Blog posts

Most of us remember the stories, fairytales, fables and anecdotes our parents, grandparents and educators told us once. Ever since, quite a few of us have changed roles and become enthusiastic story-tellers. Today, on World Storytelling Day, we celebrate the rich and colourful heritage of an intercultural art, which also marks the first blog entry of our EFL Special “Literature in the (Elementary) Classroom”

Storytelling is a cultural practice, which already existed long before Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and Caxton’s introduction of printing to the British Isles. The history of oral transmission is probably as old as language itself but remains an essential tool for the preservation of shared values and the diverse history of cultures all around the world, as well as for entertainment and educational purposes. Skillful storytelling demands the speaker to unfold the text meaningfully. To make the listeners hang on every word, the story-teller must interpret the story. When accompanied by movement, gestures, mime and music, storytelling inspires the imagination of children and grownups. Acting skills, improvisation, the effective use of intonation and audience involvement can enhance the understanding of the listeners as well. Here is a perfect example of storytelling, performed by Mara Menzies at the National Storytelling Festival 2019, organised by the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough. Festivals, such as the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, offer a great insight into the variety of different storytelling methods, traditions and techniques. 

In school, storytelling is usually found in the elementary EFL classroom but can be used in all forms of schools and at all levels of proficiency. The method (1) provides your pupils with authentic literature, (2) introduces them to new words, phrases and grammatical structures, (3) invites them to interact and imitate, (4) motivates them and (5) opens up a great variety of creative follow-up activities. Before you start telling the story, your students must be familiarised with unknown grammatical structures and new vocabulary. Choral repetition is an effective strategy that will help your pupils remember important passages. It is appropriate to include all learner types (kinesthetic, visual and auditory) when applying storytelling techniques. Therefore, you may want to use sensory stimuli to fuel their imagination by making them smell, taste, hear, see and feel the story. Also, to activate your pupils, you may want to ask questions or make them imitate aspects of the story. You might also use the technique to introduce elements of a literary text: characters, setting (time, place, atmosphere), plot, themes, conflict and point of view. To learn more about storytelling this resource by the QUA-LIS NRW or these guidelines and examples by the Landesinstitut für Schule und Medien Berlin-Brandenburg might be helpful. 

Contrary to the assumption that literature in the EFL classroom is just for pupils with advanced language skills, age-appropriate texts are available for all levels of English. Beginners usually enjoy shorter and visualised forms that rhyme, which are introduced, read and explained by the teacher. Well-chosen stories will enhance the motivation of your pupils and spice up your English teaching at school. Here is a selection of our all-time favourite children’s picture books, which are perfect for storytelling:

You will be surprised that even in times of distance-teaching storytelling techniques remain effective tools for language teachers e.g. by using videoconferencing systems or taped readings. There are quite some stories that are waiting to be told by you.

Stay safe everyone!

Simon


If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”― Oscar Wilde

What do Lit4School and St. Patrick’s Day have in common? Well, both celebrate the rich cultural heritage of classic and contemporary Irish literature. Named after St. Patrick, who probably was not the first but the most popular Christian missionary, bishop and patron of Ireland during the fifth century. The feast day was found in the 17th century and remains a cultural and religious celebration in the Republic of Ireland e.g. in Dublin, Northern Ireland and the Irish diaspora until the present day. On March 17th, the death day of St. Patrick, public parades, festivals, traditional Irish music sessions (céilí) and church services are held. The green shamrock represents St. Patrick and the Christian holy trinity while the four-leaf clover traditionally symbolises luck. However, the festivities were also criticised for supporting Irish stereotypesexcluding LGBT groups and becoming over commercialised in recent years. 

