Top 10 Things to Do with a Banned Text

Banned Book Week 2010 Poster from the American Library AssociationHow will you discuss Banned Books Week (BBW) this year? It’s easy to find ideas for displays and activities for libraries. The problem is that most of them are too general or would be difficult to use in the writing classroom.

To solve that problem, I began brainstorming ways that students can think critically about censorship. The result is this collection of projects that focus primarily on argument and persuasion. When possible, I tried to think of options that allow students to speak their own minds, for or against limiting access to a text.

So here are the top ten things to do with a banned book—other than read it, of course!

  1. [Mock Trial] Put the author of the banned book on trial (or a character from the text). Let Gustave Flaubert’s experience with Madame Bovary be your inspiration. You can adapt Mock Trial resources and the ALA’s suggestions for conducting a challenge hearing for the project.
  2. [PSA] Make a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that supports the text and the freedom to read (or BBW). You can create a video, audio, or slide show PSA. There are audio examples at the ALA site. Your announcement can focus on BBW as a whole or might be a campaign for the freedom to read a particular text.
  3. [Character Diary] Write a diary entry from the perspective of a character from a banned text. The character may be one whose actions are cited when people talk about banning the book or someone else in the text. There’s a List of Ten Character Diary Prompts you can use if you want to extend this activity.
    Adapt this writing prompt for students: Someone wrote the story of your life, and the book has been banned from _____ because of _____. Write your reaction as a diary entry—Are you shocked? pleased? upset? Do you think the banning was fair?
  4. [Warning] Create a warning label for a banned text. Examine that appearance and wording of warnings that are added to movie and television shows, cigarettes, and prescription drug commercials and ads. Have students then create a label that would be placed on the cover of the text. The label can be realistic or satirical. Here’s an example for Huck Finn and some additional tips on designing warning labels you can use to supplement discussion.
    Introduce the Warning Label Generator to add some play to the project. The images may not match properly, but the tool is fun. And if students think no one would ever put a warning on a book, you can share “Ratings, warning labels don’t belong on books.”
  5. [Testimonial] Write a testimonial letter or blog entry that explains why you support (or don’t) a banned text. Your goal is to convince readers to read (or not read) the text. Alternately, you can argue that the text be kept (or not kept) in the school or public library or read by students in a particular class.
    Your testimonial needs to personal, based on your experiences and beliefs. This is your chance to make a personal statement about why the text should (or shouldn’t) be read.
  6. [Language of Persuasion] Choose a statement for or against banned text, and examine how the language contributes to the argument. These questions can guide your analysis:

    • How are specific examples from the text used? When and to what effect?
    • What about euphemisms — how do the authors sugarcoat or generalize their messages with their word choice?
    • What about their sense of audience? Do they understand their readers? How can you tell?

    After you’ve examined the language, compose a blog entry, podcast, or video presentation that analyzes the authors’ language, explaining what you can conclude about their goals, their sense of audience, and their ideas on the issues.

  7. [A Fable] Have each student brainstorm a list of things that might happen if a text is banned from a library or classroom. You can focus on a specific text or just banned books in general. Next, students share their lists with the class, and identify the items that recur and those that seem particularly significant or surprising. Ask each student to choose an item to focus on, and write a fable that tells the story of the banned text and ends with or discusses the item chosen from the class lists. The moral of the fable will be related to whether books should (or shouldn’t) be banned.
  8. [Biggest Myth] What is the biggest myth that you’ve heard in the media about a banned book? Write a letter to the editor, to the television show, or to the general public that explains why you disagree with the coverage they have given to the myth you’ve identified.
    In your letter, describe the myth that you’ve heard and read, explain why you believe the assertion is untrue, and suggest reasons that the myth has developed. Identify and share more realistic explanations. Persuade your readers to change the way that they talk about the banned text.
  9. [Investigative Report] Describe the book banning in the form of an investigative report—the kind of piece you’d hear on 60 Minutes, Dateline, or 20/20. Start with a question or issue that the banning focuses on, explain all of the facts and details that you uncover in relationship to the issue, and conclude with the insights you gain as a result of your investigation.
    Like an investigative report on TV, your report should stir your reader to some kind of implicit action as a part of the conclusion — the point might be to stir the reader’s emotions, to inspire the reader to challenge the banning, or to suggest that the reader take an active role in how books are chosen for the library or classroom.
  10. [Censor It] Identify passages from a banned text that have been cited for using inappropriate language. Have students work in small groups to rewrite the sections. Ideally each group should have a different section of text to work with. Collect the two versions of the passages. Share the rewritten version of each passage with the whole class first, and then reveal the original version. Talk about what is lost (or not) in the censored versions.
    Use the activity to talk about how rewriting, expurgation, and omission are used as a way to talk about banned texts. Class discussion can include:

    • Radio versions of songs that get air play versus original versions with explicit lyrics.
    • Beeping out words in audio and video broadcasts.
    • Blocking images with a black box or blurred area in television broadcasts.
    • Adding a “clean” voiceover for inappropriate words said in a movie played on television (e.g., “shoot” for “shit”).
    • Cutting scenes and events from a movie before playing it on broadcast television.
    • The name of the CBS sitcom referred to as “Stuff My Dad Says” when spoken and often shown in print as $#*! My Dad Says. (The show based on the Twitter feed Shit My Dad Says and the related book Sh*t My Dad Says.)

