Week 4

This week we began our discussed on Helen Keller’s autobiography, “The Story of My Life”. Keller wrote this book when she was only 21 years old.


Discussion Questions:

Do you know anyone who is visually impaired or deaf? It is estimated that nearly 100,000 people in the United States are currently both blind and deaf.

How can the world today adjust to those who cannot see or hear? Dublin recently put in cross walks that “chirp” when it is time to cross, to help those who are visually impaired.

How does Helen Keller’s high school experience compare to yours?

What do you think was the purpose and message of “The Story of My Life”.

Were you surprised by the positive tone of Keller’s autobiography?


We played “Pictionary”, where the person who drew the object was blindfolded. While more difficult, all of the students were able to visualize and draw their object accurately enough for their team to guess. For our writing assignment, Students chose whether they would “rather” be blind or deaf, and then explained the challenges and benefits they would face.


Week 3

Week 3 we continued to discuss “The Time Machine” due to Week 2’s cancellation. We watched excerpts from the 1960’s film version of “The Time Machine”. While currently outdated, it’s amusing to watch, and the CML library system has several copies!

Discussion Questions:

1) As an author what do you think of H.G. Wells? Does his style appeal to you, or did you find the book lacking?

2) Why do you think that after 120 years, “The Time Traveler” remains highly read? What appealed to his audience back then, and what about this book appeals to us now?

3) Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

4) Why do you think that Wells wrote such an ambiguous ending?

5) Do you agree with Wells that fiction is a good way to introduce new concepts to the public? How can this be used for good and for bad?

6) What would have happened if the Time Traveler ran into the Morlocks first?

7) The Time Traveler is sympathetic to the Eloi. Why do you think this is, especially for a scientific man (who you would assume would root for the strongest)?

Writing Exercises:

1) Write about what you think happened to the Time Traveler after the epilogue.

2) In Chapter 8, the Time Traveler goes into a museum. Some objects he recognizes, others he doesn’t. Take an object you know about, and see what the Time Traveler makes of it. (Smart phones, xboxes, modern art, etc).



Looking forward to discussing “The Story of My Life” next week!

Week 1 (Spring Semester)

And… we’re back!

We are beginning by reading “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells. Wells is cited as being the “father of science fiction”. Decades ahead of his time, his scientific theories about a fourth dimension were ridiculed in the scientific world. Wells then introduced his ideas in fiction and created a new genre: Science Fiction! Wells also wrote “War of the Worlds”, and “The Invisible Man”.

We discussed the following questions:

1) Do you think that we can learn more from the past or the future? Do they teach us different things?

2) This book was written more than 100 years ago, does it still stand up to modern science fiction?

3) Is the science in “The Time Machine” still applicable today, or do you think Well’s books are flawed by today’s discoveries?

4) Looking ahead, what do you think Wells is trying to prove about humanity and the future?

5) Why do you think “The Time Machine” was not written from the point of view of the Time Traveler? (Instead, it is written by the Time Traveler’s friend…)

6) Why do you think so many names were “x’d” out during the beginning of the novel, as if to protect the persons identity? Does this add to the style of the book?

7) The Time Traveler sees the Eloi, and that they are similar physically. He suggests that perhaps since society is no longer a militant society, the institution of family is no longer needed. Do you agree? Will families always be needed?

Writing Activities:

1) If you could time travel to one place, where would you go? Past or future? Write about you would hope to see, whether it as in the future of the past?

2) If you could change 3 things about the world today to create a better future, what would they be?

Weeks 13, 14, and 15

These last few weeks we have finished reading Dickens “A Christmas Carol”, completed Essay 3, and watched Disney’s “A Christmas Carol”.

“A Christmas Carol” is certainly one of the most famous Christmas tales, and one of the most popular novels of all time. All of the students in class had watched at least one version of “A Christmas Carol”, including (but not limited to): Looney Tunes, Doctor Who, Muppets, Mickey Mouse, Mister Magoo, Flintstones, Sesame Street, and Smurfs. We decided to watch one of the newest versions of “A Christmas Carol”, the Disney film starring Jim Carrey.

We discussed the following questions:

1) Why do you think the story is so famous?

2) What part does religion play in this book? Do you think this book would be more or less famous if Dickens took a stronger stance on religion?

