My students, especially those who struggle with reading strategies, frequently express their frustration when the implicit or explicit meaning of a text is not immediately accessible to them. To facilitate understanding, and to assist students in developing strategies for close reading, teachers need to provide tools and methods that can be applied to a wide range of texts. Most learners are accustomed to various kinds of graphic organizers, charts, and diagrams that involve the selection and arrangement of information. Teachers of all content areas employ such tools, which can also be thought of as maps.
Text comprehension is analogous to mapmaking, in that both processes involve identifying relevant, related information, and organizing it so that relationships can be recognized. Grouping and positioning specific types of information from or about a text forces students to recognize distinct layers or elements within that text. Creating a family tree, for example, requires a reader to focus on the relationships between characters, which can then be considered on multiple levels: how do the characters feel toward one another? Between whom does conflict exist, and why? Do any characters subvert their expected familial roles? Using a diagram, or a map, to visualize the relationships between characters sets a foundation upon which these complex questions can be addressed.
This unit introduces learners to several ways that maps can be used to demonstrate connections between various kinds of information in a complex novel, Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. By practicing the methods described in this unit, students will develop skills that will allow them to envision text elements in new ways and chart their own comprehension. Once they have completed these activities, students will be able to apply their textual “cartography” skills to other texts that they encounter later on.