Beyond the Paper: Why Creative Projects Are Enriching
As an English teacher, you will never hear me discredit the merit of writing a good analysis paper. There’s something magical about formulating a well-tuned claim and finding the precise evidence and wording to effectively articulate and support the claim. That being said, I am also an advocate of alternative assessments of understanding. In my literature classes, students can expect to participate in at least one creative project each semester. I have to admit that I look forward to grading the creative projects. In fact, I am almost giddy come time to open the class page and see what wonderful works await me. But, it is not for my enjoyment that I assign creative projects.
There are three main reasons I find creative projects beneficial for students.
- Creative projects allow students to think abstractly. While students do have to think abstractly in order to write a literary analysis paper, a creative project will encourage a different kind of abstract thinking regarding the text. A paper assignment generally has a specific formula that needs to be followed, and most of the time instructors give prompts for paper topics. A creative project allows the student to take the reins and make connections that he/she may not have been able to make via words alone. One of my favorite student projects ever was the making of two separate meals. One meal represented the antagonist and one meal represented the protagonist from John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. From the surface, the project may have looked like pretty food pictures, but each character was aptly captured within the presented meal, and the sinister greed of the town doctor could be felt within the dish.
- Creative projects allow students to connect a text to their personal interests and gifts. We are all unique, and our differences should be celebrated. Allowing students to do something they enjoy while connecting it to a work of literature is fulfilling not only for the student, but also for peers as they are able to view the projects of their classmates and appreciate individual talents and perspectives.
- Creative projects encourage students to connect to the text in ways they wouldn’t have when writing an essay. Because context plays a critical part in literature, a creative project may help students probe context more efficiently than a paper, moving into the experiential realm instead of just analysis and discussion. For instance, if students have no idea what cornpone is, they can look it up, make it, and taste it. Suddenly, the world of the text is a little closer and a little more relevant to the students.
Because I am so pleased with my students and the energy they put into their creative projects, I would like to share a few of them with you. Below you will find pictures and brief descriptions. Enjoy this sampling from the brilliant minds of my former students!
A characterization portrait of Daisy Buchanan from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
A physical representation of the great pearl from John Steinbeck’s The Pearl
An etching of the marlin from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea
A computer-generated graphic representing Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage
A collage of various projects: hot glue sculpture inspired by The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway), a Minecraft representation of immigrant housing from My Antonia (Cather), a watercolor painting from The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway), a pencil sketch from My Antonia (Cather), a Lego representation of “The Pit and the Pendulum” (Poe), and a dinner showcasing the doctor and Kino from The Pearl (Steinbeck)
About the Author
Jess Woods graduated from Indiana University with a degree in English Education. Upon graduating she taught in a public high school for three years before deciding to stay home with her children. Since 2013, she has been teaching middle school and high school English courses online. Jess is a life-long reader and writer. She comes alive in the company of words and music, and she has a passion for literature that reaches through every part of her being. She believes wholeheartedly that each person has a relevant voice and perspective, and she eagerly teaches her students to embrace their individual voices by exploring their own thoughts and learning to confidently articulate them. It is her desire to encourage growth in all students (regardless of their love for English courses…or lack thereof). She considers it a tremendous success if she can awaken a love of literature and/or composition in her students. Jess currently resides in Alabama with her pastor-husband, Josh. The couple has three children, two dogs, and two cats. While reading and writing are clearly on the top of her hobby list, Jess also enjoys all things musical, cooking competition shows, hiking, running, and traveling.