When Students Get to Choose
Elizabeth Matlick
By Elizabeth Matlick
7th and 8th Grade Writing and ELL Teacher
 
November 15, 2018
 
The 8th graders huddled up on the floor pillows in classroom 222. “Turn off the lights!” someone said. In the semi-darkness of a rainy November afternoon, the class turned their attention to the storyteller of the moment, one of their peers. One-by-one, they shared their horror monologues inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. I could feel the unique energy that builds when students are in the driver’s seat during class time.
 
This has been a staple assignment for 8th grade writing classes over the years. First, we read Poe’s classic story of a landlord who goes mad and takes it out on his elderly tenant. Then we re-tell the tale but from the victim’s point-of-view, using Poe’s setting, time-period, situation and work to create the old man’s voice. This assignment is always fun.
 
This time around, however, I told them to re-tell Poe’s story from the victim’s point of view and to feel free to change the setting, the time-period, the characters’ gender, their age, their economic status or even their relationship. Immediately the creative juices were flowing in different and interesting directions. I saw stories develop that took place in student dorms, family homes, and even one in a 1950s supermarket. The characters shifted from landlord and tenant to every kind of relationship you can imagine, from dormmates to inmates and even a mother and her young daughter.
 
We were still reading these stories a week after the due date because, in several cases, students wrote twice the required pages. One of the girls said with excitement, “You won’t believe how many pages I wrote!”
 
Allowing more choice in the work can spark energy that students sometimes forget they have. If we want kids to be inspired by their own ideas, then adding more choice to the work is a great way to do it.
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