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Internationalizing the High School English Curriculum with Russian and Eastern/Central European Literature

Produced by Joyce E. Sharp, Granada Hills High School, 1994

Overview/Description of the unit

These "internationalized" lesson plans will be "infused" into my curriculum/core literature of all English classes (grades 9-12), to some degree; however, the specific lessons presented in this paper will be utilized in my English 9 and to a greater extent in my English 9 Honors classes. My main objectives in doing so are to broaden the scope of my students' thinking, in terms of prejudices, racism and the consequences of the conflicts which result from ethnocentric thinking. I wish to expand their awareness, and promote in them a greater, more worldly view of ethnic conflicts while teaching them the basic English skills of reading, writing, researching, listening, speaking and oral reporting, as well as an appreciation of literature from many traditions. They will be learning cooperative group learning skills while becoming increasingly aware of current world events, and the fact that literature is an expression and outgrowth of the socio-political and cultural experiences of each author, and the country/society/ethnic culture from which each has come.

This unit will enhance the core literature and skill-based lessons already in place by expanding the reading choices and experiences of the students and by giving them a greater appreciation of the experiences of their contemporaries in far-flung areas of the world. These reading experiences should also enhance their studies in history, and other social science classes. It will also widen their appreciation and understanding of some of the most recent additions to our populace, and the great upheaval in Russia, Eastern/Central European countries which brought them to our shores. It is hoped that through greater knowledge, understandings and appreciation of our differences, that further conflict in our community (the "Salad bowl" of Los Angeles) can be avoided.


A. Multicultural objectives:

  1. Students will enjoy and appreciate a modernized and expanded core literature to include both fiction and non-fiction, contemporary and historical literature (short stories, novels and novel excerpts, poetry drama, essays, etc.) written by Russian and eastern/Central European authors. These selections will be added to materials read and presented in class, as well as to enhance suggested reading lists for outside reading and book reports.
  2. To increase students' awareness and enhance their understanding of the viewpoints of others who may come from and/or live in a culture very different from theirs; to increase empathy and appreciation of contributions of Russian and Eastern/Central Europeans to our American culture, and of the plight of those new to our society.
  3. To help students to understand the roots of ethnic conflict, the ethnocentric, traditional view espoused in most "Old World" groups, the current trend in Eastern/central Europe toward nationalism, and the very different socio-political philosophy of the United States, where every ethnicity and culture shares in the "American Dream".
  4. To give students an understanding that conflict can be resolved in a non-violent, positive manner.

B. Language Arts objectives:

  1. Reading: Students will read a variety of selections (biography, fiction - novels, short stories, other non-fiction - essays, letters, etc., poetry, drama) by authors from many different countries/cultures of Eastern and Central Europe, in addition to their other core literature selections.
  2. Writing: Students will respond in writing to questions on literary selections, as well as writing in journals. They will write reports, poems and prose, "freewrites" and essays. They will be able to analyze/synthesize presented materials, compaxe and contrast characters, situations, and writing styles, and express their opinions in a persuasive and cogent manner, in written form.
  3. Listening and Viewing: Students will listen to stories told by the teacher (and by ethnic storytellers arranged by the teacher), listen to fellow students read aloud as they follow along with the text, and watch videos on Russian and European culture and literature/authors. They will also take notes on oral reports given by fellow classmates, as they watch and listen to presentations.
  4. Speaking: Students will discuss written materials and present oral reports.
  5. Research Skills: Students will be able to become familiar with the high school library rules and resources (catalogues, computer, periodical guide, references etc.) through a scheduled series of library days and lessons with the librarian. Students also will learn how to write a research paper, including format for paper, bibliography format, etc.


This unit may take up to six weeks, depending upon the level of the students' abilities. It may be interspersed with other Language Arts activities throughout the semester, as a general theme for the semester, or the poetry, short stories, and other written materials may be introduced according to either theme or genre.

"Into" Literature

I. Introduce thematic unit:

A. Introduce new vocabulary words from reading selections, as well as words such as immigration, emigration, ethnic, ethnicity, foreign, foreigner, alien, quotas, nationalism, conflict, etc. ---Discuss the feelings these terms may evoke.

B. Journal entries or "Freewrite" on being a newly arrived immigrant to a new culture (describe sights, sounds, tastes, odors, etc., which may be new or foreign to you), and tell how you may be treated by others or looked upon by others already here. Imagine that you speak very little or none of the native tongue; how would you try to communicate your needs? How might you be able to learn more about the culture, acceptable gestures or other polite behaviors ? OR Imagine what it would be like for you to come to Los Angeles, specifically, as a new immigrant, speaking no English, and knowing very little or nothing at all about our customs, slang, gestures, the significance of various clothing styles, etc.?

