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Before reading the novel, it will be important for students to understand the social roles of women in the early 1900s so that they can relate to the social pressures facing the main character, Mattie Gokey, and other women in the novel. This site specifically discusses the social roles and daily lives of women living in the Adirondacks in the early 1900s, the setting for the novel. Divide students into groups and then assign each group a section of Adirondack women’s roles or daily tasks in the early 1900s to research using this website. This site can also be utilized to explore other areas of information about logging, agriculture, and other aspects of life in this time period. Each group then gives a small two- three minute presentation on their findings to the class. Afterwards, make a list on the board as a class about the social roles of women in today’s society. Have students write a letter to a man or woman living in the Adirondacks (Females write to a female males write to a male) in the early 1900s, describing how they feel gender roles have changed and what social pressures they feel today based on their gender. This activity is designed to help students begin a self to text connection before starting the novel to see how different, but gender-based pressures still exist in society today, shaping individual’s decisions.
Some may argue that studying the famous Chester Gillette -Grace Brown murder case from 1906 prior to reading the novel ruins the mystery and suspense for first-time readers. However it may be beneficial for students to have basic background knowledge of the murder case so that they can more easily make connections between the characters Grace and Mattie while reading. Additionally, it serves as a great introduction to the time period, the setting, and the social pressures surrounding this novel. As the murder case isn’t necessarily the climax of the book, but does play a part, it serves as a great “mouth-waterer” for students to get excited about reading the book, especially the boys. Divide students into groups of three or four and have them research the Chester Gillette- Grace Brown murder case from 1906 using this website. The website includes photos, newspaper clips, trial evidence, etc. surrounding the trial and case. Have students present the murder case to the class in the form of a news report on the evening news, requiring them to touch on the setting of the murder, the social pressures possibly involved, and the evidence put forth. Another way to use this website would be to have the students research the trial using this website and then have a mock trial, reenacting the court case, thus bringing the evidence and circumstances surrounding it to life for the students. Because the love letters between Grace and Chester were crucial evidence in the actual trial, and a key part of the novel, it would be important to have students use these letters in the mock trial as well. After the trial or the news reports, discuss the evidence and events surrounding the murder as a class and discuss how social pressures and gender roles may have contributed to the case.
This activity will prepare students to recognize and understand the elements of strong voice in writing, which plays a significant role in the novel. Start with reading the class this quote from the novel, page 361:
“Voice, according to Miss Wilcox, is not just the sound that comes from your throat but the feeling that comes from your words. I hadn’t understood that at first.
‘But Miss Wilcox, you use words to write a story, not your voice,’ I’d said.
‘No, you use what’s inside of you,’ she said. ‘That’s your voice. Your real voice. It’s what makes Austen sound like Austen and no one else. What makes Yeats sound like Yeats and Shelley like Shelley. It’s what makes Mattie Gokey sound like Mattie Gokey. You have a wonderful voice, Mattie. I know you do, I’ve heard it. Use it.”
After reading this quote ask students what they think the definition of “voice” is in writing. After a discussion, explain that because “voice” is a major theme in the novel, it is important that the students understand the important elements of voice and how to recognize it in writing. Pass out the rubric from the first posted link above, which describes the elements and evidence of strong voice in one’s writing and the elements of weak voice in one’s writing. After going over the rubric as a class, have students pick from a variety of magazine pictures that you have pre-selected, cut out, and posted onto construction paper. The pictures should include a variety of people: old, young, uniquely clothed, different ethnicities, etc. in some sort of a unique setting. Students are to write a paragraph on a teacher-selected topic from the person in the picture’s point of view, incorporating the elements of voice just learned. After writing their paragraphs, post the pictures at the front of the room and read several of the paragraphs aloud. See if students can match the voice with the picture as you read. Remember to discuss why or why not the elements of voice were effective throughout this activity. <http://www.kimskorner4teachertalk.com/writing/sixtrait/voice/picture.html>
This activity will help students begin to connect with the author of the novel, practice expressing their own voices, and begin a text-self connection as they explore their own dreams and possible obstacles. Begin with handing out and reading the quote by Jennifer Donnelly, an excerpt from her Biography from the first link cited above:
“Lastly, listen to your own thoughts and feelings very carefully, be aware of your observations, and learn to value them. When you're a teenager – and even when you're older – lots of people will try to tell you what to think and feel. Try to stand still inside all of that and hear your own voice. It's yours and only yours, it's unique and worthy of your attention, and if you cultivate it properly, it might just make you a writer.”
