The Literary United States: Ideas for “Mapping” What Students are Reading

I stumbled across the article and visual at the end of last week, “The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State.”

Illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus

Illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus

For some quotes from the picks, check the article linked above.

So, as a lit. nerd I love this, but it also makes me wonder, “How can we make literary maps in our classrooms?”

So here are some ideas I had for mapping literary experiences individually, in groups, or as a whole class (coolest English class-created bulletin board ever?):

  • Create one just like it.  If you’re teaching American literature, this might be a really fun way to “track” what you’re reading and/or what students are reading independently.  If there are more that two works for one state you could include both or have students face-off in persuasive book-talks to sell their title as number 1!  This could grow each marking period and by marking period 4, you could be challenging students to fill in the holes and read books that take place in states not yet covered!  There could also be a general rule that for a book to be on the map, it has to be book-talked.  So you’d book-talk the whole-class books, but they can book-talk their independent reading choices. It might be kind of rad to set a goal to “Read the States” in a school year.  (I’m thinking – big empty map on a bulletin board that slowly gets filled in and/or some easily-accessible one online [google doc maybe?] that they go in and fill in.)
  • Take it to the world.  If you’re teaching world literature, you and your students could “track” what you’re reading and what they’re reading independently throughout the world (or maybe a certain country you’re focusing on that marking period/unit).  The suggestions under the first bullet fit this as well.
  • Mix location and time in Brit Lit.  I didn’t forget about the Brit Lit folks.  It might be interesting if your students/classes mapped their readings on the British Isles but maybe added a twist of history or time period.  In other words, maybe a color or font or image denotes that this book was in this time period in case there are multiple readings from similar areas.  This emphasizes, perhaps, a changing landscape of British Literature over time.
  • Bring it beyond geography. Mapping is, at its most basic state, a way to orient things and demonstrate their size, location, proximity to others, etc . . . .  So couldn’t we challenge students to map their literary experiences in any way they deem appropriate.  Of course we’d have to guide this process and scaffold it (to avoid, perhaps, a mere timeline), but I like the idea of students finding connections/patterns in what they read and determining a way to “map” it.  Maybe one student maps the themes of his books because he realized that they are all variations on a similar theme (and his theme may determine what his map looks like visually).  Tolkien created a world and gave his readers a map, why can’t our students use what they read to create a map.   The higher-level thinking skills required for this and the demand for creativity is overwhelming (in a good way).
  • Map Genres: If genre is the focus of your study or of a unit, you could have small groups of students (or individual or whole class . . . :)) map the genres they’ve studied.  Each group/person would determine a visual way to represent how the genres are connected (but what, perhaps, determines their boundary lines).  I’m still imagining this looking like a map of sorts (students will have to get creative), but with genres instead of states or rivers or countries.

If you’d be interested in doing one of the more creative maps, let me know.  I’m sure we could find some examples of “outside-the-box” maps to share with students to get those synapses firing!

And remember, any of these that require independent reading titles could be worked into a meaningful teacher’s choice assessment.

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