3 activities for teaching world literature (and a few more)

1. Dialogic Teaching

Robin Alexander developed the term ‘dialogic teaching’ to promote “the power of talk” in stimulating young people’s thinking and support their learning and understanding.

The Ubuntu Network encourage the use of dialogic teaching as critical in encouraging “everyday, ‘common sense’ perspectives and engage with their developing ideas. Dialogic teaching requires a particular interactive approach in the classroom which draws on questions, answers, and feedback.” Therefore, teaching and learning is through dialogue rather than transmissive, focusing on ‘talk’ to encourage young people’s thinking.

The ‘principles’ of Dialogic teaching’ include:

Source: Ubuntu Network
Source: Alexander R (2010) via IPPS 1, Ubuntu Network

Dialogic teaching is achieved through 9 key methods:

  1. Interactions which encourage students to think, and to think in different ways
  2. Questions which invite much more than simple recall
  3. Answers which are justified, followed up and built upon rather than merely received
  4. Feedback which informs and leads thinking forward as well as encourages
  5. Contributions which are extended rather than fragmented
  6. Exchanges which chain together into coherent and deepening lines of enquiry
  7. Discussion and argumentation which probe and challenge rather than unquestioningly accept
  8. Professional engagement with subject matter which liberates classroom discourse from the safe and conventional
  9. Classroom organisation, climate and relationships which make all this possible

Source: RobinAlexander.org

2. Group discussions

As a class/group, read an engaging age-appropriate ‘realistic’ novel on a chosen development issue. Consider a reflection based on the ‘character face’ below using questions like:

  • What were you thinking about as the story began to unfold?
  • What did you see as you were reading the novel?
  • How would you feel under similar conditions as the character(s)?

Write your reflections on the ‘character face’. Perhaps design your own ‘character face.’

Adapted from Grimm (2011)

For further reflection consider additional questions such as:

  • What human development/human rights issue is the author describing in the novel?
  • What are the key themes/messages that you understand are being portrayed in the novel?
  • How do you feel/think about a) the issue, b) the novel, c) the author?
  • What did you learn?
  • What do you need to learn more about? Make a list of all the questions you’d like to ask the author
  • Does the author/characters suggest solutions?
  • How has the novel/poem influenced the way you see the issues?
  • What actions could you take on the issue(s)?

Source: adapted from Weiss’ Reading Extravaganza blog


3. Role play / presentations

  • Role play a character and/or situation or simulate a particular viewpoint/position from a selected novel. For example, role play the experiences of segregation South Africa under apartheid and/or reconciliation issues in Ireland (or in a democratic transition etc.)
  • Simulate a UN debate (with multiple ‘national’ or ‘regional’ perspectives – Indian, Australian or US for example) on the issue of water scarcity or on the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, or an exchange on a specific situation at the International Criminal Court (e.g. the Rwandan Genocide or the war in Syria).
  • Research poetry on a particular development issue (such as the experiences of migration for young people/women, violence against women, gender-based discrimination etc.). Then organise a poetry reading of the materials collected.
  • Choose a specific novel or poem and identify particular passages, key words or phrases that describe an issue or feeling or perspectives. How are these different from the language and words we routinely use?  What is particularly striking about the language etc.?   
  • Organise a debate (class/year/school/youth group/etc.) on a global issue you read in a novel.
  • Raise awareness of issues to a wider audience through a presentation, role play, debate, discussion, information day, assembly, youth group meeting, community forum, etc., about a global issue.

Some ideas to get started

  • Use diaries, testimonies or case studies to explore the similarities and differences between the characters of the stories and those of the reader. List the commonalities, hopes/fears for the future, for example?
  • Select novels that represent various geographical areas that support a cross-section of curricula. For example, on a world map locate and mark a book’s country and region. Discuss the various geographical findings, the climactic and environmental considerations, its flora and fauna, etc.
  • Use stories to highlight current global issues, such as the refugees and asylum seekers or the rights of women or discrimination issues.
  • Develop a flyer/poster/news article on a particular global issue young people have read. Use the flyer/poster to raise the awareness of the issues and to encourage others to explore the options for taking action
  • Encourage readers to choose an issue that interests them and source a novel/poem that is relevant
  • Set up a ‘world book club’ in your school/group/area and focus on reading world literature. Discuss the book and then perhaps consider taking action on a particular development issue.

(adapted from Oxfam GB)

And a few more activity ideas…

  • Check through our resource library for resources on a variety of themed development issues and topics and book reviews
  • Amnesty International has an excellent informational resource entitled, “Using fiction to teach human rights”
  • Look through the Oxfam UK Recommended Booklist for English Teachers which lists age appropriate books from picture books (23 books), 7+ years (35 books), 14+ (20 books)
  • Check out the Africa Book Club that lists authors by country, has a comprehensive library under 9 separate sections, you can also buy books direct, find out about new authors, and new releases, featured books, etc.
  • Oxfam has some great Global Citizenship Guides to support educators across all subjects and age groups to teach about a variety of global issues

For academic and practitioner perspectives on the value of using literature in development education see:

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