On Lit4School, we do feature quite a variety of Irish authors – from more classical ones such as Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Seamus Heany  to more recent examples such as Anne DevlinJohn BoyneSarah Crossan… If you are looking for Irish Poetry, this beautifully illustrated collection of poetry for children and young adults is worth taking a look into. Do you like to learn more about Irish children’s literature? Well, we invite you to take a look at CBI – Children’s Books Ireland. CBI is the national arts and charity organisation of Ireland’s children’s literature and therefore offers great connections to Irish writers, illustrators and publishers. Check CBI’s literature recommendations for poetry, sport, emotional well-being and many more on their reading lists. Lastly, we would like to recommend a very remarkable Irish, who did the beautiful illustrations for a recent copy of “A Christmas Carol”. P.J. Lynch provides his readers with detailed pictures that convey a realistic view and an emotional message simultaneously. His pictures invite young and advanced readers equally to discover details and speak about the story, which contributes to the promotion of reading, especially for children. Check P.J. Lynch’s website if you want to learn more about him, his works and projects.

May you have all the happiness and luck that life can hold and at the end of your rainbows may you find your pot of gold or a beautiful piece of Irish literature.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day – Top o’ the mornin’ to ya all!

Melanie & Simon


Just for Fun!

English · 16 March 2021

A book doesn’t always have to have academic value to be worth reading. I’ve compiled some of my favourite novels, movies and shows to read or watch outside of the classroom – just for fun!

Novels:

  • In case you loved The Hunger Games, you should take a look at the recently published prequel! A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes tells the story of soon to be villain Coriolanus Snow and his rise to power.
  • If you enjoy morally grey characters, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo has a lot to offer. This novel tells the same story from multiple perspectives. Set in a fantasy world reminiscent of Amsterdam, five outsiders set out on a journey to stop the spread of a drug lethal to humans and addictive to Grisha, people with magical abilities.
  • Moving from fantasy to science fiction, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is the first novel in a trilogy all about aliens, conspiracies and survival. Each wave comes in a different form of attack, from power outages and tsunamis to lethal viruses. The story follows 16-year-old Cassie’s fight for survival after a devastating loss.
  • The award-winning Flavia de Luce Mystery Series by Alan Bradley has captured the attention of teens and adults worldwide. The novels follow 11-year-old Flavia, a budding chemist, who finds herself solving one murder mystery after another. For an introduction to the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the way to go.

Movies:

  • Mean Girls is seen as one of the most iconic comedies about “the high school experience”. The film covers everything from cliques and popularity to manipulation and self-image. 16-year-old Cady has never attended a public school. So when she enters high school, she feels like fresh meat being thrown to the wolves. Although she finds friends quickly, she gets wrapped up in the Mean Girls clique. Before she knows it, Cady finds herself in the middle of a convoluted plan to take down the queen bee, Regina George. And as much as she hates Regina George, Cady’s actions seem more and more in line with what a mean girl would do.
  • Mrs Doubtfire is an example of a comedy that hasn’t aged and is still relevant today. The film shows the life of a family following a hard divorce, after which the mother, Miranda, is granted sole custody. Unable to cope with the absence of his children, the father, Daniel, decides to pose as a nanny to be close to them. And so “Mrs. Doubtfire” is born.
  • The award-winning film The Devil Wears Prada features multiple famous actors and is definitely not just for fashion lovers. Andy is an aspiring journalist who hasn’t found the right job yet. Although she has no interest in fashion, she applies at “Runway Fashion Magazine” and intrigues chief editor Miranda Priestley enough to land the job as a junior assistant. Miranda’s ridiculous demands and expectations start to destroy Andy’s social life, but spark her ambition and, unexpectedly, her love for fashion.

