So how do you start teaching The Scarlet Letter? Where do you begin?
My thought process was to start with the book’s entire message/theme: the ‘A’ and being ostracized from a community. I decided I wanted to pull the kids into the story line by having them do an activity that made them feel, on a much smaller scale, some of the feelings that main character and adulteress, Hester Prynne, might have felt in being despised and singled out by her community.
I made post-it notes with two words on them, either community member or ostracized. Then, after doing a short intro to the book itself, I stuck the post-its on the students’ backs, randomly, and without them knowing what they or others had just yet.
Then, I told them they were not allowed to speak and said, simply, ‘Okay go.’
My plan was for them to mill about, looking at each others’ backs and start to form communities, naturally.
After a few minutes, students started forming two distinct groups, making it known through gestures and facial expressions and even turning their backs who was not included in their group. The students with the ‘ostracized’ post-its would turn to a student and others around that student would shake their head or even push them away.
After five minutes, the few ‘ostracized’ students had been backed into a corner and were sitting alone. This was exactly what I wanted! I took a few minutes, then, to debrief and ask the students what they were thinking and how they felt. They started to comment on how reactions and gestures told them whether they were included in the group or not. They also connected the idea to The Scarlet Letter, that in the setting of the book there was a clear distinction between who was a part of the community and who was not.
The activity was simple, but fun. I wanted the students to make a personal connection to the text before reading and this activity did that, in a humorous and more contemporary way.