A Trove of Documents for Teaching Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”

In June of 2003, I began what would turn out to be my woefully inadequate summer of training in the New York City Teaching Fellows. I’d already had a fair amount (13 years, to be exact) of experience working with kids, but I’d never really served, other than substituting, as a teacher. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn. The one thing I took away from that summer was this: it is the duty, responsibility, obligation and job of the special education teacher to adapt the curriculum to the needs, abilities and interests of struggling learners.

2008 was my fifth year of teaching. Year five is something of a milestone for most educators: they either leave the profession (even by the most conservative estimates, an alarming number do just that) or begin to hit their stride as proficient teachers.

When I began work in the fall of 2008 at the High School of Economics & Finance–or “Eco” as its constituents have it–in Lower Manhattan I’d like to think that I was in that latter cohort (though it’s not really for me to say). It was that year, however, that my interest in curricular design, particularly on behalf of the students I served, really began to take hold. I started reading more deeply about ways to help kids for whom school was a struggle.

For the first two years I worked at Eco, I co-taught a sophomore English class. The curriculum included Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece Things Fall Apart. I set to work immediately creating adapted materials to accompany the reading of this novel. Over two years I created documents to (I hope!) foster comprehension of the literal meaning of the novel, and thereby plumb the depths of its allegorical content.

Somewhere along the way I developed this reading and comprehension worksheet on Nigeria to begin this unit. Because Chinua Achebe took his title from it, here is a reading on “The Second Coming“, the famous poem by W.B. Yeats, along with its accompanying (and longer than usual, if you’ve taken any of the numerous Intellectual Devotional materials posted here, you’ll notice this immediately) vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. Here are twenty-five context clues worksheets and twenty-five reading comprehension worksheets–in other words, one for each chapter of the novel. Finally, here are three quizzes that cover all twenty-five chapters of the novel. Nota bene please, that there are no lesson plans to accompany all of this; I was co-teaching, learning myself how to structure lessons, and trying to figure out, as above, how to adapt the curriculum for the students in front of me. I balanced a very complicated workload and the lack of lesson plans rationalizing this material indicates the extent to which I was spread thin.

In preparing these documents for publication here, I reformatted and generally spruced them up a bit. That said, I recognize this as, well, frankly, not some of my best work. Fortunately for you, gentle reader and user, like virtually everything else on Mark’s Text Terminal, this material is in Microsoft Word and therefore very easily manipulable.

Finally, if you’re not familiar with Things Fall Apart, here is synopsis from Benet’s Readers’ Encyclopedia (Bruce Murphy, ed. New York: Harper Collins, 1996): “Things Fall Apart (1958) A novel by Chinua Achebe. Set in eastern Nigeria during the British expansion into Igboland, the novel recounts the tragedy of Okonkwo and his clansmen under British colonialism. When Okonkwo, a respected tribal leader, accidentally kills one of his clansmen, he is banished from his village for seven years. On his return, he finds his village subject to colonial laws and his tribal beliefs replaced by Christianity. Okonkwo opposes these new practices but finds the villagers divided. In a moment of rage, he kills a messenger from the British District Officer, only to find that his clansmen will not support him. He hangs himself in despair. The first novel by an African to attain the status of a contemporary classic, Things Fall Apart has been translated into many languages.”

This is the point at which I usually plead for users of this blog to notify me if they find typos in any of the documents included in a post. In this case, I’m not so concerned about that, since I will most likely not use these documents again. However, I remain interested in peer review; if you use these materials, I would be very interesting in hearing how, why, and whether or not they were effective.

Post Scriptum: Memo to WordPress: how about making it possible to use different typefaces in blog post titles? I don’t like to put titles in quotes! I want italics in the title box….

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