Laura Gordon is an experienced senior English teacher at St Joseph’s College, Geelong. She has taught English, Drama and RE in an all boy’s environment for many years. Laura has a Masters in Children’s Literature and has managed a Professional Development Company for teachers, engaging them in innovative strategies for the classroom. She is a mother to two boys, blogger and writer.
Laura has recently begun writing teaching notes for Penguin Teachers’ Academy and today shares with us one of her many successful activities for responding to novel study. In this instance, Laura has referred to Tim Winton’s – Cloudstreet, but this activity is suitable for any novel.
Whole class dramatization – The Small Town
As a class, students will become a small town. Brainstorm the location of this small town and base it on Tim Winton’s notion that this is a place where “everyone knows each other and no one is impressed by anyone else.” The location of the town, real or fictional, will inform the type of people who have chosen to call it their home. Create a list of possible people who live in the town. Each student becomes one of these characters, writing a description of this character that Winton might write.
Have students email the descriptions and then compile these profiles for every student in the class to read. Create a conflict that the town must face, environmental, social, moral, etc. These characters have to come together for a meeting at the local hall to decide on how they will respond to this problem. Select a committee to chair the meetings and invite the public to write submissions to share with the committee on what they think the appropriate course of action might be. Students will decide on the process for how the town will decide to act. Perhaps add some unexpected twists to the debate to add some interest and complicate the problem solving.
For example, a mining company wants to access the precious reserve within their town boundary. This brings significant employment, funding and infrastructure but has enormous environmental concerns and will affect their quality of life. As the decision nears, create this twist by offering more money, or a relocation of the town with brand new houses, or an opposing company with a different proposal.
This dramatic interpretation could last one class, or could develop and require students to go away and research their area, role, history, etc. and prepare something to present at the next meeting. Allowing the students ownership over the town and the problem will enable a more authentic exploration of the characters and town.
Select from the following options and write a complete piece in any form.
• Referring to their earlier brainstorm of images and words based on a significant place, make this place come alive. It may either be purely through description, or through the eyes and experiences of a character.
• Many people find great solace and comfort in the ocean. Think of someone who has returned to a coastal place for healing. Write a reflective piece where this person considers their loss or grief and uses their closeness to the ocean to come to a conclusion.
Personal documentary of place and song
Invite students to create their own personal documentary of themselves. Ask them to use key images that represent their key values, dreams, memories and aspirations. They need to select appropriate music and add voice-overs to the images to reveal a new understanding of themselves. They don’t have to interview on camera, instead create it as a photo story with supporting sound.
Feel free to share your experiences using this activity with your classes in the comments.