Genesis for the Journey
Our classroom journey through Middle-Earth began in December of 2012. Searching for a “hard” book that my 5th and 6th grade ELL (English Language Learner) students would be able to read led me to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Due to the anticipated popularity of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation, I thought it would be the perfect selection to get my students enthusiastic for reading. Though the book would serve as a challenge for them, I knew with vocabulary support from me; they would be able to successfully decode and comprehend the text. A little incentive didn’t hurt either. I promised my students that if they were able to complete the book within 3 weeks, we would take a weekend field-trip to our local movie theater to view the film.
My students not only completed the book within 3 weeks, I believe they also had evolved into Tolkien fans for life. These children are rather spoiled by my indulgence in their literary exposure. I try to only allow my students to read high-quality literature in my class, and as a result, they have become quite selective in their reading choices. My students are already used to challenging vocabulary and complex plots and characters as they are regulary fed a steady-diet of Shakespeare. I suspected they would find Tolkien’s world equally engaging as the fantasy world of Middle-Earth has many similarities to that of Shakespeare’s.
When we returned from winter vacation in January, my students were still talking about Tolkien. I would overhear them in the halls proudly sharing with their native English-speaking peers about how cool the book and movie were. Students who were not members of my ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program were seeking me out and asking, “is it really true that your class took a field trip to the movies?” All of a sudden, it was “cool” to be in ESOL.
My students began to pepper me with questions regarding Tolkien’s other works. I told them about Lord of the Rings, which many of them were already familiar with due to the Peter Jackson films that most of them had viewed previously. They were curious about the books, but I discouraged them from pursuing LOTR citing reasons such as not having any class sets of the books in our building, assuming the content of the books would be too difficult for them to understand, and a shortage of teaching resources for using the books with primary students. I underestimated my students’ dogged determination and abilities as they began to hound me daily. The more they pestered, the more I began to ask myself “if they really wanted to, why couldn’t my students read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy by the end of the school year?”
I had yet to spend my $100 teaching budget, supplied by our school’s PTA to be used to purchase classroom materials. I decided to spend mine to buy a class set of LOTR and one teaching guide for the series published by Scholastic (See Provisionals and Resources page of the blog). This guide contains an author biography, chapter summaries, discussion questions, vocabulary builders, assessment strategies, reproducibles, and cross-curricular activities for students of all learning styles. Armed with our books and a guide to Middle-Earth, we were now ready to begin our journey, which will be thoroughly chronicled in this blog. We hope you will enjoy making the journey with us!