Discuss as a class the uniqueness of each individual life- their experiences, feelings, talents, and perspectives. Have students brainstorm as a class outside pressures around them that try to persuade them to think or feel a certain way. Write this list up on the board. Next, pass out the handout from the second link cited above which discusses ways to incorporate your own voice into your writing. <http://www.kimskorner4teachertalk.com/writing/sixtrait/voice/howto.html.>
Have students write a letter to a close friend or family member that they feel comfortable confiding in ( to practice writing to an audience). In the first part of the letter students should write about a secret dream or aspiration that they have that is very important to them and why they want to fulfill it so badly. The second part of the letter should talk about what real circumstances or obstacles they see in their way of obtaining that goal and how they feel about those obstacles. Make it clear that they should follow the guidelines discussed for incorporating voice into one’s writing.
This lesson will help students understand the social conditions and racial tensions in the north in the early 1900s, giving them the background knowledge necessary to connect with the character Weaver, in the novel. This article and the rest of the website gives you a great glimpse into the racial tensions in New York around the turn of the century. Time lines are also provided on this website. Although you may not choose to focus on the New York City riots in 1900, there is a great deal of valuable information in this article about racial tensions at the time. Gather information from this website and others about race issues of the time and present them to the students. You may wish to include pictures or memoirs from African Americans who moved up north. After presenting this background information, discuss Maya Angelou’s poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Have students free-write and then share with the class the possible symbolism of the bars of the caged bird. Discuss what the word freedom means from several contexts and how being physically free doesn’t always mean you are free in a real sense. Have students write a short story from the perspective of a young black teen in the early 1900s in the north and how they feel. This will prepare the students to understand Weaver’s frustrations and dreams as they encounter him in the novel.
Because A Northern Light is focused around the importance of words, their definitions, and their application to everyday situations, this activity will help students to connect to the style and format of the book, increase their vocabulary, and increase their appreciation for the power of words. After reading the first couple chapters of the book discuss as a class Mattie’s love of words and how she builds her vocabulary daily by learning and applying a new word. Discuss the power of individual words and how they are so packed with meaning. Write a sentence on the board and dissect all the possible meanings based on the multiple definitions of each word. Using Mattie’s Word Game from the Novel as a model, have the students begin their own personal dictionaries. Have students buy a notebook and decorate the front. Then, have them pick a word each day that they do not know from the list of words at the above website. They should also write down the original meaning of the word, what it means today, and the example sentence given at the above website. The students should also write their own sentence using the word, draw a picture of what the word means, and document their use of the word at least once during that day in conversation or application to a situation. Each day at the beginning of class have one student share a favorite word from their dictionary and make a poster of the word to hang in the classroom. By the end of the novel your classroom will be filled with words that have value to the students.
This activity will help students to relate to the characters in the novel, explore ways to overcome obstacles, and make a self-text connection. Have students begin the class with a free-write on a dream or goal that they have and what obstacles seem to be in their way. Write the character names Weaver, Mattie, Miss Wilcox, and Grace Brown on the board. In a chart have students brainstorm what goals or dreams each character has and what some of the obstacles are that prevent that character from reaching their dream. Have students pick one character they feel they relate to the best or are the most like, and one character they feel has the least similarities with them. Have students create a Ven diagram using the above website. The three circles should include the student’s name, and the two character’s names. Students should create the diagram comparing and contrasting their own attempt to reach their dream with each of the character’s attempts. Have students think about personal characteristics that influence the process, obstacles, social pressures, time period, etc. This can be used as the prewriting exercise to an essay comparing and contrasting similarities or differences between themselves and the characters in the novel in their attempts to reach their goals, or an essay on the effect of different social pressures or personal characteristics that contribute to or hinder one’s attempt to reach their goals.
