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A New ELA Go-To? 15 Ways to use La Literatura de Cordel

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Ever since I interviewed Brown Professor emeritus Eileen Landay in episode seventy-seven about arts integration, I’ve been wanting to return to one particular concept she shared, Brazil’s “Literatura de Cordel” and the many creative possibilities it provides.

It’s such a simple idea, stringing up a line across your classroom and filling it with different media. And it’s so easy to use in many different ways.

I think every classroom would benefit from a cordel, so in today’s episode, let’s talk about how the cordel was first used in Brazil and how you can use it as an effective go-to tool now.

You can listen in to this episode 174 below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

The Origins

The first Literatura de Cordel was just what it sounds like – literature on a line. Writers would bring their work to a marketplace in Brazil and hang up the pages for people to read as they wandered by. It’s taking “covers facing out” one more step to “pages facing out.”

A Quick Example from Eileen Landay

So let’s look at one way Eileen used this with kids. She was teaching a book that combined poems with portrait photography, called My People, by Gordon Parks. She photocopied the poems and faces and hung them on lines across the room, then invited kids to stand up and walk around looking until they found a paper they wanted to go deeper with. Then they came back to examine it with a partner and talk or write about what they chose.

So what?

So let’s talk about some possible classroom uses (and oh there are so many). Start by grabbing a couple of Command hooks (at least they’re my favorite way to string ribbons on the wall), some string or ribbon, and a few dozen tiny clips from a Craft store or Ikea. Once you’ve hung up your line (feel free to zig zag it across a wall, creating many lines), you’ve got a new flexible learning area in your classroom.

I’m going to share FIFTEEN ways you could use it here, and I bet you could easily come up with fifteen more.

#1 Hang Complementary Visuals you want to Change Out often: Introducing classroom rules? Have students create classroom rule memes to hang. Teaching MLA or annotation? Hang MLA or annotation posters. Doing a book tasting? Hang printed book covers. Having a cordel makes it soooo easy to keep your classroom environment acting as what the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy – which I love – calls the third teacher. Students can absorb so much from your space.

#2 Use QR Codes for Interactive learning: Want students to explore podcasts? Interactive websites? Museum sites? Audio essays? Videos? Print labeled QR codes to hang on your cordel and let them snag one that interests them to take back to their seat temporarily.

#3 Hang sentence stems or vocabulary cards: Trying to help your students explore new forms of sentence structure? Integrate better active verbs? Use more complex vocabulary? Surround them with it! Put vocabulary cards or sentence structure examples on paper and let students grab models to have at their desks while they write.

#4 Hang Poetry: This one’s not too far from the original concept, but how fun would it be to collect your favorite contemporary poems from anywhere and everywhere to hang up during a poetry unit? Or add as a complement to any enquiry-driven unit? You could have students wander the collection and choose a poem, perhaps creating a related poem or piece of artwork, then hanging their connecting piece up next to the original.

#5 Hang Mentor Texts: Oooh, there are so many ways to go with this one. Let’s imagine you’re doing an infographics unit, and one of your early assignments is to ask students to bring in the coolest infographic they can find. Instead of burying them in a folder to grade, you could hang them all across your cordel! Now, as you approach infographic research and creation, you’re surrounded by intriguing mentor texts from a huge variety of sources.

#6 Hang Galleries of Former Students’ Work: You know those folders full of amazing blackout poetry, one-pagers, hexagonal thinking webs, and papers you’ve got in your file cabinet? Pull them out and put them up! The day you’re introducing one-pagers, surround students with one-pagers of the past! The day you’re creating digital blackout poetry, hang up last year’s highlights. Then make room for your current students’ best work on the line as it starts coming in.

#7 Use it as a Digital Bookshelf: Are you short on physical classroom books? Try hanging printed book covers across your Cordel, with QR codes linking to the ebook or audiobook checkout page either on the backs or underneath the covers. Students who want to check out one of your books can grab it from the cordel and scan the QR code, then hang it back up.

#8 Use it to Highlight what’s important to Students: Giving students space to bring their own interests and dreams into the classroom is always a good thing. Early in the year you might invite students to bring in postcards from places they’ve been, photographs of them feeling happy, or quotes they love to hang on your cordel.

#9 Use it for 6 Word Memoirs: Start by hanging a single six word memoir in the middle of your cordel, Ernest Hemingway’s “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Then invite students to create their own and hang them up. From there, you could have them select another memoir from the line, using it as inspiration for a short story project. Or grab two and write a dialogue between the two characters they imagine behind the memoirs. You get the idea!

#10 Use it to Teach Sketchnotes: Are you intrigued by the sketchnotes method, and want to help your students integrate visual note-taking? Awesome! Your Cordel can be a great tool for this. Sylvia Duckworth has dozens of pages of icons students can use in their sketchnotes – hanging these up would be a great place to start. Students could borrow a page of icons anytime to help them sketchnote, then hang them back up. As students start to create sketchnotes they like, they could hang up their work for a day or two to let others see their styles. You could also print cool sketchnote examples from places like the sketchnotes hashtag on Instagram or from Mike Rohde’s (sketchnotes inventor) public collection on Flickr.

#11 Use it to Inspire Discussions: Try having your students hang the questions on their mind as you move through a unit. Then when it’s time for a discussion or a writing activity, invite them to grab a question as a starting point. You could also use your cordel to hang discussion maps, and revisit past maps as you consider how to improve your group dynamics moving forward.

#12 Hang Writing Prompts: I used to love using my postcard collection for writing prompts. I might invite students to choose a card and then ask them to set a story inside the scene on their card, or write the letter they might find on the back of it. You might hang any intriguing visuals on your Cordel to use in the same way. Postcards, Polaroids, Advertisements, Collages, Dear Abby Columns, Pieces of Blackout Poetry – simply hang what you find inspiring and then invite students to choose something to write about.

#13 Experiment with Reviews: Invite students to bring in interesting reviews of all kinds to hang on the Cordel – for books, restaurants, stores, movies, travel destinations, airlines, doctors, banks, anything! Use them to generate an anchor chart of what works well in a review and what doesn’t, then challenge students to write reviews of their own using what they’ve learned. Hang your reviews up next to the ones they found and let them read each other’s.

#14 Showcase Current Events: Use your Cordel to showcase current events or modern media related to what you’re studying. Hang QRs that link to great Ted Talks, Pulitzer-prize winning news pieces, podcast interviews, and more. Let students pull and explore QRs that interest them as part of station work, bell ringers, or early finisher tasks.

#15 Create a Group Piece: Looking for a new creative writing project? Try inviting students to bring in a visual along some theme. I’ve often seen powerful displays where students bring in a picture of “The Best Part of Me.” Try this, or invent your own theme. Let them hang the visuals and walk along, seeing what everyone brought. Then move it forward, having everyone write a piece about the visual they brought and hang it next to their original image, then walk along seeing how the visuals and writing play off each other. Take it further if you want, having students write a response based on someone else’s visual and essay and hang it next to their work, or make copies of the written pieces and let students create blackout poems from them to hang next to the original visual and writing. Or some other extension, see how many possibilities there are?

Honestly, I’d like to see a Cordel (or 5) in every classroom and a whole lot of school hallways! They’re such an easy way to bring visuals and multimedia into a lesson, and help create choice and scaffolds for many types of assignments. I hope you agree.

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!

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