Archives For world literature


This is the bold notice at the top of each of five blogs that the grade 10 teachers organized for teaching William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. This survival game is played in the English World Literature course at the end of the school year. The intent is to engage an entire grade level of 10th grade students in discussing a text without the limitations of the class schedule.

The game is simple: there are five teams (red, yellow, blue, green and orange) that are invited to a blog to respond to posts within a short period. Once the students are sorted onto teams (2 or three in each class period on one team), they respond to a post on their team’s blog using the comment box. Points are awarded on the percentage of team participants who respond to a blog post, and the winning team receives a 100% test grade.

The five posts on each blog are scenarios adapted from a number of similar activities I have found on the Internet. We used Blogger for our platform without much difficulty last year; this year their new interface has been glitchy, but since the game is about survival of the fittest, we have soldiered on! Each post deals with a scenario similar to the daily experiences of Ralph, Piggy, Jack and the choirboys, etc. The posts are uploaded over the course of a  two week period.

Post #1 deals with a list of 15-20 resources that were “recovered from the plane.” The post asks students to comment individually, “What do you do now?”

Post #2 poses the next complication suggesting that a giant storm seriously damaged their resources, “So, what happened to the supplies you gathered yesterday?” (ex: Bed Sheets: blew away in the storm last night; mosquito netting: large gashes/holes created by trees in the storm)
“What do you and your fellow survivors do now? What supplies do you have remaining? How are you using these remaining supplies?”

Post#3 Provides directions for shelter, fire and potable water. The post reads, “While you and some members of your group were building the shelters, digging the fire pit, and setting up the water supply; two (2) of your members decide that they are tired of working and want to go swimming instead. What do you do with the slackers in your group?”

Post #4 begins, “You wake up on the third morning to find that half of the food you had taken from the plane and gathered since is gone. Either some sort of animal has taken it, or one of your group members has taken it and hidden it for himself or herself. You start out the day suspicious of the other members of the group – and hungry!
• What sorts of rules/procedures are you going to put in place to make sure your food and water supplies do not get stolen or contaminated?
• Now that you are suspicious of your other group members, how are you going to act around them? Are you going to be able to continue to work together? What is your plan for discovering who took the food? What will you do with that person when you find him or her?”

Post #5 is the final opportunity for students to participate. The post reads, “A ship is in sight! You are going to be rescued! Now that rescue is in sight, how do you feel? What was your favorite part about being stranded? What was the worst? Compare your situation to the boys in Lord of the Flies. Who had it better? Why? If you had been stranded with the characters, what would you have done?”

This year’s comments were similar to responses from previous years with team members discussing suggestions for survival:

  • Nobody goes off exploring alone, pretty much NOBODY GOES ANYWHERE ALONE. We don’t know what’s on the island but if we stay together and work as one, unified, force; we will get off of this island alive. There’s no doubt in my mind that we WILL get off of this island. 
  • Water will be gathered by our “plastic bags” that we have laid out in a hole, held together by rocks. The water will be collected by nearby dewey grass etc. The rest of our plastic bags will be placed in a hole on top of a cup-or carved out fruit shell if cups are not available. 
  • The food has already been taken. Yes, it is maddening that one on our own team would have taken food from their own, but what can you do? I would move on, with a warning that if this ever happens again, whomever dared to steal twice will be exiled.
  • To deal with the ones that aren’t helping, we should put dead fish in their beds and then we’ll see who doesn’t wanna work then. 🙂 
  • Our slackers on the other hand will be banned from any rations of food caught by our hunters. The only way to become accepted is to find food elsewhere, and make sure (the slackers) they are able to feed the rest of the group.
  • To keep the fire going there should be a 2 person shift, and while one sleeps the other maintains the fire. The shift will be rotated i.e. 2 new people every night. 
  •  im surviving so as long as the slackers arent affecting me then they’re not my problem, if they were affecting me then id prbably end up killing them in a survival situation
  •  You never know who it could be so there’s always that feeling of suspicion while you’re near and working with the other group members
  • For the slackers, they can continue to eat the food and stay in the shelters. Karma will get em.
While Golding did not write Lord of the Flies as an adventure story that is in the same genre as Robert Louis Stevenson’s  Robinson Crusoe or Robert Zemeckis’s film Castaway with Tom Hanks, there are elements of survival that make the book appealing to 10th graders. Once they are placed on “Sophomore Island,” the Blogger platform lets them communicate their expectations as to what might happen in the unlikely event they were marooned with classmates. Not surprisingly, they often found themselves frustrated and caught in similar power struggles as those between Jack and the hunters and Ralph and Piggy. Once they are on “Sophomore Island” they discover Golding’s real reason for the novel, for the Lord of the Flies who challenges them by asking, “I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?”  Their virtual experience on “Sophomore Island” helps them understand why Ralph would weep “for the end of innocence.”

