Tag Archives: Novel Study

‘Refugee Boy’

12 Mar

I have just finished reading Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy.

Despite some initial concerns that Refugee Boy would be simply another variation on Boy Overboard or Girl Underground, I found myself hooked from the outset.  I think my interest was stimulated by the text’s opening – a short outline of a mixed-race family’s experiences in Ethiopia, followed by an almost identical incident, this time in Eritrea.  I found this to be a very effective way of illustrating the complexities of that family’s situation and in illustrating the challenges faced during times of war.

I think this would be an interesting text to study in Years 7 or 8 in a unit with a focus on identity.  Indeed, the text deals with the tensions between self-characterisation and social identification.

It would also be worthy of inclusion in a ‘Coming of Age’ unit as it charts both the protagonist’s growing awareness of his social surrounds as well as his community’s growing awareness of the political and social landscapes in which they exist.

It would also be interesting to study this text in a unit about migration or refugee experiences, perhaps in combination with Boy OverboardGirl UndergroundThe Arrival and/or some newspaper clippings.

Pairs of text everywhere!

5 Mar

Recent updates mean that my list of paired texts now has over 100 options!

New additions include:

  • After the Storm (film)
  • A Monster Calls (novel)
  • A United Kingdom (film)
  • Boy (film)
  • Face (novel)
  • Lion (film)
  • Queen of Katwe (film)
  • Tanna (film)
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (film)
  • The Intouchables (film).

‘See, Think, Wonder and Represent’

1 Sep

I had a lot of success recently using a ‘Hear, Think, Wonder‘ routine (an adaptation of the ‘See, Think, Wonder’ Visible Thinking routine) in one of my classes.  My students really responded well to the stimulus, listening intently and engaging with the language and sounds of the poetry.

With this in mind, I am keen to test drive my latest variation to the tried and tested ‘See, Think, Wonder’ routine.  This time I will be using the routine with a junior class and adding an additional element, represent, as a fourth step in the routine.  The stimulus for this task will be the cover of a novel that students will study.

The first three steps of the routine will play out as per usual: students will list what they see, interpret these elements and note down what they think the text is about and what they think the illustrator is attempting to communicate, and write down all the questions they have.  The final step will require students to give consideration to (a) how they would represent the cover in musical form, and (b) how they would construct a collage to represent the cover of the text.  In relation to (a) students would consider and describe pace, pitch, volume, beat, instruments etc and justify their choices.  In relation to (b) students would consider the materials used with a particular emphasis on the colours and textures needed to replicate/emphasise the key meanings they draw from the cover.

I am hoping that this activity will help students to think critically about representation, providing a perfect lead in for me to discuss the interaction of language, ideas and form in their set text.

Comparing sample responses

18 Aug

I am a huge fan of deconstructing sample responses with my students in class.  I think it is really helpful for them to be able to understand and apply the criteria to a piece of writing.  Sometimes I provide my students with A-range responses and, in doing so, give them something to aim towards.  However, on other occasions I provide them with weaker responses and we work together to improve them.

Typically the samples I provide are paragraph extracts. I have observed, however, that students struggle with creating introductions that meaningfully engage with the question.  As such, I think this time I will provide my students with a selection of introductions, all responding to the same question.  One of these introductions will be A-range, and the others B, C and D-range.  Students will be required to annotate the introductions according to a provided set of a criteria and, based on their annotations, order the introductions from A to D range.


Post-it note conceptual mapping

26 Jul

I teach a number of mid to lower ability classes in which students struggle to understand nuances of the concepts and ideas that we explore as part of the English course.

To help students think critically and creatively about a topic, I want to implement a new approach to creating concept maps.  I plan to provide students with a concept and a set of post-it notes.  Working individually, students are going to write down words and phrases associated with that concept.  Then, students will work in small groups, pool their post-it notes and discuss the words and phrases they consider relevant.  They might also add additional words and phrases to the mix if required.  A class discussion will follow.  Students will then work in their groups to organise their post it notes so that the most important words/phrases or in the middle and the least important are on the margins.  In their groups they will have to discuss, agree and justify their criteria for importance.   The concept maps and reasoning behind them will then be shared with the class.

I am hoping that the ‘thinking pauses’ and discussions built in to this activity will help students to develop their reasoning skills and ability to engage critically with concepts studied.

AOS Journeys

8 Jul

A number of schools are looking to revitalise their Year 10 and Year 11 courses by introducing Areas of Studies that better prepare their students for AOS Discovery in Year 12.  A popular choice seems to be AOS Journeys.  With this in mind, I have compiled a list of texts which could be used as related material for a unit with ‘Journeys’ as the conceptual focus.  The list is not arranged in any particular order, and I will continue adding to it over time.

