December 2000 — Volume 4, Number 4
A Novel Approach: The Shawshank Redemption
Elisabeth Gareis, Martine S. Allard, and Jacqueline J. Saindon (1998)
Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. viii + 98
ISBN 0-472-08483-6 (paper)
Pp. viii + 106
For teachers who seek to get students interested and involved in literary study, the series A Novel Approach may be just what they are looking for.  The authors of the series have taken English language novels with U.S.film versions and created a series of exercises that lead students through a reading of the original text to a critical viewing of the film version. Students are even given a chance to create a film of their own. Of course, only those films that do not include “gratuitous . . . violence or sex” (p. v) find their way into this series.
The workbook accompanying Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (King, 1982) follows the pattern common to other texts in the series. There are five main sections (introduction, pre-reading activities, reading activities, the video project, the movie) plus a glossary, which take the student from pre-reading activities to beyond a viewing of the film version (Darabont & Marvin, 1994).
The introduction gives students an overview of what to expect for the series. The authors have also provided a brief summary of the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption in order to get students interested in the tasks ahead. This section also includes information about the title and the author in order to begin developing a sense of schema for students to draw upon once they begin reading the novel.
The pre-reading activities begin with general information about how to study literature and narrow to more specifics about the issues brought up in the novel. After a free association activity where the teacher shows students a picture, they write down their feelings about the picture and what it represents and share their answers with fellow students. They then begin a study of what is involved in reading and analyzing literature through extensive reading and vocabulary guessing exercises. The purpose here is to broaden the students’ understanding of terms and concepts they will encounter in the novel and to give them strategies to deal with the unknown.
In the chapter on reading, students participate in a variety of activities designed to accompany the novella’s nine sections (as defined in the pre-reading chapter). These sections are further broken down into five parts, to include: a teacher administered quiz (the questions are in the teacher’s edition), vocabulary development activities, group discussion questions/topics, whole language activities, and writing topics. Again, the focus is to get students to think about the reading, to interact with others in the class regarding what they have learned, and then to write out their thoughts on the issues. [-1-]
The purpose of the video project is to help students learn what is involved in the production of a film based on a literary work, specifically, creating dialogues, developing storyboards, and techniques used in creating dramatic effects. This project culminates with students actually producing and videotaping their version of a particular scene from the novel as they think it should appear. Students complete this project before watching the movie so they can compare their version of the scene to how the producers of the movie envisioned the scene.
The movie viewing is accompanied by a series of pre-viewing, viewing, and post-viewing activities and questions designed to have students engage in critical thinking about their viewing experience. This short chapter is followed by a glossary that gives definitions of the words and idiomatic expressions used in the novel.
The teacher’s manual gives suggestions for how each of the activities might be used in the classroom and for homework; when appropriate, it gives possible ways to adapt the text for intermediate or advanced students. Additionally, the authors have given answers to post-viewing questions as well as suggested quizzes (with answers) to go along with each chapter.
This series, specifically the accompaniment to The Shawshank Redemption, accomplishes many tasks that one would expect it to do. First, the text is built on a foundation of sound ESL pedagogical theory. It is designed to “help [students] understand the novella and the movie; learn about U.S. culture; and increase [their] skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing” (p. 1). The authors accomplish this by having students write in journals, learn vocabulary through games and other interactive methods, interact with others in small group and class discussions, and compare their reading and viewing experiences. Furthermore, each chapter offers plenty of opportunities for students to develop their vocabulary through known contexts and to expand their understanding of new contexts through vocabulary learned in previous sections of the novella.
Adopting this text can considerably reduce the amount of preparation time involved in using the novella for an ESL literature-based reading class. There are numerous activities to draw from at all levels of pre-reading, reading, and viewing. For example, in section 4, under the heading “Vocabulary Development,” students (and/or the instructor) are given the choice of writing in a vocabulary journal, playing vocabulary games, or participating in a vocabulary group activity. The authors have provided rules for each of the games, although some of the directions may need more explanation from the instructor. However, the instructor would most likely have to explain the new activities anyway.
An added benefit to using this particular novella in an ESL classroom is that it contains multiple references to American culture in each section, and the characters use slang and idiomatic expressions in a variety of different settings. This may lead to interesting discussions about American culture, prompting spontaneous activities and/or writing topics beyond what an instructor might come up with alone. The glossary provides assistance in explaining how idioms are used in the novella but students are still encouraged to try to figure out the meaning of new words and expressions via context. [-2-]
One concern I have regarding this text is the need to consider the setting in which it is used. For example, since the movie contains adult themes and some profanity, you may not want to use it for a junior high or possibly even a high school ESL class. At the college level this is less of an issue. Also, since some of the activities are more appropriate for more or less advanced students, it might be necessary to pick and choose from the activities in order to challenge students to expand their knowledge base without going way over their heads. Instructors still have to know what level their students are at and what activities would be most appropriate for them. Fortunately, there are a lot of them to choose from, and the teacher’s manual helps by giving suggestions for which activities might be most appropriate for the different levels and learning styles represented in the classroom.
Overall, this is an interesting and helpful companion to The Shawshank Redemption. The activities work at multiple levels, engaging students in personal and group inquiry regarding issues relevant across cultures. Not having to spend hours coming up with activities, quiz questions, and writing topics is a real time saver that allows the teacher to spend more quality time meeting students’ individual needs. Additionally Stephen King has integrated a rich language base, especially in terms of idiom use, into the novella for students to draw from in developing a schema for future literary study.
Darabont, F. (Director, screen play), & Marvin, N. (Producer) (1994). The Shawshank redemption [Film]. Los Angeles: Castle Rock Entertainment.
Gareis, E., Allard M. S., Gill, S., and Saindon, J. J. (1997). A novel approach: Being there. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
King, S. (1982). Rita Hayworth and Shawshank redemption: A story from Different seasons. Thorndike, ME: Thorndike Press.
David R. Martin
Washington State University
© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor’s Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation.