Archive | December, 2013

Adolescence and Growing Up

31 Dec

Below is a list of potential related texts for a unit on adolescence and growing up:

  1. Dead Poets Society (film, trailer here)
  2. The Breakfast Club (film)
  3. Mean Girls (film)
  4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower  by Stephen Chbosky (novel)
  5. Looking for Alaska by John Green (novel)
  6. The Fault in Our Stars  by John Green (novel)
  7. The Secret Life of Bees  by Sue Monk Kidd (novel)
  8. Billy Elliot  (film)
  9. An Abundance of Katherines  by John Green (novel)
  10. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (novel)
  11. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (novel)
  12. Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (novel)
  13. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (novel)
  14. Juno  (film)
  15. Romeo and Juliet  by William Shakespeare (or any of the numerous appropriations and adaptations)
  16. Bambi (film)
  17. The Lion King  (film)
  18. Precious (film)
  19. When I am gone‘ by Shel Silverstein (poem)
  20. Your World‘ by Georgia Douglas Johnson (poem)
  21. If –‘ by Rudyard Kipling (poem)
  22. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (television series)
  23. Gilmore Girls (television series)
  24. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (novel)
  25. Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet (novel)
  26. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (novel)
  27. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (novel).

Students should also check out Coming of Age Books, a website, for further suggestions.

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Games that do double duty

30 Dec

I am currently on the lookout for ‘getting to know you’ activities that do double duty.  By this I mean that I want the activity to help the kids introduce themselves to the class, and to be able to utilise the activity as a hook/link to the unit focus of our first module of work.

Year 9, as I have mentioned previously (here and here), is studying Animal Farm.  When studying Animal Farm, students need to understand that the animals represent historical figures.  In other words, they need to have an understanding of anthropomorphism.  One way to introduce that concept is that get students to identify and explain which animal best represents them and why.  If we share some of these responses in class, this activity will also provide us with a window into the personality of the student.

Year 7, is studying The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (see here).  This is a text which melds fact and fiction.  In order to get students to start thinking about these concepts, I was thinking of playing a game of ‘ 2 true 1 false’.  In this game, students note three pieces of information about themselves on a post-it.  Two of those pieces of information are true, one is false.   They then stick that post-it on their forehead.  Students move around the room and try figure out which pieces of information are true, and which is false.  The idea is that students try be as tricky as possible.

Where does context fit in?

29 Dec

Often, students need to access and understand historical background in order to understand the text.  This is most definitely true in relation to three of the texts that I will be teaching first term next year; The Boy in the Striped PyjamasAnimal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird.

A certain amount of contextual information needs to be tackled upfront; that is, before studying the novel itself.  The reason, of course, is that without this information students cannot properly understand setting, relationships and the messages authors may be attempting to impart.  

Often, additional information will need to be explored as it becomes relevant.  For example, in relation to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, students probably will benefit most from understanding what life was like in Auschwitz only when we begin unpacking Shmuel’s descriptions and Bruno’s misconceptions.  It is at that point that I might show them small clips of survivor testimony (like this one).

Also, it goes without saying that connections between text and context need to be frequently reinforced, even when new contextual information is not continually introduced.

Explaining and exploring allegory

27 Dec

As mentioned previously, one of my year nine classes will be studying Animal Farm as part of a unit on Allegories.   In order to help my students to understand what an allegory is, I took to the Internet.

The clip below provides a general, easy to understand definition of what an allegory is.  The pace is slow enough that students can begin to absorb an unfamiliar concept, and the clip is short enough that if we need to play it more than once we can.

This definition from Shmoop is also quite accessible.  Depending on the students, the informal/conversational style of Shmoop will either be attractive or super annoying

It would also be great to introduce students to a simpler/shorter allegorical tale before tackling Orwell’s classic.  My current thinking is to use The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan as the example.  I can’t find a good version on YouTube, so I think I will either have to film my own or have the kids sit on the floor like in kindergarten if I want them to see the pictures.

Once we have an understanding of what an allegory is, we will need to preview the book.  One way to get a sense of the narrative is by viewing a short summary such as the one below:

This clip gives students a big picture overview, introduces them to some key language and also sets the stage for a brief investigation of context.

The moral at the centre

27 Dec

My year 7 class will begin their High School English journey by studying John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

On the title page of his novel, Boyne describes his narrative as a ‘fable’; a description which implies (as noted here) that the narrative has a moral.  It is this concept which I am using to guide the focus of the unit of work.

In order to help students understand what fables and morals are, I think we will begin by looking at some short examples from Aesop’s Fables.   Each small group will be given a selection of fables.  They will read the fables and make a decision about what they think the moral of the story is and why.  Responses will then be shared with the class.  Hopefully, what will become apparent, is that people draw different things from each narrative.  I will use this to explain that such variance of opinion is what I want to explore further through the unit.

