One of the struggles students have with reading literature, especially in high school, is close reading. Students often read for details of plot, or to answer simplified study guide questions, but few students take the time to focus on reading for depth, especially with themes or important questions. The Envelope Assignment is a great close reading strategy for helping students stay focused on one or more themes throughout their reading. When paired with Storyboard That, it makes sharing their information more interesting and fun, even though they’re still doing a lot of work!
The close reading envelope assignment is a great way to get students from all levels to focus on important themes, ideas, and character developments within a novel. Storyboarding the results can help take this strategy to a whole new level!
Teachers should hand out an envelope to each student that is only identified by a number (or create a Google Doc that is only accessible to you and the student). Inside the envelope, there should be index cards and a slip of paper that tells the student what his or her assigned topic is. (The topic can also be placed in a Google Doc and the student can fill in the document as they go along.) This topic will be the student’s responsibility to track and report throughout the course of the chosen novel. The student will write a quote or a summary of where the example of their topic appears, and then an explanation of how the quote or summary relates to the topic.
With Storyboard That, the students can keep track of their findings visually, too. For each topic, have students visually depict a scene of their chosen example from the novel, and underneath, explain how it relates to their topic. Have students report out to the entire class or to their groups once a week using their Storyboard That creations – the class can take notes on the different themes and important questions, and have fun looking at other students’ creativity!
I was introduced to this assignment a few years ago, before all of my students had Chromebooks. Before the Chromebooks, it made sense to give this assignment in individual envelopes and have students report on index cards. Now that my students all have access to Google Drive, I create a special folder with a Google Doc for each student and place their topic inside. Then, that student uses that Google Doc to track their topic, and I can keep an eye on their progress daily. They then use this Google Doc to create their storyboards! Students are far more interested in sharing their work that has illustrations, rather than just using index cards!
Below is a template for students to use and an example of an envelope assignment from A Thousand Splendid Suns.
As enjoyable as this novel is to read, it’s also important to become a great close reader. What is close reading, you ask? Close reading is carefully examining a passage of literature to recognize theme, conflicts, and many other literary elements. For that purpose, and to prepare you for some serious college writing skills:
Each student will be given a Google folder with one close reading topic in it; throughout the novel, copy passages into this folder with a page number and brief reasoning of how it relates to the topic.
In your Google Docs:
Your Google Docs will be checked for homework grades along the way, and your final product will count as a quiz grade.
In your Storyboard That accounts:
All storyboard presentations will be shared with the class, and it will count as a test grade. These topics will be used for various activities over the course of the novel, and you will be utilizing these to write an analytical paper on the novel at the end.
ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text
ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text
ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence