Last updated on: 2/27/2015 | Author:

Exploring Controversial Issues in Literature – Lesson Plan Idea


Exploring Controversial Issues in Literature – Overview


To introduce a novel, use to help students build background knowledge and examine the novel’s controversial issue(s).

Grades: 8-12

The Activity


As part of your introduction to a novel unit, identify the controversy in the novel and match it to a issue. Here are a few suggestions:

Crime and Punishment & The Death Penalty
To Kill a Mockingbird & The Death Penalty
Cider House Rules & Abortion
Under the Feet of Jesus & Illegal Immigration
Fahrenheit 451 & ACLU
1984 & ACLU
The Jungle & Animal Testing or Vegetarianism
Dreaming in Cuban & Illegal Immigration or Cuban Embargo
Maggie, Girl of the Streets & Prostitution
Memoirs of a Geisha & Prostitution
Of Mice and Men & Euthanasia

Prior to doing any research, ask students to quickly jot down their initial opinions on the issue. Then divide the class into groups and assign each of them to a different part of the issue’s website (background, resources, pro-con arguments, top quotes, video gallery, etc.). After giving them time to read and discuss their assigned section, bring the class back together and have each group briefly present what they discovered. Then re-survey the class to determine if the additional information changed anyone’s initial stance. After the class completes the novel, check opinions a third time. Compare the factors from their research that spurred changes in opinion with features of the novel and literary analysis that influence opinion.

——————————– Topics: Depends on novel

Subjects: Social Studies, Public Policy, Civics, U.S. Government, Communication, English / Language Arts

Common Core Anchor Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.8

Common Core Content Standards: RI.1, RI.8


Make the lesson easier

  • Choose just one resource from the relevant website and read it together as a class.
  • Instead of small groups, assign students to mixed ability pairs for the research portion of the lesson.
  • Before sending students to research the issue, define and explain the 5-10 most important terms related to the issue.

Make the lesson harder

  • At each of the three stages, have students explain their thoughts on the issue in writing.
  • Have students do additional research on the issue as it was discussed on the novel’s publication date. They can use popular opinion, the author’s public stance, or important historical events to get them started.
Related Links


  1. Lesson Plan Ideas with Common Core Correlations
  2. Teachers’ Corner