TV Shows:

  • The 100 is a post-apocalyptic science fiction show with a straightforward concept. Following earth’s destruction via atomic bombs, humans fled to space to wait for the radiation levels to be survivable. The rules on board the Ark are tough, any adult who breaks them is sentenced to death and “floated” into space. But when their space ship starts running out of oxygen, the leaders send 100 teen delinquents to the ground as a last resort before mass population reduction. They thought the teenagers’ main struggle would be surviving radiation, but no one could foresee what (or who) was in store for them. The show features 7 seasons, specializing in morally grey characters and impossible situations. When does someone stop being the good guy? How far can one go before they are no longer worthy of redemption?
  • Staying in the realm of science fiction TV shows, Westworld also provokes analyzing and pondering. Set around 40 years into the future, amusement parks are all the rage. However, these aren’t ordinary amusement parks. Robots have been perfected to the point of being indistinguishable from humans, which makes them the perfect attraction. They don’t feel pain, and you can do whatever you want to them without being judged. This shouldn’t be a problem as they’re just machines, right? Or are they? The show explores the idea of where consciousness begins.
  • It should be noted that both shows mentioned are ages 16 and up, mainly due to violence and gore.

Also, we do feature the new category “Beyond the Classroom”, which is meant for an advanced audience of English literature, movies, audiobooks, plays etc. The new cluster features literature and media that do not fit the topicalities of the curricula or that, due to their length and complexity, do not match the teaching environment of the EFL classroom. Exploring this section will provide you with several classic and contemporary suggestions beyond the classroom for your reading, viewing or listening list. 

I hope you have a wonderful week and enjoy checking out some of my suggestions! Do you have any favourite novels that you read “just for fun”? Let us know!

Sarah


Dear users,

Growing up is a process that all of us have to go through. Lit4School started as a vision in June 2018, became reality with our prototype, which was launched in April 2019 and grew into our final version, which has been available since November 2019. Ever since, we’ve been working on publishing new entries and blog posts to provide you, as teachers of German and English, with a well balanced, transparent and dynamic canon of literature and media for your classroom that you can select from.

As the title of this blogpost indicates, we do have reason(s) to celebrate: Together with the German side of the project, our platform currently features over 400 entries. Also, we have a brand new illustrated frontpage thanks to our web developer Jonatan Steller and our graphic designer Susanne Haase. Moreover, we have reviewed and revised our topic clusters and arguments in favour – a process we believe is necessary to ensure quality and topicality. A few days ago, we published our 300th English entry on Lit4School, and if you are wondering what No. 300: Voyage of the Sparrowhawk is about, you may have a look here. Currently, we are working on a suggestion form for advanced contributors, the “about us” section and means to make our entries more visible and catchy for you.

Thanks to all contributors and users of our resource, who have made this vision a reality.

Kind regards and stay safe everyone,

Simon


Read anything. Read the things they say are good for you, and the things they claim are junk. You’ll find what you need to find.” – Neil Gaiman 

As Neil Gaiman points out in the introductory quote: literature is an exciting adventure to embark on, a journey, which will take us to the most unusual places, which makes us connect to different ways of living and offers paradigm shifts for younger and older readers. The World Book Day or International Day of the Book was founded on April 23rd 1995 by the UNESCO to encourage young people to discover literature or as its founder, Baroness Gail Rebuck, outlines: “We wanted to do something to reposition reading and our message is the same today as it was then – that reading is fun, relevant, accessible, exciting, and has the power to transform lives.” Today, on March 4th 2021, we celebrate (re-)discovering literature, reading for pleasure and book enthusiasm all around the globe for the 24th time.

On this occasion, we would like to announce our EFL Special: “Literature in the Classroom”, which will explore different genres and works – from all-time-favourites to more current and topical examples of literature featured on Lit4School. Our EFL Special will provide you with a shortcut of didactic hints, methods and resources you can use when teaching literature in the EFL classroom.

Stay tuned and safe!

Simon


The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
          For promis’d joy!
” – Robert Burns

Steinberg’s tragical novel Of Mice and Men (1937) features two unequal friends during the Great Depression – the hardship of farm labourers in the face of unattainable dreams. The author of this powerful piece of literature, was born in 1902 and today, we celebrate his 118. birthday. John Steinbeck himself came to know hard work and later shaped that harsh reality of the depression into words which earned him a Nobel Prize for Literature. The title of the novel is an intertextual reference and was most probably taken from the line of Burns poem “To a Mouse” (1785) – which you find on top of this blogpost.

