3 ways to creatively respond to a book

I liked writing critical essays when I was at school. There, my secret’s out. I don’t think critical essays are a horrible thing: as a teacher I found that reading a pupil’s well-considered critical response to a book was rather an enjoyable thing to do.

The problem is that a lot of pupils aren’t motivated to write critical essays. The ‘well-considered’ aspect doesn’t happen if they don’t have the right tasks and the right motivation to get them thinking about a book in the first place. When I was at school, I was probably easy to teach in English (and conversely, probably not so easy in Maths and biology) because I was good at it. I enjoyed thinking about language and character because I was a certain kind of learner who liked trying to live inside the feelings of writers simply for the sake of it. It was enough for me to sit at my desk, think and make some notes about a book, and then write an essay explaining what I thought.

There are a lot of pupils out there who are eminently capable of producing a good critical response, but need a different medium

When I became a teacher, I wasn’t really ready for the fact that this might not work for other people. More fool me: there are a lot of pupils out there who are eminently capable of producing a good critical response, but need a different medium. Here are a few brilliant, creative ways to critically respond to literature which I’ve seen used to great effect in schools:

Make character boxes

Enlisting the help and resources of other departments can allow you to create some new avenues to critically explore a text. Teacher Catherine Wylie from Alva Academy used ‘character boxes’ as a means for her pupils to explore the main character from Darren Shan’s Zom-B. Taking inspiration from artist Joseph Cornell, the pupils created boxes decorated with images and objects representing aspects of the character. Find out more about this great project here.

Create book trailers

There simply isn’t enough time here to describe how effective creating book trailers can be, both for encouraging critical thinking and promoting reading for pleasure. But one of the main strengths of creating a trailer for a book is that there is a specific, practical purpose to analysing the book: if you need to accurately represent characters and setting and other literary concepts in a trailer, you need to have a firm understanding of them to begin with.

We’re running a fantastic book trailer competition for this year’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards, and we have loads of resources to support you – find out more here.

Tweet book reviews

Compose a summary of a book using 140 characters or less. While this potentially creates the danger that some smarty pants will write a one-word denouncement, it’s a fantastic way to get them to think about the defining aspects of the book, including atmosphere, genre and theme. Think about it: how would you summarise your favourite book in 140 characters? The method is also effective if you ask pupils to summarise a character in a similarly succinct manner – it’s a lot harder than they think to convey everything they’d want to convey about a character with such limited space.

 

I think it needs to be said that if you’re teaching a good book which has the power to reel in a class, that’s probably half the battle. A lot of the motivation to write well about a book will come from the fact that it’s had an impact on you. But even then there’s no guarantee of good critical writing. Some pupils will need more reasons to share their thoughts about a text, and others will need different vehicles for doing so than the traditional critical essay. Equally, I think it's important not to forget about those who enjoy analysis for its own sake.

What are your favourite ways for pupils to respond to a book? Comment below and let us know!

If you’re looking for more reading tasks to apply to any book, check out our Reading Activities resource.