Mahatma Gandhi said,

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

One of the themes that emerged from the IEB English Conference in February 2020 was the need to make the English classroom a ‘dangerous (or brave) space’ where conversations that prompt critical thinking and diversity of ideas are encouraged. And then the rest of 2020 happened.

So where are we now in September 2022? Have our conversations in the classroom be come more or less critical, challenging, courageous? Making schools places where nobody has to leave any part of themselves outside the gates should be a more practical reality than it was in some places before 2020. Pandemic fear has probably abated for many. We know the people we teach quite well by this stage of the school year, and hopefully they feel more comfortable with us and with each other than they did at the
start of the year. As teachers, we hope that our classrooms feel quite cosy by now.
This is the best time to disrupt all that! Or, to put it more quietly, to gently shake your scholars’ worlds. It is what we do best as English teachers as we learn from each other and make the classroom a worthwhile space; where we bring the outside world into
the classroom, and the people we teach prepare themselves for the world outside.

Banned books

It’s been a month since Salman Rushdie was physically attacked on stage by someone opposed to a book he wrote in 1988. If nothing else, this is a reminder of how controversial writing can endure. Between April 2021 and April 2022, 1586 books were banned from classrooms in various US states.1

While we might not be prescribing (or recommending) banned books deliberately in our classrooms in South Africa, it is interesting to see the list and then realise we might be teaching texts without even knowing they are banned elsewhere. Dr Tasslyn Magnusson, in collaboration with EveryLibrary Instituteand EveryLibrary, provides a read-only list of these banned books.2

Read-only list of banned books 

In our focus on brave conversations in our classrooms, discussions about the banning of books can be useful and topical during Banned Books Week this month. 

Banned book week

Activity for scolars

Not everyone in our classes is a talker, though. How do we make conversation lessons less threatening for them? We know that smaller groups can be less intimidating but there is also the difficulty of guiding these effectively when we are one teacher split across the groups. The ‘icebreaker’ type fun and games that we used in January, when just about everyone was an introvert, probably aren’t best suited for deeper conversations. Here are some other ideas where everyone’s voice gets some air time without the full panic package:

  1. Create a fishbowl where there is an inner circle of speakers and an outer ring of listeners and reflectors. Swap circles as needed. You could assign roles to speakers (characters from novels or plays they all know, or public or historical figures, for example). This distance of a persona can be comforting for some scholars as long as it doesn’t lead to inauthentic conversations.
  2. Make the oral activity less immediate by using technology. Scholars can make their own ‘YouTube’ video about the chosen topic, for example.
  3. Not all conversations have to be verbal (see the Reflective Essay below


Reflective Essay

Write an essay where your first two sentences are structured like this:
When I was six, I believed that…
When I was sixteen, I believed that…
You will need to complete the sentences with your own ideas and then reflect on how the change you have identified came about. Try to think along the lines of beliefs about human nature or how people interact with each other or how society is organised, for example.The page itself needs to have a margin drawn down the two thirds mark.
You should only write up to this line, leaving the right margin blank.

Once you feel that your reflection is complete, swap essays with a peer.Your job is to reflect on their reflection. This can be in point form.(You could use your grammar and spelling skills to make some linguistic edits too!)

Important Dates:
5th to 11th September – National Book Week
8th September – International Literacy Day
18th to 24th September – Banned Books Week
24th September – Heritage Day



“It is a pleasure working with Achieve Careers; I do not know of any other South African content creator who reaches out to teachers and incorporates their input in the way that Achieve Careers does. The GR 10 English HL manual provides a brilliant literary essay model for scholars to follow, and the quality of our scholars’ literary essays has improved dramatically since using the Achieve Careers programme. The scholars have also responded well to the discussion topics that the programme encourages, and to the visual nature of the manuals.”

Daniel Douglas-Haw, English Teacher, St Dunstan’s College

If you are using the Achieve Careers English HL 2022 Programme, the following information is recommended to support the facilitation of conversations in the classroom:

  • Grade 8 ENG HL:Section 1(especially pp. 11 and 22-23)
  • Grade 9 ENG HL:Section 1(especially pp. 6, 14-17 and 20-21)
  • Grade 10 ENG HL:Section 1(especially p. 15 where alternatives to the fishbowl structure are discussed and p. 14 about creating safe discussion spaces)


  1. Mello-Klein, C. (2022) Banning Books in Schools a ‘Witch Hunt’ on People of Color, LGBQT Community,
    Northeastern Professor Says, [Online], Available:[7 Sept 2022].
  2. Magnusson, T.(2022) Book Censorship Database, [Online], Available: [7 Sept 2022].
  3. Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week, [Online], Available: [7 Sept 2022]
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