The Journey Begins

The boys bonding over books.

The boys bonding over books.

Fifth and sixth-grade girls rallying to the reading challenge.

Fifth and sixth-grade girls rallying to the reading challenge.

On February 22, 2013, my class of 13 fifth and sixth-grade ESOL students began reading The Lord of the Rings. Due to a fire drill that day, we had a shortened class period and were only able to read a short portion of text. Each student was given a 6×9 steno pad with instructions to use it to jot down any questions, text connections, and unknown words they encounter. Students were also issued their dwarf or hobbit names (see The Traveling Party section of the blog). As I observed them while we were reading together, it seemed that all students were enjoying the book, so far, and were able to follow the story. My students also needed frequent reminders to respond to the text in writing and not through verbal interruptions. Their enthusiasm and curiousity were evident.

The question of the day I posed was: How do you feel now after reading the first few pages?:
“It’s awesome! Easy!”
“I felt good about this book.”
“We’re never gonna finish Lord of the Rings!!” (Got to have one pessimist in the bunch, at least!)
“I feel that this book is not a hard book.”
“I think we will be able to finish the book”
“I think we are never going to finish this book.” (Make that two pessimists!)
“There’s lots of words that I don’t know, but I think it’s fun!”
“Good…even though it had a lot of words, I understand them; so far, so good.”
“I felt the book was not too hard for me”
and my personal favorite…”I felt excited because we are about to read a book that is very hard for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) kids.”

I agree with my students. They fared much better than I thought they would. One particularly enthusiastic dwarf, Kili, continued to frantically write questions in her steno pad after class had ended. It should also be noted that Kili had a very negative attitude about reading The Hobbit back in December. She felt she would hate the book and it would be boring. Ironically, she enjoyed it the most and has become one of Tolkien’s most dedicated devotees. Her questions were about the new character of Frodo. She did not know who he was so she said, “Did Bilbo birth Frodo?” The other children laughed at her saying “Bilbo’s a boy. Boys don’t birth babies!” She corrected herself saying, “no,no, I meant did Bilbo’s wife have Frodo?” I explained to her that Bilbo never marries and Frodo is his nephew.

Afraid that this question may launch my students into a discussion on the birds and the bees, I directed their attention to the fact that Frodo was Bilbo’s heir, which helped them to better understand their relationship and why they resided in the same hobbit hole. Kili also wanted to know if Bilbo Baggins was ever going to give the ring to Frodo when Bilbo dies. I told her, “you’ll have to wait and see what happens in the book!” to which she responded, “Oh, Ms. Rodgers, you always say that!”

2 Comments on “The Journey Begins”

  1. Andrew Peterson
    March 4, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    Dear Holly – I can’t tell you how awesome it is to find your website via Jason Fisher’s blog. I respect and envy the opportunity that you have created for these students.

    I first read “The Hobbit” in the fourth grade and, 20 years later, my fourth grade teacher invited me back to read a chapter from the text. I also asked the students to pay close attention to the words used to describe the characters in the scene. When I was done reading, I asked them all to draw and color something that stuck with them. The response was just wonderful. So much so that one child (who never spoke in class) eagerly wanted to show me his picture and discuss what he remembered from the text. My forty minute presentation turned into a ninety minute one. At the end of the lesson my teacher thanked me and, though tears, asked me if I had ever considered being a teacher.

    Now, I am (finally) completing my Bachelors in English Lit and then I’ll pursue a Masters in education as well as my certification here in MA. If I could teach Tolkien for the rest of my life I would be a happy man. I owe it all to Luci Gaudreau and her encouragement that I should read “The Hobbit” so many years ago and, more importantly, for asking me to share my experience with her classroom so many years later.

    Reading through the comments from your students reminded me of the joy and excitement of that special day. You have set your students on a wonderful path. I wish you and your students nothing but the best.



    • hmrodgers
      March 4, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      Andy, thank you so much for sharing your wonderful experience with Tolkien in the classroom! I am hopeful that this blog will serve as a place for readers, teachers, and students of Tolkien to share their thoughts and encourage one another to spread the gospel of Tolkien, so to speak. Although I discovered Tolkien as an adult, I had many teachers who guided me in my literary choices growing up and I hope to provide my students with the same gift. Sharing a book with someone truly is a gift and I wish you continued success and opportunities for sharing as you pursue your dream of being an English teacher. Good luck!

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