One of the things I discovered as a high school English teacher is that many students don’t visualize what they read. When I read fiction, I see the images in my head like a movie. It is one of the joys of reading. I thought having the students draw a picture of what is being described might help them develop that capacity.
While teaching Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck with a tenth grade class, I had the students draw a picture of the first page which describes a scene by a river in the countryside on the way to a ranch. The students had to number every image on their picture. They had to include a key with a numbered list of the phrases and sentences that were the basis of the images.
The results of this lesson were both informative and at times hilarious. One of the students included a building named Hillside Bank in his picture. The phrase that went with the image was: “the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank.” Another student had a swimming pool in the middle of her picture. She got that image from the sentence “The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.”
From that time forward, whenever I taught Of Mice and Men, I began with a lesson on the multiple meanings of the words ‘bank’ and ‘pool’, but I also continued to have the students draw some scene from every work of literature we read so they could form an accurate mental picture of the setting.
For Five Blocks Down, I recommend teachers have their students draw a picture from the first two pages describing the block where the main characters spend most of their time. As a second lesson, I suggest the students write a short essay comparing their neighborhood to the one depicted in the story.