Steve Graham and Michael Herbert (2010) conducted a meta-analysis of the literature on reading and writing called Writing to Read. Part of this work, reports the results from nine studies that demonstrated how having students respond to a text in writing has a large effect (0.77) on their reading comprehension. This research suggests that writing personal reactions and/or analyzing/interpreting texts can increase reading comprehension. Therefore, I asked my students to use textual evidence to create rhyming couplets about the Great Terror. They were given a document about Stalin and the Great Terror from The DBQ Project’s excellent materials and allowed to use their cell phones to access an online rhyming dictionary.
A few students turned in rhymes that did not reflect understanding of the material. In a future iteration of this project I will add some peer review and quantify the results. Many students, however, were creative and demonstrated strong understanding of The Great Terror. The following couplets represent their work:
As a Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin made his enemies pay
His secret police would kill 1,000 people every day
The Russians launched mass arrests and forced labor
At times it seemed by killing you, Stalin was doing you a favor
Between 1937 and 1938, the Great Terror only lasted for two years
During this time, the Soviet people lived with many fears
The Great Terror eliminated people considered an enemy of the state
A history book would conclude that this time period was not great.
Russian intellectuals were broken and corrupted
Their contributions to society were disrupted
Mercy and dignity got in the way of survival
If you valued freedom, you were Stalin’s rival
The Great Terror tried to instilled fear in a citizen’s mind and soul
Constant threats from authority added up and took their toll
Soviet History books were just another propaganda tool
Until Roy Medvedev wrote one critical of Stalin’s rule
Joseph Stalin had a huge amount of power
Which made all of his citizens tremble and cower
This quick activity aligns with what Lopez (2011) terms culturally relevant pedagogy, which emerged in response to the need for increased engagement and educational success for all learners. Many teenagers aspire to be rappers and songwriters. This exercise allowed students to work in pairs and collaborate on a task with high social capital and improve their academic vocabulary and reading comprehension. Please make a comment and let me know how you could adapt this activity to your classroom.
Lopez, A.E. (2011). Culturally relevant pedagogy and critical literacy in diverse English classrooms: A case study of a secondary English teacher’s activism and agency. English Teaching: Practice and Critique. pp. 75-93. December, 2011, Volume 10, Number 4.