3) Do you think the characters are well developed, and that Scrooge’s transformation is believable?

4) Do you dislike Scrooge in this book? If not, how does Dickens make you “like” him? (I.e. humor, etc).

5) How is wealth treated in the story? Does Dickens condemn wealth as corrupt, or does he offer a more complex view?

6) How do you think this story is best told? Through books, movies, plays, etc…

7) What do you think would happen in this story if Scrooge was poor instead of wealthy?

8) Would that outcome of “A Christmas Carol” be the same if Scrooge did not see his grave?


Writing Activities:

1) Pretend that you are a journalist and have to interview Scrooge. How would he answer before his transformation is complete?

2) Write a scene where you are visited from the ghost of Christmas Past. What would be your reaction? What would you ask? Is there a scene from your past that you would want to see again?

3) Re-Write a classic Christmas song as Scrooge would want it. (The responses to these were hilarious!)

4) Which ghost would you rather receive a visit from? Why?


Weeks 11 and 12 (Sherlock Holmes series!)

I chose to combine this post on Weeks 11 and 12, since they were both on the same series, and we played several of the same games over these two weeks.

We read four short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” “The Speckle Band,” and “The Red-Headed League”. (I think one of the favorites was “The Boscombe Valley Mystery!).


About Arthur Conan Doyle:

Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Scotland in 1859. Conan Doyle’s father was an alcoholic. It was Conan Doyle’s mother who he cites as the inspiration for his writings. She often told him stories at night, until he says he is not sure what portions of his childhood is real, and what is a story! At the age of 9, Conan Doyle was sent to a boarding school in England. Here he was bullied by children and teachers alike. After graduation he went to medical school. One of his professors, Dr. Joseph Bell, especially interested Arthur Conan Doyle. He now says that Bell was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. After releasing many Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle killed off his main character. After public outrage, Doyle brought the famed detective back to life.


TV Show:

We watched the “Jeremy Brett” interpretation of “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”.




Lie to Me: This game is popular game show in the UK. We chose a team of four students, and they came up with a fact that was true about only one of the team members. (For example, one was hit by a car). Yet all four of them told the same fact, creating a story about how that “fact” happened. The other students could quiz the team, and had to decide who was telling the truth, and who was lying. 3 out of the 4 times we played, we guessed wrong!

Crack the Case: This is a game where students are given several “facts” about a crime. By quizzing the “narrator” they must solve the crime, and often even figure out the story behind the crime!


Writing Exercise: Sherlock Holmes is famous for his deductions about people. In several of his stories he is able to understand a person based on tan lines, breadcrumbs, haircuts, etc. Try writing one of these scenes!


Discussion Questions:


1) In many mysteries you are able to “jump ahead” of the detective. Were you able to see where Sherlock was going with his ideas, or were you usually with Watson, who had to wait until the end for the big reveal?

2) Why do you think Arthur Conan Doyle wrote from the point of view of Watson?

3) How do these mysteries compare with other mystery stories you have read?

4) Why do you think these stories continue to be read today?


Body Language:

We spent some time discussing body language. Body language experts suggest recognizing a person’s “Baseline” (Do they talk with their hands? Do they speak formally? How high is their voice? How fast do they speak? Do they nod when others are speaking? etc). When a person deviates from this baseline they could be lying, nervous, etc. This was helpful when we played “Lie to Me”.


For example, when a person is standing, where are their hands? If they are clasped in front of the person, the person is  usually fairly comfortable. What if the person is grasping their wrist? They are likely uneasy or uncomfortable. The farther the person moves up their arm, the more uncomfortable they are. If a person clasps their hands behind their back, they are completely open and exposed. This is a sign of trust and calm. There are many videos and books on body language, and it’s an interesting read! I would encourage everyone to look up a basic video on body language.


Below are some videos we watched in class:


Week #9



Dun. Dun. Dun.


Wait, wait! Don’t get scared. We’re reading “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. This is a comedy, not a tragedy. (Do you want to know the difference between Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies? Count how many main characters die. More than ten, it’s probably a tragedy).


