Are you going to teach The Giver during distance learning? Great choice! Here’s how to make your novel unit even more inclusive and engaging.
Considered by many to be a modern classic, The Giver is a brilliant choice for middle-schoolers who will instantly connect with the 12-year-old protagonist, Jonas. Today I’ll be sharing some resources and tips to teach The Giver during distance learning, and also how to bring some diverse voices to the conversation.
The ideas and resources I am sharing today were all hand-picked with distance learning in mind, but you’ll find many more ideas for teaching The Giver in this full Rethinking The Giver resource.
Resources and tips to teach The Giver during distance learning:
Research real-life utopias
Many dystopian settings first appear to be a utopia, so when my 8th graders read The Giver, I have them begin by researching some real-life utopias. We talk about the concept of utopias. Then, we brainstorm what these communities might look like for each of them—what freedoms they’d want to have, or what the ideological goals of their community might be. And of course, we look at utopias that have risen and fallen over during American history.
Read more about this (and find a list of utopias to research) on my blog.
Have students examine how societal rules can help or hurt us
This article summarizes ten (well-intentioned) local laws that most cities and towns have. For example, many communities have laws against jaywalking or building codes that require a certain number of parking spaces for new housing or commercial properties. You can use this article in several ways.
To engage students in prediction, an important executive function, write “jaywalking” on the board and ask students to consider why the laws were put into place. Whom were they made to protect? Whom do they (perhaps unintentionally) disenfranchise or harm?
Have students read the article and choose one law to research further. The article provides several links to sources for each item. Students can return to those key questions (Who is protected? Who is harmed?) and discuss the value of each law. You can also ask students to re-envision the law—what would be a better way to accomplish the same goal for the community?
This activity practices the Social Justice Standard JU.6-8.12 from Teaching Tolerance. Check out the full standards here.
In groups, students identify one law designed to help the community. They identify what behavior the law encourages and whom it protects. Then, they identify an unintended consequence of the law or someone the law hurts. Students find one text (article, speech, poem, etc.) to show the “flip side” of the law. For example, consider a law stating that voting must happen in-person. Students may uncover that legislators meant for it to curtail voting fraud, but that it actually disenfranchises citizens. Because Election Day is not a holiday or on a weekend, many people who work struggle to find time to vote.
Learn about memory
Video: Memory, Explained (20:08)
This fascinating video is one episode in a series that explores how the human brain operates. This episode centers upon one essential question: How does remembering work? It will amaze students to watch memory champion Yanjaa Wintersoul (who holds three world records) in action, while learning about the subcategories of explicit memories (semantic and episodic).
Side note for teachers: At 15:30 (“Eyewitness Identification”), the video discusses a woman who misidentified the person who raped her. It does not go into detail of the incident, but you may choose to skip this part since it may trigger some students. (The “Eyewitness Identification” segment ends at 16:34).
After viewing, have students categorize the explicit memories that The Giver shares with Jonas into two categories: semantic and episodic. Then you can have students break off into small groups on Zoom to further a discourse on the implication memories have on emotions, identity, and relationships.
Let students be their own storytellers
One thing we teach alongside The Giver is personal narrative. Models of this can be so fun for students! Here are two of my favorites:
Stand-up Routine: “I Got 99 Problems… Palsy is just one” (14:01)
Actress and comedian Maysoon Zayid shares some of her experiences on the TED stage, but her talk is more like a comedy routine. We like sharing stand-up when discussing memoir because comedians draw most of their inspiration from personal experiences. You can ask students guiding questions about dialogue, characterization, and plot, just as you would when they brainstorm their own narratives.
Content warning: Zayid makes one quick quip about strippers at 3:15. You can skip this. Additionally, she says the R-word, but it is in relating something someone said about her and to her.
Video: “Green Bean Queen” by Faye Lane (5:22)
This is from the storytelling contest, The Moth. (You can find other stories on their YouTube or their website, but you’ll want to preview for content and language.) Faye Lane recounts an experience of an unexpected role in a third-grade play. Ask students to consider how Lane draws in her listener. How does she help us imagine her setting? How does she convey the inner thoughts of her younger self? What lesson did she learn?
For distance learning, have students submit a video of their performance.
I hope you found this post helpful. I know it’s challenging to teach The Giver during distance learning, but your students are so lucky to have you!
The ideas I shared today are only a small part of a larger project that I’ve been working on with Dr. Sheila Frye (from Teaching Literacy) called “Rethinking the Classics” to help teachers find supplemental texts and curriculum updates. So far, besides The Giver, we have covered Romeo & Juliet, The Odyssey, The Outsiders, The Great Gatsby, and we have many more to come.
If you don’t see the specific text you’re looking for you can reach out to me @nouvelle_ela and I’ll see if I can help 🙂