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Dystopian Fiction

30 Jul

Dystopian fiction is a standard inclusion in Years 10 or 11 in most high schools.  As part of this unit, students often study works by Orwell or Bradbury, engaging with the role played by social and political landscapes pre-dating their existence in shaping the dystopias and associated warnings in the texts.  While I am a fan or Orwell and Bradbury, I have also long been on the look out for contemporary texts that could engage students and re-energerise the unit.  I recently read Friday Black, a collection of short stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, and I think I have FINALLY found the texts that I want to teach.

I would begin the unit with ‘Zimmer Land’, a short story about a theme park in which caucasian people give voice and action to their racial prejudice under the guise of achieving justice and engaging in problem solving.  Students would be tasked with researching the treatment of people of colour in contemporary America, drawing connections between the relevant context and the dystopian world represented.  To map these connections, students would be asked to create a visual representation of the issues that have been magnified/extended/hyperbolised to create the dystopian world.  Students may, for example, simply write the relevant context and values in different sized fonts to represent the varied levels of influence and significance.  A similar activity could be used with ‘The Finklestein 5’ if one wanted to start with the story instead.

It might also be interesting to have students keep a diary/log of their responses to the various dystopian texts studied.  Students could, perhaps, be invited to compare their reactions/responses to an older text (for example an extract from 1984) and a more recent one (for example, ‘Zimmer Land’).  Paving the way for a comparative essay, students could take note of which elements of the texts render them impactful.  Is it, for example, the language features?  Or, is it about immediacy?  Or is it it about narrative structure?  Students could also use a master list of features of dystopian texts to better understand and evaluate the effectiveness of a composer’s engagement with the conventions of this type of writing.


13 Jan

Animal Farm demonstrates, in part, the power of language to invite conformity and obedience.  Indeed, the animals are offered a series of commandments that are intended to guide (and later, normalise) behaviour.  I think it would be interesting to have students compare the commandments in Animal Farm (at any stage of the text) and the ten commandments of biblical fame, exploring the language to understand the linguistic power of the proclamations.  Then, as extension, students could craft their own set of commandments, perhaps ones that would be appropriate in a dystopian world of their own creation.

‘Animal Farm’ as Writing Stimulus

11 Jan

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s article entitled ‘Why Animal Farm Changed My Life‘ and was inspired by Atwood’s discussion of her perception of the gendered nature of dystopian fiction.  Using an extract of the article for stimulus, I want to invite students to reimagine and adapt Animal Farm for the modern day, offering a new perspective.  Hopefully, this will allow students to demonstrate knowledge of the conventions of dystopian fiction while also encouraging them to be creative and innovative in their own writing.

Introduction to ‘Animal Farm’

3 Jan

I am about to teach George Orwell’s Animal Farm to a class that comprises a number of disengaged students.  With this in mind, I am keen to provide opportunities for students to participate in discussion and demonstrate knowledge of the text.

I recently happened upon a slide show in which students were provided with the opening of a cartoon strip about Animal Farm and encouraged to complete the cartoon strip as a means of demonstrating their knowledge of the first chapter of the novel.  I like this activity, but would probably elect to broaden it further.  For example, I might ask students to also identify key quotes for each panel of their cartoon strip.  I might also be inclined to ask students to reflect upon the different ways language (chosen quotations) and visual cause them to receive/understand/appreciate the ideas of Animal Farm.

Reading as a gateway to empathy and solidarity

9 Oct

There is an emphasis in the new senior English syllabus on why people read and how what we read helps us to better understand the world, human experiences, and ourselves.  With this in mind, I am thinking of asking my students to read ‘How to be a good man: what I learned from a month reading the feminist classics‘.  As suggested by the title, the article explores how the reading of feminist classics can help a man to demonstrate solidarity in the era of #metoo and also begin to better understand the complexity of women’s experiences.

I think it would be an interesting activity for students to craft their own list of texts that should be read if someone wishes to better understand a particular issue, idea or group.  I would be inclined to broaden the task out, allowing students to identify (and later read) novels, short stories and poetry.  I would also be inclined to ask students to read as many texts as they can, developing a system for evaluating what they have read in order to make meaningful recommendations.

Peer into the List of Pairs

8 Aug

My list of textual pairings now offers over 210 combinations!  I have tried to craft the list so that it offers a mix between what schools might already have in the book room and texts that could be purchased to supplement existing stock.

So many pairs!

22 Jul

My list of textual pairings now exceeds 200!  I am keen for suggestions of combinations that have worked in your classrooms so that I can expand my list.

Best Books

4 Jul

I was reading Laura Randazzo‘s post entitled ‘The Best Book Ever?‘ in which she discusses America’s best-loved novels.  After reading the list included in her post, I couldn’t help but feel that there were some books which I would not have included, and others that appear to be missing.   This got me thinking: do others feel the same way?

I would like to ask this question of students in the school’s Book Club, asking them to work collaboratively to come up with a list of their top 50 books.  Perhaps, we could then work towards reviewing each of these books for the blog they are working on.  Additionally, we could use this as a way of gauging students’ interests, perhaps better tailoring our recommendations for reluctant readers.

A number of the students in Book Club are genre readers.  A spin off project could involve them compiling a list of the top 20 fantasy books, for example.  We could then combine this list with an illustration and make a collection of book marks that could be distributed to students with the next books they read in English class, thus encouraging wide reading.  In fact, students could even work on subject specific lists (sci-fi for science, books about the environment for geography etc), thus allowing other faculties to build students’ love of literature.

Representing Tasks

9 Jun

One of the modes typically assessed in the English classroom is representing.  Recent discussions regarding assessments at school have started me thinking about creative, engaging and meaningful ways to have students represent their understanding of texts and concepts set for study.  Some ideas are below:

  • Students select four small props or symbols representative of the key ideas in a text.  These are used as the focal point of a speech/tutorial presentation.  One prop selected by a student studying Othello, for example, might be a pair of reading glasses.  This could be used to flag discussion of Othello’s desire for “ocular proof” of his wife’s alleged infidelity, a punning allusion to Othello’s inability to ‘see’ Iago for who he truly is, and/or a link to how the omniscient audience ‘sees’ and understands Othello’s downfall.
  • Students create a poster advocating for the social change desired by the poets/authors whose texts have been studied during the unit.  Students then present their poster, explaining how the poster (a) responds to the texts and issues set for study, and (b) demonstrates their own commitment to the focus issue.
  • Students invent and pitch a product to represent their knowledge of persuasive devices and advertising techniques.
  • Students craft a metaphor or simile to explain and represent a concept set for study.  Then, they create a presentation explaining how that metaphor or simile can be used to explore their set text(s).

Exciting new pairings!

23 Oct

My list of suggested textual pairings now includes over 140 options!

I have tried to incorporate texts that schools may have already, pairing them with new options to renew student and teacher interest.

I have also incorporated some texts that may not be classroom staples but, in my view, should be!

If you have any additional suggestions, or have tried some of these options in your classroom, please let me know!