Character Databases

Recently on Twitter, Alice Keeler asked for activities that weren’t worksheets as part of her #worsheetlesswednesday post. I responded with the tweet below, which included some pictures of student work from my class.

Not only did Alice Keeler retweet it (insert fangirl squee here), but I received several requests for more information. This post is my attempt to explain and document what happened in my class.

First off, the character database is not my idea. I got it from Eric Curtis when he presented as part of the DitchSummit in December of 2017. He has a great explanation, including an example from the novel Wonder in his blog.

I used this idea in my literature circles. Students chose a novel from a short list and formed small groups. I gave them time in class to read and, in addition to the usual literature circle activities, each circle was responsible for creating a database of the characters in their novel. I shared the Wonder database with them and gave them some suggested categories but told them the database was theirs to build collectively.

Watching my students build the databases was fascinating, with their conversations proving to be quite rich in content. The “Holes” group came up with a category about whether or not the character was from the past or the present. At one point, one of the groups reading “The Hunger Games” got into a heated discussion about whether Effie Trinket was a primary or secondary character. They eventually decided that in this book, she was a secondary character but in later books she would take a larger role. My takeaway was that in almost 20 years of teaching, this was the most engaged I had ever seen my students in studying literature in my room.

The next step in the project was my extension to Eric Curtis’s database idea. As I also teach math to these two classes and we had just finished Data Management, having them graph the data seemed a natural next step. The Ontario Curriculum, in addition to wanting students to create databases from data they have collected, wants them to create graphs and tables from data. They are also expected to analyze graphs and draw conclusions. They had made the database from their novels, but I now wanted them to graph and analyze some of the data.

So I created “Novel by the Numbers”. I asked each student was to choose 3 categories from their data to graph. The form of the graph was up to them. Students were also asked to analyze the graphs, describing what they saw. I also asked them to theorize as to why the data looked the way it did. Finally, they had to share the graphs in some way (Google Sites, infographic, etc.). I showed the students how to make graphs using Google Sheets and stepped back.

Once again, there was rich discussion in the class, with the students asking each other’s opinions on some of the data. Some came to me to discuss their graph choices, which led to further discussion and feedback on which graph was a good choice given the data they had collected.

The final products are still coming in at this point, so I don’t have final thoughts. Overall, though, I am impressed with my students’ reaction to this project and will probably make it part of my literature circles from now on.

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