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Let’s be honest. Book reports can tend to be a bit, well…boring. Although a book report is the traditional way to assess student reading comprehension, they bring to mind Chris Lehmann’s quote, “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the same thing, that’s not a project, that’s a recipe.” When we assign book reports in the ELA classroom, what we get from students often looks like just that, a “recipe.” To get students to become more engaged in reading, we need to get creative. Strong alternatives to the book report will meet curriculum standards while engaging students in the creative process of reading.
I wanted to take a moment to tell you about six of my favorite creative project alternatives to the book report. Each of these project-based assignments will prompt students to dive deeper into the literary elements of any novel or short story.
There are always two sides to every story. In this first creative project that I want to suggest, your students will take on the role of the special agent tasked with interrogating the antagonist of the text that they read. Through their investigation, they will learn more about the reason for this character’s villainy. Perhaps they will gain some sympathy for them, or maybe the opposite will occur. Maybe they will see just how deeply reprehensible this opposing character truly is!
In either case, this process will lead to a deeper understanding of the text and makes for a fun and meaningful alternative to the book report. They must begin preparing for their interrogation by putting together a file on the antagonist. This profile should include a physical description of the antagonist, a brief summary of the events of the plot, and an explanation of how the antagonist’s actions worked against the protagonist’s main goals.
Then, they will develop questions for the interview itself. For this, I like to provide students a handout with information that will help them ask strong questions, so that the questions yield detailed responses. In an interrogation room, as well as in the classroom, it is the quality of our questions that matter most. Students will complete this assignment by writing a transcript that reflects the interview itself as well as a post-interview reflection.
This next creative project similarly prompts students to zero in on the use of characterization of the most recent story they read. Only this time, they will focus on the protagonist—or any other character of similar significance. As the senior writer at the Literary Times, they have been tasked with writing the highly anticipated character editorial on a story that has captivated the nation. An audience of readers awaits their judgment about whether the main character was right or wrong in doing what they did.
To begin, I like to get students to watch this beautiful hand-drawn introductory video made by John Spencer. This introduces the assignment and helps students assume their journalistic role. I also take this opportunity to teach students about the form of an editorial. They should learn to explain the issue, examine actions, and persuade readers to agree with their way of thinking using logical reasoning, citing specific dialogue and incidents.
Then, students will need to write a thesis statement that outlines and explains their stance on the character’s actions. They will plan out their editorial and then begin writing it, using text evidence to support their claims. The assignment does not end there, however. A reader who was unhappy with their editorial decides to write a letter to the editor with strong, evidence-based counter-arguments. Students will conclude their assignment by writing from this perspective as well.
In this assignment, your students will get the opportunity to refine their public speaking skills. As the protagonist of their story, they have been chosen to be the keynote speaker at the Dynamic Character Conference. This conference is dedicated to sharing the perspectives of characters who have undergone a significant inner change. There will be thousands of attendees there to witness the powerful talks and to be inspired to make changes in their own life.
Students who choose this project will be giving a speech on their personal transformation. Of course, they will need to prepare for the speech first by reflecting on how events, setting, and other characters in their story changed them. I like to give students a graphic organizer that they can use to organize their self-examination into a coherent narrative. They will also learn how to structure a strong speech (i.e. hook, body, closing).
Then, I get students to review their own speech and practice its delivery before seeking out peer feedback. I have students work on their enunciation as well as body language, eye contact, pace, etc. This book report alternative will help your students dive deeper into their story in a creative way while also helping them develop their oral speaking skills!
What if you found out that the author of your favorite novel initially envisioned a completely different ending to the story. Would this impact your perception of the text? With this next book report alternative, your students will need to get extra creative. Here’s the premise. They are a literary historian who has just discovered an original edition of the story in the author’s safe with a completely different ending.
For the alternate ending project, students will write a new ending to their story. As the world-renowned literary professor that they are, they will of course be eager to share their thoughts on how this new ending of the story impacts the characters and the theme of the story. To begin, they will need to examine the theme of the original text and write a thematic statement to express that expresses it succinctly. I like to provide them with a thematic statement handout for this.
Then, they use a planning page to prepare for writing out the alternate ending of the text, as it was found in the author’s safe. They will need to closely examine the author’s voice and think of how they can imitate their distinctive style. After writing out the alternate ending, students will conclude this assignment by completing an analysis of how the new ending impacts the theme and characters in the story.
What if Little Red Riding Hood was retold from the perspective of her picnic basket? I am sure it would have a lot of interesting things to say…
For this creative project, your students will flip the narrative viewpoint of their story so that it is written from the perspective of an object in the text. Here’s how the object as the narrator assignment works.
After watching a hand-drawn introductory video, students will brainstorm different objects from the story. They should choose something that has witnessed a great deal of the plot and could offer an interesting take on what transpires. They will then become the object, so to speak, and reflect on what it would be like to see the events of the story from that perspective. After this, they will write the story from this flipped perspective!
Once the story has been re-written, it is time for students to analyze how the object might interpret the thing as well as how the changed point of view adds suspense or humor. This is one of my favorite creative book report alternatives. It makes for a great read-aloud assignment where students can share their writing.
The local library is hosting a contest to win a trip inside the setting of any story of your choice. Which setting are you choosing?
In this last book report alternative, students will win a trip to the setting of their story. After learning how to do so, they will write online reviews of the setting. These reviews will be written from the perspectives of three characters in the text. Students will also need to leave their own comments underneath each travel review, sharing how each one helped them to better understand the setting as well as the character who wrote it.
These reviews will help your students decide what they should pack for their big trip. They will need to choose two non-traditional items to pack that relate specifically to the text. They will write about their choices, using text evidence to support their decisions. Then, students will need to decide on three places in the setting that they want to visit and provide reasons why they want to go there.
There you have it! I hope that you found these ideas helpful. These creative book report alternatives are sure to inspire your students to dig deeper into their texts. You can get a ready-to-use resource bundle for every assignment mentioned above here.
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