The Bell Jar
Adapted by Mark Rounds
|California Language Arts Content Standards|
|Standards Addressed in this Unit|
TEACHING AND LEARNING ACTIVITIES
Select and adapt these learning activities to best meet the needs of your students, and to fit the time available:
- Begin this module by reading
Bee Meeting and
Arrival of the Bee Box and compare them to Charlie Pollard and
the Beekeepers (from
Johnny Panic and
the Bible of Dreams). Discuss the difference between Plath's responses to a
single event in her poetry and prose.
- Hand out Biography
or visit Nanogirl.
Plath is already a
monolithic figure in modern literary history, yet her novel stands as a work
apart. To what extent are we influenced by knowledge of her life in the way
we read the book and respond to the characters?
See also the New York Times article
Sylvia Plath, Forever an Icon and the associated
- Read the first three pages and discuss the unity of
Electrocution; olfactory bombardment. What is the objective, subjective paradox of the
- Read up to the end of chapter 9, the first trimester in the book. Hand
out Response Log 1. Response Logs are part
of a generic approach to text, which gives the students points of engagement
and encourages them to pursue these links along an individual
- Students in groups choose one of the following characters: Jaycee,
Doreen, Esther, Betsy, and Buddy/Marco. Based on the first nine chapters,
they scan the text eliciting relevant quotes and ideas. Then they prepare
to present a discussion group to the class in role as a group of professors from an
American University. You introduce them with sufficient
fanfare ("Here we have an eminent group of post-structuralists from Columbia
University who are going to talk to us about the role of Jaycee as an early
- Read chapters 10-13. Analyze the references to water and
flowers up to the main suicide attempt. How does water as a
symbol fluctuate throughout the novel? Hand out
Response Log 2.
- Students are given an essay question.
This should be done weekly
and should result in four essays for the topic, with at least two done
under timed conditions. The first one can be a question done by all,
although I usually give them a choice.
The first essay may take some preparation.
Other topics that regularly come up are setting, language (especially
imagery), narrative structure and degree of social commentary. See the
student samples provided for some examples
and the evaluator's report
for the rubric.
Score these essays according to the
CAHSEE (California High School
Exit Exam) Response to Literature/Expository Text Scoring Guide.
- As the study is conducted it is necessary to continue to develop the
responses to poetry. With Plath it is particularly important to
place the work in its literary context. Many Plath poems can be used.
(See A Wind of Such Violence
for an online collection of her poems.)
Muses is a particularly good example,
providing another take on both the sanity of the writer and her relationship
with her mother. See these questions on The Disquieting
Muses. Hand out Response Log 3.
- Once students have finished the novel they are ready to
debate some of the
- As the students are wrestling with the moots they can also tackle
Response Log 4.
- Read a selection of poetry, including
Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters.
Also look at Philip Larkin.
Develop a discussion on the nature of poetry
compared to prose. Has Hughes added to the mystery of Plath or lessened it
with his collection?
- Look at an extract from The Silent Woman,
as biography is quite different from auto-biography. The Bell Jar is neither, yet shares characteristics
of both. The novel must be investigated as a novel and not a
representation of Plath's life. How does this affect the way we see Esther?
It is impossible not to be influenced by our knowledge of Plath.
- Students, either alone or in groups, are to choose a poem
and present it to the class as a whole.
As well as producing something that engages the audience, they must
comment on effect and effectiveness in the poem. This poem does not have to
be written by Plath, but must relate to the module and its
themes (some may
like to do a poem by
They will be marked for this using
an assessment rubric taken from the curriculum document.
- Having thrown themselves into presenting a poem, students are
encouraged to write poetry or prose in response to ideas growing out of the
work. This is further explored in follow up.
- Finish the unit by having a 'tea and cakes party' where you can discuss
the relative poetic merit of the works of Plath and Hughes.
- Have a look at some other students' responses to this book from around the world.
Many of the above linked resources are assessment tasks that the students write in a response log, but individual rubrics are not required. The teacher builds a relationship with the student in response to the responses they make.
Formal essay questions are also provided. These essay questions were used for an examination in New Zealand and exemplars with detailed comments about typical responses are provided. These comments will be helpful in scoring papers and also for students to read, especially if they are involved in the scoring process.
You may choose to score papers using the CAHSEE Reponse to Literature Scoring Guide or the New Zealand Essay Marking Schedule. The CAHSEE Scoring Guide uses a 4 point scale so is difficult for students to show growth. The New Zealand Essay Marking Schedule is a 20 point rubric allowing students to more easily demonstrate growth.
Keep a journal of poetic writing that explores responses to the work we study or simply develops the student's poetic voice.