Even a text this old can trigger an experienced group of language learners to question how the individual can thrive in our world: How do we want our work to be – painful, anonymous or fruitful? How can there be a place for misfits in our hunt for wealth? And eventually, what is the value of a single life? If you dare a direct glance at the ugliness some people are enduring, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has just the right looking glass for you and your students.

Enjoy this timeless classic and stay safe everyone!

Rico


Make me immortal with a kiss.” – Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus

First things first: It is not Christopher Marlowe‘s birthday today but he was christened on February 26th 1564 – his exact date of birth remains unknown. Marlow, also known as “Kit”, was an Elizabethan author, playwright and translator. His most famous work is Doctor Faustus about whom Johann Wolfgang von Goethe later also wrote two popular plays. It’s based on the historical Johann Georg Faust, a German alchemist, astrologer and magician who became a figure of folk legend.

Legends and myth however surround Marlow’s life and oeuvre: Some scholars believe he faked his death and, henceforth, wrote under different pseudonyms, most famously William Shakespeare. Although the Marlowe-Theory has not been verified, it adds to the popularity of both playwrights.

Lastly, Christopher Marlowe is worth a read – also an interesting figure in regard to discussing authorship in the realm of Shakespeare with your pupils.

Kind regards and stay safe,

Sarah-Sophia


Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.” – Toni Morrison

Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison, aka Toni Morrison, was a well-established American essayist, novelist, book editor, and college professor. In the late 1960s, she became the first black female book editor at Random House in New York. She was also the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and is best known for her unique critical views and accounts on slavery, race and racism in the US. In total, she was given 40 awards amongst which a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 for her much-celebrated novel Beloved, historical fiction with supernatural elements inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave and mother from Kentucky. Her short story Sweetness also concerns itself with the difficulties of motherhood in a world where ethnic differences matter.

Let’s clink our glasses to Toni Morrison – Happy Birthday!

Sarah-Sophia


When in doubt go to the library.” – J. K. Rowling

Founded once in Australia, the #LibraryLoversDay and #LibraryLoversMonth celebrate reading, book enthusiasm and the rich tradition of libraries all around the world: The first libraries, a word derived from Ancient Greek originally meaning ‘bookcase’, date bake to 2600 BC. Today, their collection also includes video games, newspapers, films, prints, CDs and many other forms of media. This year’s theme for the Library Lover’s Day was ‘Make a date with your library‘ – which reminds us that library services were and are available even during a pandemic situation via digital resources and distant loans.

On Lit4School we do feature quite a variety of texts that explore libraries and the passion for reading. These texts are suitable for a cross-curricular teaching project in cooperation with your local library or book store: The New LiBEARianLittle Red Reading HoodLibrary LionThe Incredible Book Eating BoyIt’s a Book and I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf.

Share your love and passion for reading with your pupils, stay safe and have a beautiful Library Lover’s Day!

Simon


February 9th: Alice Walker

English · 9 February 2021

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker 

We would like to wish a happy birthday to Alice Walker today! Not only has she shaped the world with her literary accomplishments, but her social activism as well. Winner of the National Literary Award and the Pulitzer Prize, her novel The Color Purple tells a story of abuse, oppression, and love. Teenager Celie is raped and abused by her father but finds love through the women in her life. She manages to find happiness, moving out with her girlfriend and starting a tailoring business. And while this character regains power and control over her life, many cannot say the same. Alice Walker has dedicated her voice to multiple causes throughout her life, including the Women’s Rights and Civil Right’s Movement. Thank you and Happy Birthday!

Stay safe (and warm)!

Sarah


Created in 2000, World Cancer Day aims to raise awareness for and improve education surrounding this devastating disease that affects so many people’s lives. True to this year’s motto I Am and I Will!, the Union for International Cancer Control offers educational resources as well as suggestions on how to take action and make a difference. The following media suggestions offer representation by showing authentic, complex characters that aren’t defined by their illness.

