I am an independent literature tutor and have started developing units based on children's literature classics (loosely defined by me as literature written before 1960). I'm working on The Wind in the Willows now and am excited about exposing my students to its rich language and universal themes. I'm wondering if other teachers are successfully re-introducing the classics to their students. Other books I'll be working on are Strawberry Girl, Miracles on Maple Hill, The Wheel on the School, Rabbit Hill, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962). I'd like to discuss the best way to teach these novels. For many students they are a chore to read because of difficult vocabulary, complex sentence structure, and sometimes unfamiliar situations and stilted dialogue. I'm determined, however, to make these classics accessible to more than the gifted readers.
Thoughts and ideas?
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Penguin Readers, high-interest/low-vocabulary condensed versions of classic literature, make great resources for trying to teach traditional lit to lower-level students.
Earlier this year in one of my SLD classes, we used the Penguin Reader version of Jack London's "Call of the Wild." The kids got really addicted to the plot and wanted desperately to find out what was going to happen next. The reading level was kept at about a third-to-fifth grade standard, but the students were still able to learn all of the novel's elements, and many wanted to seek out the unabridged version when we were done.
If you're wanting to get kids hooked on the classics, my recommendation is definitely Penguin Readers.
Penguin books are an excellent resource. I cannot remember the name of the company, but there are some great graphic novel representations of "classic" literature. I used a graphic novel form of a Shakespeare play with my lower level groups, and they were much more receptive and capable of leaning from this than a merely a more simplified version. When our class began the whole class discussion of the literature they were able to hold their own as they felt confident in their knowledge of what they'd read.
Students can be put off classics for life by bad teaching. To help make Shakespeare come alive for younger readers, two suggestions:
- Manga Shakespeare, published by UK Self Made Hero, uses Japanese graphic novel manga-style illustration with original text, albeit edited, to tell the gripping stories of the plays. Since they are playscripts written to be performed, a graphic style works well. Included are Dream, Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Lear, Merchant, Macbeth, Tempest, Twelfth Night and 3 more history plays. See them here
For a BBC review, see
- with older students, an excellent version of Shakespeare plays called The Cut Shakespeare is published by playwright Steve Gooch; see
The text is printed in full, though in two fonts, bold and not bold. The unemboldened text can be passed over for reading or performing purposes, but it is there for reference and research.
Steve is a practicing and successful playwright, so his cuts are sensitive both to sense and to dramatic impact. He has worked on 6 comedies, 4 tragedies and two 'romances' (Tempest and Winter's Tale). All these are especially useful if you plan to perform the text as well as read it. Would you study a musical just by reading the score? In the same way, reading Shakespeare aloud or performing it makes much more sense of his work for pupils.
Manga does work. In order for me to better understand Shakespear I myself read some mangas made about it. Another idea is something we did in class; we acted out the play as we were reading it. Some kids would add acsents if they wanted. It made the whole thing amusing to learn.
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