Getting kids to focus in December can be a challenge. Winter break is coming. Santa is coming. And they are bringing a million distractions: Christmas programs, benchmark tests, gift exchanges, final exams, and enough cookies to keep the kids on a sugar high from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.
Fortunately, my sophomore English unit on narrative essays fits neatly into the season without creating mountains of homework.
I start by showing A Christmas Story. If time allows, I show the entire film; if not, I just show the flagpole scene.
Before we watch the film, I do a quick review of narrative structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution), complete with a quick graphic organizer similar to this one that I sketch on the board and have the kids copy into their notes. Then I ask them to watch the film with an eye toward narrative structure.
If I’m showing the whole film, I give them a couple of extra vocabulary terms: story cycle and story arc. As they watch the film, I ask them to take notes on each story in the cycle, identifying the structure of each scene as well as the film’s larger story arc.
After we watch the film, I put the graphic organizer back on the board and ask the kids to identify the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution for the flagpole scene. I explain that in a narrative essay, they should spend a paragraph developing each component. Then we talk about devices used in humorous storytelling — incongruity, hyperbole, foreshadowing, etc. — and discuss the role of the narrator in A Christmas Story, considering what Adult Ralphie’s perspective and vocabulary add to the story as we watch it unfold.
Finally, I ask the kids to write me a narrative essay describing a funny experience they recall from their own childhood, but told using their more grown-up vocabulary and perspective. The kids usually enjoy riffing on their favorite anecdotes, and the resulting essays end up being a lot of fun to grade.
If you need a good holiday unit, I triple-dog-dare you to try this one with your kids.