C. Read aloud from volunteers' journals, or in some other way provoke discussion. This is a good springboard for role-playing or short skits worked out cooperatively by small groups of two or three.

D. Using a map and/or a globe (preferably, for better perspective), discuss and show students - or better yet, let students find and show the class - where Russia and specific Eastern and Central European countries are located. Utilizing the lists of former USSR countries and their accompanying statistics, which we received in our summer institute, discuss and show students recent areas of conflict (especially in the former Yugoslavia and other countries where conflict has been reported in the news), recent patterns of immigration to the U.S. from these places, and cite and discuss reasons for immigration quotas, fairness of quotas, reasons why people would want to leave their homeland, why they would choose the U.S. as their destination, etc.

E. Assign oral, cooperative learning group reports (This will be both in class and homework assignment over several days- two weeks). Arrange for class trip(s) to school library, or for small groups to be sent for twenty to thirty minutes each to the library to gather information. Assign each group to report on gathered information on a different ethnic group in Eastern and Central Europe (including background or historical information, culture, traditions, etc., as well as on what conflicts with their neighbors they may have). As a group they must decide who will report on what, and in which order, and who will work on the accompanying large artwork/poster which they will use as a visual aid during their oral presentation. Each student will be graded individually by both the teacher and their group leader, whom they will select, and graded also, as a group, by the teacher alone. Grades will be based upon participation, quality of research and presentation, etc.

F. Interviews with immigrants from Russia and Eastern/Central European countries may be done for extra credit, and will be worth two grades for both written and oral reports to the class.

"Through" Literature

II. Introduce literature and reading assignments involving Russian and Central/ Eastern European authors or locales, as well as literature by other authors which involve ethnic conflict and resolution of conflict.

A. Assign independent book reports (due in three weeks). Hand out suggested reading lists (This list may be further enhanced with the assistance of your school librarian), and guidelines, requirements, format, etc. for the book report.

B. Read, orally, as a class, short stories, novel excerpts, biographical and other non-fiction excerpts from several representative cultures - and follow up with discussion on conflict (reasons for, and resolution of).

C. Give short answer quizzes on each story or excerpt, utilizing the gamut of question levels/types from multiple choice, and fill-in short answers, through analytical, higher level thinking skill, short essays.

D. Daily, as students enter class, have journal entry questions on the blackboard or overhead projector, which ask for reactions to various characters and/ or situations presented in the stories read previously in class or assigned for homework.

"Beyond" Literature (includes "Debrief" and "Evaluation")

III. Assessment of Learning, and of increased empathy for new immigrants to our community, as well as increased awareness of the cause of ethnic conflict in both our community and globally, and the potential for its resolution.

A. Show videos, such as the PBS special, "Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo", and read, as a class," A Child's Diary of War" (Zlata's Diary, excerpted in Newsweek, February, 1994). Follow up with oral discussion, or use in comparison with Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and The Diary of Anne Frank, both of which are core literature selections. How are these children like/unlike you ? How is their life like/unlike yours ? Why ? Could these things happen here in L.A.(or in the U.S. ?)

B. Give essay test(s) on the previous questions regarding ethnic conflict in both the literary selections, and in regard to our own community. Ask students to always cite specific examples from the reading selections to support any statements they make in their essays.

  1. Utilize questions of synthesis, analysis, comparison and contrast, etc.
  2. Topics may also include: Why is there conflict between ethnic groups--in the Eastern European nations? in our community? can and how can these conflicts be resolved so we may all live in peace as a community? and as a global community? --- and probably the most relevant to our students, what can I do as an individual to avoid/resolve conflict in my life and community?
  3. 3. Have students read "The Sniper" by Liam O'Flaherty (about an IRA sniper who accidentally shoots and kills his own brother while on night patrol in Dublin), and have students write an essay/reaction paper regarding the horrors of war/ armed conflict.

C. Assessment/Grades will be based upon: journal (graded periodically), dialectic journal (annotated during silent reading/notetaking, during oral reports, etc.), short answer quizzes on reading selections, oral reports (group), vocabulary and spelling tests (based on literature selections read in class), and essays, as well as on participation in class reading and discussion, and book reports.

*** Another excellent essay/discussion question: If I have pride in the group to which I belong, must I then, also, feel superior to members of other groups ? (A good one for students - and adults - to ponder!)

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