For some specific lesson plans, see ReadWriteThink’s calendar entry for Banned Books Week. Check out my Bedford Bits post for Persuasion, Argument, and Book Banning in 10 Steps.


6 News Stories to Connect to Orwell’s 1984

Big brother poster by anarchosyn Big brother really is watching you. Today we accept a certain amount of oversight by government and business as a part of daily life.

Students know about all the surveillance cameras that follow them as they move about in the world. They realize the U.S. government tracks details on their income and health. They know that online vendors know what they buy and everything they looked at before they decide. They have all heard stories of someone who gets a ticket because of an act caught by a traffic light and toll booth camera.

Still, they can bring a skepticism to class when they read George Orwell’s 1984. Seriously, we could never be watched that closely, right?

Several recent news stories may make the answer to that question less certain. Have students read and discuss any one of the stories as an introduction or supplement to 1984, or arrange students in small groups, having each read a different article and then present the information and their comment to the class.

  1. Someone’s watching Granny cook her eggs. A new video surveillance system watches over senior citizens, monitoring everything from when they get out of bed to whether their eggs are fully cooked.
  2. Aunt Martha’s been in the bathroom for 30 minutes. Motion sensors track senior citizens around their homes, sending text messages to family when a possible problem arises. RFID chips track medicine and the inventory in kitchen cabinets.
  3. The scanner says you missed class today. Students must flash an ID card near the university lecture hall entrance to register their class attendance. The resulting information feeds into class participation grades.
  4. Alert! Preschooler has left the building! Thanks to a radio frequency tag in special basketball jersey-type shirts preschoolers wear, teachers and administrators can quickly tell when a student wanders off campus. The system tracks students at recess, in the cafeteria, and even in the bathroom.
  5. Why is Will still on the school bus? RFID chips and barcodes on student and faculty IDs and various pieces of equipment will allow a high school to track where people and things are at all times if funding is awarded. If someone’s missing or out of place, they can take action immediately.
  6. Your recycling bin may tattle on you if you throw away too many plastic bottles or cardboard boxes. In Cleveland, Ohio, RFID chips and barcodes will tell garbage collectors how often you put out the recycling. If it’s not often enough, your trash will be searched and you can be fined $100 if recyclables are found.


Student discussion of the articles can be guided with these questions:

  • What freedoms or privacy rights does the system affect?
  • What is the benefit of the system?
  • How would you feel if you were monitored by the system?
  • Would you feel comfortable using the system to monitor someone else?
  • How do the benefits balance with the loss of privacy? Is the loss worth the cost?

If students read and discuss several of the articles, additional questions can ask them to compare and synthesize the pieces:

  • Notice that the targets of these programs are either students or senior citizens. What do you make of the focus of these systems?
  • What other ways are monitoring systems used in America? How do the systems in these articles compare to them?
  • Create a scale that outlines how you feel about tracking and monitoring. What should always be monitored? What should never be monitored? What falls in-between? Explain how you decide where to place things on the scale.

Note that these articles would also make a great supplement to M. T. Anderson’s Feed.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by anarchosyn]

10 Things You’ll Want To Read This Summer

Man using a laptop outsideWhether summer means time to read for fun or to prepare for teaching in the Fall, I bet you’re beginning to gather that reading list.

You probably know where to find details on the year’s award-winning children’s and teen books. You probably have a few articles lying around you mean to get to, and I bet you plan to check out the resources on ReadWriteThink.

Maybe you’re looking for something different though? Check out the ten must-read online resources I’ve included in this week’s NCTE Inbox Blog.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Mr.Thomas]

Poem 3: Green Eggs and Ham

Weren’t expecting this one next, were you? I confessed my love for Dr. Seuss a couple of years ago, so I may as well admit that Green Eggs and Ham is one of my favorite poems. How can you look at these lines and not smile?

Do you like
green eggs and ham?
I do not like them,
I do not like
green eggs and ham.

My favorite Dr. Seuss video ever isn’t the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Admittedly I love that to, but I delight far more in Jesse Jackson’s reading of Green Eggs and Ham.

Why do I like Green Eggs and Ham? I KNOW Green Eggs and Ham. At any moment, you might hear me adapting the situation in front of me into the rhyme and rhythm of the poem. Don’t believe me? Just a few minutes ago, the local NPR talk featured Virginia Governor Kaine’s veto of a bill that would "allow gun owners with concealed-carry permits to have firearms in establishments that serve alcohol, as long as they don’t drink."

