The Name Jar: Using children’s literature for Drama activities that develop critical thinking skills
Meet Unhei, a young girl who has just arrived from Korea to the U.S. and the protagonist of The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. One day, a large glass jar appears on her desk. In it Unhei finds pieces of paper with various name suggestions for her to try out. Unhei’s first experiences in school leave her questioning her identity, primarily whether she should “keep” her given Korean name, or adopt one that has been suggested to her by her peers at her new school. She struggles with her decision; does she stay true to herself, as her family has always taught her to do or does she conform to the standards of her North American peers? You’ll have to read this powerful book to find out.
Though this narrative is deceptively simple in its approach to dealing with identity issues, it is truly a wonderful resource for teachers to deal with broader issues of acculturation, assimilation and difference. It’s also the story of growing friendship and the mutual respect and understanding that occurs when appreciation of others comes first.
I strongly believe that The Arts are a vehicle for social change and encourage the development of empathetic values in students. Maxine Greene says it best in the following quote:
“One of the reasons I have come to concentrate on imagination as a means through which we can assemble a coherent world is that imagination is what, above all, makes empathy possible.”
A few years ago, I had the honour of creating a workshop for teachers for Federation Day titled: CRITICAL LITERACY THROUGH DRAMA: EXPLORING ISSUES OF IDENTITY THROUGH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE. Part of the drama activities I created is outlined below. Teachers are welcome to use and adapt any part of it for personal classroom use, but I ask that anyone wishing to use it for other purposes, contact me first.
The following is a compilation of possible activities that teachers can do with students using these or other works of children’s literature. You can select a few or do them all depending on the needs of your students.
Key to the drama conventions & activities
* Context Building Action: conventions that set the scene or add information to the story as it unfolds.
Δ Narrative Action: conventions that speak to “what happens next”. Emphasis is placed on the story itself.
° Poetic Action: when language and gesture is used to convey symbols and representations. This convention increases the emotional involvement of students.
◊ Reflective Action: conventions that place “inner thinking” and reflexive demands on the learners. Learners can review and comment on actions taken in the drama.
(Adapted from Jonathon Neeland’s “Structuring Drama Work”)
Pre-read aloud and drama activities
- Warm-up: Students can first write their names on a slip of paper and then discuss the meaning of their names with a partner. Each pair introduces the other partner to the group.
- Group-building Game: Write your Name in Space – with an ear, left leg, a burning torch, an ice cube, a wriggling snake…With a partner, write your names together.
- *Objects of character: This strategy can be used to introduce students to the main character, Unhei, and to her new life in the North America. Students can try to interpret the items you show them and what they tell about the main character. It is the responsibility of the teacher to obtain these objects or get images form the internet before doing this activity. Possible “belongings” that can be incorporated:
➢ a “dojang” or Korean name stamp image
➢ Korean/ English dictionary
➢a North and South Korea map
➢ Plane tickets
➢ Letter from a friend back home (written by you)
- * Collective Drawing: In groups, students make a collective image to represent and establish the family’s motives for leaving Korea while others draw a representation of their final destination to North America. The pictures can show clues about their past and present lives.
- ° Still-Image: After Unhei and her mother share supper and a conversation, students to create a frozen image that represents an idea, or alternatively two contrasting ideas (e.g., “same/ different” or “belonging/ exclusion”).
- ◊ Writing in Role: Letters - After receiving a letter from her grandmother, Unhei (students in role) decides to write a response to her. Alternatively, students can write in role as Unhei, in a journal entry instead. This will allow students to reflect upon Unhei’s experiences.
- Δ Teacher in Role: Here the teacher and students negotiate the direction of the drama by working together to solve a problem, generating interest, challenging beliefs, and creating opportunities for students to explore. The teacher should attempt to be a facilitator or mediator of the script that is being developed. The group plays the part of Unhei, and thus it is required that they speak in role using the information that was used by the person before them. (The teacher has discovered that the Name Jar has gone missing.) Teacher in Role: …Soon Mr. Cocotos came in and Ralph shouted at him: “The name jar is gone! The jar with all the names on it!” “Gone?” Mr. Cocotos replied. With a look of concern, he asked Unhei, “Did you get a chance to read all the names?”
- ◊ Corridor of Voices: When Unhei is on the verge of making her final decision about her name change, students provide her with advice to the dilemma which she faces. In two lines, Unhei walks between a “corridor” of people offering support, warnings or quotes from the text. This strategy can occur when she returns to class and the Name Jar has gone missing.
Developed by Daniela Bascuñán
THE NAME JAR Choi, Yangsook. The Name Jar. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.) ISBN 0-375-80613