I've been teaching for a number of years, and whenever I meet other English teachers, I ask them what their favorite work of literature to teach is and why. (I always try to remember the responses and store them away in the "ideas for the future" section of my brain, since teachers in our school get moved to new grade levels pretty frequently.) What do you teach that you (and the kids) love?
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My favorite piece of literature to teach is To Kill a Mockingbird. There is a great deal of background information to discuss regarding racism and the Depression.
Harper Lee strings together (not quite with the ease of Mark Twain) a group of stories that are short and interesting:
From Jem almost getting caught because his pants get snagged on the fence, to Tim Johnson, Atticus' ability to shoot, saving the children at the end, and Boo's unlikely appearance as a hero. There is the fire at Miss Maudie's, Scout's first experience with snow, and the moving story of Mrs. Dubose.
I can't say it's my classes' favorite book, but those who stick with it usually are rewarded with the sense of having experienced a truly entertaining book.
I'm with a previous poster; I love teaching The Crucible. It's just so easy to get a reaction from students, and that always leads to good discussion and analysis. I'd also add Nightby Elie Weisel, for the same reason. Perhaps it's because both are realities of history which create intense response from readers/audience.
Richard Wright's Black Boy grabs the interest of many students as in the first chapter he sets fire to his home. There are many episodes of action and conflict with his family and within himself to which students from less fortunate homes can, indeed, relate. In one passage, Wright explains that it is from reading that he learned to express himself better so that he was able to succeed in jobs and at his writing--this is a passage that impresses upon reluctant students that reading is, as Emily Dickinson wrote, a frigate to take them out of their trapped environments.
With more advanced students, however, The Scarlet Letter is a favorite as it is, in many ways, the prototype of the American novel.
To Kill a Mockingbird and Ender's Game are the favorites among all my students. Perhaps in large part, this is due to how fun they are to read aloud and/or listen to. They are just great stories with great characters and aside from the all the fabulous lessons that come with them, they are entertaining and fun.
How many of our students have lost the idea that reading can be fun? Or worse, never had it?
Love Bless Me, Ultima too. I teach it at the 11th grade level, both AP and CP (our "regular" classes). It's lyrical, beautiful, and as brettd noted, students respond to Tony's search for his identity. I've found that while Latino students are more familiar with the cultural aspects, students from all backgrounds connect to the fundamental conflicts in the novel. Wonderful choice!
It's kind of like choosing a favorite movie for me - hard to do. If I had to pick, though, it owuld be Bless Me, Ultima. It engages my Latino students so much better than other traditional authors and novels do, and it brings up a ton of great discussion issues about Latino culture, religion, language, heritage. I've had some students say that in their whole high school career (I teach seniors) that was the only book they read cover to cover. Highly recommended.
I've always enjoyed teaching Richard Wright's Native Son. On one level, the "page-turner" quality of the novel keeps kids reading and it's exciting to seem them be successful with a longer work. But on a deeper level--and far more importantly--the novel forces them to place themselves into Bigger Thomas's shoes and consider the social injustice of racism.
I absolutely adore teaching Macbeth. I always find that the students, at first, moan and groan to the idea of Shakespeare, but by the end of the play, are extremely into the world and to the characters. They question Lady Macbeth's decisions, and they debate about the role of the supernatural, it becomes a wonderful atmosphere mixed with debate and discussion.
Wow, this is tough! I love everything I teach...or else I don't teach it! I usually teach 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, so I'll use that as an excuse to choose more than one work.
- 10th grade- To Kill a Mockingbird and Maus. TKAM is simply one of the most powerful portrayals of racism and socio-economic discrimination in American literature, and it manages to be accessible for all readers at the same time. I love to see students' reactions upon reading it for the first time, and watching that sense of social justice ignite with the unfolding of Ton's trial. Maus is one of the most unique approaches to personal/historical memoir. Weaving both visual and textual narratives together to create a multi-layered story, this comic remains one of my students' favorite experiences in sophomore English.
- 11th grade- The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald's prose is perhaps the most beautiful in the English language (except for maybe Nabakov's). The story is a simple one of unrequited love, but the depth of the characters (or lack thereof, in some cases) and the unflinching indictment of the reckless pursuit of the American Dream makes this a text I long to return to year after year.
- 12th grade- I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody. I'jaam is a contemporary classic, published in 2007. It is a fictional account of a political prisoner during Hussein's reign, which I have read with my AP Lit. classes the past 2 years. The tale that unfolds is one of oppression, freedom, and the power of language, both written and spoken. It's non-linear, as the narrator repeatedly dreams, remembers past events, and speaks of the present in rapid succession. One is never quite sure what is real, what is currently happening, and what has come before. The ending is ambiguous as well; the reader traces the narrator's mental breakdown throughout the novel, and is left only with questions as to what truly occurred. One caveat: there is some swearing in the novel, as well as a scene of rape. I wouldn't use it with any class except my senior AP Lit., and I've offered alternative assignments (although no student has requested those). While students are nearly always disturbed by the reading, most are entranced by the voice of the narrator and seek to unravel the thread of the narrative through careful reading. At just under 100 pages, it's a powerful little text.
My favorite novel to teach is probably To Kill a Mockingbird, though it is not always the most popular with the students. I've always had great success with my Edgar Allan Poe short stories and poems, and most kids do recognize the genius behind his work.
My favorite work of literature to teach is The Crucible. The students love reading it aloud and getting into character. At first, like most things they read, they seem reluctant and don't really care about the characters. But once they see how evil Abigail is, they get really mad and can't wait to see how it ends. It's just really great to see students have fun and learn at the same time!
Even though I am not a teacher, I have definitely read enough books in school that I think I could answer this from a student's perspective. For most of my high school English classes, Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Willa Cather, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were really popular and greatly enjoyed. In junior high, To Kill A Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, and The Giver were good ones as well.
One of my favorite pieces of literature to teach is Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street. At first, my students do not feel like they can relate to Esperanza, the protagonist, and they are little reluctant to read. However, after we read the first few vignettes aloud, I assign a few personal writing pieces. At this point, I read a few excerpts from Cisneros' book, and we discuss the similiarities with her point of view compared to the ones we have written. The students realize early in the book that although most of them differ from Esperanza in some ways, there are several ways they can relate to her and her wish-to have a" house of her own someday. It is also a good book to teach literary elements. The students can analyze Cisneros' use of language and discuss various literary tools. The students can then incorporate these types of elements in their own writing. I love to teach this book because Espearanza's narration is from a younger point of view, but this point of view expresses much more insight than through an adult point of view. This novel brings about excellent discussion on culture, gender, social class, and race, and it is a must for any Literature class at any academic level.
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