At the end of a related interview, a state legislator who opposed Kaine’s decision said, "People should be able to carry their guns in a bar. Or in a car." I have no idea why he tacked on that "in a car," but I was off, creating a little dialogue for Sam and the governor:

Do you want
to hide a gun?
I do not want to,
I do not want
to hide a gun.
Would you hide
one in a bar?
Would you hide
one in a car?
I would not hide
one in a bar.
I would not hide
one in a car.
I do not want to
hide gun.
I do not like them

I know. I know. Not really much of a children’s book. For it to fit the plot, the governor character will have to hide a gun, use it in some life-changing way, and then he can exclaim, "Say! I like to hide a gun! I do! I like to, Sam-I-am!"

Pathetic, huh? I can summon the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales or The Waste Land effortlessly and I can allude to passages from hundreds of other poems—but Dr. Seuss is what comes to me most simply. It’s probably not shocking to anyone to hear that I wish I could write children’s and young adult books.

Yes, I’m an amateur medievalist who wants to be both a modern poet and Dr. Seuss. It’s a curse really. Every poem I try to write ultimately takes on a Dr. Seuss cadence:

Do you want to
eat a peach?
Do you want to
walk the beach?

It just doesn’t fit the imagery does it? Probably best for me to just read Green Eggs and Ham (and keep my Seussian poetry to myself).

11/23 Journal

Cleanapalooza is 90% over. The living room is inhabitable again, and there’s enough space in the kitchen to cook.

Spent the afternoon in Salem, with my mom, sister, and niece. Mom had an eye doctor’s appointment, and we went along to give her company. While she was in the doctor’s, we took the car and did a little holiday shopping at a nearby Walmart. Didn’t buy anything overly exciting, but did manage to get some little things out of the way. After Mama’s appointment was finished, we went by the fire station where my brother works. It’s an older building in Roanoke. It was beginning to snow, so we didn’t go inside. Just said howdy, I gave him my leftovers from Sonic, and we were on our way back home. We ordered various pizzas for dinner so that we weren’t distracted from Cleanapalooza.

Musing on Martin’s Big Words

got loads of cleaning and organizing done, though no real
writing. looking for some kind of small magnetic board for the office,
but all i seem able to find are big magnetic white boards. not exactly
the ideal solution

have been thinking about the MLK lesson plan that i’ve been
working on. letting it simmer mainly. i’m still sort of between feeling
unsure if it’s a useful lesson or just a lesson with a social agenda without
any other real purpose. i
have it has a 3-5 lesson focusing on the Martin’s
Big Words
book. have students talk about the notion of ‘big’ words
and then go out to choose their own ‘big’ words. the other alternative
is to give them MLK quotes and have them choose ‘big’ words which they
compose into a found poem, or something of that sort. i dunno. maybe it’s
just that the theory section seems so gaggy to me right now:

To talk about Dr. King’s life is to talk about horrible
things: racism, bombings, murders, assassination. Yet it is also to
discuss wonderful things: love, peace, harmony, pride, determination.
What do we tell children about the "bad" things in the world?
How can we "give [them] hope… provide [them] with reasons to
embrace life and its possibilities" (Stanley 41)?

Ultimately, Stanley resolves, "Education is the only solution
that I know to these dilemmas. Education, understood not as technique
or training, not as schooling, but as part and parcel of ‘the engagement
of being human,’ i.e., the shared act of making meaning of meanings
inherited from others" (41).

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the NCTE Executive
Committee issued a statement
that concluded similarly: "We assert that the long-term response
to violence and cruelty — indeed the only truly effective response
— is education, an education in which social justice and the dignity
of all people are held paramount."

In this activity, students focus on this kind of educational goals.
Through an exploration of Dr. King’s use of non-violence protest and
the power of words as a weapon for social justice, students learn
more about Dr. King’s life and think about their own impact on the
future. And by turning from King’s words to their own hopes for the
future, the activity makes specifically highlights hope for the future.

Further Reading
Stanley, Timothy J. 1999. "A
Letter to My Children: Historical Memory and the Silences of Childhood."
Teaching for a Tolerant World, Grades K-6: Essays and Resources.
Ed. Judith P. Robertson. Urbana: NCTE. Pp. 34-44.
     Stanley’s article focuses on talking
to his children about whether Nazis are "bad guys." While
not directly about King or African American history, the piece is
a relevant discussion of the things that we do and do not talk to
children and students about, when we discuss the, how we discuss them,
and why we discuss them.

i dunno. it’s ok i guess but it feels so PC instead of sounding like me. it’s like i’m not even there. some stuffy theory paraphraser is. or maybe the problem is that i’m trying to justify teaching MLK rather than why we’re teaching about the idea of "big" words and such. i don’t have to finish it till at least tomorrow.