As teachers, we talk an awful lot about “making connections” with what we read. However, how often do we direct our students to make connections that are more universal than simple experiences? For example, if you’re teaching A Farewell to Arms or The Great Gatsby, your students, more than likely, don’t have the experience of World War I or the wastefulness of the elite in the 1920s. Therefore, asking them to “make connections to a personal experience” can make the reader response exercise futile. It’s not that asking students to connect with experiences is wrong, but I do think we need to be more specific sometimes. While students can surely connect to some isolated experiences in the novel, meaningful connections that remind us we are all human beings and facilitate a deeper appreciation of the work need more direction at times.
If you’re looking for a more fruitful approach to getting your students to respond to literature, then I suggest reading my latest article on page 106 of the most current issue of Texas Journal of Literacy Education titled “Connecting Students with the Human Dimensions in Literature: Using Bruner’s Modes of Thought to Deepen Literary Appreciation.” Complete with students samples, this article will describe the steps in a unit that will help your students make connections to internal conflicts in the literature they read, then show you how to facilitate a literary analysis of their chosen conflict development. If you like, you can continue with the lesson by having the students write a personal essay that explores the development of their own internal conflicts, which is also explained in the article with student examples.
If you don’t want to read all the theory (and I don’t blame you), then read the intro on page 106, then skip to page 110 to “Putting this into Practice.”
If you implement the lesson, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you! And if you’re in the Binghamton area and would like me to visit and help plan a unit, just email me or respond to this post.