Son of a Teacher Man

GUEST COLUMN | by David Siminoff

shmoop map heart of darknessFor students seeking online help to guide them through their schoolwork, there are plenty of resources readily available. But what about teachers? Don’t they get any love?

You betcha. Shmoop, a publisher of digital curriculum and test prep, has got a bright, shiny apple for teachers everywhere. It’s delicious, as long as you’re careful not to bite into the Common Core.

Okay, so they may not quite be the “son of a teacher man,” but Shmoop sure looks out for teachers as if they were beloved family members.

Their Teacher Guides are great for every teacher at any stage of their career. Been teaching Heart of Darkness since 1983 and need a way to spice it up? Teaching Lord of the Flies for the first time and not sure the best way to approach it? (Probably not by demonstration.) Or maybe you simply spaced on the number of days in January – here it is January 31 and you’d really rather not twiddle your thumbs for the next 8 hours. Especially not with your degenerative arthritis.

With guides covering… oh, just about any work of classic literature you can conjure up inside that jam-packed brain of yours, Shmoop has your back. While there, they can also watch for incoming spitballs.

Classic novels, poetry, Shakespeare, bestsellers – you name it, Shmoop has it. Unless you’re looking for in-depth analyses of Batman comics. There, they can’t help you. Not yet, anyway.

Each guide consists of at least 13 activities, including several that relate specifically to the book at hand. Maybe it’s a diary writing assignment for The Diary of Anne Frank (to use a morose example). Makes more sense than asking your students to assemble a three-dimensional recreation of a scene from the book, doesn’t it? After all, it isn’t The Diorama of Anne Frank.

Every activity contains instructions for both the teacher and the students. You’re really going to appreciate that equal footing. Especially if there’s an earthquake.

You will also find a Current Events and Pop Culture section. Want to relate a battle in A Tale of Two Cities to Super Bowl XLVI? Hoping to show what Grapes of Wrath has to do with our current economic landscape? Think you can make your students care more about The Scarlet Letter if you can draw a connection between Hester Prynne and Taylor Swift? Reportedly, Taylor has not yet dated Reverend Dimmesdale, but let’s be honest – it’s only a matter of time. Girl is making the rounds.

Also included in the teacher guides are discussion and essay questions for all reading levels, helpful advice on how to teach specific works to different types of audiences, links to related readings elsewhere on Shmoop, free learning guides, and reading quizzes to make sure your students aren’t faking their way through a course. So much good stuff, you’ll feel like it’s Christmas and you just received a gift card for gobs of knowledge and resource material. You can throw away that receipt – you won’t want to return or exchange it.

Shmoop’s most popular guides (sorry, The Return of Chorb) also have a vocab section, in which particularly tough vocab from the book is defined and clarified. Because if Yossarian claims that he is “oligophagous,” you’d probably like to know what he means by that. Funny… who would have thought he’d be such a picky eater?

Of course, a website’s work is never done; there are several other projects currently in the works. Shmoop is expanding their selection of Young Adult offerings, even branching into elementary school literature. Just because you may not find The Phantom Tollbooth sitting on the classic literature shelf in your library doesn’t mean that it is unworthy of analysis. Besides, it’s nice to see someone other than Mario rescuing princesses for a change.

Plus, don’t worry that you won’t be able to use any of Shmoop’s materials for fear that some pimple-faced teenager sitting in his parent’s basement somewhere wrote all this stuff with no concern for curriculum-based state standards. All of Shmoop’s activities are Common Core aligned. They’ve done the dirty work; all you need to do is teach.

So the next time you’re tearing your hair out trying to figure out a way to address the subject of racism in Huck Finn without inciting a bevy of parent complaints, or how to make your students relate to The Odyssey even if it was written a zillion bagillion years ago, turn to Shmoop and let them share the load. They’ve certainly got the shoulders for it. All that time at 24-hour Fitness was not in vain.

David Siminoff is the Chief Creative Officer and Founder of Shmoop.

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