If you are looking for an engaging activity to complete with your students as you read Jason Reynolds’ verse novel Long Way Down, I’ve got the perfect thing for you: a mind map.
Having students create a mind map as you read (or listen to – the Audible read by Reynolds himself is amazing) the book is a terrific way to have your students focus on key events in the book. I have my students complete this activity as part of my Long Way Down teaching unit.
How to Mind Map
Having students create a mind map is a research-based strategy that helps students understand concepts and ideas. A mind map is a diagram created with visually-organized notes. When I have my students create mind maps, I like to provide them with tabloid-sized paper so that they have more space to add in their information. Typically, the center of the paper contains the main topic, and then there are multiple branches stemming from the center that contains additional information.
When I introduce mind mapping to my students, I encourage them to include quotes, words, illustrations, and color on their mind maps. I also show them the best and most-detailed mind maps I can find on Google images just to show students examples of what I am looking for. I also encourage students to bring in their own art supplies, but I also make it a point to supply my students with markers and colored pencils.
Mind Mapping Long Way Down
When I teach Long Way Down, I have my students create a mind map as we read. I choose to have this be an activity that they complete as we read rather than afterward so that the content of the book sticks with them.
I introduce the mind map activity to students after we start reading. The ideal time to introduce the Long Way Down mind map is once Will reaches the elevator and before reading level 7. At this point in reading the novel, I introduce the mind map and spend at least one class period having students work on it before continuing on.
When I first introduce the mind map, I explain to students that they can create it as a traditional mind map with Will in the center or that they can create it vertically to visually match the elevator that Will uses to go down to the lobby.
Mind Map Day 1
On the first day of the mind map, I have students include the following information on their paper:
- Information about Shawn
- Two cited quotes
- Three details about what has happened to Will
- One illustration that represents the start of the novel
- Continuing the Mind Map
After students create the start of the mind map, we then continue to read. I teach with 55-minute class periods, and so we read only one level a day. Some days I will have review questions for the students to respond to either as a class or individually immediately after the level. Other days, we just discuss what we read, and then students use the remaining time in class to work on their mind maps.
For each level, I have students include the following information on their mind maps:
- 1 cited quote
- Information about the person who stepped onto the elevator with Will
- Three important details
- At least one illustration that represents the level
- Completing the Mind Map
Toward the end of the novel, I usually take some time to discuss the symbolism inside the book with my students. We discuss symbols such as the gun, the middle drawer, the nighttime, the elevator, and the rules, and then I make sure that the students have incorporated these symbols onto the map as well. Usually, students have already included most of the novel’s symbols onto their mind maps, and they are pretty impressed that they captured the book’s symbolism without even knowing it.
At the end of the novel, I have my students use their mind maps as they take the final Long Way Down test.
Grading the Mind Maps
Throughout this entire process, I make sure that I emphasize that I am not assessing my students’ artistic abilities. However, I do make sure that they understand my expectations. I expect that my students will put effort into this assignment. I expect that they will incorporate color somewhere on their mind map (this helps with the effort). I also expect that they work on their mind map with each level that we read.
When I collect the mind maps, I assess them for overall completeness. I look to see that for each level, students included a cited quote, three details, an illustration, and information about the character who joined Will on the elevator. Overall, I also check the map to make sure that students included at least three of the novel’s symbols onto the mind map. Typically, I assign five points for each level, five points for the symbols, and five points for the introduction of the novel.