Setting the Stage

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!

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8 Comments on “Setting the Stage”

  1. Jack Machiela
    February 27, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    A fascinating project! The online Tolkien community is watching with great interest, ready to help you with any questions you have about Middle-earth!

    One question I had for you, coming from New Zealand which obviously has a different education system – can you tell us the age group you’re teaching there? I’m not quite sure from the “5th and 6th grade” reference.

    Good luck for the year ahead!

    • hmrodgers
      February 27, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

      Thanks for your support from NZ! I read your comment to my students and made them find New Zealand on our atlas, so we had a bit of a diversion from language arts to geography for a moment. To answer your question, from what I understand of NZ schools, I believe you refer to grades as years. So these students are in years 6 and 7 of school.

  2. Angela
    March 4, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    What a great idea and I look forward to following your class on this journey as I believe in the power of great lit like Shakespeare and Tolkien, plus the stories are just captivating. It is very exciting that your students are acquiring a more “gourmet” approach to what they read, shows you have done your job well! Thanks for sharing.

    • hmrodgers
      March 5, 2013 at 1:06 am #

      Thanks for following us, Angela!

  3. marcelaubron
    March 6, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    Dear Holly,

    I am very much looking forward for more material coming out of your class room. The German Tolkien Society’s teaching group is planning something similar for older pupils in the near future and I’ll let them know about your efforts…

    • hmrodgers
      March 6, 2013 at 8:36 am #

      That would be wonderful! Vielen Dank!

  4. denizb33
    March 10, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    What a great way to introduce ESL students to the language!

    • hmrodgers
      March 10, 2013 at 8:51 am #

      Thank you so much! My students are really enjoying their reading experience.

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