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Wednesday Wisdom from a DP recommended read – Oryx and Crake

11 Jun

Wednesday wisdom this week comes from a DP recommended read:

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. McClelland & Stewart (2003), Bloomsbury (2003) & Doubleday (2003)

  • ISBN-10: 1844080285
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844080281
  • Book 1 of the MaddAddam trilogy (book 3: ‘MaddAddam’ is expected to be published in September 2013)
  • Dystopian fiction; post-apocalyptic fiction; thriller; suspense; adventure

Five reasons why will DP students should read this novel:

  1. Oryx and Crake is a post-apocalyptic allegory of a future world ravaged by global warming, technology and human engineering.  These are all topics that students are exposed to across their curriculum, and these usually give uninhibited imaginative license for students to discuss what the future may bring.
  2. Atwood’s brilliant symbolism which is clever yet accessible for teenage readers.
  3.  The plot twists.  Students will literally gasp aloud at several points in the novel.
  4. The hybrid animals.  Pigoons, Rakunks and Wolvogs…ask your students to imagine different combinations of hybrids; a great lesson starter.
  5. The potential for assessment in the DP Literature or Literature and Langauge programme.
    • Superb potential for an imaginative Written Assignment or an Individual Oral Presentation
    • Has an array of passages that could be used for the Individual Oral Commentary
    • Rich in content for an analytical essay (paper II)
    • Many opportunities for making links with Theory of Knowledge
Wednesday Wisdom from Margaret Atwood

Wednesday Wisdom from Margaret Atwood


Masterpiece Monday: Enduring Love

3 Jun

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan.  Jonathan Cape (1997), Vintage (1998, 2004)

Image via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license

Image via Flickr user carolynconner under CC BY 2.0 license

  • ISBN-13: 9780099276586
  • ISBN-10: 0099276585
  • Contemporary fiction

The plot

One windy afternoon in the English Chilterns, a hot air balloon rips away from it’s moorings, and a young boy is helplessly lifted into the air while his grandfather battles to keep the balloon from rising off the ground.

Joe Rose, a scientific journalist picnicking with his partner Clarissa, rushes to help.  Joe is joined by four other men, including Jed Parry.  In the tragic struggle to rescue the boy, Joe exchanges a momentary glance with Jed which instigates a compulsive, dangerous obsession. Jed becomes besotted with Joe, convinced that Joe has fallen in love with him.

Why is this a masterpiece?  Why is it a DP recommended read?

There are many reasons why this novel should be considered instead of McEwan’s more commonly chosen novel, Atonement.  Enduring Love is a challenging read for DP/higher grade students.  Here are four good reasons Book Snitch recommends Enduring Love:

  1. The breath-taking opening.  McEwan uses this extraordinary opening sequence, a tragic hot air balloon accident to coincidentally bring Jed Parry into Joe’s life.  It is visually evocative and a tense, unusual start which leaves the reader unnerved just like Joe.
  2. The TOK angle.  One of the key tensions throughout the novel is he conflict between Rationalism and Empiricism.  The dramatic opening is juxtaposed by the slow growing tension in the plot as the reader learns that Joe is a man of empirical principle, one for whom there are laws which guide the workings of the world.  Jed Parry’s irrational obsessions canot be explained through scientific laws, and Joe finds himself helpless as he struggles to endure Jed’s inexplicable love.  There is a lot of opportunity to discuss Theory of Knowledge ways of knowing (emotion, reason, sense perception, language, belief, faith, intuition and memory) and how these inform what Jed and Joe constrastingly see as knowledge and truth in the novel.
  3. The suspense.  Student readers respond well to McEwan’s masterful creation of ever-increasing suspense.  Joe, the novel’s first person narrator, is soon doubted by his partner Clarissa and the Police when he tries to convince them that Jed is stalking him.  Through Joe’s inability to provide concrete evidence of his claims,  McEwan plays a clever trick on the reader, as we also start to doubt the reliability of his perceptions.  Students love this twist when Joe escapes what he perceives as an attempted murder.
  4. The potential for interesting and creative assignments.  The novel offers many layers of meaning and engagement for student readers, making it a great tool for inquiry-based learning.  Activities could include:
  • Writing from Jed or Clarissa’s perspective
  • Writing a third appendix to the novel
  • Adapting the conversation between Joe, Clarissa and their friends the evening after the balloon accident as a screen-play
  • A concept map showing all of the signals Jed believes Joe gives him to communicate their love, with TOK links exlaining how Jed uses ways of knowing to conclude that Joe loves him

