Collins Classroom Classics

silver crown next to a crown of thorns

Forging creative connections in King Lear

Any teacher introducing King Lear in the classroom, whether for the first, or even the 20th time, can’t but help feel daunted by the sheer philosophical and emotional heft of Shakespeare’s most-studied tragedy. How do we convey the significance and complexity of its over-arching themes, such as power, loyalty and… Read More
Victorian school desks

Exploring Childhood in Hard Times

‘If we can only preserve ourselves from growing up, we shall never grow old and the young may love us to the last,’ declared Dickens.  This call to protect the magic and wonder of childhood concluded his New Year’s Day essay, published in his magazine Household Words, almost exactly a… Read More
Dracula's house with full moon and bats

Considering Dracula and the supernatural: teaching tips

Gothic literary texts can take so many different forms, but they share a preoccupation with the crossing of boundaries: between life and death, the past and the present, ancient and modern, good and evil or more generally, between what is real and unreal. Gothic writers take their readers, then, across… Read More

Teaching tips: Insight and Empathy in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

The protagonist, Mrs Dalloway, spends her life contemplating and waiting. The endlessness of her days are epitomised in the structure of the novel; a flow of consciousness that is both absorbing and frustrating. It is said by her guests that ‘Mrs Dalloway is always giving parties to cover the silence’. Ask your students what they think this silence is a metaphor for. What do they think of the emotional hardship of keeping silent? Does the quote apply only to Clarissa or extend to other characters in the novel? Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a dinner party in the middle of June 1923, a warm day in the shadow of The Great War. Whilst in London, she thinks about those she has been in love with; her husband Richard, Peter Walsh and Sally Seton. She ponders what her life would have been like if she hadn’t have chosen her stoic and reliable husband. Using empathy skills and their adaptation of Clarissa’s authorial voice, can students describe how her life could have been with either Peter or Sally? What would her restraints have been? How did the other characters’ lives span out? Would Clarissa have wanted this? Would she have been happy? Would they? Juxtaposition of dark and light The novel has some dark and melancholy themes such as war, hallucinations and suicide. Suicide itself seen by Dalloway as a way to preserve happiness. Why then, in the midst of these themes, is Dalloway then hosting a dinner party? Why does Woolf create such a juxtaposition? Discuss and debate. The passing of time Another key theme of the novel is time. We are reminded of its passing, both in the physicality of reading the novel whilst losing time in its words, as well as in the constant ticking reminders in the novel such as Big Ben striking every 30 minutes. With time running away from us, why is it important to consider that the novel is set over one day? What is time a symbol of here? What is it reminding us of? You might like to structure the discussion towards the links with the Great War and time running out for those thousands of men, the inevitability of death, the lives that are left behind and the sense that all the characters are ‘marching towards death’. Happiness and discontentment Discontentment also permeates this novel. Are any of the characters truly happy? Can any moments of happiness be seen? Ask students to research the poem ‘Angel in the House’ by Coventry Patmore. Patmore’s ideal of a woman in 1854 is not so very different to Victorian ideals. How can a woman as educated, intelligent and thoughtful as Woolf fit into these ideals? What damage did it do to her? What about Clarissa? Is she discontent or is she stoic? Look too at Sally Seaton, once a wild and free woman who ran down the corridor naked to get her wash bag, now married with 5 children to a man Clarissa is not convinced she loves. Did she have to make this change to fit into patriarchal society? Do you think she likes who she is now? Can they now discuss this concept relating to today’s society? Are women seen differently now? Septimus clearly has Post-traumatic Stress Disorder; a condition previously called ‘shell shock’ and began being frequently diagnosed after the First World War. There are some excellent extracts in Bird Song by Sebastian Faulks to support research and teaching around this area. The treatment in Victorian times was ‘Rest Cure’. Can students research this and present their findings? Which characters would have received this ‘cure’? How is it damaging? Why does Woolf include its topic in a novel set on a sunny pleasant day in London, 1923? Why is mental health so often at the forefront of Woolf’s novels? Further Reading suggestions: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilmore creates a vivid portrayal of hallucinations and mental illness as well as the damage Victorian medicine and belief of mental illness can do. The Awakening by Kate Chopin has many parallels between Edna and Clarissa. Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte. Cathy chooses between Linton and Heathcliff in a similar way to Clarissa choosing between Richard and Peter.   By Joanna Fliski Joanna Fliski is a freelance writer, secondary English teacher and primary school teacher in Bristol. Read More

