The New York Times has just published an article looking at how to teach students about Austen in the modern era. They asked for teachers to comment on how they teach Austen to their own classes, but they also published a great list of their own suggestions.
Study the word choices
“Have students read ‘The Word Choices That Explain Why Jane Austen Endures,’ and study the graphic (featured below). Then, invite them to take whatever Austen novel they are reading, choose a passage, and highlight words and phrases that illustrate the findings, just as the author does in the piece with lines from “Emma” and “Persuasion.”
How do “these distinctive words, word clusters and grammatical constructions highlight her writerly preoccupations: states of mind and feeling, her characters’ unceasing efforts to understand themselves and other people”? How do they show her “acute emotional intelligence”?”
Ask the students to draw parallels
What connections can students make between any of the Austen novels and their own lives?
What are the rules, written and unwritten, that govern courtship, love and marriage in Jane Austen?
What are the rules, written and unwritten, that govern courtship, love and marriage today?
Study the adaptations
Always a popular option. Have students choose an Austen update to compare and contrast with the original, and write essays in which they decide how well it has recast the original’s ideas, characters, themes, plot, setting, tone and language. Or, invite them to create their own adaptations.
There are far more suggestions in the article on how to teach Austen than we have space to list here, but if you’d like to read them all you can find the full article here. Or you might prefer to try their other idea…