Tuesday, August 1, 2006

August 2006: Elena Kamenetzky, Character Tracker


August 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month       

Meet Elena Kamenetzky, author of the August 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month.

Elena just finished her term of service with City of Lakes AmeriCorps in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is following her dream of becoming a teacher by heading to Japan to teach English through the JET program.  "City of Lakes reaffirmed for me that I want to become a teacher, and I know that this is the right path for me," Elena recently told us.

About the Strategy
Elena KamenetzkyWhen we first read Elena's strategy, one of our team members said, "I wish I had written that!"   The strategy helps students keep track of and organize character information while reading.  The practice is especially useful when reading texts with tangled relationships such as King Lear.

Though Elena is in Japan, she left a strong legacy at her service site.  Here's how Elena's supervisor, Jennifer Valley, describes her: "Elena is a fabulous tutor.  She jumped into a new high school site we started this year and flew with it!  She started a speech and debate team and the students competed across the state.  Most of the students in her group were new to the U.S. and still learning English -- so imagine the challenge in helping them research and debate topics such as Eminent Domain!"

Elena's strategy is below.  We hope her passion, creativity and smarts will benefit your students as well.

The Strategy


Created by: Elena Kamenetzky, City of Lakes AmeriCorps
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topic: Reading Comprehension
Grade Levels: Seventh - Twelfth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group
Materials: - Notebook paper
- Construction paper (small enough sheets to be slipped into a folder or notebook)
- Markers
- Optional: old magazines, scissors, glue

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Situation: My senior English students struggled to read several difficult works of literature this year.  The first was Beowulf, in which characters were almost never called by name but were always referred to as "Son of So-and-so." The second was King Lear, in which it was difficult for students to remember the tangled familial relationships of Edmund, Edgar, Cordelia, et. al. between readings.

I used this strategy to help them organize and retain basic character information between tutoring sessions, so that we wouldn't have to start all over again every day with "Who was Edgar again?"

Step 1: Have students sketch out a family tree from the book or story that they are reading on a sheet of notebook paper. Make sure that they include important main characters. If you're reading something like King Lear in which more than one family is central to the story, feel free to make separate family trees.
Step 2: Optional: Have students cut out pictures from magazines -- or print out pictures they find on the Internet -- that remind them of the characters on their family trees. For example, one of my students used pictures of Lord of the Rings characters to illustrate his family tree for Beowulf.
Step 3: Once students have a rough sketch of their family tree planned out to their liking, have them draw a nice version of the family tree with markers on a sheet of construction paper. If they are using pictures of characters to illustrate their family trees, have them cut out and glue the pictures to their family tree.
Step 4: Make sure your students keep their family trees in a safe, accessible place where they won't get lost!  Encourage your students to keep their family trees at hand whenever they read their story or book, at home or in class. Now your students can read Beowulf without having to mentally trip all over themselves every time "Son of Healfdene" is mentioned!
Step 5: Optional: You can easily adapt this strategy to make a "character tree" instead of a family tree.

Have your students draw a chart of characters in a book, then draw lines between characters describing their relationships. One line could be labeled "best friends," another line could be labeled "rivals," and of course you can include family lines as well - "cousin," "father," whatever. Use different colored markers for different types of lines, or one color for all the lines emanating from a particular character.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Elena below.

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