My culminating project in my American Literature classes is a research unit (we introduce them to the skills as sophomores and as juniors they write a full research paper). The first year I did it, I did it on a current event or "problem" that existed in the U.S. It went smoothly, but really didn't connect to the content of the class. Then we switched it over to focusing on American authors. With another teacher, we came up with a list of "classic" American authors that we hadn't studied over the course of the year. As part of the requirement, we had the students read a set of poems or a short story by the author first, then launched into research.
Last year (my first year as an official teacher), I revamped the project yet again and required the students to find a social issue from the time period and connect it to the story they read (I got rid of the poets...it was too difficult helping them analyze the poems on their own and I found that the short stories worked better overall). I really liked the addition of the social issues, especially considering that I always relate the literature we read to what is going on in America at the time of publication. Literature reflects life, right? The projects were excellent last year, but the biggest problem I had was when their chosen social issue wasn't evident in the piece I gave them to read.
This year, I want to revamp the project, yet again. First, I'm including more writing into their final product, and more creativity. I'm actually turning the project (which usually consists of an outline, works cited page, powerpoint, and presentation) into a blended genre study of their author and chosen social issue. I'm still requiring the same pieces (have to because it's a common assessment for the district), but they also have to find/create other pieces that reflect their research-pieces of art, photographs, original pieces they wrote, etc (you can find more info about blended genre projects here if you're interested).
So, here is where I need your help.
First, I'm looking for a more comprehensive list of contemporary American authors. I have a lot of "classic" writers down (for example, Twain), but I really want some newer writers for the kids to research. In particular, I'm looking for writers that definitely talk about social issues and ideas prevalent in modern-day American society. If you have some names for me, that would be lovely.
Second, I'm trying to decide how I should approach the issue of each author's work. In the past, I assigned the kids their author based on interest, then found a story for them, copied it, etc. All they did with it was read and summarize-seemed a touch pointless to the final project. But I think it would be difficult for them to find their own piece. We have limited time...so do I bother? I'm not sure how to tackle that issue.
Third, I'm open to any other ideas on how to increase the creativity for this project. If you have any ideas for other products they can produced for their genres, I would love more ideas. I want to give them plenty of options and examples-they are sophomores and some of them struggle with the whole self-motivation business. Some of the ideas I already have include:
- newspaper articles about their authors
- pictures (that they drew or that they found)
- "Found" poems that they create from a piece of text by their author
- a short biography of their writer (I think I'm making this a requirement)
- journal entries
- song lyrics that might connect to their writer or social issue
If you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave them below! And please leave author names!
Thank you in advance!