There and Back Again: Adventures of Teaching The Hobbit

Last semester at Veritas Christi Hybrid Academy, in my 7th and 8th Literature & Composition class I’ve been teaching The Hobbit. There have been multiple times that my own knowledge of Tolkien’s world has been put to shame by students who are quickly becoming experts in Middle-earth lore!

I used this as an opportunity to introduce the concept of summarizing, so each day of class would open with a review of the reading assignment they finished. Then the students would take a few minutes to write a one sentence summary of the chapter they read. I found that they enjoyed reading their sentences out loud afterwards; it motivated them to do their best and they were able to see how each person’s summary varied.

They also had a lot of fun with Tolkien’s language, from the rhyming of his poems to the alliterations scattered throughout the text. It was satisfying for me to hear them begging to read “just one more verse” from a poem. With all my literature classes, I am encouraging the students to get engaged with the text by reading out loud. In many cases, it helps the reader pick up on the nuances of the language. Instead of me telling them the effect of a certain literary device, reading the text out loud themselves, they can experience it themselves.

I also used The Hobbit to reinforce the concepts of plot and conflict. The students really enjoyed listing all the possible conflicts in each chapter. It was a good opportunity to discuss what conflict is, as many of their answers differed and we had to try to decide which ones were most accurate.

It was fun to tie this book in with their Medieval History class by showing how Tolkien used the language and stories of the Angl0-Saxons and Norse as inspiration.

We ended our reading with a Hobbit party at school. In art class, the students made centerpieces inspired by The Hobbit, such as a model of the Lonely Mountain or Bilbo’s sword and ring. We also worked on a poster board display together that gave an overview of Tolkien’s life, explained his use of Anglo-Saxon rings, highlighted literary devices in the story, described the story’s characters, and explored the connection between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. We also had some Hobbit themed food, such as cram, apple cider, pickles, and trail mix. During lunch, the students were split into two teams and given a number of riddles to solve. I made up little paper bags of candy as prizes for the team who got the most riddles right.

I was really happy with this reading choice because it got all the kids engaged and it gave them a positive reading experience. We’re slowly working into more literary analysis, but one of my priorities is to show the students that reading can be enjoyable. This was my second time reading through The Hobbit and I was struck by the depth of character development. Although the plot lacks the complexity and vastness of Lord of the Rings, it is an excellent story in its own way. Bilbo’s growth was compelling and fascinating to observe. The challenges faced by the dwarves, from agreeing to let Bilbo come to listening to his plan to escape the Elves, was also really interesting to notice as a reader. In a way, Bilbo and the dwarves had the opposite development; Bilbo gained bravery, and the dwarves gained humility. The Hobbit is far less intimidating of a read than Lord of the Rings, yet it explores many of the same themes. It even inspired me to consider developing a literature course based around the “Inklings,” writing club founded by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I think The Hobbit could be an excellent introduction to some of these authors’ more complex works.

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