After reading a significant part of the book have students each pick one of five characters from the book. Using the above website, have students create a trading card focused around their character. This card details a character description, insights about the character, development of the character, statements and actions, and personal impressions about the character. After the students have printed their cards off have all the students with the same characters get into groups and discuss the character they chose and their different perspectives about him/her. Then rearrange the groups by having one person from each character group form a new group. Now have these students swap character cards and see one another’s perspectives on the characters. Have students predict how their characters will interact with each other or their situations in the rest of the book, based on the information on their cards. At the end of the class period have students from each group present to the class a few insights from their group discussion. This activity is designed to guide students in in-depth character analysis, help them connect with the characters on a more personal level, and practice the reading strategy of prediction based on information about the characters and their situations. This activity would also be a great way to compare and contrast the various women in the novel and how the same social pressures and gender issues affect each of them in a different way depending on their age and personality.
Kristen Anderson. “Discussing Moral Dilemmas Activity.” September 29, 2008. This activity should be done after having read the “Fugacious” chapter (p. 296). When students arrive have a moral dilemma similar to this one written on the board: “Pretend that your Father gave you a large sum of money and made you solemnly promise that you would only use the money to fly to Germany to see your sick mother one more time before she dies. One night while driving with your Dad you get in a terrible accident. Your Father quickly dies from injuries and you are badly hurt and paralyzed. A new operation has just come out that can undo the paralysis, but it must be performed right away in order to work. The only way you would be able to receive the operation is to use the money that your Father gave you. You must choose between living a life of paralysis but keeping your promise to your Father, or using the money to pay for the operation so you can walk again, but having to give up seeing your Mother one last time. What do you do?” Let students discuss this hypothetical situation for several minutes and guide their discussion to question what is the value of a promise and when can it be broken. What does loyalty mean, and is it better to be loyal to your conscience or a promise? After a good discussion, turn the class to the moral dilemmas facing Mattie in the novel. Discuss her struggle between keeping two different promises and following her own dreams and conscience. As you prepare to read the last section of the book have students write a short essay on what they would do in Mattie’s situation and why, using ideas discussed in the class discussion. This exercise will help students engage with the novel in a more personal way, understand how most novels are built around some kind of moral dilemma, and practice their higher-level thinking skills.
This activity will enforce students’ ability to recognize voice in writing by questioning the narrator’s or speaker’s assumptions, beliefs, intentions, and bias;
discriminating between apparent message and hidden agenda; and interpreting multiple levels of meaning. Using the above link, create a handout that lists the 6 elements of voice in writing. After going over the definitions and answering any questions, use the model given at the above link to show students how to detect and mark these elements of voice in literature. Then, give each student two different colors of sticky notes and throughout their reading of the novel have them mark the elements of Mattie’s voice in her writing and Grace Brown’s voice in her letters. Periodically throughout your discussions about the assigned reading have students share the elements of voice they found and why it contributes to their understanding of either Mattie or Grace Brown.
This website allows students to answer a series of questions to see how closely they do or do not relate to a text. After answering the questions on the website, the website compiles a chart mapping out which parts of the book (characters, setting, culture, etc.) the students connected with most and least. Have students pick one of the bolded answers they gave that signifies how they did relate to the book and another category that shows where they did not connect with the novel and have them write an in-depth essay on how and why they did or did not connect with these two aspects of the book. This will aid students in text-self connections, alert them to the several aspects of the novel, and help them explore issues such as setting, culture, gender, age, etc in the book. Have students stand up and present their papers to the class.
