The Giver by Lois Lowry is a teacher’s dream novel. The complex dystopian plot line, dynamic characters, and thought-provoking themes provide so many opportunities for teachers to foster text-to-self and text-to-world connections.
Critical thinking activities that allow students to empathize with the characters are a must-have in any novel unit. Below are 8 of my favorite activities for The Giver that do just that.
This activity is always a class favorite. It allows students to empathize with Jonas and his friends as they are assigned careers by the Chief Elder during the Ceremony of Twelve.
Students are welcomed into the classroom by a colourful poster for The Ceremony of Twelve. Once they are all settled, immediately transform into The Chief Elder. Address the class explaining that although they have spent the last 11 years learning to fit in and standardize their behavior, that this ceremony will celebrate their differences. Then, one-by-one present each student with their new job and a designated card that states all of the roles and responsibilities. After each student gets their assignment, have the rest of the class say in unison, “Thank you for your childhood.”
Give your students a choice of assignment. They can either fill out an application for a job switch or write a journal discussing their feelings on their new role in the community!
In The Giver, Jonas has the capacity to ‘see beyond’. This means that Jonas, unlike the other members of the community, can use his senses from memory that allow him the ability to see color. This fun, seeing beyond class activity allows students to step into Jonas’ shoes to understand his ability to see beyond.
Students enter the classroom to a colorful poster welcoming them to Seeing Beyond. Ask them to circulate the room to different areas that have hidden image optical illusions. Some will be able to see the hidden pictures, while others will not.
After the activity, students work with partners to discuss how they felt when they were or were not able to see the hidden image. They will also discuss how it felt to successfully or unsuccessfully help someone else see the image and how this relates to the novel.
In The Giver, Jonas in his role as The Receiver is transmitted the memories of the past from The Giver. This simulation of the memory transmissions allows students to empathize with both Jonas and The Giver as they will both receive and transmit memories. It has always been a hit with my students (and it’s free, so grab it by clicking here!)
Put a colorful poster on the door welcoming your class to the The Giver’s Annex. The teacher is then transformed into Giver and gives each group of students descriptions of new memories that Jonas will receive.
Some of the memories involve painful events of historical significance like slavery, and the Holocaust, while others involve more positive memories like Neil Armstrong’s arrival on the moon! Students discuss prompting questions that will have them understand the value of keeping the world’s memories safe. After all the memories have transmitted, they will shift into the role of The Giver. In this role they will transmit one important historical memory to Jonas of their choosing.
The elderly in The Giver are seemingly treated with the utmost respect and care in The House of Old, but the reader soon learns that things are not as positive as they appear. The elders of the community are killed, a.k.a released, from society. This activity allows students to examine how the elderly are treated in different cultures/countries in the world and how this compares to how they are treated in Jonas’ community.
Students will enter the classroom to a colorful poster welcoming them to The House Of Old. They participate in small group discussions with information cards that provide details about how the elderly are treated in different cultures. When they are done, they fill in the blank card with how the elderly are treated in the novel and share with the rest of the class!
In Jonas’ community, everyone must share any dreams they have with their family members. On the surface, dream sharing seems like a good way to keep open communication about inner feelings. In reality, however, it is another way that the government can keep control of the thoughts of their citizens and squash any independent thinking. This activity allows students to interpret their own dreams and consider what deeper meaning their dreams may have.
After reading chapter 6, students are greeted at the door with a poster welcoming them to Dream Sharing. Break the class up into groups of 4 and tell each group to imagine they are family members. Each group receives dream prompt cards with common topics for dreams that have symbolic meanings. Each student shares a dream they remember which connects with one of the topics. If they can’t connect with any topic, they can share any dream they remember.
After everyone has shared their dreams, give each group the Dream Interpretation Cards that explain the symbolic significance of each dream topic.
Students discuss and reflect on how it felt to reveal a dream and consider whether or not this would be a good practice in their everyday life.
In Jonas’ community, members are sheltered from feeling any physical or emotional pain. While this theoretically seems like a peaceful way to live, Jonas soon learns that feeling no pain desensitizes people and doesn’t allow them to appreciate positive emotions. From pain, people are also able to learn from mistakes and avoid making those same mistakes again in the future. This activity brings this idea to the forefront by showing students a real-life example of someone who feels no pain.
Students work in groups to read information about people who feel no physical pain (you could have them research Gabby Gingras or Ashlyn Blocker). As a group, students discuss whether or not they would like to life a life without physical pain and what challenges they might face if they chose yes. Then, they work with their group to brainstorm a list of advantages and disadvantages to living a life free of emotional pain.
Jonas and his family participate in a nightly ritual called “The Telling of Feelings” where each person describes an emotion that they experienced during the day and discusses it with the others. Help students understand what this ritual would be like by forming classroom families and simulating the practice.
After reading chapter 2, put students into groups. It is preferable that groups consist of two boys and two girls, but it isn’t necessary. Tell them that the group is their new family and they are to assign roles (parents and siblings).
Each student gets a “Feelings Card” that they fill out in preparation for the ritual. Students must choose a precise word that describes a feeling they had that day. Each member of the group shares their feelings while the other members listen carefully.
After the ritual, have students discuss whether or not they could see themselves doing this with their family, if it would make a family closer and why they think this is an required ritual in Jonas’ community.
In The Giver, couples are expected to have 2 children as mandated by the government. While this may seem completely removed from the modern day, this activity will teach students about China’s one-child policy and allow them to consider how it relates to the novel.
This activity works best with a bit of pre-reading discussion. Students discuss how they would react if the government limited the amount of children they were permitted to have. Ask them if they think this could or would ever happen?
After some discussion, have them read an article or watch a video on China’s one-child policy. I have students record their thoughts as they read using a graphic organizer. The one I use has them consider their thoughts, what they learned, and something that surprised them. Ask students to make a connection between this policy and the events of the novel.
I have compiled all of the resources I use to teach The Giver into a unit plan. It has over 300 pages/ slides included! There are presentations, vocabulary, quizzes, questions, summary cards, activities, analysis notes, and much more.
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