By Teachers, For Teachers
Happy Banned Books Week!
This annual celebration presents us with a teachable moment to encourage reading and open minds in our students. What better way to make reading cool than to make it an act of rebellion, right?
Here are 12 creative ways you and your class can use Banned Books Week as a learning opportunity.
Read & Discuss a Banned Book as a Class
Choose a banned/challenged books for your class, whether it’s a short children’s story, a passage from a novel or an entire book you’ve been reading with the class.
Use this to kick off a discussion on
1. Why people would have wanted to ban this book
2. Why it is a blessing that people/students are free to read it
Banned Books Story/Comic
Have students write a short story or create a comic that celebrates the first amendment (Hint: book burners could be a comic villain). Try Bitstrips to create comics online with drag and drop characters, backgrounds, etc.
Celebrating Characters from Banned Books
Allow students to celebrate characters from banned books. This can be through dress up, drawing, creating a poster for their character, an “In Defense of Huckleberry Finn [or other character]” essay, etc. You can also have students give a speech AS their character describing who they are and why they shouldn’t be banned.
For your celebration, you can use specific books to make this more recognizable. For instance, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, James and the Giant Peach, Harriet the Spy, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Bridge to Terabithia or Lord of the Flies.
Censoring Student Reading - Risk vs. Reward Brainstorm
As a class brainstorming activity or as an individual assignment, ask students to think of different results, both positive or potentially negative, that reading banned books can have on people.
If you want to up the ante, create a venn diagram for your brainstorm. One circle can be for Positive Effects (pro-reading banned books advocates) and one circle can be for Negative Effects (those who challenge books to be removed from schools and libraries).
For example, reading Banned Books may cause:
Rewards: open-mindedness; exposure to new ideas; etc.
Risks: exposure to sexuality or obscene thoughts; loss of values; etc
Banned Books Debate
It's important for students to understand both sides of an argument in order to fully understand and make their own conclusions. Either as an independent activity or building on the brainstorm, you can organize a classroom debate on banning books.
Split the class into two groups. Have one side argue for the freedom of schools to read often-challenged books and the other side to argue why students reading materials should be screened and approved by parents and the school board.
First Amendment Lessons
Banned Books Week is also a great opportunity to teach the First Amendment and the concept of censorship. There are a plethora of lessons and activities available for free online.
Here's a list of resources divided by elementary, high school and additional links for teaching the First Amendment. Channel One also has a good catalog of Constitution and First Amendment lesson plans.
Banned Books Display Activity
Have students complete the analogy: A room without books is like….
Then, create a poster, bulletin board or visual display that brings this analogy to life. Here is an example from the Columbia Pike Library.
Banned Books Poll
ReadWriteThink provides a fun classroom polling activity that introduces the topic in a creative way that should surprise and catch the attention of your students. It also lets them practice conducting their own research.
Writing Prompts: From Banned Books to Required Reading
Grades K-5: What is your favorite book? Why do you like it?
Grades 6-12: Why do you think so many banned books have gone on to become curriculum-required reading?
(i.e. Of Mice and Men, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Bluest Eye, etc.)
Science & Censorship: The Scopes Monkey Trial
Fiction isn’t the only materials that has struggled against censorship in the classroom. Darwin’s theories on evolution had to fight for their way into the curriculum. In fact, the Scopes Monkey Trial was a historic event in US History in which a teacher was put on trial for teaching evolution in the classroom.
Here are a few classroom activities and resources to get started:
Comparing History & Social Issues through Banned Books
Literature is often reflective of the time in which it is written. By looking at what books are being challenged, we can think critically about the changing social issues throughout history.
Pick from select books for examples to demonstrate political and social issue. These resources list the book and the reasons given for the challenge against them.
Once you've chosen a book, examine what caused the book to be banned. Does that coincide with any historical change or social issues relevant to that time period? Let these discussions spark a classroom discussion or research project.
Here a few examples:
Book: And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group
Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Considered "dangerous" because of profanity and undermining of race relations.
Book: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.
Reason: Considered "dangerous" because it "teaches children to lie, spy, back-talk and curse."
Book: Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Year: 1963, 1968, etc.
Reason: Challenged for the novel's use of the phrase "masses will revolt" and later because "Orwell was a communist."
What activities will you use to celebrate Banned Books Week? Share in the comments section!