Sophomore English is centered on the study of World Literature and is organized to complement Modern World History classes taught by members of the Social Studies Department. This means, when students are taught about World War I, the English classes read All Quiet on the Western Front.

One of the goals this year for every member of the English Department is to increase the amount of reading opportunities. To meet this goal, the EnglishII classes have just completed a unit where they chose books written by world (not American) authors or books about world events. The unit ran for 18 days-11 days class periods designed with 20 minutes of silent sustained reading combined with lit circles for a total of 3 hours and 40 minutes of in-class reading time.
Students choose the book they wanted to read after researching book titles with reviews (from Amazon) promoted in a prepared folder on Livebinders. Literature circles were organized by student selection of titles; teachers made recommendations for low-level readers.

80% of the texts offered in this unit were added to the classroom library as used books. Books were purchased for $.50-$4.00 each over the period of two years through visits to thrift stores, public library sales, and online used book vendors. The remaining 20% of texts were already purchased for classroom libraries through the retail market. The most popular titles selected by the students included: A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Alchemist, Hiroshima, and The Life of Pi (titles initially purchased at retail price); Like Water for Chocolate, City of Thieves, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The God of Small Things and Ella Minnow Pea (all titles added through used book markets).

Literature activities were designed to encourage student creativity and to be simple enough so that students could complete the tasks during the period. Students were continually reminded that they need to read for homework as well as in class.
Once the literature circles were organized, students kept all group work in folders. Literature circles were not divided with assigned roles; all members of the group participated in the daily scheduled activity.

Daily activities included:

  • Members of the group developed five questions each which were shared in the group. All members chose three question from this pool and responded to them;
  • Members of the group each located a passage with figurative imagery and used that passage to create a found poem;
  • Members of the group illustrated a scene from the book as a six-panel comic strip;
  • Members of the group researched 14 facts about the text they chose, the author, and the context when the book was published;
  • Members of the group each wrote three character haikus;
  • Members of the group created one timeline of 10 events from the text and organized these on interactive software.

Once students had chosen their texts, they were given an index card to record data about their reading habits. Students recorded their progress on these cards with the following data: page # at the beginning of a reading session, page # at the conclusion of a reading session; the number of minutes for the reading session; the location of the reading session. At the conclusion of the unit, this card was used as a self-reflection exercise, and the data card attached to a sheet with the following questions:

1. According to the data you recorded on the card, how long did it take you to read this book?
2. What was your average reading rate (pages per minute)?
3. In which location did you read most frequently?
4. If you had to take a detailed multiple choice quiz or test on this book, would you have scored well? WHY or WHY NOT?
5. Who would you recommend should read this book?

As a final assessment, students completed a dialectical journal of 10 quotes (5 from the beginning of the book; 5 from the end of the book).

The unit was successful in having students engage with their texts daily; students would enter the classroom saying, “We get to read first, right?” while literature circles allowed for student centered activities. Assessments of responses collected in literature circles allowed teachers an opportunity to monitor student understanding. Several students completed their chosen text early. These students were given one page book review sheets to complete for extra credit; no other assessments were given for extra credit reading.

The goal was to increase student engagement in texts with SSR and literature circles while exposing students to author voices from around the world. This unit has proven to be flexible and teachers will schedule this unit with some changes to literature circle activities during standardized state testing and again at the end of of the school year. The 20 minutes a day also provided time for teachers to familiarize themselves with many of the texts as well. Why should students be the only ones enjoying a book? What teacher wouldn’t want a little reading time for themselves?

There are always some concessions when a film is made based on a book rather than an original screenplay. A plot may be reduced to fit a film’s running time or plot altered to “please” an audience. Of course, there are exceptions of great adaptation of books to film: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, and the 1946 version of of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. But there are also particularly heinous film versions of classic works of literature. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was released with Demi Moore as Hester Prynne in 1995, and Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome was released with Liam Neeson in the title role in 1993. Both films included scenes that damage the integrity of the original work. Film versions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein starting in 1931 have brainwashed audiences into thinking The Monster cannot speak or has a square, green or bolted head. Other films have captured the spirit of a text, but renamed characters or rearranged events to the point of confusion such as the 1993 version featuring Daniel Day-Lewis in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of Mohicans. There are students who watch these versions instead of reading, and they usually do poorly on quizzes or tests.

