British Literature

I have been given a tentative teaching schedule for next year. While this schedule has not been confirmed, I wanted to start thinking about what major works I want to teach in case the schedule becomes a reality.

  • 9th Grammar, Composition, and Literature
  • 10th American Literature and Composition
  • 10th Writing Seminar
  • 11th British Literature and Composition
  • 12th Drama and Composition/Short Story and Composition

I have taught all of these classes before with the exception of British Literature, and that is a class I have been itching to teach for years. A love for British Literature influenced me to become an English teacher in the first place. You may not know it, but I wrote a teachers’ guide for Beowulf for Penguin-Putnam. I am an Arthurian legend freak. I am a fiend for the Romantic poets.

These are some of the works I’m considering:

  • Beowulf: This is a given. What I haven’t decided is whether to go with the textbook’s excerpt or a copy of the Seamus Heaney translation.
  • The Canterbury Tales: My sophomore-level Brit. Lit. course professor required to read this in Middle English, but I have no plans to do this with my own students. I think a study of the original language of Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales might be interesting from the perspective of language development, and I may do some lessons on that subject. I think it would be fun to ask that students read selected blog posts from Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog.
  • Hamlet and Macbeth: I should pick one or the other, but I’m not sure I can, as I think both are important. Something to think about.
  • Pride and Prejudice: The ninth grade Honors students read this for summer reading, but the class I’m teaching is College Prep, so there might not be a conflict; however, I am of the opinion that the novel is more appropriately placed in the 11th grade British literature curriculum.
  • Frankenstein: Students have heard so much about this book in our culture; they might enjoy actually reading it and comparing it to the popular vision of the Frankenstein monster.
  • Wuthering Heights: I read this one in British Lit. in high school, and I liked it.
  • Jane Eyre: This would be an either/or prospect. If students read Wuthering Heights, we wouldn’t do Jane Eyre.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest: I think I would opt for this over The Picture of Dorian Gray simply because it’s a play and I’d like a balance of drama and novel.
  • The Lord of the Flies: The other Brit. Lit. teacher has made this one a staple of the curriculum. I wouldn’t have to teach it, but I have to admit I would like to. It’s a great book. I think a lot of schools do it in 9th or 10th grade rather than in Brit. Lit.

Despite the fact that I am a huge Arthur nut, I have decided not to do Sir Gawain and the Green Knight mainly because I don’t want to overkill with the Middle English literature in a high school course. I also don’t want to do Le Morte D’Arthur, mainly because while I enjoyed the hell out of it, I’m not sure the students would appreciate it. And since I don’t think any other Arthurian material approaches Malory with the exception of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which was written by an American, I will probably content myself with a unit on the Matter of Britain starring some of the shorter works by both medieval writers and nineteenth century writers like Tennyson.

If you have taught British literature, which of the above books have you had success with? What would you teach? Obviously, I’m not choosing all of it; I just mocked up a list to start from.

[tags]British literature, education, literature selection[/tags]

10 thoughts on “British Literature”

  1. I'd suggest you do just the excerpt of Beowulf (as long as you get the deaths of both Grendel AND his mom!) and then both Hamlet & Macbeth. You've got a lot of "chick" novels starting with Austen — you might lose all your guys until you come out of the Victorian period! There's a wonderful film of Silas Marner starring Ben Kingsley that would give them that great story. And I've had good success with Tennyson's "Gareth & Lynette," "Guinevere" and "The Passing of Arthur" from Idylls of the King with sophomores.

    You're going to have a lot of wonderful literature to teach next year! I'm feeling a little jealous. What plays are you planning for your Drama/Comp class? Is that just a semester?

  2. I don't plan to teach all of those books, Jeri. Maybe pick one? I don't know. Thanks for the tips about which Tennyson poems were successful.

    I don't plan on doing anything different for Drama and Comp. than I did this year, and yes, it's just a semester. I started with King Lear. We also did Medea, Oedipus Rex, Long Day's Journey into Night (students like this one a lot), and Othello. I also ordered A Doll's House, Richard III, Death of a Salesman, and The History Boys, which we haven't done yet, so there will probably be at least one more after Othello (which we are doing next). I had never taught the class before, so I wasn't sure how many we could cover. As it turns out, I wasn't extremely far off, but I overestimated a bit.

  3. I've had wonderful success with Beowolf, especially if you can make the connection to 13th Warrior. I wouldn't show the movie in class, but most of my students have seen it anyway. I have them write and give eulogies for Beowolf in the end. Many of them go overboard acting out the part.

    This year I gave the students a choice between Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing and then ran two reading groups at the same time. Most of the boys chose Macbeth, but both groups were happy with the choices they made, and we had excellent discussions on both plays. The students who chose Much Ado were relieved to read a comedy.

  4. I teach British Lit. sometimes (not this year, unfortunately). My list is as follows: Beowulf, Canterbury Tales (not every tale, just a handful), Sir Gawain, Hamlet, Sense and Sensibility, Frankenstein, Lord of the Flies, and 1984. Sometimes I throw in Gulliver's Travels or Jane Eyre depending on our progress. I also supplement with poetry from the textbook we use. There is so much to choose from! It's my favorite class to teach.

  5. I don't teach a British Lit. class but I teach 11th grade Honors and AP for seniors. I have had much success with Macbeth. Kids love the myth revolving the play and all the blood and guts and gore! Frankenstein, I just find that novel so fascinating and they love comparing the book to the movies, which are awful, but it is still fun. Most of my female students really liked Jane Eyre, I love it, but I don't think one male student liked it at all. The male population is always tough to select books for. Any suggestions on that?

  6. I have had great success with Macbeth. The kids love the myth surrounding the play and all of the blood, guts and gore! Frankenstein is one of my favorite books, I find it so fascinating. The kids really enjoy comparing the novel to the movies, which are awful but it leads to great discussion. Jane Eyre, my female students loved, but not one male student enjoyed it. What books do you use that male high school students enjoy?

  7. Boys are always tough. I would think they'd like The Lord of the Flies, wouldn't they? Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs) has started a site called Guys Read. One of my male students checked it out after I mentioned it on this blog (he likes to read all my blogs), and there is a feature on Guys Read that allows users to submit the title of a book they liked so that it can suggest related or similar books. The books are geared toward boys of all ages, from beginning readers to adults. Check it out and see if it has anything you can use!

  8. Macbeth was a huge hit in my class this year, which was my first year teaching Brit. Lit. I am re-evaluating my book choices for next year, and I think I'm going to go with Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein. I've had some boys complain about Austen but with Beowulf, Sir Gawain, and Macbeth there is plenty of gore! I think P&P balances it out.

  9. I am teaching British lit for the 3 rd time in 14 years. I love reading it, but would like the students to picture it in their minds as I do. However, that is hard to do, given that they have learned so little in history about this time period. Does anyone have a good list of fairly accurate movies for Brit lit? I would like to give the list to the students so that they can watch 3-4 on thier own and write summaries/responces to them for points. Of course I will show Beckett and MacBeth, but what else would they enjoy on thier own. thanks.

  10. In addition to many of the novels mentioned above, I teach "Evelina" by Fanny Burney instead of Jane Austen. Burney greatly influenced Austen. The girls and boys liked this novel, as there is love and some practical jokester male rascals that make some sections very funny.

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