When studying Johathan Swift’s famous satirical novel, consider these ideas to spice up lessons and enhance understanding.
Go beyond summaries, essays, quizzes and tests when studying Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Engage students to make sure they understand the novel rather than any of the many movie or print adaptations.
Gulliver’s Travels comes in four separate parts, each one documenting a different travel of the hero, Lemuel Gulliver. It was first published in 1726, during a time of intense exploration by Europeans. The explorers traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and around the African continent, looking for new lands to claim for colonization and new sea routes to improve trade. The book is both a parody of the travel documentaries popular at the time it was written as well as a satirical commentary on European society.
Geography of Gulliver’s Travels
While reading Gulliver’s Travels, have students use a real map and follow the routes as described to get an idea of where Gulliver went and where the real world ends and Swift’s imaginary version begins. Have either a large class map for each of the four travels or let students create individual maps of the areas Gulliver discovers.
There has been a great deal of scholarly interest and research done to create maps based on Gulliver’s Travels in the last 300 years. Once the students have created their own versions, do some research to provide them with a version from one of these scholars. Better yet, challenge them to discover maps created by Gulliver enthusiasts.
Writing Like Gulliver
Discuss the style and themes within Gulliver’s Travels. Challenge students to write a short story based on travels they have been on or on imagined travels. They should include at least one of the themes from Gulliver’s Travels, such as learning lessons from traveling, how traveling changes a person, or how having an amazing life-changing adventure can make it hard to return home.
Have students consider other themes too, such as might vs. right, which is demonstrated in the first book of travels when Gulliver enters the land of Lilliput. Another possible theme to explore is truth vs. lies as we see Gulliver claims he is truthful and telling a true story of his adventures, but he frequently lies, as when he says his clothes are part of his skin. Also discuss Gulliver’s name, which is based on the word gullible. Should readers believe everything Gulliver says and does?
Science in Gulliver’s Travels
Swift warns against the abuse of science in Gulliver’s Travels. Discuss several passages in which Swift voices concern over scientific advances. Was Swift right in his worries? Brainstorm with students about current concerns about the potential abuse of science, such as human cloning or nuclear fusion. Compare Swift’s warnings with those in modern times.
Have students create an advertisement campaign based on warning people about the misuse of science based on one of Swift’s warnings in Gulliver’s Travels. They could create posters, radio advertisements, television ads, a billboard style ad, internet ads or any type of advertisement to warn people about one of these scientific dangers.
Was Swift correct in his concerns? Ask Ask students to write a commentary on Swift’s worries over the abuse of science. In the commentary, they should include quotations of the passages they are citing and where to find them in the book, a discussion on why they think Swift was worried about that specific scientific advancement, and what they think Swift believed society would do with that science if it became available.
Other Lesson Ideas for Gulliver’s Travels
If you’re still looking for further ideas, try any or all of the following suggestions.
- Expand the unit to encompass other works by Jonathan Swift.
- Study the vocabulary of Gulliver’s Travels, using various vocabulary learning techniques.
- Research the concept of satire, including direct and indirect satire, as well as Horatian satire and Juvenalian satire.
- Ask students to spend a week looking for connections to Gulliver’s Travels or Jonathan Swift in their everyday lives. They might notice advertisements, movie references, book references or even commentary by friends, family members or in the news media. Create a list of their collected anecdotes relating to Gulliver’s Travels.
- Play Gulliver Jeopardy! You could create all the questions, answers, and categories or you could have the students help out.
- Create some quick and fun puzzles based on Gulliver’s Travels
Remember to listen to your students and to your own instincts when looking for extra lesson activities. The point is to stretch beyond standard bookwork which can become dry and boring and to add some fun and real life applications to the unit lesson. Your students will never forget the fun they have while learning or the lessons they learned while their interest is engaged.