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Herriman Journal

Elective lit classes attract fans of fantasy, history, movies

Nov 22, 2021 11:32AM ● By Jet Burnham

After reading “The Book of the Dead”, students create their own cartouche with authentic hieroglyphics. (Brianne Anderson/Mountain Ridge High)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

High school students are diving into literature that they love, with a variety of elective language art classes offered at local high schools.

“It is a really fun way for seniors who might feel like the traditional language arts model is a bit stale to mix things up and get a new experience,” said Connor Bertoch, who teaches a sci-fi/fantasy literature class at Mountain Ridge High. Students earn a senior language arts or elective credit while reading books by Tolkien, Bradbury, Sanderson, Steinbeck, Le Guin and Butler.

“Science fiction and fantasy as genres often deal with high concepts and big questions, and some of the most thought provoking and talented writers of the last century have been doing phenomenal literary work exclusively in those genres,” Bertoch said.

The class is designed to be more discussion-based than a traditional language arts course.

“Most of the learning and work we will do will be to prepare for and make the most of class discussions related to the texts we are reading, so we can come to some dialectical conclusions as a class,” Bertoch said.

Erin McGuire, who teaches the sci-fi/fantasy literature class at Riverton High School, said the genre is very appealing to high school students who love the elements of fantasy, magic, creatures and the possibility of becoming an unlikely hero.

“Usually the protagonists are in their age group, so that is one big connection with them,” she said. “They can connect to them—they're the same age, they're thinking the same things but they're overcoming these enormous obstacles.”

McGuire’s students read about characters in their fantasy worlds and then bring them into the real world. One assignment is for students to create a song playlist for one of the characters in the novel they're all reading. Another is to create social media posts a character would share at a certain point within the novel.

Students also build a character and a world, draw a map and write a short story set there. They have fun writing a b-movie screenplay and then filming it. Students who take the class in the first semester celebrate Bilbo Baggins’ birthday in September by enjoying the Hobbit tradition of eating second breakfast during class.

Popular books like the “Percy Jackson” series have inspired young peoples’ interest in mythology, which is both historical and fictional, said Brianne Anderson, who teaches a Mythology class at Mountain Ridge High. She introduces students to mythologies from around the world—Greek (Pandora, Hercules, Perseus, and the Trojan War), Norse (Thor and Loki’s exploits in Asgard), Aztec and Latin American and Ancient Egyptian.

“A lot of mythology was passed down orally for generations before it was written down- it’s cool to hear stories from centuries ago that are still relevant to us today,” she said.

After they’ve studied a text, Anderson often shows students the movie based on the story. Many of the books students read in the alternative language arts classes are so popular among teens, they have inspired movie adaptations.

Students in Cassie Astle’s Film to Lit class watch a movie for each of the novels they read. After reading fairy tales, they watch “Shrek” and “The Princess Bride.” They study historical fiction novels “The Help” and “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” and then compare them to the films.

“We look at archetypes and how they are represented in each novel and film,” Astle said. “We look at the choices the directors make while filming a scene. They compare and contrast the book and the movie and ultimately have to determine who did it best. Students have to show an understanding of the complexity of the original work and their interpretation of the movie. They must back up their opinion with textual evidence, which teaches them to think critically and provide support for their opinions.”

Astle hopes students learn to love the art of storytelling and develop a critical eye as they read books and watch movies. Creative assignments for the class include writing a fractured fairy tale by changing the setting or flipping a character from antagonist to the protagonist. As part of the study of “Guernsey” the students write pen pal letters to sixth grade students in the district.

Teachers choose books and movies for their classes based on what they think will be compelling for students. They choose from those that are approved by the district and also request parent permission.

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