to orient students to the way my class is run. Here’s how we discuss stories. Here’s how you annotate. Here’s what happens when you look at a story more than once. But I always struggle with what I want my students to read first.
For this purpose I’m going to use Tolstoy’s story “The Three Questions.” I won’t tell you the whole story; you can read it if you follow the link. It’s not terribly long, which means I can easily read it and discuss it in a class period. The gist of the story is that a king goes in search of the answer to three questions that he believes will make him a good ruler: what was the right time for every action, who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do. It’s a positive story, and very inspiring. Who doesn’t want to inspire their students on day two?
I have toyed with the idea of giving them the questions at the beginning of the period and seeing what they come up with as answers. I might do this.
After the students have read the story, I’ll do the following:
1. Ask questions.
A simple way to get students to respond to the story would be to have them ask three questions about the story. They aren’t trying to come up with a quiz. They should be things that they wondered about as they read. What did you find interesting? What did you find revealing? Those are some good questions to prompt responses.
A good way to accomplish this is with a second read, especially with a story of this length. Students will be able to see stuff that they didn’t see the first time now that they don’t have to worry about the plot.
One of the questions that I hope a student will ask is: Are these the only possible answers to these questions? If no one poses that question, I will ask them.
2. Examine how stories work.
I firmly believe that stories hold the wisdom of the world, and this is certainly true for this story. But it’s also a good way to examine how stories work their magic.
One question to ask is: why a story? Tolstoy could have just told us the answers to the questions. What’s the power of embedding it in a story, and a pretty common story structure at that?
Furthermore, Why not just have a guy come to the hermit, ask the question, get the answer and move on? Why does the story have to be told in this particular way? What do the all the details add to make it a more effective story?
3. Come up with a fourth question.
This last activity is a good “get to know you” type of question: if you could ask a fourth question, what would it be? And do you have any sense of what the answer might be? This questions could be done in groups as well. Pose a fourth question that you think will provide you some sort of significant insight into your life.
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.
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