Tactile Writing Prompts

Test Day: The students walk into the classroom ready for a test on the novel they have been reading. They notice an envelope on each desk. The bell rings and the teacher says they can begin the test. The first student opens her envelope and pulls out a medallion. The student holds the medallion in her hand for a moment then notices a slip of paper in the envelope that says, “Explain this symbol”.

The room is quiet for a moment and then students burst into action. Some of the students grab laptops, others grab video cameras, some pull out their phones, while others grab markers and colored paper and a few simply pull out a pen and start writing. One student asks if there is a rubric and the teacher points to a pile of papers at the front of the room. The class works furiously until the class timer rings out.  The students submit their work and proudly wear their medallions out of class.

My idea for this lesson is to use a 3D printed object as a tangible representation of the symbols in a novel. Here are three examples of a tactile writing prompt and some possible question ideas.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows/The Tale of the Three Brothers: Explain the meaning of the Deathly Hallows symbol. What are the elements of the symbol? Summarize the story of each of the brothers. What is the moral of the story of the Three Brothers? If given a choice of any of the items represented by the Deathly Hallows, which would you choose and why? (If you haven’t read the story the 3 elements are the elder wand, the resurrection stone and the invisibility cloak.)
Deathly Hallows Pendant

The Scarlet Letter: What does this symbol represent? Who wore this symbol? How does the meaning of the symbol change throughout the novel? Explain how Pearl is a symbol in the story? What symbols do your peers wear? What sort of status in society do these symbols represent?
Scarlet Letter

The Hunger Games: What is represented on the pin? Who gave the pin to Katniss? What does the pin symbolize? What does the pin mean to Katniss? What does the mean to the people of the Districts? What does the pin represent to the citizens of the capitol? Design a pin for another character in the story. Explain the meaning of the symbol that you created.

Students can be given the tactile writing prompt after demonstrating mastery of each novel. The tangible symbol will act as a badge of accomplishment separate from the grade.

The next step would be to challenge students to create symbols for a novel or for each section of the story. Students would design, make and then share a symbol and it’s meaning with the class. For the test or final exam, students could be allowed to  ‘cheat’ by having their tangible writing prompts with them. See my Sharpie to 3D Print in 30 Minutes post for an easy method to create a 3D printable object from a 2D drawing. Button makers are another easy method to create a 3D object from a 2D drawing.

The tactile writing prompt idea could be used in elementary schools to symbolize the beginning, middle and end of a story. A charm bracelet could be used to follow the sequence of a story.

Symbolism in literature is a very powerful concept. Does it matter if the students can actually hold the symbol in their hand? Does a tangible representation evoke memory or association in a different way? Does creating their own tangible symbols enrich the learning experience for the students? Share your thoughts in the comments or contact me on Twitter @DesignMakeTeach or on Facebook www.facebook.com/DesignMakeTeach

1. The Deathly Hallows pendant was created by a talented designer, Noé Ruiz. You can download the pendant at http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:87780 or buy it at http://shpws.me/nOIv
2. I designed the Scarlet Letter in Netfabb Studio thanks to the generous help of Ulf Lindhe, Business Development Manager at Netfabb. Download the design at http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:90193
3. The Mockingjay pin can be downloaded at http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:19896 .