Let’s Have Fun with Jane Eyre

I teach high school English. Can I say how much I hate multiple-choice tests over literature? I never took a multiple-choice test in my college English classes. Instead, I wrote.

In a perfect world, I would teach books I love, and the kids would experience the love of story and language. Then again, the world isn’t perfect. Students have obligations and jobs, and I would be naïve to believe they’re all reading. Let me take a stab and say 50% of them, give or take, are not. Most classic pieces of literature have been made into movies. Take for instance, Jane Eyre. How many of my students watched the movie and called  it a day? Should I give up on the classics? Should I give up on reading checks?

I’m locked into this year’s general plan, but I’m rethinking for next year, my how and my what. Meanwhile, I endeavor to pull my students through a novel I love. In my classroom, I have seven table groups of four or five, thirty-two students total in my largest classes. I have a few go-to activities for literature re-cap: reader’s theatre (students act out a chapter or passage with books in hand, narrating and acting out the dialogue) and ShrinkLits (shrinking the literature or a chapter down to a rhyming summary, a concept developed by Maurice Sagoff in a book by the same title). Of course, there are times I assign specific passages to be read (hopefully re-read) closely for discussion and analysis. And of course, there are writing assignments, too. For the activities, I assign table groups  a specific chapter, as a summary (or a preview for those who have fallen behind), and they present to the class. At a performing and visual arts high school, they take their acting seriously. Our reader’s theatre was quite outstanding. However, as with anything, overdoing it loses the magic. This year when I had used all my best tricks for Jane Eyre, I confessed: “I’m out of ideas. I’m going to give your table a chapter, and you can decide how to present it. You have thirty minutes.”  

And so today I’m thankful for white board space and students with ideas. Some students presented in news reporting format, others did interviews, one group played charades, which actually happens in the novel, and my dancers danced to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” for Chapter XVI, where Mr. Rochester tries to make Jane jealous through a feigned relationship with Blanche Ingram. (The lyrics go like this: “Hey, Hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend / No way, no way, I think you need a new one / Hey, hey, you, you, I could be your girlfriend…)

And you know what? Some of my students love Jane Eyre as much as I do. That makes me happy.

43 thoughts on “Let’s Have Fun with Jane Eyre

  1. I love your teaching style. As you said no multiple choice tests, getting students into the lesson through a summary drawing of the chapter. When I taught World Geography to Pre AP kids and regular kids we did things like letting them put together Twitter or Facebook pages over the Southwest Asia protests. We also did interviews in groups. Kids in Pre AP 9th grade seemed to like those activities. I liked when we assigned everyone a historical or contemporary historical figure. We would give the kids a list of all the characters chosen. They had to write 2 questions for each person. Then we would have a round table discussion where people discuss their roles or beliefs. I love these kind of activities that make kids have to know the material. I am quite sure not all of them did, but it was usually apparent if they did not. These are entertaining and educational activities. We would also have them write poetry about a person or place. We occasionally would have class debates or mock trials. Keep doing what you are doing.

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    1. What I loved about teaching in Plano and Frisco was having a team for bouncing around ideas. With my last two jobs, I’ve been the team, the only person teaching what I teach. Thanks for reading and for all the ideas, Shay!!

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    1. Thank you, Rosaliene! I’m thankful for all the mentors I’ve had who have shared their great ideas. And now my students have given me some wonderful ideas. Keep it simple. Draw a picture and explain.

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  2. OMG, I love this! I sometimes feel like I am just handing out worksheet and writing model paragraphs and it sucks the life out of the stories. I can’t wait for all of the COVID restrictions to be over so I can do more of this with my students.

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    1. Thank you so much! I’ve taught in districts where I had to teach what “they” said, and now I have quite a bit of flexibility. From time to time, I list out everything we’ve done, and we talk about what they liked and what didn’t work as well and what they wish we would do more of. Their answers are surprising. Many of them want more vocabulary and grammar and research. They like creative writing opportunities, too.

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    1. Hi Jerry! You can summarize a chapter in your book of choice and send it to me in video format—using the reader’s theater or ShrinkLet technique. 😂 Thanks so much for reading and the smile on my face!

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  3. That’s a great approach to teaching, getting them into the material. I agree that multiple choice tests cannot do the job for literature reading, comprehension, and enjoyment. Your post reminds me of something I saw a few years ago. I major motion picture came out, based on a famous novel. A reporter saw the movie, wrote a review of the story based only on the movie, and submitted it to a literature teacher who had not seen the movie. You can imagine how that went. J.

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  4. This is so good. I love when we give students the lead, and they just take off with a great idea. And wow! What great artwork. It sounds like you have quite a few students actually reading. Probably more than 50% (though they might be skimming and scanning at times). Have you tried assigning a modern retelling (probably of a chapter as opposed to the book due to length)?

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  5. I think we need to read all sorts of things, even if we don’t “like” it because we need to experience all sorts of viewpoints and time frames and everything. If we only ever read what we like, especially during formative years, we never really grow either intellectually or emotionally or mentally. I belong to book clubs specifically so that I read something I wouldn’t normally pick for myself. There is always something to be gained from lit

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  6. Hey Crystal, your methods are:

    A) 4.57
    B) Bicameral
    C) Wait, what was the question?
    D) Genius

    Let’s see how the teacher does on this multiple-choice test. My bet is, you’ll ace it.

    As you’ve aced this class. Your pupils are active and enthusiastic, and this sparks their creativity. Way to make perfect use of your school’s advantage.

    Multiple-choice may be of some use at a basic level, and in those endeavors for which there is only one “correct” answer, such as in mathematics. However, the structure forestalls the intellectual exploration necessary for most studies to thrive.

    Not for the first time, Crystal, I’ve noticed you’ve brought grad school-level excellence to your high school students. This’ll immortalize you and the expansiveness you’re creating. You’ll have the same influence Mr. Mohr had on me.

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      1. Great approach, Crystal! It makes you…you, and it explains why you’re ever-exploring and making new discoveries.

        Indeed, that approach, applied more broadly, is what keeps civilization going. Because of this, no matter how dire things are, they never extinguish dreams. There always is hope for a better tomorrow.

        And it all starts with a discussion of Jane Eyre.

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  7. This is a fun idea. I like knowing that kids are learning something about the classics. Being a pragmatic sort, I’m not fussy about what they learn– just that the books exist and there are some cool ideas or characters in them. Baby steps when it comes to getting people to read!

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  8. Crystal, thanks for giving us a glimpse into your classroom. Being a former business and computer applications teacher, it is refreshing to witness what you and your students are doing with the reading from a classic novel.

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