Are there lesson plans available or does any one have any good questions that can be asked to engage high school students in great discussions about literature?
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Many lesson plans are available on eNotes for various specific literary topics. Search under the book or author you are teaching in the eNotes search tab to bring up various possibilities.
For stimulating class discussion, many teachers find it useful to require that students bring in 3-5 reading questions as part of their homework. In other words, when you assign the students their reading, rather than a traditional essay, have them write discussion questions for the class. The next day in class, call on students to read aloud their questions as starting points for discussion. Offering extra credit for the questions which stimulate the best discussions works as a good motivating tool to get really good discussions going.
It is the "great discussions" part of this question that immediately strikes me.
Personally, a lesson plan is only as good as the teacher conducting class. Great discussion, in my opinion, comes less frequently from great questions and great lessons, and more frequently from great relationships between students and teachers. Students are only going to contribute to class with the effort and interest equal to how much they care about the class. In my experience, students tend to care more about the people (teachers and other students) than they do about the material of a class discussion. It is always my goal to first foster an enviroment of safety (emotionally and otherwise) in my classroom so students are not afraid to speak up. Then, I build personal relationships with them and get to know their interests so I can tailor points of a text to things they are actually interested in and can personally relate to.
Making things personal is the best way to get "great discussion" in my opinion.
"Great discussions" also may follow from students truly identifying with characters or situations found in their reading. We all tend to become more involved when we have personally invested in viewpoints being discussed.
Some of that depends on selection of material, obviously, which is a combination of meeting requirements of your curriculum and knowing your students well enough to tailor readings to their interests and concerns. If you have the comfort level in the classroom, as mentioned above, and you present literature with which they identify (especially if they're not real pleased with the way the action in the story goes or if they have conflicts with some of the characters), the discussion will be there.
I think that the best questions for discussions are the ones where you know, as the teacher, that you have students who feel very strongly about each side of a subject. For example, when I teach Monster (Walter Dean Myers), my class has a great discussion on whether or not Steve Harmon is guilty. Some are very vehement about his innocence and others are vehement about his guilt.
Also, anything which they do not understand, sometimes, helps to make a good discussion. For example, in Jackson's The Lottery, some of my students could not possibly understand why the lottery continues. Others understand that tradition and community have such strong ties that whatever the community as a whole does is fine (and accepted).
To echo what has been previously stated, I have found that when students can relate the material and ideas to their own lives, there are some lively discussions. For example, in teaching "Lord of the Flies," students are given a writing prompt that asks them to imagine they are stranded in our high school without adults and supervision for a specified amount of time. After allowing students time to write and therefore, compose their thoughts and ideas, a discussion follows.
Another option is to ask the students how they would act if they were part of the setting. For example, for Romeo and Juliet, we have had discussions surrounding the question, "If you were friends with Juliet's parents, what advice would you give them regarding Juliet's decision to marry Romeo?" Here, the students take on the role of adults/parents, which makes for a discussion on point of view. All opinions and scenarios are accepted without judgement by students or teacher.
I think the main way to engage high school students about any subject, but literature in particular, is to offer them some relevance to their daily lives. I think students get tired of the same literature analysis questions class after class, assignment after assignment. Since most of them will not go on to become literature majors, you have to think outside the box if you want them to respond, or more importantly, to like books. Let them act out scenes using modern language, or have them debate in character, anything but write another paper about themes and settings.
I have to agree with #3 and also with #7. What is so important as a teacher is to work to create an atmosphere of mutual cooperation and support in your classroom. If you have this, you will be able to have great discussions. However, at the same time, you need to be able to help your students see the relevance of what they are discussing to their lives in order to engage their interest.
I think that any good discussion, or at least one that would be engaging to high school students, ought to focus on the fundamental questions and issues posed by a particular piee of literature. The ability of authors to engage with timeless themes is, I think, what makes a classic a classic, and the timelessness of these themes (jealousy, fate, betrayal, love, greed, etc.) is what makes them relevant to students, who can relate their experiences to those of the characters.
Some of the best discussions are based on questions that polarize the group into a few opinions. It is good idea to start with a question like this. In this way, you get people invested in the discussion and from this new discussions are generated. You might also ask students to defend a position that you give to them. In my opinion, starting the discussion is the hardest part.
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