Creative activities to bring Jane Austen’s Persuasion to life

Persuasion's protagonist Anne Elliot is perhaps the one character who critics describe as closest to Austen herself, going as far as to suggest that this novel is in fact part autobiographical. It is a novel that shows Austen at her wittiest. Although Anne, ‘the only one with any sense’ is taken for granted by her family, her strong sense of self and righteousness can be heard throughout in her authorial voice. She is no fool, yet acted foolishly in her youth. Like all novels by Austen, the tale spun here is of failed romance, human error and ultimately reconciliation. The following creative activities will bring Persuasion to life; they are designed to be funny and lively – much like the elaborate dinner parties in the 1880s that Jane attended. Agony Aunt Activity There is nothing Lady Russell likes more than subtly telling Anne how to run her life. Now it’s your turn to be controlling in the name of ‘proper society’. Students should imagine they are an agony aunt in the 1800s, what advice would they give in the following situations? a) Dear Lady Agony, my beloved father and sister Elizabeth fritter away our family inheritance on materialistic possessions. My dear Papa is concerned with the society of ‘gentleman not working men’ and old money and titles. I orchestrated a move to a smaller house in Bath to save money but discover them spending copious amounts of pounds on society in the assembly rooms. What would you suggest I do? Anne b)  Dear Lady Agony, I used to be engaged to the finest of men, but it was an ill-advised match due to his lack of money and my family’s ease at spending it.  I saw him again recently, ‘the worst is over, I have seen him, we have been once more in the same room’. He clearly despises me yet my heart remains his. He has money now, what amends can I make? Anne c) Dear Lady Agony, my dearest goddaughter was engaged at 19 to ‘a young naval officer who had no fortune or expectations’. Thankfully, she broke off the engagement at the time but now I discover her wish to reconcile. How can I remove her from this situation without scandal that may be reflected on me? Lady Russell Can they now create their own problems in the guise of a character and have other members of the class solve them? Could you turn this into a Drama activity with the characters coming alive from the page? What about a modern interpretation with the characters being contestants on Love Island? 2. Dating App You have received an application from Captain Frederick Wentworth who wishes to set up his dating profile. He was quite withdrawn and quiet so you may need to find some additional information about him in order to make him sound appealing to the highest quality social ladies. We do have the quote: ‘what I desire above all in a wife is a firmness of character; a woman who knows her own mind’. We also have it on good authority that he is the ‘most handsomest man in the Navy and quite unattached’. It shouldn’t be difficult to make a sound social match. We will of course need to know his income and his family lineage. Which ladies’ profiles would we match him with? 3. Character Top Trumps  Show the class a pack of Top Trumps before starting this activity. Ask students to spend 15 minutes collecting all the characters they can think of in the novel (this activity will work better with main characters so they can then choose 10). They then need to make a Top Trump card for their chosen character with a picture. I would suggest some of the following criteria for the cards with a mark out of 100: occupation, money, stupidity, secrets, honesty and importance to the novel. This should cause some lively discussion – is Mr Elliot the stupidest character and what makes him this way? What about Anne’s sisters? Where would they rank? Could they create a limited edition villain and who would that be? Is Anne the Top Trump or Frederick?   By Joanna Fliski Joanna Fliski is a freelance writer, secondary English teacher and primary school teacher in Bristol. Read More
Theatre Masks

Identity and Disguise in Twelfth Night

We are living in a time when identity, particularly gender identity, has become a highly topical issue. How we identify others and identify ourselves has become a key concern, with whole websites established to help people. It’s constantly in the news, from Billy Porter’s appearance on the Oscars red carpet… Read More