Lesson Plan on Atonement by Ian McEwan
1. Theme and text basis of the lesson
The following lesson plan will refer to the novel Atonement by Ian McEwan and the movie of the same title directed by Joe Wright. The story is about a 13-year-old girl named Briony Tallis who has a vivid fantasy and one day sees her older sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner, the son of a family servant, at the fountain in front of the house. She does not understand what is going on between Cecilia and Robby, misinterprets the scene and a series of misunderstandings is set in motion that causes lasting repercussions for all of them. After the fountain scene, Briony reads a letter from Robby to Cecilia, that has a sexual overtone, and so she concludes that he must be a maniac. Then she sees Robbie and Cecilia in a dark corner of the family's library having sex, which disturbs her still more. When her cousin Lola is raped, Briony, under the influence of fear and disappointment, tells the police that it was Robby who committed the crime. Robby is immediately arrested. The actual rapist is a visitor to the estate who later marries Lola. Both hide behind the lie and Briony is left to atone for her sin.
I will generally refer to the novel’s key scenes (fountain scene, Robbie’s letter, library scene, scene in the wood, interrogation scene, Briony as an adult) and two movie trailers. The lesson is designed for the Oberstufe, more precisely for the 12th class (Leistungskurs) because the text is relatively long and the language is rather sophisticated. I would cover this topic in the second semester because it fits very well to the content of “Extreme Situations”, which covers the issues “love and happiness”, “initiation”, “fight for survival”, “tragic dilemma” and “the troubled mind” (Hessisches Kultusministerium 8) which are all contained in the novel.
2. Short outline of the teaching sequence
The following teaching sequence takes up activities introduced in the presentation on Atonement- Teaching the Movie; however, it is not a reproduction of the presentation because here, the activities are designed for a double lesson. In the presentation, the activities have been shortly introduced but they have not been performed and concluded like in a real classroom situation.
The introduction of this teaching sequence, to which this lesson plan will refer particularly, will be the work with the movie trailer as a general introduction to the whole subject. The students will have read the whole novel during the Christmas holidays. At the beginning of the teaching sequence the term “trailer” is explained, then the students are asked to reconsider the book and think about key scenes they would include in the trailer of Atonement. The results are written on the black board. The students watch the movie trailer and then work in groups and use a worksheet to analyze and discuss the trailer. This activity lasts 30 to 40 minutes. Afterwards the students watch a second trailer for the same movie, take notes and discuss the differences between the trailers and their effects. This activity takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Afterwards the results of the group and the trailer are compared to see if the students focused on the same scenes as the filmmakers. The last thirty minutes of the teaching sequence deals with the opening scene of book and film. The students are asked to scan the first chapter of the book and, in a group discussion, the opening scene of the film is predicted. The results could be written on a transparency by the teacher so they can be compared with the opening scene in the next session. There is no time to compare the result and the actual opening scene. This will be done in the next session. This structure should establish the students’ interest and curiosity for the following session.
3. Outline of the double lesson
First, the outline of the following double lesson, as explained above, is introduced to the students, so that everyone knows what to expect. The teacher asks the students what a trailer is and hopefully some of the students will know and explain to the class that a trailer is a “short, filmed advertisement for a new film” (Hildebrand 32) and that the “idea of a trailer is to summarize the film in two minutes of viewing time, and to indicate what makes the film it is advertising uniquely different from other films on the cinema circuit” (Hildebrand 32). After giving them this short definition of a trailer, the students are asked to reconsider the book and think about key scenes, they would include in a filmed advertisement for Atonement. The ideas are collected and written on the black board by the teacher. In this sequence the teacher gives the students short information about what a movie trailer is and for what it is useful and he or she initiates the students to think about key scenes. After the brainstorming, the work with the movie trailer is started. The introduction (explaining the outline of the session, define the term “trailer”, ask students for important key scenes they would include in a trailer) should not be longer than 15 minutes.