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Another issue that young students can have with this novel is the great number of characters and their personalities and relationships to each other. I would have my students create a chart which includes descriptive adjectives and relationship information as well as quotes which highlight the various methods of characterization: a quote that reveals personality by what the character says, does, thinks, and what others say about that character. Austen is a master of characterization and I would ensure that the students are reading for that.
An interesting angle in this day and age of emails and text massages and phones that go everywhere, is to delve into the epistolary aspects of Pride and Prejudice. There are several letters in the plot and they can be a vehicle for exploring both early English culture and our contemporary culture. I'm particularly fond of the letter Darcy writes to Elizabeth, which reveals very much about English ideas of virtuous character traits and norms for marriage.
Another aspect of the novel to which the students, especially the female members of the class, may be able to relate is that of the "pushy" and intrusive mothers who want her daughters to date, and to those mothers who desire that their daughter marry the "right man."
All members of the class may well relate to the fierce independence of Elizabeth and Darcy, who do not compromise their principles as this desire for independence is indeed a strong yearning of all teens.
The first thing that came to mind, along with first impressions, was the issues of class. Mr. Darcy is perceived to be above Elizabeth Bennet's social class. You could have an activity where students list the different cliques in the school, and then lead a discussion where you would pose questions such as, "What would happen if a cheerleader decided she wanted to go to prom with band geek?" This would give the students a context for why other characters in the novel find it so intriguing why Mr. Darcy would be interested in Elizabeth.
I am in agreement with the above posters. Be sure to give them background information necessary to grasping the time period, situations, characters. Also, try very hard to find something they know in today's modern world which will help them understand the intensity of the situation. For instance (this is a reach), in the Twilight series, there is a love triangle, and there is a bit of social class snobbery--both the vampires and the werewolves consider themselves "above" the other and they make comments about the other smelling, etc. This might help your younger students understand the book a bit better, and it might make it more fun for them.
I think the most obvious way to create an initial link between this text and your students is through focusing on first title that Austen wanted to give this work: First Impressions. In a sense, this title is much more fitting than the title that we have today, because a key theme is the way that we judge people on our first impressions of them. I should imagine that any Grade 9 student would have ample experience of this. Encouraging them to either write a journal entry about when they have been judged on first impressions or have judged others, or getting them to debate this issue in class by thinking about how right or accurate it can be to judge on first impressions is always an excellent way to start teaching this novel.
Since year 9 mostly consists on young teenage students, the first thing you may have to do is to create an APK (activate prior knowledge) session in which you present what the story is about:
- The false adjudication of prejudice towards persons who, to the naked eye, appear to be proud.
- The quest for the acquisition of social status through marriage.
- The differences between men and women in Regency England as far as the social expectations bestowed upon each gender.
For each of these themes, ask the students to identify themselves with them by expressing whether they have ever been through a situation in which they misjudge a person based on their own prejudices against them. Explain that the main characters will be doing the same thing to each other for nearly the entire story.
After you make the connections, I suggest that you allow the students to watch a movie version of the story first. It sounds crazy but Pride and Prejudice has a lot of subtopics that students of this generation may not be able to recognize, nor connect with. I would strongly advise that you do allow this option and then continue making connections, isolating vocabulary words that are period-based, and engage the students enough that they may feel like reading the story for leisure.
Finally, when you read the story with them, have them prepare themselves to role play the characters. This will make them have to read the passage many times before reading it aloud to the class. Divide them in differentiated groups, and have fun with it!
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