The Power of Adding Narrative





“I love this assignment!”  I heard those exact words today.  Although, I had been giving students choice in every assignment and had been allowing them freedom to move around and such, I had not heard those words until today.  What was the difference with today’s assignment.  I simple added a role-playing narrative.


Add a Simple Narrative


Today’s lesson  involved reading “The Cask of Amontillado,” and normally I would have pointed out the literary technique Poe used here called “The Unreliable Narrator,” in which the storyteller is someone who may be crazy or lying or otherwise less than reliable.  Then I would have had the students look for evidence as to whether or not the narrator is reliable.  It’s a so-so lesson, I had used it before to some degree of success.  There were worksheet style questions that guided students through some basic comprehension points.  


However, I scrapped it all.  Instead I created a simple narrative guiding student interaction with the text:


Situation:  You are a police detective and have just been handed a DVD with a taped confession to a murder. The District Attorney says before the suspect can be tried with a crime it must be determined that he is sane and that his story is reliable.  Also, because he is quite elderly, we must be sure that he isn’t suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.  Therefore, you must carefully examine his words and supposed deeds to determine if he is telling the truth or is in some way delusional.  Try to read between the lines.  What is the confessor telling us and NOT telling us.  If he is crazy or lying, what is the truth behind all of this?


Now students have a particular focus to their reading because they will then need to create a report and advocate for a course of action regarding this confession.  This simple narrative really peaked student interest.  


Removing “Guiding Questions” Spurred Creativity


In addition, removing the worksheet style questions allowed student to reach authentic conclusions and be more creative in reconstructing events and speculating on the mental state of the confessor.


“Mr. Keeler, can I read the story again?”


Wow, I have never heard that phrase, but I heard it today.  I simply gave the students a better reason to read the text driven by a narrative they seemed to enjoy.  

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