When you teach Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, high school students aren't exactly sitting on the edge of their chairs. In fact, they can be downright bored and frustrated.
One of the things that makes The Scarlet Letter -- or any required novel -- a challenge for students is they don't understand the historical, cultural, and political context. But when you present this material in lecture form or through supplemental readings, they get overwhelmed and can't connect the context to the literary themes. Instead of enhancing the reading experience, the contextual information becomes baggage.
A solution for this problem is to put the students directly in charge of providing meaningful context for the novel. Modeling on a social media format like Pinterest makes the assignment easy and fun. The pin boards they create then become a great interactive learning tool.
Assign Group Work
Let students brainstorm to come up with what some of the categories are. You can steer them toward ideas like
The Salem Witch Trials.
Other famous star-crossed lovers in literature.
The life of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
When you have established enough categories, break your students into groups and assign each group one of the categories.
The assignment is for each group to create a large "pin board" made of large posters with photographs and bite-sized explanations relating to the category. For instance, if the group is working on the Salem Witch Trials, they would download images of witches as well as magistrates, instruments of torture, and executions. Direct them to glue, pin, or stick explanations and images onto their specific pin boards. They can arrange the information however they like. Encourage them to get creative and have fun!
Using the Pin Boards
Because the students don't need to have read the novel to prepare the pin boards, you should have students complete the project before you begin reading The Scarlet Letter.
That way, you have a background for the novel prepared, and because they have participated in its formation, they have a greater understanding of the material.
Moreover, the pin boards continue to have value as a learning tool. With each lecture, the cards can be moved around and placed on other boards to show how the background contexts influence specific themes in the novel.
You can be use this assignment effectively with any required reading. To challenge students even more, ask them to turn in reports on their category or to create actual Pinterest pages.
All posters in this lesson were created with the VariQuest Poster Maker 3600. Request a free sample kit to learn more about the visual learning suite!