Why The Giver keeps on giving

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It’s pure coincidence, I promise you, although I suspect you won’t believe me. As part of a dystopian fiction unit, Year 8 are reading The Giver this year. We chose it before we knew about the film.

Lois Lowry’s novel is 20 years old and has been the staple of Language Arts classrooms in the US from its first publication. This does not surprise me. For the first time since I began teaching the students in my classroom want to read on and on.

They are gripped by the world Lowry creates, with its eerie familiarity. They are gripped by idea of a perfect world where nothing is what it seems. They are gripped by the secrets and lies. They are gripped by the rules and placid obedience. They are gripped by the pervading atmosphere of horror that never actually slips past the veneer of polite indifference.

They are gripped by the truth. The ability to see our lives in the lives of the characters. The ability to see our government in their elders. The truth that perhaps our secrets and lies may be the same secrets and lies.

But – is it enough to teach a book that simply grips students?

So far in the last 8 weeks I have used The Giver to teach:

  1. Explicit reading strategies*, such as:
    Think Aloud (see here for more on this one)
    Cornell Note taking
    Visualisation
    Prediction
    Double entry journaling
  2. Comprehension strategies*, such as:
    Say Something (see here for more on this one)
    Identification of key moments
    Identification of key techniques: contrasts and contradictions, moments of realisation, advice taken and ignored, flashbacks and memories (key for this text), questions asked and not answered.
  3. Literary analysis, such as:
    Modes of characterisation used
    Analysis of language and structure techniques
    Explicit teaching of literal and inferred meanings of language used
    Use of double entry journal for independent analysis
    Links between language and ideas or themes
    Identification of narrative and authorial voice
    Links between different dystopian texts and The Giver
    Links between The Giver and our own world
  4. Creative response:
    The treatment of elderly in the novel, different societies and our society
    The issue of conflict and the modern world
    To what extent is Britain a dystopia
    The importance of freedom in a democratic society

I’m not sure what else you can ask from a text. I haven’t mentioned the vocabulary, spelling and grammar work the text also enables.

The upsides for me: Students love this book, therefore they love talking and ultimately writing about it, whether its a creative response (like the ones below) or an essay.

Win, win.

If you are looking for a new KS3 text, I highly recommend The Giver.  Who cares if the film just came out?

*If you are interested in the reading and comprehension strategies I have mentioned – I recommend Kylene Beers’ books on reading in the English classroom.

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