OK, so I read TFiOS and fell in love with the book ... just as I did when I first read "Looking for Alaska."
But, this time I decided to share the book with my students. I purchased a class set and began reading the book with the students. The trouble? I am not sure how to "teach" the book. (That may seem a bit crazy since I have been teaching for 10 years, but pioneering a new text for a class of teenagers can be a daunting task.)
We read "Romeo and Juliet" earlier this year, so the whole star-crossed lovers element can be explored ... but I think that may be a bit too obvious.
I am hoping for suggestions.
I am thinking about existential questions ...
Maybe journaling in response to specific questions ...
A paper on how reading informs who we are ...
If you have ideas, please share them here.
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i think you'd want it to be an option for the paper... or just a class discussion, but i love the (slight chicken/egg) investigation of reading and character...and choice of movies/games, for that matter. is our narrator, Hazel Grace, like the narrator of an Impeial Affliction because she has read these traits so many times, or is part of the appeal of the character and book that she sees traits she's always had, reflected in it? for that matter are the ideas of minimizing eventual hurt vs other idea(s) of heroism presented a result of what they read/watch/play, or did they simply need to find their own thoughts/feelings expressed?
i'll think some more, on this and other subjects in the book, and get back to you.
one thing, before i go though, as an teacher, how strictly do you instruct and grade on matters of authorial intent and how much room do you give for student's personal interpretations? how will this play out, given what John has said on the subject?
Thanks, and in response to your questions, I never trust an interpretations of authorial intent without direct statements made by the author him/herself. I am an advocate of reader response or transactional theory which suggests that what the reader creates in his/her mind is valuable.
I appreciate John's comments on the matter and his statement prior to the start of the novel. His celebration of fiction is crucial.
Also, I do think any writer is influenced by personal experiences, but that does not mean that every single idea is intentionally created and added to a story. I think, as readers, we recognize when a writer allows a character to come alive on the page, when the character, essentially, begins to write the story. John accomplished this feat beautifully in TFiOS.
I am thinking about creating lit. circles as a way of exploring the book. By allowing the students to run discussions, they can teach me how to teach the book on some level. I want to know what is relevant to them in the 21st century. For example, The Catcher in the Rye is amazing ... but dated. By having lit. circles explore the text, hopefully new, great texts can be added to the curriculum.
Thanks again ... and I would love to read more ideas.
the lit circles is an excellent idea.
something that also might help, either way is to check out John's tfios tumblr: http://onlyifyoufinishedtfios.tumblr.com/
Hmm. What kind of class is it? (I teach comp, so my perspective might be different than if it's a mostly-lit class.)
I will say, one of my fantasy classes is a course on fiction about books that don't exist. I'm pretty sure nobody would sign up for it, but I'm kind of obsessed with books within books. TFIOS would fit well into that. But that's like an entire semester's worth of stuff, and not something I'd necessarily do with high schoolers. Although, if you've got seniors or AP students, I might have them consider that angle. Maybe have them find another example of a text (novel, movie, TV show) that uses the story-within-the-story device, and explore its narrative functions.
They could write a letter to the author of their favorite book, and then also write the reply.
You could explore the authorial intent angle. The novel is a great starting place for asking questions about who determines meaning and how, and since that's something I find students always struggle with, it could be a useful concept to explore.
This is amazing! Thank you!
What age group is your class? TFiOS also contains allusions to Catcher in the Rye and the Great Gatsby, so if your students have already read those books, that could be interesting. If you're looking for specific assignments, this would be a good opportunity for a compare-contrast essay. You could also talk about the way Shakespeare portrays teenagers with the way John portrays teenagers, and you could talk to them about which is a more realistic representation of love.
You could also talk about the future. Are we defined by who we are as teenagers? How does dying impact our worldview? How does death affect our maturity level? Hazel is kind of an "old soul"--was she always this way, or was it because of the cancer?
These are just off-the-top-of-my-head suggestions...I hope this is helpful!
First, thank you for all of your thoughts and ideas. I have two classes of sophomores working with the text. We started with a discussion based around the "star-crossed" element of the text. We taled about fate versus freewill, and the realities faced by individuals when they face a reality not related to freewill in any way, in this case, childhood cancer. We also discussed Gus's decision to carry an unlit cigarette in him mouth.
These sophomores are reluctant readers, but that does not mean they can't become voracious readers. I am hoping they will fall in love with reading after experiencing this novel.
There are so many great ideas here. I will try and use many of them. Ultimately, though, I think a personal philosophy paper may be the final essay.
Looking @ TFiOS with Romeo and Juliet, you could talk about how death informs the relationships we make (Romeo+Juliet, Hazel, Gus once he knows). You could also get the kids to think about their "bucket list". You could also have them do an interview with someone they know who has faced cancer and how it changed their outlook on life.
Also, you can talk about how Hazel has found a book that has helped her inform who she is, and if the author thinks this is a good idea and some pos/negs.
If I think of some more, I'll come back and add in case any other english teachers find this. :)
Very cool. Thanks.
I tried to brief over all of the current responses, but have you thought about having them discuss the soliloquy that Hazel has about oblivion. About the effects of one person can leave on the universe. It has been a while since I read the book and I have been slammed with projects and finals so my brain is a little foggy, but I remember reflecting on that a lot. Also about Hazel thinking she is a grenade.
Two great ideas. I love the "grenade" metaphor and the soliloquy. The kids are loving the book.