A Social Experiment: My Totally Awesome ‘Lord of the Flies’ Unit

lord-of-the-flies

‘Lord of the Flies’ is perhaps one of my most favorite units to teach, so I hold off until the last few weeks of school–when the students brains are fried and they start exhibiting their most natural and instinctual behaviors.

I break the class into groups that they will be working in throughout the entire book. I tell them everything will be given a group grade and that everything will also be graded on a curve; it’s not necessarily that you are completing the assignment, but that your quality of work is better than ever other group’s. This creates intense competition within the class. I make a variety of groups: one for all the failing kids, one for all the dominant leaders, a group for the quiet students, a group of girls and one awkward boy–the possibilities are endless!

Day 1: Survivor Huskie Island
I set up the scenario at the beginning of the novel, where the kids crashed on a deserted island, their plane is sinking, and they only have time to salvage ten items. As a class, they must (a) agree on the ten items, (b) come up with a list of jobs for everyone, and (c) create a list of rules and consequences. Then, I sit at the back of the classroom for the rest of the period while the students figure out how to complete the assignment on their own.

It usually begins with the students yelling over each other. The less motivated ones usually take out their cell phones and begin conversations about their social lives/who is dating whom. The prominent leaders begin to emerge and try to take control over the class eventually. I use this information to help me create the groups. I don’t offer them any help and love watching the anarchy commence; it solidifies the fact that my role as an authority and creator of the rules IS important in a classroom.

Day 2: Puzzle Activity/Group Study Guide
This is our first group activity and the students are usually very energized and motivated. I give each group a puzzle and each puzzle has a different challenge. One puzzle has blacked out pieces, another has 100 more pieces than the other, I switch pieces between the groups, etc. When the groups finish, I have them complete another group’s I tell them this will be graded on a curve–the group that finished first gets an A and the last group gets an F. I actually put these grades in the grade book, so when the conscientious students see their grades fall, they start freaking. I have actually had students cry. And, of 60 students, I only had one student ask if he could help the other groups when he was finished. This year, I even had to have a parent meeting, where the mom spent about twenty minutes criticizing my teaching and analyzing my grade book and telling me how important her daughter’s GPA is (yes, I am even teaching the parent’s lessons here–that sometimes we have to fail to learn how to deal with crisis and this particular student-parent duo was failing miserably at failing).

Then, I give them a study guide to complete as a group that is due the next class period. I make sure to give them not enough time in class so that they must, as a group, figure out how to get it done. Some of them will turn it into a Google Doc and collaborate. Some groups will elect one member to complete the entire study guide. Some groups will schedule a study session during their off period or during the weekend. And, some groups will fall apart and not finish the study guide at all.

Day 3: Make a PB&J Sandwich
This is usually the lesson that the students start catching onto my madness. The groups create a list of steps to make a PB&J sandwich. Then, we switch papers and have someone from another group try to make the sandwich. We vote on who had the best directions, so the sandwich makers are usually pretty competitive and literal. One group forgot to write the instruction about using a knife, so the sandwich maker used his hand. Another group forgot to instruct to take the bread out of the bag, so the sandwich was made on top of the bag. And another group said to spread on the edges, so the PB&J ended up on the outside edges of the sandwich. It’s a very entertaining lesson. But, what is most surprising is they will start asking me if I am creating a ‘Lord of the Flies’ situation and pinning them against each other–and they will continue to exhibit the same competitive behaviors.

Day 4: Symbol Progression Chart/Individual Study Guide
On this day, I give the groups a symbol; these include the hunts, the appearance of the boys, the littluns, the state of the conch shell. They must track the symbol throughout the novel and give a presentation on how the meaning of the symbol changes throughout. Some groups go all out, with boy paint and costumes. Others will make skits. And yet, others will stand in front of the class and read a piece of paper. I purposefully do not give directions because I want them to feel that ambiguity so we can talk about what it reveals about their character: do they buck up to a challenge or cower over?

Day 5: Map of the Island
The only directions that I give the students is that must create a map of the island with the five most significant events. I recommend that they get creative. I give them one class period to plan and one class period to work, so the groups must figure out how they are going to bring in supplies (and, I watch what happens when someone does not fulfill their end of the commitment and the group is screwed). Some groups make some really cool three dimensional models of the map out of paper mache and Play Dough, others just use markers on a poster board. As I walk around the room, I try to pay attention to the maps that are really creative to infuse that competitive nature amongst the groups that are obviously failing and whose maps are not as cool.

Day 6: Final Discussion
Instead of discussing ‘Lord of the Flies’ itself, I reveal to the students what my mischievous intentions were the entire time. I ask them to spend some time journaling about the following questions:
-Evaluate your group. Explain your group dynamics: Did you work well as a group? Were there certain people that did more than others? What did you do to those who were absent/didn’t fulfill their commitments?
-Evaluate yourself. What were your motivations? Were you motivated by grades, leadership, not upsetting your leaders? Think about your own behaviors and actions. Did you cry when you saw your grade decrease? What did this unit reveal about your character?
-Which Lord of the Flies character do you most resonate with? Why? (Most students think they are the ‘Ralphs’, but they are really just the littluns)
-Consider your group activities, the Stanford Prison Study, and Lord of the Flies. What have you learned about human behavior?

We talk about which characters in the book they resonated with. Inevitably, there is at least one Piggy, one Ralph, one Jack, one Simon in each class. We watch a case study on the Stanford Prison study and the Stanley Milgram study and we find out that perhaps we are all just savage, role-consuming, selfish, competitive, instinctual creatures. We talk about how they react in the event of failure (aka their grades dropping)–some cry and feel defeated, others look at it as an opportunity to improve themselves and work harder next time. We talk about how the groups became cocky when they continually won, and how group members starting turning on each other. We talk about how some students were motivated by learning, but most students were simply motivated by good grades (and what that means in our society). And yet, some students also want to talk about how human behavior is not something appropriate for English class (these are usually the Jack’s).

This is perhaps my most favorite unit to teach, because I have the opportunity to not just teach about vocabulary and five paragraph essays, but about life. Most kids will leave this unit and not think twice about their motivations and their own savage nature. But, few will make a conscious decision to inspect their own desires and behaviors and make changes and those students are what I live to teach for.

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