English - Drama in the Big Apple

6th January 2012 at 00:00
A class trip to New York gives added bite to English interests

I recently led an A-level English trip to New York, which was enjoyable as much for its absurdities as for its educational value.

We experienced a kind of ambivalence throughout the visit: the sun shone relentlessly but it was hard to get warm; the bright lights of Times Square were dazzling and exciting but it was hard to look at them for long without feeling nauseous.

The main aim of the visit was to immerse students in the culture of the city while exposing them to some new material in the world in which it was written. To that end, they read Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge - a potential coursework text - on the flight. A few days later we crossed Brooklyn Bridge, and suddenly Eddie's dreams for his niece Catherine became so obvious. The sun set behind the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline glowed, and it was almost impossible not to believe that something magical would happen as you stepped off that bridge and into the city.

Having read Emma Lazarus's The New Colossus while staring up at the Statue of Liberty and the blatant propaganda that met immigrants at Ellis Island, we decided to discuss the American dream while sitting on a set of steps that led to nowhere in the middle of Times Square. There we met the "Naked Cowboy" - dressed appropriately - who was playing a guitar and posing with tourists. Two of the group asked him if he believed in the American dream. He said no. That answer cost them a dollar.

St Paul's Chapel, opposite Ground Zero, offered the most humbling experience of all. A refuge for rescue workers in the days after the 911 attacks, it is now a museum filled with letters and photos. I was moved by a letter from a woman who answered emergency calls on the day and told people to go to the roof of the World Trade Center to be rescued by helicopter. Though she was only following orders, her letter was a way of dealing with her guilt.

This was an important experience for my students. Every one of them engaged with an aspect of literature and experienced something they will never forget - posing for German TV at the finishing line of the New York marathon, ice-skating on the iconic Rockefeller Center rink, just missing out on seeing Justin Bieber or laughing at their teachers' indignation at having to pose for the naked body scanners at the airport.

Such trips are the stuff of dreams for students and I cannot recommend them highly enough. How rewarding it is to be able to offer something so inspiring. I was just thankful to return with the right number of students. And if I had to choose a memory to hold on to, I don't think anything could beat that view from the bridge.

Adam Webster is an English teacher at an independent boys' school in Surrey

What else?

Rather than rushing it on a plane, take time to explore Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge in depth; try the TES English study pack.

For more NYC literature, mediadave has developed resources for the Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poem Two Scavengers In a Truck, Two Beautiful People In A Mercedes.

In the forums

Teachers suggest some useful introductory activities for A View from the Bridge.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources016.

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