Tag Archives: Lesson idea

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.

Engaging with Literary Worlds #3

5 Jun

Below is another activity that might be helpful in developing students’ writing in Literary Worlds is to provide students with the start of a short story, asking them to write the next section (so, the climax, ending or both depending on how much writing you want them to do).  Then, provide students with the remainder of the short story, asking them to critically evaluate the two endings (theirs and that of the composer) to persuade the marker as to which offered a more engaging/evocative/impactful/resonant representation of a literary world.

Engaging with Literary Worlds #2

3 Jun

Another activity that could be helpful in developing Extension students’ writing skills for Literary Worlds is to provide them with the title of a TED Talk, and then ask then to write the TED Talk that accompanies the title.  Here, students would be given opportunities to engage critically and reflectively, while also drawing on the knowledge they have gleaned over the course of their English studies at school.

Engaging with Literary Worlds #1

1 Jun

This is the first in a series of posts exploring different ways to engage students with Literary Worlds as part of the HSC Extension 1 common module.

I would like to provide students with an extract from a text that is conceptually interesting, but perhaps has gaps in the execution or draws unconvincingly on particular genres or influences.  Then, I would like to invite students to (a) critique the composer’s creation of the literary world, recognising both strengths and weaknesses, and (b) compile a list of three short texts that the composer should read prior to completing a redrafting, reflecting upon why engagement with those texts would enhance the composer’s potential to craft a more convincing/engaging/evocative literary world in his/her own work.


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.

How do we enter literary worlds?

9 Nov

The new Extension English HSC course requires students to engage with a common module entitled ‘Literary Worlds’.   One of the questions that I think students should consider is: How do we enter literary worlds?

In order to answer this question, I think it is important for students to engage with a range of texts, exploring how their introductions in particular constitute an invitation to responders to step outside their known universe and immerse themselves in someone else’s fictional creation.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved, for example, begins with the following lines:

“124 was spiteful.  Full of baby’s venom.  The women in the house knew it and so did the children.  For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims.”

Here, the invitation is made through the information missing and the questions which, like the occupying presence, demand to be heard and answered.

Isabel Allende’s ‘And of Clay Are We Created‘, in contrast, demands our involvement through the emotive and evocative imagery:

“They discovered the girl’s head protruding from the mudpit, eyes wide open, calling soundlessly.”

I think it could be helpful to students to engage with a range of literature, unpacking how these appeals are made (in the opening lines) and strengthened as the texts continue.

I also think students could find it interesting to explore how composers transition from one world to another within a text, changing setting or emotional state.  A text that would be interesting to look at in this regard is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.  In this text, doorways are literalised as pathways into new worlds, and metaphors of birth are leveraged to communicate the significance of these transitions.

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.

How do narratives shape our world?

30 Aug

As part of the new year 11 Advanced module ‘Narratives that shape our world’ students need to explore how and why narratives matter.

When asked ‘How do narratives shape our world?’ my students flagged a number of interesting ideas:

  • Narratives offer a way of organising and understanding the complexity of human existence; structure, cause and effect, motivation and character allow us to relive and understand significant experiences.
  • Narratives offer windows into the worlds of others.  Here, narrative devices help to develop the reader’s empathy and compassion.
  • Narratives enable us to understand how universal human experiences are re-imagined across time and space.
  • Narratives prevent us from feeling alone; by being exposed to the experiences (fictional or otherwise) of others, the perception that someone is different, ‘other’, or isolated dissolves.


Re-imagining the Past

24 Jul

Yesterday I posted about the possibility of students creating a play script in which they fictionally re-imagine or extend the life of an individual whose story is explored in ‘How Far We’ve Come’.  Additional resources that could be useful include the overview of migrants’ experiences at Immigration Place and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

In a variation of the previously outlined activity, the teacher could, without telling students, provide each with a different section of the profile.  Students could then share their fictional re-imaginings, trying to find the kernel of truth that inspired each of them.  Then, with all the information provided, students could evaluate the plausibility of events represented in the play scripts.

‘How Far We’ve Come’

23 Jul

I am a big fan of SBS interactives, and love using them in the classroom.

I’ve recently been exploring ‘How Far We’ve Come‘ and am keen to use it as the basis for an extension activity.  In particular, I want to offer students the opportunity to explore the experiences described in the interactive and then create a play script that offers a fictional re-imagining or extension of the life of the chosen individual.  This activity would require students to transfer and extend the knowledge gleaned through close study of a dramatic text.