5.5 hours of viewing pleasure

Reduced to 2 hours of viewing

Zombies?? Not yet a movie; only a matter of time!

Students will always look for any “easy” way to complete an assignment and watching a film is certainly easy, but they cheat themselves of a wonderful reading experience. For example, there are many excellent versions of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A student can commit to the 5.5 hours of the BBC 1995 mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle or spend two hours watching the more recent 2005 film starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.Watching either film however, does not provide an appreciation for Austen’s language, her use of comic understatement. In the text, Elizabeth Bennet is confronted by her distant cousin, a Mr. Collins, who insists on proposing marriage. Despite her initial protestations, he relentlessly presses his case saying, “You may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall ever pass my lips when we are married.” At that moment, Austen slips in the most hilarious one-sentence statement: “It was absolutely necessary to interrupt him now.” How cleverly Austen chose that word absolute: (adj)  not mixed or adulterated; pure, complete; outright; (noun) something that is free from any restriction or condition. Elizabeth does interrupts him…with comic genius.

When I want to add a popular contemporary novel, I do consider about how a film adaptation will impact student understanding. Should I invest department funds in this text when there is a well-publicized film available? When I introduced The Road by Cormac MacCarthy, there was no film. Once the film was released in 2009, however, I worried if students would have the same appreciation for the text. Thankfully, they do, thanks to a very bleak film production.

The book offered for independent reading

Snow Flow film; will students watch rather than read?

This past year, I accumulated 20 used copies of Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Little Fan for my world literature curriculum. Several girls liked the story of friendship between women who have endured the Chinese custom of foot-binding, and a teachers’ book club also used the texts. The investment was $20-$30 rather than the retail cost $8.91/copy or $178.20 at Amazon. Unfortunately, the movie release is scheduled for this weekend, July 2011. I wonder the impact the film may have on my students. Will they read the book because of the film? Will they read the book despite the film? Will the film matter at all in their understanding?

Currently, classic novels are available as free downloads on the Internet (public domain), and in all likelihood, my department will not be purchasing new copies of the works of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Upton Sinclair, Charlotte Bronte, or Stephen Crane. We will rely on the secondary market to provide copies for students who do not have electronic devices or who prefer reading a paper text. Teachers are painfully aware that there are films based on adaptations on the novels of these authors, but we hope to convince students that the films are no substitute for the original work. The message of the author is best understood in the written word. Absolutely.

As I anticipated, The Westport Book Sale offered the variety of texts I need to create the “book flood” in my classrooms. After two hours of “grazing” through three tents of books, I had another 10 bags of books to add to the department’s collections for grades 7-12. A quick breakdown of titles included:

Adding to mystery unit

Grades 7 & 8: Copies of The Giver by Lois Lowrey (6) , The Schwa Was Here by Neil Shusterman (2), and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (4).  All these are core texts. I also found a copy of the London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd which is a great mystery for this age level. I am considering getting a set of 20 to add to our 8th grade mystery unit, but I would like some student feedback first.

Grade 9: The curriculum for 9th grade is centered around independent reading and choice, but there are units devoted to Greek/Roman Mythology and Anglo-Saxon legends such as King Arthur. I did find a dozen assorted copies of The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters and The Titan’s Curse all by Rick Riordan. While these books are a little below 9th grade level, they dovetail very nicely into the mythology units, and students who may have missed these books in middle school can now make connections to the gods and goddesses of ancient cultures. I also picked up a bagful (20+!) of Anthony Horowitz books: Point Blanc, Scorpia, Crocodile Tears, and Stormbreaker. Thank you to those avid Alex Rider fans!

Grade 10: Night by Elie Wiesel is a core text, as it is in most high schools, and I picked up 11 copies of this memoir. I added 14 almost new copies of Khaled Hosseini’s  The Kite Runner; we almost have 100 copies now for this core text for world literature.

A popular text for 10th grade boys

I found five copies of A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah.Many of my sophomore students, mostly boys, read this book as an independent read. When I asked them what was good about this book, several indicated the pace and action kept their interest. Perhaps the most important testimony came from a student who said the worst part of the book was, “that what happened to Ishmael was real.” Savings on this text ($7.20/paperback) alone was $31.00.

