Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

This might possibly be the most meaningful piece of literature I've ever taught. I love American Literature because it addresses periods of history, but this novel seems to not only cover bits of history, but it also sheds light on several issues people suffer from today. Even though I have read the novel several times now, each time I read it I'm laughing, curious, crying, uplifted, et cetera. Before I had children I read it one way; after I had two of my own, I had a totally different lens. If you have not read it, consider it. I really enjoy this novel.

First I start by having students think about 5-6 big ideas/themes that the novel will relate to. I once did this in journals, but decided to experiment with a large group Voicethread this year. The kids enjoyed this more so than a journal, but they did experience apprehension. Many typed their answers instead of voicing them. Next time I'd give the option of allowing them to write their responses on paper because I'm betting some would have been more sincere.

Next we researched Maya's life. Once upon a time I would do short power points, but again I wanted to try a larger scale collaboration. You can read about that experience here.

By now the web contains tons of video footage of Maya. Any Google search will land you tons of resources. One that you can't pass up is the Iconoclasts episode of Dave Chapelle and Maya Angelou. You can't get the video for free - buy it off Itunes. It's WELL WORTH it. CAUTION - you need to edit it first. Iconoclasts shows several clips of Dave on stage where he drops an assortment of Fbombs. Of course, he's well behaved around Maya. The kids liked this video a lot and it drummed up a ton of interest in her.

I do have a study guide for this, but I do not require they complete it. I find that packets and study guides might not help as much because at times the students only discuss what's on the study guide - their minds do not remember anything else to discuss. Also a portion of students cheat on them and well, let's face it, I don't have time to actually read and grade them all. I offer a study guide as just extra support. Instead we do Double Sided Journals (pdf). They have a few different names. I do them for the first 4 readings at least.

I do not assign one chapter at a time. The chapters are too short and the book is too long to do that. Instead I, roughly, section off the novel like this: 1-6, 7-12, 13-17, I skip 18 (Sorry Maya!), 19-21, I skip 22 (Sorry again!!), 23...and so on.

I do quiz for all sections with multiple choice questions (roughly 25 questions). If they wrote in their study guide they can use that on the quiz and they can use their double sided journals.

We also study vocabulary. I do not require them to look up words but rather they try to figure out what the words mean in context.

After you read the part about Uncle Willy teaching Maya her multiplication tables, be sure to show this video. :)




Home | My Blog | Moodle | CyberEnglish Philosophy | English 10 | English 11 | Speech | My Favorite Web Tools | My Messy Old Site