Saki’s The Open Window is a wonderful short story. It is so different from many of the texts we read in English as it is so very short, yet within this shortest of shorts is a humorous, perverse and delightfully cruel tale.
You can read it online here.
Before reading the story, students gathered a bunch of factual knowledge on social and gender norms in Victorian England. We discussed Victorian masculinity, the ideal woman, social etiquette and ‘introductions’ and ideas of children as innocent and children as evil.
We used inspiration stations to gather and process this information – a fabulous idea from @ from #TMEng hosted by @. Key information is pinned up around the room, set out in a way that is far too detailed to copy down. Students go to an inspiration station, read the information and when they return to their desk, summarise it in writing and share with their team mates.
Next we read the story and answered a series of comprehension questions.
Students loved the narrative, particularly Vera and her manipulative ways. I posed the question: How does Saki use the concept of first appearances to challenge traditional thinking?
– the use of weak male protagonist
– the use of young, female antagonist
– the way Victorian social norms contributed to the situation
– the irony at the end
– the characters of Mrs Sappleton and Framton Nuttel’s sister
– the men (and the dog) and the symbolism connected to Victorian masculinity.
Lesson 2: Subversion
Starter – “Gimmick Klaxon”: I don’t often use Wordles (or the thing below which has another name), they are gimmicks. However, Ryan Phoenix made this for me and I can’t complain – well, except that his was an umbrella and I wanted a puppy. Students choose 5 words from the text – which has been transformed by the magic of the internet into a puppy shape – and linked those words to the concepts and ideas discussed in the previous lesson.
Some of the links were lovely:
– voice – linked to the idea of children having no real voice in Victorian society and Vera taking the chance to grab power where she could;
– window – linked to the barrier between men and women, childhood and adulthood, truth and lies, fantasy and reality;
– Mrs – linked to the labelling of women, always referred to by the social status;
The list goes on.
Next we consolidated the discussion at the end of the previous lesson and explored not only how Saki’s subverts traditional thinking, but also how he upholds it.
Then – we looked a form and watched this neat and tidy summary of the Gothic:
– the setting: countryside but not remote or isolated, not gothic enough?
– the characters – a weak male and female villain – gothic?
– the plot?
– the supernatural – well, the ghosts aren’t real, but Framton doesn’t know that.
Now it was time for some analytical writing.
It just so happened that @ blogged some ideas for pushing students beyond PEE, which worked wonderfully. Here is what I asked…
And here is what they wrote:
So 3 lessons in and what had we covered?
Next up, Shirley Jackson’s The Possibility of Evil.
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