A great read gets better with student presentations

Students dig deeper into Fitzgerald classic

Jennifer Ward works with, from left, Daniel Vanharmelen, Daniel Yentsch and CJ Thomas

Examining the lengths one goes for love and money in reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic jazz-age novel “The Great Gatsby” has been a time-honored tradition for high school English classrooms. But many themes, symbols and meaning exist within the text.

In Grandville High School teacher Jennifer Ward’s sophomore class, students are using teamwork to give their literary spins on — and help each other understand —  the nuances and motives in the tale of Jay Gatsby’s gilded downfall.

To help her class get the most out of the book, Ward has students take the lead as chapter “experts” in hopes of boosting overall reading comprehension. In groups, students drew pictures of main events from their assigned chapters, pulled out important quotes, character information and other important plot points. They then took turns presenting their information.

“We chose to look at the party scene in the apartment and evaluate what was going on there for our chapter,” CJ Thomas said, referring to an opulent soiree in the book. “It seemed to be one of the most important parts of the chapter and we also were able to get some quotes  and pictures from this section.”

Putting students in charge of their learning has a greater impact than a traditional lecture, said Ward, who steps in to provide context and background information.

“I have found that students remember information like this better when they get in front of the class and present on what they have learned,” she said. “You really have to pay attention.”

From left. Alexa Grisemeyer and Samantha Topolski work on main event sketches for their chapter

Dissecting Themes, Plots and Characters

“We definitely have more of an understanding of the chapters because you have to really know what you’re talking about when you’re going to be teaching the class,” 10th-grader Alexa Grisemeyer said.

She also learns a lot from other students’ presentations.

“A lot of ideas pop up that I would not have thought of from my classmates,” Alexa said. “I’ve learned a lot of tricks that other people use to help them in school that I can also use.”

Often one group will find information another missed in the same chapter, ensuring a fuller grasp of the reading, Ward said.

“The kids are great at finding the key information, even when they don’t know that they’ve found it right away,” Ward said. “There’s a visual element that helps with some learners, and then a note-taking element that helps for some as well.”

Meeting different learning styles helps all students grasp content, she said.

“Everyone learns in a different way and as a teacher, you have to be aware of that,” Ward said. “The hope is that students can find the way that they learn best and it will create a more welcoming and supportive environment.”

While groups are presenting, students take notes on a characterization and symbolism chart, organizing information from each chapter. They use what they learned in independent reading and in other areas of studying the book.

“It’s one of the more creative projects I’ve done,”  said 10th-grader Daniel Yentsch.“I think we have more of an understanding of the chapters for sure. It’s a different approach than a lot of book lessons.”

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Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio or email Hannah.

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