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My best lesson - A cliffhanger ending leaves them in suspense

I love to teach Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, and my favourite lesson is when the class discusses George's killing of Lennie.

In the previous lesson, Lennie's life is hanging in the balance as the bell goes. I have perfected this "cliffhanger" technique over the years. It means that the students come bounding in to the next lesson, thirsty for knowledge of Lennie's untimely death.

As the students enter the classroom, the lights are dimmed and the interactive whiteboard bears the image of a smoking gun. Silence is imperative. Once they are settled, I read the remainder of the novel - the smoking gun acts as a dramatic backdrop.

Next, a sheet of paper and several marker pens are placed on each table. On every sheet I have written a question about the death scene. Would you have killed Lennie? What would have happened if George hadn't killed Lennie? What is the socialhistorical connotation of the act? What is the significance of George walking with Slim? The questions are all differentiated.

This task provokes discussion among the students. They explore their thoughts while I move around the classroom, asking further questions, flipping their ideas and challenging their arguments.

Students then move to a new table, adding their thoughts to those that the previous group have written down on the question sheet.

To conclude the lesson, I use the sheets to spark a hot-seating activity. I start by taking the role of George, answering questions posed by the class. Students then take the stand, playing the parts of Lennie, Slim, even Curley. Their notes help to contextualise their character impersonations. Alternatively, students could work in fours to talk to each other in character.

This lesson helps students to really experience the tension of the novel, and to understand the emotions that Steinbeck explores. The knowledge that they gain supports their assessment and exam.

Georgia Hamilton is an English teacher at Ringmer Community College in Sussex, England.

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