This website contains in-depth lesson plans on how to guide students through the process of writing a cultural review on a text. As a class, students explore how a piece of literature is culturally relevant to themselves, utilizing the online cultural relevance rubric used in the After Connection above. This helps students map out what aspects of the book they relate to most and least. As a whole class, fill out this rubric for A Northern Light and discuss why and how certain aspects of the book are culturally relevant to the students or why not. Then as a class discuss how you might go about writing a cultural review on this novel and create an outline on the overhead, taking suggestions from the students. After putting forth this example, have students pick a text of their own choosing (it could be a short story, a novel, etc.) that deals with one of the same themes or the time period in A Northern Light, and write their own cultural review individually. Not only will this help students to synthesize the cultural differences and similarities between the Novel’s time period and today, but it will also help students make self-text connections by further exploring the themes, characters, and setting in the play and how they relate to it.
Anderson, Kristen. “Creating a Voice Activity.” October 6, 2008. After your students have studied the elements of “voice” in writing through the Before and During connections, this activity will help students apply what they have learned about voice and apply it more directly into writing. Have students do the During Activity mentioned above where they go through the novel marking the difference between Mattie and Grace Brown’s different elements of voice and why they are effective. After finishing the novel, have students create a T-chart where they compare and contrast the differences between Mattie’s voice and Grace’s voice. This could be done as a whole class, in groups, or individually depending on grade level and the group of students. After analyzing the difference between the two voices, have students write a love letter from Grace Brown to Chester after she dies, telling him how she feels about his killing her. They should try to imitate her voice in the letter. Then have them switch letters with a classmate and have each student write an alternate ending, or an additional chapter to the novel while imitating Mattie’s voice. They should include their classmate’s letter from Grace in their chapter. Have students share their writing with the class and discuss as a class how their writing imitates Grace’s and Mattie’s.
Anderson, Kristen. “Overcoming Obstacles Short Story Assignment.” October 6, 2008. Have students use the data collected from any previous Before or During activities where they explored a dream they have and the obstacles facing them, or comparisons on how different characters overcame obstacles to reach their dream. Whether or not your class did these previous activities, spend part of a class period discussing how different characters in the novel overcame their unique obstacles to reach their dreams. Make a large chart on the board detailing characteristics, social pressures, and circumstances that determined whether or not the character achieved their dream. Then have students pick which character from the novel they connect with the most and have them make a T-chart on their paper comparing and contrasting how their own dream and obstacles compare and contrast with those of the character’s. This is an effective activity because while students are analyzing the character, they are also seeing how they do or do not parallel the character’s model in their own lives. Students should then write a short story, using the elements of voice they have studied throughout the novel, and putting themselves as the main character. Have them write how they overcame obstacles to realize a dream, or have them pick a goal or dream they currently have and write about how they will overcome it, as if they already had. This will not only help students connect to the text and characters one last time, but it will also help them apply what they have studied about adding “voice” into their writing.
Anderson, Kristen. “Women’s Social Roles Activity.” October 6, 2008. This activity can best be utilized if students did the Before Activity of researching the social pressures and gender roles of women in the early 1900s, the time period of the book. Using this previous research, have students divide into groups and pick a prominent woman character in the novel. Have them analyze and pick out supporting evidence of how that woman character was affected by social pressures or went against social pressures and gender roles to achieve her goal. Then have each group choose and research a prominent woman in today’ s society who has gone against social gender pressures to achieve a goal, or has been affected by social pressures and gender roles. Have students present the comparison between the two women in a creative way. This could be through a created Time Magazine article, a short documentary where they act out an interview with each woman, a news broadcast, etc. Let students be creative! This will help students to apply the research they did before reading the novel, to specific characters in the novel, as well as make a text-world connection.
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