The tragic love story The Fault in our Stars follows 16-year-old cancer-patient Hazel on her journey of love, fun, pain and ultimately loss. Of course, cancer doesn’t solely affect those diagnosed, but their loved ones as well. My Sister’s Keeper tells the story of teenager Anna, who was conceived to act as a donor for her sister Kate, who struggles with leukemia. Anna is torn between wanting to help her sister and longing to be a normal teenager.

Check out the resources listed above and have a wonderful day!

Sarah


Let America be America again, let it be the dream it used to be.” – Langston Hughes

These first lines taken from Hughes’ poem “Let America be America again” (1935) seem now more topical than ever: In 2020 police violence, institutional racism and discrimination remained a current issue in the United States and beyond. Never has the ‘pursuit of happiness‘ seemed so far off. Recently, the land ‘where every man is free‘ has witnessed a change in government and the hope to overcome the inequalities – also expressed by the poem’s speaker – and to make this dream the reality of tomorrow, remains a vision and task for the Biden-Harris administration.

Today, we celebrate Hughes’ poetics and his 120th birthday, which marks the beginning of the ‘Black History Month’ – an annual observance for African-diasporan- and African-American history and heritage all around the world. As an award-winning poet, novelist, playwright, political activist and leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes reflected the joys, needs and frustration of black working-class life and brought African-American identity, racial inequalities and stereotyping on the literary agenda. His works offer colourful insights into African-American life in the 1920s and herald the recognition of black literature and arts.

On Lit4School, we feature the illustrated version That Is My Dream (2017) of Hughes’ “Dream Variations”, which is suitable for younger learners of English, and two works for intermediate learners – the short story Early Autumn and the poem mentioned earlier.

Kind regards and stay safe,

Simon


Am 5. Januar wäre Friedrich Dürrenmatt 100 Jahre alt geworden. Die Werke des Schweizer Autors gehören zum festen Kanon an deutschen Schulen, wobei insbesondere die Dramen Der Besuch der alten Dame und Die Physiker gerne und oft behandelt werden. Beide Texte waren bereits bei ihrer Veröffentlichung sehr erfolgreich, vor allem aber haben die moralischen Fragen und Probleme, die in den Dramen aufgeworfen werden, nichts von ihrer Aktualität eingebüßt.

Dürrenmatts Produktivität wird diese enge Auswahl nicht gerecht, sein Gesamtwerk umfasst über 30 Dramen, Erzählungen und Hörspielen. Sein runder Geburtstag ist daher ein guter Anlass, weitere Texte des Schriftstellers in den schulischen Fokus zu rücken. Für einen medienverbindenden Unterricht dabei besonders spannend: Viele seiner Stoffe existieren in unterschiedlichen Versionen.

Ein Beispiel dafür ist Die Panne, ein auf einer Erzählung basierendes Hörspiel, das später sowohl eine Adaption für das Fernsehen als auch für das Theater erfuhr. Sämtliche Fassungen wurden von Dürrenmatt selbst oder unter seiner Mitarbeit verfasst. Der Plot ist schnell zusammengefasst und kann hier nachgelesen werden. Auf Grundlage dieser noch möglichen Geschichte – so der Untertitel der Erzählung – kann man sich im Unterricht vor allem mit der Frage nach individueller Schuld und Verantwortung beschäftigen.

Die verschiedenen Bearbeitungen des Stoffes bieten sich für einen Vergleich im Unterricht an. Neben den eindeutigen Parallelen sind es vor allem die Unterschiede, über die es sich zu sprechen lohnt. Neben gattungsspezifischen Phänomenen rückt dabei vor allem das Ende in den Mittelpunkt. Je nach Fassung überlebt der Protagonist oder begeht auf die eine oder andere Weise, von Schuldgefühlen geplagt, Suizid.

