More Information About Skellig
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- A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
Prior to reading the novel, students should go to this website to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” The thought behind this pre-reading activity is that David Almond, author of Skellig in an interview with Don Latham recognized Marquez’s short story as an influence on Skellig. After reading this short story students can have a class discussion on the treatment of the angel. Should the people have treated him like a circus display? Why did the angel tolerate the child more so than other people? Class discussion does not need to be right and wrong answers, just thought-provoking discussion. After reading Skellig students will read Don Latham’s essay, “Magical Realism and the Child Reader: The Case of David Almond's Skellig” to further connect Marquez’s short story to Almond’s novel. In mean time, this pre-reading activity is designed so that the students keep the short story in mind while reading the novel and can make their own connections before reading the ideas of others.
Integral to the end of the book is the myth of Persephone that deals with how spring came to exist. Students should read this short summary of the myth of Persephone in order to understand the significance of this myth when it enters the novel. After students have an understanding of the myth lead a class discussion on the concept of opposition: spring and winter, life and death, etc. Is spring more important than winter? Why are they significant? What do they symbolize? Do we ever feel like that—we have a winter in our own lives, but it’s melted away but a spring season of our lives? Discuss how the rebirth of life will be a theme of Skellig.
- William Blake
Once the character of Mina, the little girl, is introduced to the novel William Blake is cited frequently. Students need not be scholars of Blake but it would be a good idea to give them a basic understanding of who he was, his beliefs, his works, etc. As an activity students can look up information on William Blake’s life and poetry through this all-encompassing website. Specifically have them look at the mini time line of his life, to see what kind of life he led. Along with looking at the time line, have them look at the Formidable Works section, which has his “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” By having them look at his poetry they can gain a greater understanding of the themes of his poetry and the simplicity of them. This does not need to be an in-depth analysis of his poetry. The point of this activity is to give them a taste of William Blake so when he comes up in the novel students can think, “Ah, I know about him.”
- Photo and definition search
In reading the novel I came across many different creatures and wanted to see some pictures of them to have a good visual of what David Almond was creating. For that reason I think it would be beneficial if students look up images of fledglings, owls, blue bottles, spiders, etc. Looking up these creatures will greatly enhance the imagery of the various creatures in the novel. To ensure that students complete the activity have them either print out several photos of the creatures or draw pictures of the creatures to bring to class. After gather all the photos together and display them on a bulletin board in the classroom as a reminder of the imagery of these creatures. Depending on the ages of the students, they could also look up the definition of the various creatures and label their photos/drawings. By having a visual and definition students will have a good background of the creatures that come up in the book.
- Theme directed personal narrative
Skellig deals with the themes of family, friendship, and adversity. Mainly how family and friends can lift you through your adversities. These themes can be connected to at a very personal level, and students will have an opinion on these themes. As a means of having students connect personally with the novel prior to reading they will write their own *personal narrative. The prompt will be the following: Write a personal narrative about a time when your family or friends helped you through a difficult situation. Use your discretion as to whether or not to have a class discussion on these experiences, because such a prompt can be very personal. *For younger students you can change the assignment from a personal narrative essay to a short journal entry.
- During-Who is that man? (Journal Prompt)
Skellig opens with the words, “I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon.” Immediately our interests are peaked. In order to capitalize on the mystery and intrigue of the novel a journal prompt should be assigned after reading through the official encounter of the man in the garage:
I knew they’d be calling me soon and I knew I’d better get out. I leaned across a heap of tea chests and shined the flashlight into the space behind and that’s when I saw him. I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered in dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shined the flashlight on his white face and his black suit (8).
Along with this description is the dialogue between Michael and the man in the garage. Prior to giving the journal prompt read aloud the above selection as well as the dialogue that follows after. Next discuss with the students who they think the man in the garage is and where did he come from. Following the discussion give them the following prompt: In a paragraph or more discuss who you think the man is, where he came from, and whether or not he is real.
- During-Character list and analysis
Throughout the novel there are a variety of major and minor characters. Even the minor characters are described to some degree. Present a brief lesson on characterization, protagonists and antagonists, flat and round characters. Then give the students the assignment of keeping a character log in which they write down each new character as they enter the novel. Along with writing down the name of the characters have them label the character as major or minor, protagonist or antagonist, flat or round, as well as a brief description of the character. After completing the novel return to this character log and have a discussion on the various characters and what their personalities may stand for within the context of the novel, such as Joy being endurance or Mina being feisty and the implications of those qualities. Or rather how did those characters effect Michael’s development through the novel?
