Currently, five topics comprise the discipline we call the “Language Arts.” Those five are reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing. Four of the five are fairly self-explanatory. It is “viewing” that is unfamiliar. “Viewing” refers to the “ability to interpret, negotiate and take meaning from information presented in the form of an image.” Photographs, paintings, lithographs, Power Points and films are just some of the items included under this topic. Regardless of the category, artifacts provide a focus that engages students as they learn and practice the 21st century skills we call the “Language Arts.”
In reading, artifacts have served as the focus of short stories and novels from the beginning. Examples are plentiful, but here are just a few: Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Jack Finney’s “Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets,” and Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. In each of these literary masterpieces, one or more objects – artifacts – is central to the storyline. If you remove the gifts from O. Henry’s narrative, there is no story. Remove the pendulum and gone is the suspense in Poe’s work. Remove the blood-stained bandage from Stephen Crane’s novella and there is nothing around which to examine the larger themes of passion, cowardliness, fear and redemption. The point is that objects have focused the narrative in outstanding literature throughout our history. Artifacts can focus your students’ narrative writing as well.
What would happen if you placed a ripped and discolored backpack in front of your students and said, “Write the story of how this backpack arrived in this classroom.” What other artifact might engage your students? A cracked iPad? A set of car keys? A chipped and battered football helmet? A worn dog collar? Two torn tickets to the Prom? What object or artifact can you think of that would engage your students in telling an interesting and compelling story?
Objects are also perfect for expository writing. If the purpose of expository writing is to “explain, inform, or describe,” what better focus to employ than an artifact? Why not pick up the first object you see in your kitchen, or on your front lawn some morning and make it the focus of your expository exercise? Why not have all of your students do the same? Place all the objects in the front of the room and have students choose one to describe, or explain the connection between two (or more)? What if you had an entire closet full of interesting artifacts from all over the world to choose from? Artifacts are perfect “starters” for expository writing, because
ARTIFACTS TEACH THE LANGUAGE ARTS