We first discussed the history of Shakespeare. He lived in from 1565 – 1616, and this was a very tumultuous time politically. As a playwright, Shakespeare was able to get away with jabs at different political parties, although no one knows where Shakespeare stood politically. We also went through a brief overview of the play to make sure everyone was on the same page. Shakespeare’s language can be difficult to understand, but if you take it nice and slow it’s easier to get into the swing of things.

One thing that makes William Shakespeare’s work more difficult is the fact that words had different connotations when he was writing. For example, when you think of “Desperate” what comes to mind? I think of a crazed person willing to do anything for what they desire. During the sixteen hundreds, “desperate” actually just meant “determined”. A “rival” was a “partner”, and the word “eager” meant “sour”. This lends to confusion when reading Shakespeare’s plays!


We only had a few discussion questions for this week:


1) Do you find this play funny?

2) Why do you think Shakespeare is so revered?

3) Do you think Shakespeare’s works should be required reading? (Most of the students agreed that one of his plays is plenty).


Our writing activity this week was hilarious! All of the students had to choose a story to transcribe into “Shakespeare Language”. Do you know what a nursery rhythm would sound like in Old English? How about “Winnie the Pooh”, or “Little Red Riding Hood”? The responses were so creative, and very funny! Major props to everyone!


The other game we played took Shakespearian words such as “Hugger Mugger” (secrecy) and students had to slip them casually into conversation, earning candy. If you want to play, check out the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” page. I have a resource there with an entire dictionary of Old English!


Is Shakespeare really that bad after all?


Check out the video clips below to see how “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is portrayed on stage and in films.




Week 8!

This week was the end of our unit on “The Giver”.

The biggest complaint about the book was the vague ending. Lois Lowry wrote that she wanted every reader to decide the fate of Jonas and Gabriel for themselves. There was some disagreement among the class over what they thought had happened! Some believed Jonas and Gabriel died, while others believed that they reached another community (or place) where they were safe. To continue on this theme, our creative writing exercise was to finish writing “The Giver”. Responses ranged from goofy to tragic! It was interesting to see the different interpretations.

Below are the following discussion questions we considered:

1) Did you find the end of “The Giver” satisfying?

2) What are the benefits of living in the community?

3) What do you think of the scene (pg 127) where Jonas’ parents cannot tell him that they love him?

4) What did you feel when hearing about the release? Did it surprise you? This is a very relevant social question today, with many debates continuing to discuss whether euthanasia is humane.

What do you think make up a perfect community?

Everyone has food? Everyone has a job? Everyone is equal? There is no fighting? There is no war? It is organized?

What freedoms are you willing to give up for equality or safety?


All of these topics are important to consider, and it was a great discussion book for the class. I’d recommend seeing the movie at some point as well, and asking yourself if the movie was as good as the book (or better!). Next week we begin to read Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Week 7

“The Giver” is a very easy book to read. Many libraries/schools classify this book as “Middle School” subject material. However, I’ve found that “The Giver” is a very thought provoking book about social issues. Lois Lowry was inspired to write this book after she visited her father in a nursing home. He had Alzheimers, and had forgotten about her oldest sibling who had died young. Lowry was then forced to wonder: Was it a good thing that he had forgotten such a painful memory?

This week we discussed quite a few questions that the book raised. Consider the following questions:

1) What are the advantages to having rules? The disadvantages?

2) If you could lie, would you?

3) If you could ask anything and receive an honest answer, what would you ask?

4) What would a world without color be like? (Consider black and white movies).

5) On page 98, Jonas and the Giver discuss what would happen if people had choices, and they said that people would choose wrong. What do you think of that? Is it safer to have someone else chose your job (or spouse)?

6) Do you believe painful memories bring wisdom?

7) Memories are easier borne when shared. If you could take someone else’s pain, would you? Do you want everyone to feel pain?


Our creative writing activity this week was to describe color (or a color) to someone who did not know what it was. The responses were really great, and students chose many different ways to discuss color!

We also played a game called “Telephone Pictionary”. This game begins with a simple phrase or description, but as it is passed among students they must alternatively describe and draw the phrase. In the end, “A man playing basketball” easily turned into “A Penguin and elves”. It was a hilarious game to play! This game had a slight tie-in to “The Giver”. It made us wonder if memories can truly be shared equally, and also made us wonder how memories can be skewed over time.

We had a great Week 7! In fact, I think most of the students have already finished the book!