Doch auch über dieses Beispiel hinaus bieten sich viele Texte Dürrenmatts zur Lektüre an, verbinden sie doch einen kritischen Blick auf Gesellschaft und Individuum mit einer ironischen und humorvollen Sprache.

Joachim Kern


Seit 1996 ist der 27. Januar als Tag des Gedenkens an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus in Deutschland ein gesetzlich verankerter Gedenktag. An diesem Tag wurde 1945 das KZ Auschwitz durch die Rote Armee befreit. Vielfältige Aktivitäten erinnern in diesem Jahr an die Opfer, unter anderem eine Gedenkstunde im Bundestag mit den Rednerinnen Charlotte Knobloch, Präsidentin der jüdischen Kultusgemeinde München und Oberbayern, und der Publizistin Marina Weisband, digitale Aktionen der Gedenkstätten sowie zahlreiche social-media-Posts unter den Hashtags #wirerinnern und #weremember.

Dennoch wissen Schülerinnen und Schüler oft wenig über die Shoa. Wie der Geschichtsdidaktiker Meik Zülsdorf-Kersting erläutert, ist historische Bildung zu selten an den Interessen der Schülerinnen und Schüler ausgerichtet. Historische Ereignisse werden als Faktenwissen und mit einer feststehenden Bewertung vermittelt, oft ohne direkten Bezug zu gegenwärtigen Phänomenen der Schuldabwehr, der Täter-Opfer-Umkehr, von Rassismus und Antisemitismus in weiten Teilen der Gesellschaft, aktuell etwa in Gestalt strukturell antisemitischer Verschwörungsmythen.

Die Lektüre von Shoa-Texten im Deutschunterricht kann in diesem Zusammenhang wichtige Impulse für die historische Bildung und das Reflexionsvermögen von Schülerinnen und Schülern geben, weil Literatur als Medium der Erinnerungsarbeit historisches Geschehen anschaulich und aus der Innenperspektive von Figuren nachvollziehbar macht. Literatur transportiert Werte und regt zu eigener Auseinandersetzung an; dabei spielt die Literaturvermittlung im Unterricht eine entscheidende Rolle.

Lit4School enthält eine Reihe von Literaturempfehlungen für die Auseinandersetzung mit der Shoa, auch schon in jüngeren Klassenstufen; weitere Beiträge sind in Arbeit. Besonders empfehlen wir folgende Bücher:

  • Die Graphic Novel Peter in Gefahr erzählt eine wahre Geschichte über die Shoa in Ungarn. Das Buch stand 2020 auf der Empfehlungsliste für den Katholischen Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis und eignet sich gut für einen ersten Einstieg in das Thema in den Grundschulklassen 3 oder 4.
  • Das Bilderbuch Erikas Geschichte erzählt von einem Kind, das aus dem Deportations-Zug geworfen wurde. Erika kennt weder ihr Geburtsdatum noch ihren wahren Namen. Detaillierte, großformatige Zeichnungen bebildern Erikas Gedanken und Erinnerungen: wer waren ihre Eltern? Die Kombination aus Illustrationen und reflektierendem Text sowie das aufwendig gestaltete Cover mit herausnehmbaren Pappstern bieten vielfältige Möglichkeiten, das Buch in den oberen Grundschulklassen zu behandeln.
  • Sternkinder von Clara Asscher-Pinkhof ist ein sehr früher kinderliterarischer Shoa-Text und erschien im niederländischen Original erstmals 1946. Die Autorin, selbst Shoa-Überlebende, erzählt in Kurzgeschichten von Angst, Überleben und Tod der meist namenlosen Protagonisten. Besonders die Erzählungen aus dem ersten Teil des Buches eignen sich bereits für die Klassen 3 und 4; spätere Erzählungen eher für die Sekundarstufe 1.
  • Die Adaption des berühmten Tagebuch der Anne Frank als Graphic Diary kombiniert den Originaltext mit fiktiven Dialogen und lebendigen Illustrationen; sie eignet sich für die Klassenstufen 7 und 8. 
  • Auch der Roman Und im Fenster der Himmel von Johanna Reiss ist autobiografisch. Erzählt wird vom Überleben im Versteck; dabei führt die Ich-Erzählerin Lesende durch das Geschehen, schafft Authentizität und bietet Orientierung für den Wissens- und Erfahrungshorizont kindlicher Lesender. Ein zweiter Fokus des Romans liegt auf Widerstand und Hilfe für Jüdinnen und Juden durch nicht-jüdische Mitbürger*innen. Der Roman eignet sich für die Sekundarstufe 1, dabei sollte im Unterricht deutlich gemacht werden, dass Hilfe für Jüdinnen und Juden eine Ausnahme war – im Deutschen Reich gab es nur insgesamt 10.000 Helfer, das sind 0,16% der Bevölkerung.

