As the new school year gets under way, I wanted to share some possible assignments that could motivate some of your reluctant readers, along with some contests for the ones who might be more motivated by cash and prizes.
I'm very familiar with kids who claim they don't read, all the while checking their text messages, their twitter feeds, their Facebook accounts, and the long letters they have been passing back and forth with the girl two rows back. What they really mean is that they don't read novels for fun. To some degree, that's acceptable; not everyone can read books just because they love the interplay of words on a page. If everyone were like that, we'd have a world full of college literature professors who couldn't clothe and feed themselves. On the other hand, we need novels to teach students certain reading skills they'll need to be successful in school, in college, in the consumption of other media, and in life in general. So, rather than forcing them to read books they hate and possibly fossilizing that hatred forever, we try to find them books that serve our academic purposes while also tapping into their own motivations.
Here's another thing I encourage you to try in your classrooms: Not only can we increase motivation by giving them high-interest books, but if we give them optional assignments in advance that appeal to their interests, they can read for the purpose of getting to the activities they already know they enjoy. And maybe, just maybe, they'll associate that pleasure with the book that made it possible.
If you have students who are artistic, one thing you can offer is an assignment to create an alternate cover for the novel. They can provide you with a written explanation of how their cover fits the book and appeals to its intended audience. This will not only demonstrate their understanding of the audience, but you can ask them to use it to show their knowledge of setting, character, plot (contextualizing the image in the story), and a host of other features that satisfy your content goals.
Similarly, you may have students who are motivated by their talent with digital video. Book trailer videos are all the rage, and our students are often far more talented with digital video than they are with written text, having grown up in a world where the means to make movies have been completely democratized. Like book covers, these videos can be used to show a host of comprehension skills.
Some students might not be particularly motivated by a chance to create visual or digital art related to a book, but they might be motivated by competition or by money. Well, do I have a deal for you! Right now, my publishing company, Not a Pipe Publishing, is hosting two competitions. One is to make a new cover for a second edition of my YA novel, Corporate high School. That contest is open to anyone and has a $100 cash prize. The other contest is for a student-made book trailer. That one is only open to high school students and they can win a $200 scholarship for college expenses. The amounts are small, it's true, but maybe they will motivate a student who wouldn't be otherwise inclined to read, and that's a win by itself. For more information on the book cover contest, including a printable flyer, go HERE. For more information about the book trailer scholarship contest, including a printable flyer, go HERE.
Another assignment I've had some success with is book reviews. I encourage my students to post them to Goodreads, Amazon, or some other review blog. That gives them a sense of audience and serves as a reminder that the last stage of the writing process is publishing, and that they are perfectly capable of being published writers and should think of themselves as such.
If this all seems too self-serving and that makes you uncomfortable, I get it. I'm uncomfortable asking, too. All these assignments work perfectly well with any other novel, too. But since there are some cash prizes associated with Corporate High School, I thought I'd let you all know.
As for the novel itself, you can purchase copies at a number of outlets via this link HERE. I'm not good at telling folks why they ought to read it, but I'll let the good folks at the National Writing Project and the Badass Teachers Association do that for me:
“Benjamin Gorman's Corporate High School is a must-read for anyone interested in joining the fight to save public education. We proudly proclaim this book as badass and spot on about the fight to save the foundation of our democracy - strong public education for all.”
-Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager
"Ben Gorman clearly knows high school students, and the importance of a free and public education for them. Corporate High School is fantastic!"
-Tanya Baker, Director of National Programs,
Lastly, if you do have students who choose to read Corporate High School and you think your class would benefit from a conversation with the author, please contact my publishing company at NotAPipePublishing@gmail.com to set up a time when I can Skype with your class or come in person!
Have a wonderful year, and thank you for all you do for kids!