About 11 years ago, I worked with a young teacher at an interest-based digital-media magnet school who was struggling to get her sophomores to write. At the time, I oversaw part of the magnet program, and I nudged her to think in terms of our school’s theme.
To that end, I asked her one question: “Do the kids text?”
Of course they did, she said. All the time. It was driving her nuts; we were supposed to confiscate their phones if they used them in class, and for a while, that seemed to be all we did all day.
My colleague left the district a short time later, and I wound up taking over her classes. I assigned Antigone. The translation we were using was comprehensible, but the language felt stilted and archaic, and the kids had trouble getting their heads around it.
Remembering my conversation with my predecessor, I decided to have them convert the prologue to modern English, summarize the key points, and discard any extraneous information. Or, to put it in less intimidating, more kid-friendly terms: Break into pairs and translate the prologue into a series of text messages between Antigone and Ismene.
We had a ball. The kids discussed which lines were essential to the characters’ conversation and which lines were backstory that a real person wouldn’t bother to include if she were sending her sister text messages. They used modern slang and modern text-messaging conventions. They included emoticons where appropriate. They let their personalities shine through, giving Antigone and her sister accents and colloquialisms to match their own. And they laughed — hard — as they listened to each other’s interpretations. The whole project kind of demystified the play for them and made it feel more current and relevant.
The lesson was so successful, it’s been a regular part of my Antigone unit ever since.