One of my favorite final exam questions to assign is a creative narrative assigned to sophomores who are challenged with reading World Literature. The prompt is based on an imaginary literary awards ceremony that celebrates all of the literature read during the year. I cannot claim this is an original idea; a fellow teacher, Trish, gave me the prompt several years ago when we both taught sophomores, and the results have never disappointed.
The prompt asks the student to chose any three characters from the literature read in class as candidates for “The Most Interesting Character of the Year”Award, the coveted MIC. This question is provided to the students at least one day before the exam so that students have time to select the characters and collect evidence.When the students spend a class period preparing for the exam, they are provided a 3X5 index card to write down the quotes and any other evidence they may wish to incorporate in the essay. The card is stapled onto the essay; students who do not use a card lose five points on the essay response.
The student must write a self-nomination speech in the voice of each character in which the character discusses his or her motivations; relationships with other characters; and accomplishments and/or failures. Each character must also compares/contrasts himself or herself against the other nominees. The name of the work (underlined or in quotes), the author of the work, and at least one quote from the literary work said by or about each nominee is also required. Students are cautioned that they must use MLA style for the integration and and citation of evidence.
While I hate grading a stack of final exam essays, this particular prompt always provides some interesting responses. Rarely is there a combination of characters repeated. Furthermore, although there are plenty of Macbeths, Beowulfs and Paul Bauers, there are an equal number of minor or obscure characters. For example, there have been nominating speeches from the Porter in Macbeth, the airman in Yeat’s An Irish Airman Foresees His Death; one student even wrote from the perspective of Bulleye, Bill Sykes’s dog in Oliver Twist.
There have been students who include details from the ceremony itself (“Live from Hollywood!”), decribing the location or decorations. Several students have had the nominees deliver their nomination speeches from a red carpet area, and many students choose another character, classmate, celebrity act as the evening’s emcee; others use a twist on the American Idol model. Students have included dialogue between characters during the ceremony, while other students have had characters hurl insults at each other.
For example, one student had the witches from Macbeth serving as the evening’s emcees who introduced each nominated character saying, “By the pricking of my thumbs, one more wicked than the other comes.” Another had a “fierce and reckless Grendel” prowling in the audience in order “to snatch thirty audience members from their slumber” when he was suddenly called up to the podium to deliver his own nomination. His monosyllabic charming and tearful self- nomination speech (“You like me!”) was interrupted when the band began to play, and the student wrote that Grendel once again became that “powerful monster, living down/ In the darkness, [who] growled in pain, impatient/ As day after day the music rang /Loud In that hall,” and charged off the stage with his prey. Another student had Fagin from Oliver Twist give his nomination speech performing magic and juggling tricks while the Artful Dodger led a group of pickpockets through the audience.
My favorite response came two years ago when a student nomintaed Napoleon from Animal Farm and placed him on the dias where he was heckling Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights and Jack from Lord of the Flies as each gave a self-nominating speech. Suddenly, a flash of lightning blinded the audience for several seconds, and when they had regained a view of the dias, only two nominees remained. Napoleon, like so many of Stalin’s government officials, had mysteriously vanished!
Students never have any trouble filling three full pages of content for this essay response. I grade each of the three essays holistically with special attention given to the incorporation of quotes as evidence and the motivations of each of the nominees. An “A” response would:
- Demonstrate a clear understanding of the assignment’s purpose (writes in each character’s voice)
- Evaluate relevant significant points of view (character, audience)
- Gather and integrate sufficient, credible, relevant evidence (minimum on quality quote) and cites evidence correctly (MLA)
- Use standards of English correctly (particular attention to mini-lesson topics) including spelling and capitalization (titles, character names)
Recently, we were aligning our curriculum with the 10th Grade Language Arts Common Core Standards when we came upon standard W.9-10.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences. The narrative is not a form we generally use in grade 10, so as we were puzzled if we addressed this standard at any point in our curriculum, we remembered the Most Interesting Character Award essay. We determined that this essay allows us to meet standard W.9-10.3 without designing a new lesson/assignment.
I do not require students to pick a winner for this exam question, in fact, I think it is easier for them to write with no winner in mind. No pre-determined winner allows them to write the ultimate cliff-hanger….”and the award goes to_____?”