Introducing the novel

One suggested way to intoduce this novel could be to use the lyrics of Every Breath You Take by The Police.  This song is often mistaken for a devoted love song.  As the opening four lines show, it is also about the obsessessive nature of love:

“Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you”

After playing the lyrics to your student, ask them to give their ideas about what the song is about.  At this point share with them the title of the novel ‘Enduring Love’ and ask them to consider the connotations the title holds.  guide the discussion to include the differing aspects of love.  You might include the following questions:

  • What is the definition of love? (for IB Diploma students you could make the connection with language as a way of knowing and the problem of definitions)
  • How do people behave when they are in love?
  • How do you know if love is requited?
  • What role does perception play in finding love?
  • Does love at first sight exist?
  • What does enduring love mean?  What else could it imply about the nature of love?

Try a tech tool

Visible thinking routines created by Harvard’s Project Zero are a fantastic way to get students thinking about a new topic.  One of my favourites is called Compass Points.  I would recommend using this routine to get students thinking about the idea of enduring love as a concept which has different angles.

I often use a Padlet to record student ideas and encourage student communication about this idea.

  • Padlet is an interactive virtual pinboard
  • Students can collaborate to add information and ideas to the same pinboard
  • Using it for  the compass points routine allows students to see each other’s ideas and record group thinking about the cenral theme of the novel
  • Check out more reasons why Padlet is great for education by browsing the features it offers

Using Compass Points will provide students with a broad basis for considering the theme of enduring love as they read and analyse the novel.  You can repeat the routine later with different propositions which will come up through reading the novel, such as Joe’s steadfast empirical view of the world.

You can see an example of IB English B Diploma students sharing their ideas in a compass points routine which asked them to consider different aspects of reality television.

Masterpiece Monday: Far From The Madding Crowd

27 May

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.  First published as twelve installements in Cornhill Magazine, 1874

  • ISBN-13: 9780141393384
  • ISBN-10: 0141393386

    Image by cdrummbks via Flickr CC BY 2.0 license

Key information

  • Time period: 19th Century (Victorian era)
  • Setting:  England, set in the fictional southern country of Wessex (the common setting for many of Hardy’s novels)
  • Themes:
    • Danger & destruction inherent in romantic love
    • Importance of man’s connection to the natural world
    • The connection between chance and moral responsibility
  • Structure:
    • 57 chapters
    • Omniscient narrator
    • Hardy uses his narrator in a manner similar to a chorus in an ancient Greek tragedy, by providing a commentary on the actions and intentions of the characters
  • Culture: Victorian era; agricultural England; constrasting gender roles

The plot

Bathsheba Everdene, a headstrong, confident young woman inherits a farm from her uncle.  She is determined to be successful despite the challenge of being the only female farmer in the male-dominated world of Wessex.  Bathsheba becomes the object of desire for three constrasting male suitors: the gentle shepherd, Gabriel Oak, and the sedate but successful Boldwood, an older farmer.  Bathsheba is amused and flattered by their attention, until Sergeant Troy arrives; a devillishly handsome smooth-talking soldier.  As Bathsheba recklessly seeks romance and love, she finds that she faces losing everything as she becomes caught up in the destructive wake of Sergeant Troy’s seductive power.

Why is it a masterpiece?

Set against the backdrop of rural English landscape with an entourage of memorable characers who make up the society of Wessex, Hardy gives readers a fascinating and psychological view on the ideals and realities of love for a woman in the nineteenth century.  Far From The Madding Crowd offers students an insight into a world which was changing.  Hardy raises questions about fate and chance, and emphasises the importance of man’s connection to nature in the face of the Industrial Revolution.  Hardy’s prose is rich with religious old testament allusions that bring the sphere of moral responsibility into focus, adding to the Greek tragedy structure of the novel which intensifies the transformation that Bathsheba undergoes.

Recommended age of student readers

Book Snitch recommends this novel for students aged sixteen to eighteen.  It may be suitable for some students in younger years only if they are strong readers.  Hardy’s lyrical language and allusions make this a text more suitable for an AP class or IB Diploma higher level students.


