When reading classic literature, one of the most complicated tasks students stumble upon is the complexity of descriptive and imagery rich language. Often, they get lost in its density and as a result they zone out, which often leads to book abandonment. Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde is a fitting example of this occurrence, but once you acknowledge the difficulties of its descriptive language, you can work through the colorful narrative with different art forms. Hence, when Basil discusses his latest portrait with his friend, students can work out the imagery on newsprint paper, reflecting the author’s words into graphics.
A graffiti wall (a rolled out, large sheet of paper taped to the wall) proves to be a fun and creative way for students to express their understandings of a given plot structure. Together, students can draw or paint out story elements. When complete, the graffiti wall shows the complete story with graphics. Teachers can get a clear understanding of students’ comprehension, simply by looking and analyzing students’ collective artwork. Graphic response is based on the quality of effort and interpretive thought.
For students that struggle with ornate language, using art will enable them to work out the imagery in an unconventional way. For the same reason, film adaptations of literature will provide a lasting link between the text and the imagery. Playing key conflicts in a given plot structure will allow students to grasp understanding when the text proves to be challenging. The goal is not for students who struggle with the literature to develop a visual substitute for the text, but instead to encourage them to think through the text.
Dramatic reproductions or pantomiming scenes in a short story or novel is another great way to help students understand the text. Students work in small groups to collaborate and act out key scenes. Audiences can easily see and hear what story elements in a setting are being acted out, and teachers can assess how well the assigned reading was interpreted. Language and references that ground the interpretation in the text as a whole, can easily be evaluated. Like graphic representation, evaluation is based on creative interpretation and effort, rather than theatrical ability.
Literature doesn’t have to be black or white. Having students draw, view, or act out a given plot structure helps them collect and organize their ideas prior to writing about the literature. Writing becomes easier because a drawing contains the most important aspects of the scene, a film brings clarity and shape to challenging contexts, and theater emphasizes the relationships between characters and settings. Together, pulling important information from the text and reflecting these understandings with the arts will enable students to organize ideas, enabling them to write more comprehensive essays. Collectively, these exercises will help students develop the knowledge they need to work through the most abstract pieces of literature.