Well, teachers, are you ready for another year? I hope you’ve been able to find at least a few hours of rest this summer after all your work throughout the year. But now it’s fall again—time to get back into the groove of teaching the next generation about their world. Over the past month or two, I’ve slipped on a teacher shoe from time to time in order to imagine the teens who may be reading The Messengers: Discovered. What a thrill it has been to create potential lesson plans! Yes, I know. My enthusiasm for curriculum development isn’t always contagious. And implementing new lessons is where the real teaching takes place. But by providing five posts on ways to share my novel in the classroom and other settings, I hope I’ve been able to help spark some ideas of your own as you use and adapt some of these activities for your own group. Some of you have even been showing me your own materials! Thank you for partnering with me to remind students of the Message worth dying for.
Maybe you want to gain ideas for a literature class, book club, youth group, or religion class—or perhaps you see the potential for using this book in a social studies course. (I do! See below.) No matter how you want to lead youth through this novel, I pray this series of blog posts can be helpful for your planning as you pick and choose from the opportunities listed.
Getting started . . . at the end. Forgive me if you’ve heard this already, but there are questions at the end of the novel (two questions per chapter). In the classroom, these can serve well as comprehension assessments or discussion starters. If you tackle several chapters each class, feel free to let your students pick which questions to discuss in class. Of course, you can plan ahead and pick your favorites. Need some ideas? Here’s a brief list of questions I would probably ask if I were in a history or social studies classroom:
- Chapter 1, Question 1 unites the dystopian genre and topics of government right at the beginning. Because dystopian literature often has a dysfunctional government, social studies is a ready complement. Simon’s wariness of his society ultimately leads to his wariness of those who lead it. Use this question to engage students in evaluating the traits of Simon’s world.
- Chapter 3, Question 1 asks students to dig into their prior knowledge of how past and present societies provide, censor, and otherwise control entertainment. Some governments would provide a pseudoviolent event to likely serve as an outlet for an otherwise repressed citizenry; the Roman Colosseum is a probable example your students will consider. You may want to gather a few additional examples of your own.
- Chapter 22, Question 1 brings in practical connections to real examples of economics. As the teacher, you know the depth and breadth of what your students can process in terms of how worldview can affect government control of economy. At the very least, you can present various models of economic systems and ask students to decide which is closest to that of New Morgan. To dig deeper into cultural assumptions and values, I recommend using Starting at the End as a personal resource on this topic.
- Chapter 24, Question 1 can lead to a complex discussion on how the world treats the marginalized. For the sake of time, you may want to limit the discussion to how various governments treat the needy. This could expand into a larger exploration—even a project—where your students would explore the stories of refugees, minorities, and other groups within society. Want to go even deeper? Challenge them to think about these issues close to home and how we might respond as citizens and as Christians (comparing and contrasting those roles).
- Chapter 27, Question 2 reminds the students that the Messengers are at the very least a countercultural group and often rebels or even criminals. Talk about the reactions that citizens in the novel express to this challenge to earthly authority. You may want to ask your students how they see themselves as Messengers in the world and how others react to them.
Church and state. Some youth might think that the balance (and tension) of church and state issues is limited to the American experience. By no means, of course! If you teach a world history class, assign groups to study a specific government from an ancient civilization. How did the rulers interact with religious matters? Discuss the differences with rulers who restricted religion, ignored religion, or even enforced religion. Students may want to examine how governments have affected the Church over time as well. (For a thorough resource that addresses this among other things, click here.)
Civil disobedience. There have been many examples of civil disobedience throughout history. How does a Christian respond when obeying the Fourth Commandment seems to conflict with obeying the First Commandment? Does civil disobedience mean a disregard for all laws when in a state of protest? Students can examine famous examples throughout time and discuss the nature of leaders. They could also consider some of the people in the Bible, as Simon Clay in Discovered does: the midwives during Moses’ day; Jeremiah; Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego; Daniel; Stephen; Peter; and many others faced conflict when deciding to obey God or earthly authorities.
A two-kingdom world. God is in control of all things, including earthly kingdoms. For a topic related, but not limited, to civil disobedience, engage students in considering how we live as citizens of our country and citizens of the kingdom of God. This may be a great time to pair up with a religion class to approach this unit as a joint effort. What tasks does the government have that the Church does not? What tasks does the Church have that the government does not? Martin Luther brought greater clarity to this topic. For a small excerpt on some of his treatment of the topic, click here.
Other works. Christians and non-Christians alike have explored censorship, tyranny, and intolerance. Ask your literature teachers what books they teach on the topic. Look for movies, clips, and songs that address these themes. Even if you don’t read or watch a work in its entirety, you could discuss how various forms of art respond to times when government has restricted the freedom of speech, religion, and the like. See freebie below.
FREEBIE: Again, you may decide not to read or view these pieces in their entirety (due to time, age level, and subject matter), but your class can become familiar with a sampling of primary sources when art and entertainment have responded to tyranny, social unrest, or restrictive governments. The free list included here provides a starting point for you to explore.
Thank you for joining me on considering ways to teach others the Message through The Messengers. Please find me on social media or comment below to learn more or share your own ideas!