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Encountering Literature: An Immersive Approach

High School English Teachers Heather Brubaker & Jane Belton
When ninth graders encounter 19th century literature, it can feel off-putting: the language is hard, the customs and setting feel distant. We help students cross that gap by focusing on visualization. When we start reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde, we immerse the students in the atmosphere of the gothic novel by lighting (faux) candles and doing creative writing from gothic-themed paintings.
 
 
As students read, we remind them to "see the movie in their minds" and use drawings from 1880's London newspapers to help them envision the setting. We recreate artifacts from the narrative; students love opening wax-sealed letters and discovering what's inside. Throughout, they are writing to deepen their understanding of the text and to find their own voice as a writer.
 
 
Finally, at the end of the unit, they do a detailed close reading of a passage from the novel, and create their own visual artifact that represents an idea from the passage and novel. After working with lots of visual material, students are excited to create their own pieces that demonstrate their experience of the text. Their accompanying Artist's Statements explore the thematic concepts they represent in their work. The gallery walk is a visual feast: a spirited expression of their encounter with the novel and their sense of mastery of a text that felt, at first, like a mystery.
 
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