My best lesson - A nightmare world waits at the end of the day

17th October 2014 at 01:00

Introducing dystopian fiction (my favourite literary genre) to my Year 8s was always going to be a challenge. Doing so at the end of a long day was going to be even harder.

Imagine you are 12 years old and have five lessons in your timetable. As you arrive at your final class, you are focused on who to sit next to on the bus after school and what snack to have when you get home.

When you walk in to the classroom, your English teacher hits you with an awful word: dystopia. It sounds like a tropical illness that you have zero interest in learning about.

So I did something different.

Imagine this: you are still 12 and it is still the end of the day. You enter your English classroom and the lights are dimmed, the curtains are closed and discordant music wails from the speakers. On the board is a series of words such as "entrails", "cage", "barbed wire" and "grey".

You are instructed to write anything that enters your mind, but you have to use as many of the words on the board as possible. You scribble your stream of consciousness.

A horrible narrative of grey entrails twisting up like barbed wire trying to escape the body's cage comes flooding out as the music sobs on and the room's unfamiliar darkness envelops you. At last you are allowed to stop and reflect on what you and your friends have written.

"What do all your pieces of writing have in common?" your teacher asks.

In groups, you discuss this. A list is created: violence, imprisonment, grime, a sense of escape, the future.

Bingo! I have made you understand. You have become the protagonist of my dystopian lesson, you have rallied against a challenging, seemingly overwhelming concept and won.

Katie White is an English teacher at Kingsbridge Community College in Devon

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