When I start reading a new novel with my students, I always try to look for ways to relate the novel to my students’ lives. I find that a lot of my students don’t like to read because of a few things. The first is many don’t read outside of school. As a result, many of my students struggle with reading, which is the second reason they don’t like to read. That being said, something that makes it easier for them to get into a book in school is to make sure they can see something about the novel in their own lives. I usually explore this with my students through character analysis and theme analysis.
For character analysis, graphic organizers are my best friends. As students begin to read, I have them pick out the details about each major character and record their appearance, their actions, what they say about themselves, and what other characters say about them. The characters I would have them explore the most would be Jane Eyre (obviously), Mr. Rochester, Bessie, the Reed Cousins, Helen Burns, Bertha Mason, and have them pick a couple other characters they think are important to include. By completing this graphic organizer, we can see as a class who the characters are and infer why each character behaves the way he or she does. This will allow students to understand the motives behind each character so they can understand the plot better. It will also allow students to connect to certain characters, make opinions about characters they don’t like, and connect to life. I find myself mediating students frequently about when one student doesn’t like another student or another teacher. By analyzing character, we can relate to life that there will always be people we like and people we don’t like, as there are characters we like and don’t like.
The next aspect of the novel that I think would be important to address with students is the theme of Jane trying to find herself in her world and fit in. School at the secondary level is highly social for all students. They just want to find who they are and fit in with the people around them. To connect to their own lives, I would have students analyze this theme at each step in Jane’s journey from Gateshead Hall to Lowood to Thornfield Hall. Identify what happens to Jane at each juncture in her journey and how she grows from a young girl to a young woman basically all alone. What happens around her that gives her the will to keep going since she isn’t really surrounded by the happiest of people or lives.
Lastly, a couple activities that I like to employ with reading novel are journal/letter writing as characters or writing a piece of the novel from the perspective of a character who doesn’t provide the main narration. It allows students to really understand the novel from all aspects since it forces them to look at other characters more critically. They could explore the class issues of why John, Eliza, and Georgiana are so terrible to Jane. They could pretend to be more of the more eccentric characters of Mr. Rochester or Bertha Mason.