Silke Horstkotte


The 27th of January marks the date of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945. The International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the genocide that resulted in the deaths of 6 million Jews, two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.

Here are some examples of literature to help approach this difficult and important chapter in history in the classroom.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne explores loss, nationalism, anti-Semitism and the power of friendship across borders and fences. The readers follow nine-year-old Bruno, who lives with his parents and sister Gretel in Berlin in 1943. As Bruno’s father, who works as a commanding officer, gets promoted, his family moves to a new house in the middle of nowhere. His parents forbid Bruno to explore the nearby forest, but he does and discovers a fence he walks along. On the other side, he spots people in striped pyjamas and finally meets a boy, called Shmuel. Bruno struggles to understand what life is like on the other side, but the two become friends. One day, Bruno dresses up in striped pyjamas to explore Shmuel’s side of the fence and to help him search for his father, whom Shmuel has not seen for several days…

The novel The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen features a young girl who feels disconnected from her culture and family. She’s bored and frustrated by her relatives’ constant storytelling regarding the Holocaust. But when she gets transported back into the year 1942 to Poland, she realizes the horrors that are ahead.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak navigates themes such as mortality, love and the importance of language in a coming of age story. Set in Germany during World War II, this historical novel follows a young girl by the name of Liesel Meminger. Her foster parents take in a Jewish man, Hans, hiding him from the authorities. Hans teaches Liesel to read, and she goes on to not only save books from being destroyed by the Nazi Party but also writing herself. There is also a 2013 film adaptation of this award-winning novel.

If you’re looking for additional media forms to approach this subject, consider the following videos. This interview features a Holocaust survivor talking to kids and teens about his experiences and memories. For a more in-depth video on a survivor’s perspective, this interview tells Lydia’s story, who was held captive in various concentration camps for nearly three years. While the first is a good introduction to the subject for younger viewers, the second is best suited for older students.

Stay kind and safe in this time of uncertainty,

Sarah


On January 20, 2021, the world tuned in to watch US-President Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony but viewers around the globe were also rewarded with a brilliant display of the power of words: 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in US history, recited her poem The Hill We Climb to a stunned audience everywhere. Both painfully honest and reassuringly optimistic, this 5-minute delivery of her poem sends chills down your spine because it bravely addresses the challenges of our times head-on. It will be hard making a stronger claim this year that poetry is powerful and that bright young people should change the shape of our world – a message your students will need to hear!

NB: While the transcript of the poem is linked to our entry for The Hill We Climb, a print version is scheduled for spring this year.

Keep reading, and keep rocking.