Throughout Skellig, David Almond uses vivid imagery as well as symbolism. Within the first few readings give a brief lesson on imagery and symbolism. After defining and giving examples of what imagery and symbolism is, inform students that they ought to mindful of imagery and symbolism in Skellig. Using the website discuss some of the symbols they listed: the house, the difference in seasons, the use of dark and light in the novel, and the owls.
- During-Still Chicks?—Persuasive Essay or Journal Entry
Mina constantly shares her ideas on everything with Michael; one of her thoughts is that: “We’re still like chicks,” she said. “’Happy half the time, half the time dead scared” (141). Discuss what the background is to this story—they’re watching after the baby birds that have fallen out of the nest. However, they can’t help them; the birds must seek shelter from the elements and predators on their own. Though they’ve fallen out of the nest the mother bird continues to feed them. What does this have to do with Mina’s comment? Engage the class in a discussion about what Mina is trying to tell Michael. How are they like chicks—what are they happy about and what are they scared of? After completing this class discussion assign the students either a persuasive essay in which they defend or reject Mina’s idea. Or have them write a journal entry from the point of view of Mina or Michael.
Skellig delves into a variety of topics. As pointed out by the website one of those themes is of transformation—Michael changes as he realizes “the world doesn’t revolve around him,” he learns to care more about others, like Mina, the baby, Skellig, and the chicks. Hold a class discussion on how this happens to many people throughout their life. Has it happened in the life of your students? Do they have personal experiences to share? How is Michael’s growth important? Does it change the novel? Why? Make sure students realize how important his change is; because of his change he is able to help Skellig who in turns helps baby Joy. Open the discussion to any other characters that have a transformation—Skellig, the baby, Mina, etc.
- After- Michael or Mina's Diary
After reading all of Skellig give students the project of creating a journal in the point of view of Michael or Mina. They should pick five different scenes from the novel in which they can write from the point of view of one of the kids. An example of journal prompts can be found on the teachit.co.uk website; the website only provides prompts for two situations in the point of view of Mina. Some other ideas for prompts are: when Michael first encounters Skellig in the garage, when Michael and Mina have their mystical dance with Skellig, the progression of Mina and Michael’s friendship, or Michael’s feelings on the struggles of his baby sister. By having students complete this journal project they will demonstrate mastery of the text at the synthesis level of Bloom’s Taxonomy because they will have taken the story and recreated the thoughts and feelings of the two major characters*.
- Note: Students could choose to do the point of view of another character for their journal entries but caution them that they need to be able to be able to create five journal entries.
- After- Compare and contrast
In their before readings students should have read Gabriel García Márquez's short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Now that they have completed reading both works students should read Don Latham’s “Magical Realism and the Child Reader: The Case of David Almond's Skellig” or depending on the comprehension level of the class certain passages from his essay or summary of his essay can be used. The idea of reading Latham’s essay is to give students some ideas for a comparison and contrast essay. This essay can be used as a spring board for ideas or a class discussion can be held about the similarities and differences between the short story and novel. After reading the Latham essay or having a class discussion, students should be assigned a comparison and contrast essay between the two works.
- After- Homeschooling debate
In his article Stanley Dudek presents the following question: “What is Mina talking about when she says, "The mind needs to be opened to the world, not shuttered down inside a gloomy classroom" (49)?” Have a class discussion concerning the pros and cons of home schooling. Would students prefer to be home-schooled? What are the benefits of being at a public/private school? Engage the students in a variety of questions so they can have a meaningful class discussion. Following the class discussion, have students write a persuasive essay either for or against home-schooling. To add another level of creativity they can take on the persona of Mina for writing this essay and use some of her quotes from Skellig or they can take on the persona of one of Michael’s friends, Leakey or Coot, who don’t like the home-schooling.
- After- Role Playing
After completing Skellig, use the role-play cards from the teachit.co.uk website to give students assignments for taking on character roles for various situations from the book. By having students participate in a role-play it will assess them at the synthesis level of Bloom’s Taxonomy because they will be required to “role-play” what they have read. The role-plays can either be actual scenes from the book or made-up situations. An example of a made-up situation would be Michael telling his mother that Skellig was the one who visited Joy in the hospital or Mina telling her mother about Skellig.
- After- Drawing Skellig
Depending upon the grade-level this after reading activity can be used and/or manipulated. Have students go back through the novel and find passages which describe Skellig, other characters, or scenery. After collecting these descriptive passages have them select their three favorite ones. With these passages they will create three pictures. Allow them to draw the pictures, find images online, or use photography (I only suggest a variety of mediums because not all students are talented at drawing). Along with their drawing they should write the descriptive passages on the drawings. On the day the assignment ask students to share some of their drawings and why they decided to represent their particular passage the way they did.