The problem? It was written in the late 19th century in England and is simply above most of my students’ (admittedly high) independent reading levels.
However, this book was definitely within their instructional reading level, so I turned this lit study into a read–aloud. I read the book out loud (with several selected edits) to my 6th-graders over the course of two months. We had a blast.
Here were some of the amazing benefits…
Instructional vs Independent
I, like you, learned about “instructional” and “independent” reading levels in my pre-service days.
- Instructional Level: kids can do it with a teacher’s help.
- Independent Level: kids can do it on their own.
When I learned about it, this topic was aimed at teaching really young readers. It took me a long time to realize that: super-advanced, older students also have instructional and independent reading levels. In fact, even grown-up Mr. Byrd can be confronted with a text that is a bit beyond my ability to understand, but (with a little help) I can still do it.
Our most advanced kids should still be grappling with ideas at an instructional level, not just their independent level. It’s so easy to just let these students work in the corner and turn in their work later. If they can do it by themselves, then it’s (by definition) not at an instructional level!
So this HG Wells book was definitely beyond my kids’ independent reading level. They needed me to help them make sense of it. I think some of my students hadn’t had that experience in years.
Here were some other benefits.
Exposure To An Important Author
Students learned about a science-fiction pioneer who created War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. Wells even coined the term “time machine.” Just exposing students to great ideas is one of the easiest ways to push the edges of their world. Here are a bunch of classics you could try to quickly bring into your students’ lives.
Major Thematic Discussion
Talk about a concept to blow students’ minds. The novel opens with a discussion of time as the fourth dimension. The protagonist explains how he has learned to move in the fourth dimension just as we can move in the other three dimensions. I loved to see students struggle with this concept and try to explain it to their peers.
The concept of traveling through time opened up heady discussions about paradoxes (here’s a whole section on paradoxes!). Can you change the past? What does that do to the present? What if you killed your own grandfather!?
We also discussed other famous works with parallel themes:
In Back To The Future, Marty must travel back in time and help his parents fall in love… only his mom develops a crush on him! YUCK.
Learn a lesson about the present
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge learns about his own behavior by traveling to his past as well as the future. Similarly, in It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey learns about his own importance by traveling to an alternate future in which he never existed.
Fix the past
There are numerous accounts of time travelers going back to stop a terrible event. In The Twilight Zone episode Back There, a man attempts to stop Lincoln’s assassination, with surprising consequences.
These fascinating themes open up some great creative writing options.
Time’s Influence On Creators
After finishing the novel, we the watched the 1960 film version of The Time Machine.
Students were aghast at the strange changes. In the book, the Time Traveler jumps directly to the year 802,701. However, in the film, he stops off at both World Wars, then experiences a 1966 atomic attack on London, then finally jumps to 802,701. Why would the filmmakers change the story in such a strange way?
We discussed the concept that creators’ own time period influences their work. War was on the mind of people in the late 50s. Naturally, their movie was shaped by this influence.
HG Wells, however, was influenced by the events of the late 19th century in England. His story commented on the effects of communism, technology, and the emerging “easy life.”
This set up an avenue for analysis: how do authors’ own experiences affect their writing? We could spend months on a big, juicy idea like this, and there’s no way the anemic selections from our anthology could support such a discussion.
DIY Special Effects
The film’s effects are humorous to our eyes, but won an oscar in their day. Buildings grow and fall, plants wither and are reborn, the sun swiftly flies across the sky. The evolution of fashion is shown via a department store window’s mannequin.
I asked students to group up and develop a scene to show the world changing through stop motion.
Student ideas included:
- hand drawn animation
- LEGO stop motion
- time lapse photographs of the neighborhood
I bought $20 worth of green fabric to serve as a green screen.
They used technology such as:
- their mobile phones and iPod Touches
- the iPhone and iPad app iMotion HD
- Flipnote Studio, an app for the Nintendo DSi
Once they made their clip, iMovie provides simple drag and drop green screen removal.
Naturally, students can create their own soundtrack. Our lab has Garageband on the computers, which integrates beautifully with iMovie. And publishing the movie is a snap by exporting to a movie hosting site like YouTube or burning DVDs.
We’re still working on it, so a sample is on its way :)
Taking On The Challenge
Rarely do I see my class confounded by a story. It was awesome to really work through this book with them and take them to a level beyond their independent ability.
Try a tough book with your group and see what happens!
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