From the Classroom: Using Listicles for Literary Analysis
This month’s From the Classroom post comes from Tricia Ebarvia, PAWLP Fellow and high school English teacher. If you feel inspired after reading Tricia’s post, please comment below and also consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog. Click here to learn more.
GRADE / SUBJECT
Grade 9, World Literature
1-2 class periods
Whenever my students and I come to the end of any novel study, I’ve always struggled with finding that perfect and elusive “closing” activity—the lesson that can somehow do justice to our novel study before we move on to the next text. While we often do some sort of writing that helps students synthesize their ideas, I don’t think that we always have to write the traditional literary analysis paper in order to engage students in higher level thinking.
In recent years, I’ve shifted my reading and writing practices to try to be as authentic as possible. Whenever I revisit my approach to a text, I ask myself: How authentic is the learning we’re doing? In what ways is the work we do in class work that’s done only in school or work that reflects the type of reading, writing, and thinking that’s out in the world, beyond our classrooms? My sons love superheroes and comics, especially my 10-year-old. And as we know, it’s a great time to be a superhero fan with so many comic book superheroes finding their way to the big and small screens. But my son just doesn’t love watching shows like The Flash and Supergirl, he also loves analyzing them—and one of his favorite things to do is to watch reviews posted online by his favorite pop culture YouTube channel, Emergency Awesome. The host, Charlie Schneider, does a recap of several different TV series, but what sets his recaps apart from others is his format. Instead of simply summarizing what happened in the episode and his opinion, he structures his recap as a listicle: “Top 10 WTF Moments.” Since I follow all things superhero-related along with my boys, I’ve also watched all of Charlie’s videos—his detailed analysis of why this moment or that was worth of the WTF designation. (He also reviews pop culture favorites like Star Wars!)
Inspired by this structure, I decided that we would close out our novel study of Lord of the Flies by creating our own “Top 10 WTF Moments”—but unlike the original YouTube videos, our listicle comprised of the Top 10 “What’s This For?” moments. 🙂
HERE’S WHAT I DID
- After reading the novel, I had students journal in their notebooks about the scenes that most stood out to them in the novel. I ask students to review the sticky notes they’d been keeping of VIPPs (very important plot points) throughout their reading.
- Next, students share their initial thinking in their groups (my students sit in groups of four/table).
- Then I share the story of my sons’ obsession with superheroes, and in particular, how much he loves to watch the Emergency Awesome reviews as a way of analyzing the series. I pull up the Emergency Awesome YouTube channel and open to The Flash playlist so that students can see the videos posted. I point out to students how the vlogger, Charlie, recaps episodes with a listicle of “Top 10 WTF Moments.” I ask them what they predict would constitute a “WTF” moment (major turning point, character development, etc.).
- Next, I show them another listicle of “Ten WTF Moments from Harry Potter” posted on a Harry Potter fan site. Note that I don’t show any of the Emergency Awesome videos only because unless the majority of students have watched the series being reviewed, it might be hard for them to follow (I do encourage them, if they would like, to browse at home, especially if they watch some of the series that are reviewed, like Game of Thrones, which many of my high school students watch).
- I then explain what a listicle is—a portmanteau of the words list and article—showing them another example of a Harry Potter listicle from Time Magazine, “10 of the Most Heartwarming Harry Potter Moments of all Time.”
- Next, I explain that we are going to create a Top Ten WTF—What’s this for?—List for the novel. In asking the question, “What’s this for?” I point out that in curating this list, they need to consider what each moment is doing, how is it important regarding theme, character, conflict, etc. Students laugh, of course, I say “WTF,” but it works! “What’s this (moment) for?” I ask again—and they giggle, every time.
- My students take notes in OneNote, so I put together a page with a chart like the one below for them to fill out and complete as a group.
- When finished, students print and post their Top Ten Lists around the room (they could also work to create a more detailed, visually appealing poster or even an infographic) and then we finish with a gallery walk to compare, contrast, and then discuss.
This activity works well for a number of reasons:
Authenticity – As more and more of our students’ reading and analyses of texts—whether those texts are books, films, television, or music—occur in online environments, they will encounter writing (and arguments) in different forms, like listicles.
Higher-level thinking – In creating a top ten list, students must not only determine the most important moments in a text, but also rank those moments. As they debate which moments should be ranked higher or lower, students must use evidence from the text to support their reasoning.
Flexible thinking – Because there is no single right answer to a ranking like this, students learn to be flexible in their approach. As they compare their rankings across groups, they might also allow themselves to be convinced to change their mind and reconsider their own lists.
Synthesis – As a culminating activity, a top ten listicle works really well. After all, students must consider the scope and breadth of the entire work in order to put together their ranking.
Social Engagement – Students love to talk and debate. Asking them to rank moments in a text can really get them going!
As I mention above, while I only had students share across groups by printing and posting their notes, a great extension would be to have students create a more visually appealing final product, such an infographic using a tool like Canva or Infogram.
Another final product would be to create a video, similar in style to the Emergency Awesome videos. Students could study some of the videos as mentor texts and then use an app like FlipGrid to record. FlipGrid would work well, too, because the videos can be shared privately with the entire class, so students can watch and hear about other group’s top ten lists online.
Instead of Top WTF moments, students could come up with their own theme for their lists. Some possibilities: top 10 most memorable characters, top 10 most heartbreaking moments, or cringe-worthy, or eye-opening, etc.
In my AP Lang course, we study a lot of non-fiction and ready many longform essays. Although I have not yet done this, I think a Top 10 list can also work any essay—students could rank the top ten most important words, the top ten most important sentences. When we research an issue, students can create top ten lists of the most important factors to consider, and so on.
Have you used something similar in your classroom? Do you have additional ideas, questions, thoughts? Please share in the comments below!
Tricia Ebarvia currently teaches 9th grade world literature, AP English Language & Composition, and AP Research at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, PA. In addition to being a PAWLP Co-Director, she is also a 2016-18 Heinemann Fellow. She can be found on Twitter @triciaebarvia and her website, triciaebarvia.org.