Rico


You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you stop being responsible to it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it’s no longer democracy, is it? It’s something else. It may be an inch away from totalitarianism.” – Sam Shepard in The Village Voice, November 17, 2004

Donald Trump has officially left the White House, and President-elect Joseph Robinette Biden and the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American, vice President-elect Kamala Harris are about to be inaugurated. Breaking tradition, former president and first lady Melania will not be attending the ceremony at the US Capitol, refusing to welcome the 46th president of the United States and his incoming first lady, Jill Biden. To minimize the spread of the coronavirus, hundreds of thousands of American flags, representing the people of America, were placed on the National Mall. Security Measures are high: approximately 25,000 troops of the National Guard, police officers and Feebs firmly confront terrorist threats of the last few days.

The change of government hopefully marks a paradigm shift in US politics: Lies and hateful messages have been spread by the 45th president. America faces challenges from coronavirus to racial inequalities, unemployment, environmental pollution and climate change, healthcare and educational issues, tensions in the transatlantic relations and international alliances that Harrison and Biden need to tackle and aim to overcome. US democracy has been challenged as well and must be restored, renovated and rebuilt by the new administration. What do your pupils think about the current situation in the US? This powerful poetry slam by Prince Ea might fuel your classroom discussion on key issues and future perspectives of the US presidency and politics.

Kind regards and stay safe,

Simon


One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” – George Orwell, 1984

On Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, a crowd of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump attempted to overturn his defeat in the presidential election by violently occupying a joint session of Congress, which was about to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. While the rioters violently gained access to the building just after 2:00 pm, the senators and representatives were evacuated. It was about 5:40 pm when the police declared that the Capitol was safe again. In the meantime, the mob had entered the Senate chamber, vandalised and damaged offices, looted belongings of the senators and fought security officers. Shots were fired inside the Capitol, dozens were injured, five people died, including an officer of the Capitol Police. During his speech at the ‘Save America’ rally, which took place beforehand, Trump once again declared that he had won the election and demanded the protesters “[…] to take back our country […]” and to “[…] fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Before breaking into the Capitol, Trump-supporters marched through the streets chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence’ and ‘Fight For Trump’. In response to the riots and Trump’s rather inglorious role in inciting the masses, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump a second time. To prevent Trump from causing further damage, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and other social media platforms permanently suspended his accounts – but a community of alternative social networks already exists. However, June 6th, 2021 marks an assault on US American democracy, an act of domestic terrorism and manipulation, which foregrounds a rather dystopian future: the remaining danger of Trumpist ideology even after the presidency of the man who fostered far-right-wing authoritarian populism and divided the US even more. Two weeks later, the Capitol is getting ready for the Inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, January 20th. Security measures are high: non-scalable fences have been set around the Capitol, security checkpoints and different safety areas installed. FBI, Secret Service, National Guard and Homeland Security are working hand in hand – but they fear an insider threat…

If you are looking for literature and media that cover power abuse, manipulation and ideology, the following works will be useful:

  • T.C. Boyle’s novel The Harder They Come (2015) explores paranoia, ideological obsession and the Sovereign citizen movement – a militant group of people who regard US laws and law enforcement as illegitimate.
  • His novel The Tortilla Curtain (1995) foregrounds the social split in US American society, offering the perspective of Mexican immigrants and the fear, hate and racism against them. 
  • Noughts and Crosses (2001) by Malorie Blackman is a dystopian series of five novels that were adapted into a TV series, which offers perspectives on racism, oppression and the abuse of power.
  • Dave Egger’s The Circle (2013) is a dystopian novel that was adapted into a movie. It explores the danger of a social media company: manipulation, surveillance, data privacy, totalitarianism and indoctrination. 
  • The Wave (1981) by Morton Rhue and Todd Strasser explores the corruption of power, violence and a social experiment that gets out of control.
  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) follows a group of teenage boys who, after a plane crash, establish a government on a remote island, which results in a civil war.
  • The film The Hunger Games (2012) by Gary Ross and the novel (2008) of the same name by Suzanne Collins, show the danger and manipulative tendencies of autocratic governments.

Even though we are in distance learning at the moment, I do hope that you find reasons and time to talk with your pupils about these current affairs. Let’s hope for a safe and secure Inauguration Day.

Simon