A number of English teachers have recently had great success with using an A to Z taxonomy to help students uncover the themes and symbols in a novel.
With Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver in English 10 the students went through the steps of creating a personal taxonomy, sharing ideas in a small group, reporting to the full class, and then composing with key words to get a start on their literary analysis essay.
To report a word for the taxonomy to the class, students used an oral speaking frame that stated: "I have a/an ____ to contribute to the "Search for Self Taxonomy" and it is _________ because Kingsolver believes ______________ about finding yourself, and this word represents _____________________."
The depth of the student reports when adding to the taxonomy were deeper than I have ever seen with the taxonomy, and many of the words that students shared were symbolic. In fact, the taxonomy finally allowed students to see symbols that they had been struggling understanding prior to the taxonomy.
The amazement with the taxonomy's success was reiterated by English 10 teacher Rachel Tholen, who reported: "The kids are creating their taxonomies. It’s amazing. It’s the best thing we’ve done with this book so far. I’m a total convert to the taxonomy."
Rachel emailed again after another successful class period, stating: "I know I’m a broken record on the taxonomy, but my sophs are finishing up our discussion on the search for self taxonomy today, and I can’t believe how well it works. It may be the perfect way to teach symbol. My second hour had some thoughtful things to say about the afghan, and how it represents comfort and safety for Codi, but also how it's woven together by Uda, and how the older women in the community weave together the relationships, past, and history of the town and the people in it."
Kristin Benson also reported that the taxonomy worked well to discuss the rebel theme in Catcher in the Rye.