As a teacher, I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to engage my students. Their attention is constantly divided between school, home, and social media, and to keep them interested I try to balance the denser, more analytical work of writing essays with creative activities that both force them to think outside the box and remind them how fun learning can be. Here at Owl Eyes, we pride ourselves on providing teachers with simple tools that they can use in the classroom in any number of creative ways, whether it be to track students’ reading progress digitally or assign activities where students create original annotations for timeless classics.
To give you a sense of what Owl Eyes can really do, I’ve suggested a creative activity that appeals to students and asks them to engage with literature in a new, dynamic way.
A Reader’s Playlist
My students in Iowa were music-obsessed and had their headphones on every minute they weren’t in class. To draw them in, I had them create playlists for texts we read in class and explain why they chose the songs they did. In addition to engaging them with the text, the playlist forces them to think critically about things like character development, themes, mood, foreshadowing, and narrative arcs. Some students take a very plot-based approach, associating Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window” with the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet, for instance, while others take a character-centric approach, playing Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” for Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. My students loved creating playlists, and after we listened to them in the classroom, students were more engaged, very talkative, and liked being in class. I might’ve learned more about Kanye West than I wanted, but it was worth it.
How to Assign Playlists on Owl Eyes
So how do you assign a playlist activity on Owl Eyes? We don’t currently have the ability to add multimedia within a text (we’re working on it!), but students can still create playlists using the annotation feature. The process for assigning this is the same as with any other annotation activity.
Click on the plus sign at the top of a chapter or text. A dialog box like the one below will appear. Under assignment, select “Create annotations.” Each of these annotations will correspond with a song on the playlist. I like to assign five songs. It’s a good length. Not too long, not too short. You can assign more or less according to your preference.
Under Description, explain exactly what you want students to do. Remind them that each song should get its own annotation and that each annotation should fall within a specified word count or range. I’ve modeled this part below. Additionally, tell them to explain their choice of song and the text that inspired. (Hint: the lines that led them to pick their song should be the text they’ve highlighted to create the annotation.)
Grading and Rubrics
For this to be an effective activity, students will have to do some literary analysis in their annotations. It isn’t enough for them to say, “Romeo wants to climb in Juliet’s window!” They should think about why Romeo has had to sneak up to Juliet’s window to see her and what effect that has on their relationship. One student said, for instance, that Romeo and Juliet would’ve had a pretty normal teen relationship, had their parents not intervened. By combining literary analysis with their favorite music, my students were able to personally relate to Shakespeare’s characters, which isn’t always easy for teenagers.
Naturally, their playlists are very personal items, and we can’t grade students according to their song choices. However, we can grade them on their analyses. Typically, when I grade a playlist, I look for the following:
- An explanation of the student’s song choice and highlight placement
- At least one additional citation from the text that ties into the student’s analysis of themes, character development, literary devices, etc.
- An analysis of the song’s lyrics, including the lines most relevant to the assigned text
- Number of annotations and their individual word counts
Ideally, the songs in the playlist will build on each other, examining Macbeth’s character arc, for instance, or the theme of madness in Hamlet. This kind of activity is adaptable to teacher preference, so you can ask your students to choose songs that all speak to themes, for instance, or that all examine Shakespeare’s metaphors. It’s totally up to you.
I hope this activity will be as much of a success with your students as it was with mine. I’ll be posting other creative activities periodically as we continue to build the Owl Eyes reader community. Our team posts something new on the blog every other week, so check back soon for more teaching tips, tricks, activities, and how-to guides for all our great features. Happy reading!