As a coming-of-age novel, Jane Eyre focuses heavily on the development of Jane's personal values. This project is an excellent way to synthesize the novel as a whole, analyzing not only how Jane develops, but which characters affect the way she sees the world. Before going into the project itself, it is worth noting that it is helpful to discuss the various characters as the book goes on, along with analyzing Jane's attitude toward gender roles, marriage, religion, and family. This project works very well after the whole novel has been read.
Choosing Groups & Characters
For this group project, students are placed into groups and assigned a character from the novel. The number of characters is dependent on how many students are in your class; I would not recommend having more than three students per group. Characters that work particularly well (since they greatly affect Jane) are Mrs. Reed, Bessie Lee, Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, Rochester, and the Rivers Sisters. Assigning heterogeneous groups with students of varied strengths is wise, since the three steps of the project focus on varying skills.
Part 1: Character Suitcase
Since Jane is traveling throughout the novel, I decided to have each group decorate a suitcase to represent their assigned character. I picked up six small, wooden craft suitcases from AC Moore, along with a pack of paint markers. After the group is assigned their character, each group member must come up with a unique symbol to represent a trait of the character. For example, if a group is assigned Helen Burns, they may place a cross on the suitcase to represent her devout religion (keep in mind that the students must explain the symbols when they present). Additionally, each student must find a quote from the novel to embody a trait of the character, which is then placed inside the suitcase. I allowed my class to brainstorm and find a quote at home, and then construct the suitcase in class.
Part 2: Written Explanation
To reinforce writing skills, students should also write a paragraph explaining how the character affects one of Jane's values. For my version of the project, I specifically focused on gender roles, marriage, religion, and family. For a group assigned Mr. Brocklehurst, a student may write a paragraph outlining how his staunch, negative view of religion pushes Jane away from having any faith at all in the beginning of the novel, and then later draws her in to Helen's view of a merciful God.
Part 3: Presentation
Once the project is complete, groups should present their findings. To enforce public speaking skills, every student should speak, and all aspects of the project should be covered. This is particularly useful to do before a final test on Jane Eyre, since students can take notes and get reminded of major plot points throughout the novel.
Some of the benefits of this project include how it caters to various creative outlets, allows the strengths of students to shine, and allows choice as far as which symbols are created and which values are focused on. Jane Eyre is a sprawling novel that can be daunting for students, however this is a great way to summarize the major events of the story.