  • provides a contextual overview of Hardy’s life including links to major themes and settings in his works
  • eNotes has a teaching & resources unit for Far From The Madding Crowd, available to download indivudually for $29.99.  Alternatively, you might want to consider an annual subscription for $4.16 per month.  Resources for all eNotes teaching packs include chapter by chapter questions and summaries, quizzes and extended answer questions.
  • LitLovers has a bookclub page dedicated to Far From The Madding Crowd with some interesting discussion questions
  • The Thomas Hardy Society website offers background information about the author, information about his published works, resources and more

Try a tech tool

Book Snitch recommends Popplet , an educational tool where students can create online mind maps for a range of topics such as characters, themes, symbols or Hardy’s background.

  • The beauty of Popplet is that you can add text, videos and images to your Popplet, making the mind map a tool which uses multiliteracies and allows students to investigate their topic in more breadth
  • With a novel like Far From the Madding Crowd, where the narration works on several levels and is constructed using detailed symbolism, mind maps can help readers to organise their thoughts about the work into manageable chunks
  • You can invite collaborators on Popplet simply by adding their email address
  • You can ask your students invite you to be a collaborator so that you can see their final product
  • Popplet also gives you an embed code if you want to post it onto a blog or website for future reference
  • You can download your Popplet as a PDF document

Subscription details:

    • Minimum Age: 13 to sign up for your own account
    • Cost: free sign up and you get 5 Popplets for free (but you can be invited as a collaborator on an unlimited number)
    • Benefits with or without an account: Schools can buy an account

IB Diploma recommended read – Half Of A Yellow Sun

15 May

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Achidie.  Knopf (US)/Fourth Estate (UK), 2006

  • ISBN-10: 1400095204
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400095209
  • Historical fiction; war; family; cultural conflict; colonialism; race and enthnicity

The plot:

Set in Nigeria, spanning the decade of the 1960s, Half of a Yellow Sun (named so after the symbol of the Biafran flag) is the story of the emergence, rise and crushing fall of Biafra; a country created by civil war which struggled and failed to maintain indepedence from Nigeria.  The plot follows the lives of three characters whose lives become entangled.  The first, Ugwu, is a poor hourseboy. The second, Olanna, is a young Igbo woman from the priveleged Nigerian elite in Lagos. The third, Richard, is an Englishman who falls in love with Nigiria and Olanna’s twin sister.  Adichie takes the reader on a journey following the lives of these characters, who offer three very different perspectives on the terrible events which unfolded during this time period.  Rich in characterization, the novel humanizes the events leading up to and during the Biafran war.  Adichie’s interweaving of personal and political events, and use of time shift within the novel’s four parts creates a memorable reading experience.

Book Snitch’s thoughts for using this book in the IB English A Diploma course:

Half of a Yellow Sun is a superb novel for either the English A Literature course, or the English A Literature and Language course for higher level students.  It could be used in either parts two, three or four of the course, as it offers many opportunties for detailed close analysis (suitable for the Individual Oral Commentary), a critical analysis (written assignment 2), or an analytical essay (paper II exam based on part 3).

This novel allows the opportunity to engage with literature in a specific context, which has become a key emphasis in the new Language and Literature course.  The novel contains a wealth of material which can be used in an essay in response to one the paper II prescribed questions. Adichie’s clever use of symbolism is one of the array of literary techniques which contribute to the tangible descriptions that bring the novel to life for student readers.

Adichie anticipates that not all readers will know the political and historical background, and so includes intermittent excerpts from a novel describing the history of Nigeria written by one of the characters within the narrative to give readers the political and social context for the Nigerian-Biafran war.

Written in four parts, the narrative shifts in time between the early sities and the late sixties (parts one and three being set in the early sixties, and parts two and four focusing on the late sixties) with different narrative perspectives.  This distortion in chronology is suspenseful, with elements of the plot being resolved for the reader as through shifting time and perspective.  Adichie uses several narrative perspectives in her novel, which gives student readers the opportunity to consider a situation from contrasting cultural viewpoints.

Adichie is listed on the Precribed List of Authors (PLA) for 20th century African prose.  Book Snitch highly recommends this novel as a refreshing alternative to other commonly used African 20th century prose.

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