Grade 11: I found two brand new copies of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. I was pleased to see this book re-released and I am planning on adding a few more copies to the Native American unit that starts the year. To complement this non-fiction classic, I located four copies of Michael Dorris’s Yellow Raft in Blue Water, a more contemporary view on Native American life.

Adding this to Memoir class

Adding this to Memoir class

Grade 12: The Memoir class is the easiest to find books for independent reading. I found two copies of It’s all over but the Shoutin‘ by Rick Bragg which came highly recommended. I also located more copies of Alice Sebold’s Lucky which is very popular with my female students. After today, I now have enough copies (50+) of our core text of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, so other buyers will not have any more competition from me.

Will be a core Text in Journalism

I found one copy of Dave Egger’s Zeitoun which will be a core text for Journalism in 2011. This amazing story follows Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, who stays in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Eggers recounts Zeitoun’s journey through the city in acts of heroism, compassion, and tragedy in a riveting narrative. This text is always a “find” for me.

Other: I found five copies of Dava Sorbel’s Longitude, which I plan to share with some science class….not sure who will be the lucky group? The gentleman who tallied up my large order (Thank you, Dick L.?) asked if he could have the sixth copy I had found. I would have happily paid for that copy based on his service; tallying ten bags of books is serious work, but he was happy to have a copy to purchase on his own to give to his grandson. For the psychology teacher, I collected four copies of Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand, and for social studies department, I located five copies of Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis.

There was something for every reader at this book sale. The efficiency of the volunteers re-stacking the tables (always appreciated)  and those working the cashier’s tables made for a smooth event. The chairman of the sale, Mimi Greenlee, and her team of volunteers are to be credited for their efforts. Book dealer “return” bins, well-marked  sections for literary genres, and an express lane for smaller orders made the sale run efficiently. A tent full of Children’s Literature separated from the other genres this year was also appreciated; my biggest competitor here was an eleven year old girl with an armful of paperbacks, which is always a wonderful sight for a teacher.

Total cost for 10 bags of QUALITY TEXTS? $306.00 Several of these books retail for substantially more than $10.00 copy; I figure that my retail cost would have been over $3,000.00.

I felt like Julius Caesar: I came, I choose, I conquered!

The sophomore curriculum at Wamogo High School is centered on world literature (after CAPT practice, of course). I have aligned our texts to meet the Common Core standards (Reading #6: Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature)

This past April, our thematic approach was “Children Living in Conflict”. They had read Night by Elie Wiesel in conjunction with the social studies department’s unit on the Holocaust. We book-ended the unit with films opening with The Power of One and concluding with the film Hotel Rwanda. There were a series of journal responses to films and an SAT prompt (“Will the 21 Century be marked by genocides?”) as assessments. Our goal was to have students read in small lit circles. For reading during the unit, we offered a series of texts to our sophomores and provided six-eight classes of silent sustained reading.

These texts were listed on (click here).

We already owned:
The Kite Runner*-
Mr. Pip**
Nectar in a Sieve**-Markandaya
My Forbidden Face**-Latifa

PURCHASED USED (5-20 copies of each)
A Long Way Gone
A Thousand Splendid Suns– Hosseini
Falling Leaves– Mah
First They Killed My Father-Loung
Kaffir Boy-Mathebane
Say You’re One of Them- Akpan
Snow Flower and the Little Fan-See
Shanghai Girls-See
The Power of One-Courtenay
We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families-Gourevitch
What is the What-Eggers


Originally, the idea was to offer the books already in the department’s book room as independent reading. I was able to secure 5-20 copies of all other titles during the school year, so that we were able to expand the offerings by interest and by reading level.

In preparing this unit the previous year, I had planned to offer a variety of texts -particularly a variety of reading levels. My Forbidden Face is a low reading level text, but the subject matter is appropriate for 10th grade students. Persepolis allowed some students to try a graphic novel; the text is also excellent for visual learners. Both of these books are rarely available in used book locations.

The most popular texts were A Long Way Gone, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and The Kite Runner. Fortunately, these titles are very plentiful in the used book market. There are now enough Kite Runner texts to give us the option to change this unit to include a core text. I could not find enough A Thousand Splendid Suns, and several students purchased their own copies! That will be one of the targeted texts this summer!

*40 copies already in book room.
**20 copies purchased at full price for this unit July 2010