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Rethinking the Classics in Secondary ELA

A sepia toned photo of a stack of antique leatherbound books, pink text at the top reads Rethinking the Classics Tips and Resources

Want to include more diverse voices in your ELA classroom, without sacrificing rigor & standards? My “Rethinking the Classics” series was made for you!

 

 

A black and white photo of a stack of old books with a white rectangular overlay with black and pink text reading Rethinking the Classics for Engagement & Inclusion

 

Do you feel stuck teaching the “dead white guys” and feel you don’t have a way out? You CAN make your curriculum more inclusive, even if your district mandates the reading lists or your budget confines you to teaching certain texts.

I’ve been working with Dr. Sheila Frye (from Teaching Literacy) on a project called “Rethinking the Classics” to help teachers find supplemental texts and curriculum updates. For each title, we identified potential Essential Questions and literary devices that you may want to explore with students. Then, for each of these, we researched supplemental texts and discussion techniques you could include to make your curriculum more diverse.

For each “classic,” we identify over 30 short stories, songs, articles, speeches, poems, and more that you could integrate into your lesson plans. These aren’t teaching units, but a curated list from which you could choose a handful to include.

Teaching the Classics: An Inclusive Approach

 

The Odyssey

Here’s my blog post on digital resources for teaching The Odyssey.

The Odyssey

Essential Questions:

—EQ: What is a hero?

—Theme: Xenia & Hospitality

—EQ: What do stories teach us about culture?

Literary Devices:

—Characterization

—Imagery

—Similes/Odes

Check out the full Rethinking the Classics: The Odyssey resource for more ideas.

 

A photo of a laptop open to a Google Doc in the background, in the foreground is a text book about The Oddyssey by Homer, and a daily planner. White text at the top of the image reads "Rethinking the Classics"

 

Shakespeare

Read this post for ways to enrich your teaching of any Shakespeare play.

Shakespeare 

Background Information:

—Critical Background for Educators

—Shakespeare’s Life & Times

—Shakespeare’s Language

Essential Questions:

—What role does family play in one’s identity?

—What is the continued relevance of Shakespeare?

Themes:

—Free Will vs. Fate/Destiny

—Appearance vs. Reality

—Deception and Betrayal

—Gender Roles

—Class Structure

Check out the full Shakespeare – For Any Play resource in my shop!

 

 

 

Romeo & Juliet

Read this post for a peek inside the resource 🙂

Essential Questions:

—What role does family play in one’s identity?

—What is the continued relevance of Shakespeare?

—To what extent is Romeo & Juliet a critique of romantic love?

Themes:

—Free Will vs. Fate/Destiny

Literary Devices/Techniques:

—Characterization

—Tension & Suspense

—Irony

Want more? Check out the full Romeo & Juliet resource.

 

Photo of a laptop in the background and a planner with pink and blue flair pins in the foreground, and a pink post it note with the handwriting "Romeo & Juliet." White text at the top of the image reads "Rethinking the Classics"

 

 

The Giver

In this post I share some supplemental ideas for The Giver, all optimized for virtual or classroom-based learning.

The Giver

Essential Questions:

—What is a utopia?

—How can societal rules help or harm us?

—How do personal choices impact a society?

Themes:

—Individualism & Collectivism

—Memory & Wisdom

—Loneliness & Grief

Literary Devices/Techniques:

—Writing Personal Narratives

— Symbolism

—Irony

—Point of View

Find even more tips inside the full Rethinking the Classics: The Giver resource.

 

A photo of a laptop with a daily planner and a copy of the book The Giver by Lois Lowry on the keyboard. White text at the top of the image reads "Rethinking the Classics"

 

 

The Outsiders

Read this post for a preview of the full resource.

The Outsiders

Essential Questions:

—How are different social classes treated by society?

—What are the implications of stereotyping others?

Themes:

—Peer Pressure vs. Independent Thought

—Hero Worship and the “Southern Gentleman” trope

—Responding to Violence with Violence

Literary Devices/Techniques:

—Types of Conflict

—Characterization

—Gold as a metaphor

—Alliteration

Dr. Frye and I expand on these topics in the full The Outsiders resource.

 

 

A laptop screen in the background and a copy of The Outisders by SE Hinton on the keyboard. White text at the top of the image reads "Rethinking the Classics"

 

 

The Great Gatsby

Check out these 4 ideas to include in your class reading of The Great Gatsby, all optimized for digital or -classroom based learning.

The Great Gatsby

Essential Questions:

—What is the historical context for The Great Gatsby?

—Is the American Dream still relevant?

Themes:

—The American Dream

—Individualism and Collectivism

—Nostalgia

Literary Devices/Techniques:

—Imagery

—Symbolism: Gatsby’s Mansion

—Symbolism: The Green Light

Find all our other ideas inside The Great Gatsby resource.

 

 

A photo of a laptop with the book The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald on the keyboard. White text at the top of the image reads "Rethinking the Classics"

 

 

To Kill a Mockingbird

My thoughts on teaching – or not teaching – To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

Essential Questions:

—How do people develop compassion and understanding?

—How can we use our privilege to help others?

Themes:

—The Ideals of Justice vs. the American System

—Integrity

—Understanding Systemic Racism

Literary Devices/Techniques:

— Symbolism

—Irony

Check out the full Rethinking the Classics: TKAM resource for more.

 

Rethinking other texts

Short Stories

Poetry

 

Final thoughts: 

 

A black and white photo of an open book, below it a pink box with the text Rethinking the Classics Tips and Resources for Inclusive Units

 

I hope this post gave you some tools and ideas for “Rethinking the Classics” with your students! Using supplemental materials like these not only make you unit more inclusive, they also make it more engaging and relevant to your students. What classic text are you most excited to “Rethink”?

Do you need supplemental ideas for a novel or play that Dr. Frye and I haven’t covered yet? Comment below or reach out to me on IG @nouvelle.ela 🙂

Happy teaching!

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