I have a weakness for books and bargain shopping. My library is bursting at the seams, but if I see a box of used books for sale, I have no willpower- I have to at least take a look. Years ago, when rummaging through a box of books for sale, I found a treasure. A large, plain, hard-covered black book that was filled with the most exceptional artwork and scary short stories, titled Mostly Ghostly: Eight Tales to Chill Your Bones by Steven Zorn. It is the ultimate “don’t judge a book by its cover” lesson for my students, and it sparked an idea for a seasonal project that has grown each year.
To kick off the project with my students, I flip to the final short story: a just-spooky-enough version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. After reading this aloud, I share the outline of our project, which is a R.A.F.T. activity. R.A.F.T. stands for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic, and R.A.F.T. Strategy allows students to respond, whether to literature or a content topic, at a deeper level. (http://www.ride.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Instruction-and-Assessment-World-Class-Standards/Transition/EIA-CCSS/ScarpelliD-RAFT_toolbox.pdf )
To respond to our Sleepy Hollow read aloud, students follow these guidelines:
Role: TV reporter
Audience: The townspeople of Sleepy Hollow
Format: A news report
Topic: “What Happened to Ichabod Crane?” or “The Headless Horseman Strikes Again”
From this point forward, the students have a great deal of freedom with their ideas. In previous years, I have assigned this as an individual project. Some students worked to dramatize their project as TV reporters. I required these students to write their script– partly to check listening comprehension (and ability to reread with a purpose), and to get to know each student better as a creative writer.
As my students began writing scripts, many went all out. Instead of merely sitting behind a desk reading their news reports, they wrote scripts for news reporters “on assignment”. Some scripts included witness interviews and flying pumpkin heads with sound effects. Last year, one student painted an entire canvas backdrop and lugged it to school for her scenery. Students served not only as writers but also as casting directors and actors. The amount of creativity astounded me, perhaps because it was the first time the students had ever been given an assignment with parameters, yet with a “the sky’s the limit” attitude towards what they produced.
Students who were not interested in performing a news segment spent their time writing a newspaper article. After going through the writing process, writers emailed me their reports, which I compiled to create a “Sleepy Hollow Times” newspaper. I met with these students and we performed the final edit, changing the font to an old-fashioned script and catching any remaining errors. As a finishing touch, students transformed the final copies into old parchment paper by wrinkling and flattening the paper multiple times. We then distributed copies to class members, parents, and other third grade students.
This year, I am eliminating the newspaper option, because I am going to try to integrate some new drama techniques, combined with a new app to edit student-created skits using a green screen. Once student groups have written their scripts, they will design a background for their skit by finding a landscape image to import or by creating an original drawing. Students will record themselves performing their scripts in front of a green screen, then use the app “Green Screen” from Do Ink (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/green-screen-by-do-ink/id730091131?mt=8) to place themselves in the image they chose for each scene. Students will work as a team to edit their scenes and backgrounds, which we will then save for a viewing party.
Although R.A.F.T. writing was originally designed to integrate reading and writing to assess understanding, it can also be used as an arts R.A.F.T. Strategy. It works wonderfully as a performance assessment tool when combined with drama, specifically improvisation. After a unit on endangered species, have students play out the following R.A.F.T. activity:
Audience: General Public
Topic: The importance of saving endangered species
After working through the R.A.F.T. guidelines, modify the”audience” to elementary school students and the “format” to a Public Service Announcement. Have the students brainstorm as to how their performances would change based on these new parameters. Even if it is too difficult to play out the scenario, it could spark a great discussion on how our presentation changes depending on our audience.
I have found this to be a challenging, yet engaging activity in multiple content areas. If you are interested in more examples, check out the links below. Happy R.A.F.T.ing!
Further resources/Sample R.A.F.T. activities:
Dyan is a third grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.