Tuesday, September 11, 2012

People are Like Vending Machines, and Other Exciting Analogies

Last week my classes began reading The Diary of Anne Frank.  Technically, Anne's diary is a nonfiction narrative, not a novel, but it's our first extended text of the year.  When I read the book this summer, I began thinking about what I wanted to focus on and how I wanted to teach the book. There's really no exciting plot line since it's just the musing of a 13-year-old girl.  However, I was struck with the character development that takes place over the course of the text. Anne goes from being an egocentric, childish young adolescent to a thoughtful, strong-willed young woman whose musings have guided thousands of readers to embrace cultural tolerance.  Having said all that, I decided that I would briefly breeze through comprehension each day and focus heavily on analyzing Anne's growth as a character and the qualities that make her relatable to my students.

In an effort to guide my students through a character analysis this week, I used a model that I learned in a grad school class last year called Synectics.  It's basically an extended comparison model.  The purpose of the Synectic is to pull students as far away from the original concept as possible before finally bringing them back to that original concept.  Thus, by the end of the lesson they are comparing the original concept, Anne Frank, to something that they never, ever would have compared her to on their own.  It's a serious exercise in critical and creative thinking, and it forces kids to struggle to find answers, which I think is an important skill, especially for kids who are used to always having the right answers.

I did this lesson with three classes, and they each found their way to three different final comparisons.  One class ended up discussing how Anne Frank is like a mechanical pencil.  Another group analyzed how Anne Frank is like a copier.  By far, the most interesting (and difficult) final comparison was explored by my 8th period class; Anne Frank is like a vending machine.

I'll admit.  I was nervous for them.  How on Earth would these kids be able to explain to me the ways that Anne Frank was like a vending machine?!  Did they even have vending machines in 1943?  We finished the lesson, and I sent them home to think about how they would explain their final comparison the next day in class.  Today, I was astounded and impressed by their connections:

Anne Frank is like a vending machine because she is full of both good and bad things.  Some things (qualities) we like about her and some we don't like.  Sometimes she's happy (good things inside) and sometimes she's angry (bad things).

Anne Frank is like a vending machine because she gets shaken up and pushed around, like when you push the vending machine around to try to get what you want.  That's how the other people in the Annex push Anne around.

Anne Frank is like a vending machine because sometimes people push her buttons, and a vending machine has buttons that you push, too.  Mrs.  Van Daan pushes Anne's buttons and makes her angry a lot.  

Anne can be both sweet and salty with her moods the way a vending machine has both sweet and salty things inside.

Have I mentioned how awesome my students are this year?  I was truly impressed by their thinking and their willingness to jump out of their comfort zone and go for it.  As I read through their answers tonight while grading, I came to the conclusion that maybe we're all a little bit like vending machines.  We're all full of thoughts, ideas, stressors, and other "stuff" that can be either good or bad for us.  Sometimes we get shaken up over something that didn't go our way, or we feel pushed around by someone in our personal or professional life.  I know I'll be the first to admit that I have both sweet and salty moods, and it is best not to be around for the salty ones.  I think the biggest way we're like vending machines is that we get out what we put in.  If we take the time to fill ourselves up with positivity, good thoughts, choices, and actions, then we'll get out of ourselves a more productive, happy life.  So this week, my wisdom from the middle is that I am, indeed, like a vending machine, and I'll only get out of myself the product of my input.  I better make sure it's for the best.


  1. Excellent post :)

    I'd love to see the lesson plan, since we're doing character analysis on The Pearl.

    As far as the vending machine analogy goes . . . my snacks seem to always get stuck against the glass . . . but I remain optimistic. :)

  2. Glenn,
    If you can get me your email address, I'll send the lesson plan your way!