  1. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (novel)
  2. The Ultimate Safari by Nadine Gordimer (short story)
  3. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (novel)
  4. Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You by Hanna Jansen (biography)
  5. ‘I am an African’ by Thabo Mbeki (speech)
  6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (novel)
  7. ‘I Have a Dream’ by Martin Luther King Jnr (speech)
  8. ‘The Manhunt’ by Simon Armitage (poem)
  9. ‘Refugee Blues’ by W.H. Auden (poem)
  10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (autobiography)
  11. ‘Caged Bird’ by Maya Angelou (poem)
  12. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (novel) (or the film adaptation)
  13. September, directed by Peter Carstairs (film)
  14. Selected The Gods of Wheat Street episodes (television drama)
  15. The Secret Life of Walter Mittydirected by Ben Stiller (film)
  16. Cartography for Beginners‘ by Emily Hasler (poem)
  17. ‘Journey to the Interior’ by Margaret Atwood (poem)
  18. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (novel)
  19. ‘And of Clay We Are Created’ by Isabel Allende (short story)
  20. Cool Runnings, directed by Jon Turteltaub (film)
  21. For Colored Girls, directed by Tyler Perry (film)
  22. The Second Bakery Attack‘ by Haruki Murakami (short story)
  23. Americannah by Chimmamanda Ngozi Adichie (novel)
  24. All That I Am by Anna Funder (novel)
  25. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (novel) (or the film aedaptation)
  26. Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata (film)
  27. A Mighty Heart, directed by Michael Winterbottom (film)
  28. Girl Rising, directed by Richard E. Robbins (film)
  29. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (play)
  30. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (play)
  31. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (novel)
  32. Anzac Girls (television series)
  33. Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis (novel)
  34. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (novel)
  35. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (novel)
  36. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (novel)
  37. Meet the Patels, directed by Ravi and Geeta Patel (film)
  38. Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen (film)
  39. The Testimony, directed by Vanessa Block (documentary)
  40. The Lie‘ by T. Coraghessan Boyle (short story)
  41. Lion, directed by Garth Davis (film)
  42. A Sheltered Woman‘ by Yiyun Li (short story)
  43. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (novel)
  44. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba (memoir)
  45. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (memoir)
  46. ‘Home’ by Warsan Shire (poem)
  47. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (film or graphic novel)
  48. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (novel)
  49. Freedom Writers, directed by Richard LaGravenese (film)
  50. The African Doctor, directed by Julien Rambaldi (film)

REVIEW: ‘Anna and the Swallow Man’

8 Mar

There are a number of novels, geared towards young adults, which are written about WWII.  As such, it is tempting to dismiss Anna and the Swallow Man as yet another one these texts.  To do so, however, would be a mistake.

Anna and the Swallow Man tells the story of the relationship between the titular characters.  Anna is a young girl who has been raised by her multi-lingual father.  One day her father is called to the university at which he works.  He does not return.  Anna finds herself alone and scared.

Well, she is alone until the Swallow Man finds her sitting outside Herr Doktor Fuchsmann’s shop.  In German, he asks Anna who she is.  She cannot answer; “she knew there was a version of ‘Anna’ that the Germans used for her, but it felt somehow wrong to say to this stern authority of a man that that word was who she was.  She was, just as much, cold, and hungry, and frightened…”  The man then switches to Polish, asking for whom she is waiting.  Again, Anna cannot answer; “It occurred to her to say that she was waiting for her father, but, in point of fact, she was not so sure of the truth of this anymore…”  Now accustomed to her silence, he tries a question in Russian and, finally, one in Yiddish.  It is the question asked in Yiddish, “Are you all right?” that prompts a flood of tears, not least of all because it “was the one question that, with certainty, she knew the answer to: She was not all right.”  It is in this moment that the destinies of Anna and the Swallow Man become intertwined forever.

Fatherless, Anna follows the Swallow Man out of the city, and the two embark on a journey wherein they attempt to survive the war.  During this journey, the relationship between Swallow Man and Anna develops and changes as each adapt to the other’s company and the realities of the war.

As flagged at the start of this text, languages are significant to the story.  This is apparent not only in the ways that key characters move between languages, but in the way that Swallow Man teaches Anna the language of ‘Road’ as a means of explaining how and why to behave while seeking to survive.

I found this to be a really interesting representation of the WWII experience and would recommend that it be read alongside a range of other texts which present factual and fictional representations of this historical event.

End of Year Trivia

10 Dec

As a fun end of year activity for my junior classes, I am going to divide my students into teams and ask them to complete in a trivia style tournament.  The subject matter will be a combination of content and skills covered over the course of the year and some general knowledge.

One round will involve the reading of a number of poetic quotations, with students identifying the literary techniques used within.

Another round will involve students correctly punctuating a paragraph from a familiar text.

A third round will involve students responding to a series of rapid fire questions that test their content knowledge of texts and poems studied during the year.

If anyone has any other ideas for what I should include, please let me know!

REVIEW: Number the Stars

4 Mar

My Year 7 class is studying The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and, as part of that unit, we have been discussing the Holocaust as well as actions taken to support the genocidal intentions of the Nazis and actions/attitudes which demonstrated hope and humanity.

Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars would be a great companion text to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, offering another perspective on the ways that people demonstrate humanity and bravery during one of the darkest periods in human history.

I loved the Lowry’s novel was told with a noticeable simplicity and clarity of language.  This ‘honest’ storytelling allows readers to focus on emotions and experiences.  In turn, this helps them to better understand the text.

I would like to give my Year 7 class an extract from this text and ask them to compare narrative voice and themes with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.  I think this will help them to clarify some of the peculiarities of their set text while also gaining a broader understanding of the Holocaust.

Novel Study: A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove

5 Jan

My mainstream Year 9 class will begin the year by studying James Moloney’s A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove.

Carl, his big sister Sarah and little brother Harley have had a difficult childhood.  Their fathers did not stick around and heir mother experienced difficulty coping, often going on little ‘holidays’ to escape her life.  During their mother’s absences, Sarah, the eldest child, looked after her brother. Well, she did until their mother’s last disappearance; after a few weeks she sold the furniture, sent her brothers to live with their Aunt Beryl in Wattle Bay and set off for Europe.

The brothers had a rough start in Wattle Bay; Beryl did not really want them, Harley got into trouble, and Carl as forced to leave school and find a job.  However, after meeting the Duncans life started to look up for the brothers.

This is a novel about family, love and friendship that provides numerous points of connection to the lives and emotions of students.

The plan is to use this unit to gauge students’ knowledge levels and introduce them to different textual forms as a means of responding to texts.