From there, I will provide students with an excerpt from one of Boyne’s interviews in which he discusses the ideas of fables and morals.  We will read, highlight important words and discuss.  In particular, we will explore the comment that the moral at the centre is “self-evident,” noting that our previous activity has taught us that each person takes something different from the text.  At this point, I will make clear that what we are looking for are personal responses backed by evidence.

New experiences

24 Dec

One of my year 9 classes next year will begin the year studying Tim Winton’s novel Lockie Leonard: Human Torpedo.  I plan to approach this text under the broad umbrella of ‘New Experiences’.  This unit focus is appropriate for a text which explores the experiences of moving to a new town, starting at a new school and falling in love for the first time.

This focus is also intended as an invitation to students; an invitation to articulate the new experiences they wish to have in a learning context, and an invitation to embrace the new experiences that will inevitably be provided by a teacher (me) who is new to the school and thus not fully briefed on how things are typically done.

Walk in someone else’s shoes

24 Dec

I have blogged previously about my ideas for a year 10 unit on To Kill a Mockingbird.  In that post (and in another), I made reference to running a unit with a focus on perspectives.  While that is still the general game plan, I have altered the unit title.   In is now ‘Walk in someone else’s shoes’ rather than simply ‘Perspectives’.   This change in language is important, not least of all because it signals a shift from seeing someone else’s perspective to seeing AND  understanding it.

Indeed, it is this combination of seeing and understanding that Atticus hints at when he issues Scout with the advice that sets the tone of the text:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

As evidenced, Scout is exhorted to “consider things from… [another person’s] point of view” (seeing) but also to “climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  It is this “climb[ing]” and “walk[ing]” that aid Scout to gain a thorough understanding of that person’s circumstances. 

Another benefit of altering the title of the unit is that it is easier to include all the ‘getting to know you’ type activities.  For example, in order to learn about my students, I will be asking each to write me a letter in which they note their feelings about English, strengths, areas in need of improvement, general interests, their family, and the things that excite them about starting year 10.  This knowledge will act as an informal indicator of their writing ability.  It will also allow me to more effectively walk in their shoes as a learner, in turn helping me to better tailor lessons to their interests and needs.

How things came to be

24 Dec

The New English Syllabus, due to be rolled out in years 7 and 9 in 2014, requires that students have opportunity to study a range of texts including those presented in different media.  Also required is that students explore texts which give insight into the Australian, and particularly the Aboriginal, experience.

One way of meeting these requirements for students in year 7 is to run a unit entitled ‘How things came to be’.  In that unit, students can explore a selection of origin stories; perhaps some of Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’ alongside some Dreamtime stories as featured on Dust Echoes.   By considering these texts together, students are able to look at written, animated, visual and multimedia texts.  They are also given insight into how origins are explained in different contexts.

Persuade a jury of your peers

23 Dec

As part of their English studies, students need to be given an opportunity to develop their persuasive writing skills.  This means that they need to be given opportunities to identify, dissect and discuss the persuasive writing of others, and then translate these skills in writing of their own.

Closing arguments in court cases are good examples of persuasive mediums.  Indeed, the intention is to persuade a jury that a person is innocent or guilty.  See, for example, the Law and Order clip below:

Things students should note in that clip include modulation of tone and speed, direct communication with the jury, familiar language, the use of props, the humanisation of the accused and the use of literary techniques (especially simile and metaphor).

Students could also examine this Boston Legal clip:

This clip demonstrates many of the key features of persuasion seen in the Law and Order clip, adding two key ingredients: raw emotion and a wonderfully evocative closing line.

Tips for writing and delivering a strong closing statement are demonstrated in this (lengthier) educative clip:

The art of persuasion in a legal context could arguably could form the basis of a unit in and of itself.  For a range of reasons, however, I will likely be required to incorporate these principles into an existing unit or work.   My current thinking is that persuasion and perspective go hand in hand, making my year 10 unit on Perspectives in To Kill a Mockingbird  a perfect place to insert this kind of discussion.   Indeed, in To Kill a Mockingbird, the strength of any one perspective is a product of how persuasively it is represented and how well it resonates with the intended audience.

Introducing allegory

22 Dec

One of my year nine classes will study George Orwell’s Animal Farm as their first novel of the school year.  The focus of the unit will be on allegory.

The unit focus will obviously need to be introduced before students tackle the text.   In order to explain how an allegory works I am considering introducing students to  The Rabbits, a picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan.  The Rabbits offers a representation of Australia’s contact history.  Students should be familiar with this aspect of our past from their History classes.  In The Rabbits, the Aboriginal people and the colonisers are anthropomorphically represented.  The result is a moving account of how the introduction of a new animal species (the colonisers) irreparably altered the lives and environment of the indigenous animals (the Aboriginal people).

Not only does using The Rabbits as an introductory text introduce students to the concept of allegory, but it also flags the significance of anthropomorphism in a text.  Importantly too, The Rabbits is an example of Australian literature, it offers insight into the Aboriginal experience, it is a picture book and flags intercultural interactions.  Accordingly, it ticks a number of the new syllabus requirements.

For additional ideas for teaching Animal Farm, see EDSITEment.