Listen up: life-changing literature

Listen up: life-changing literature

This weekend, the world mourned the loss of two great writers: Harper Lee and Umberto Eco. While Eco leaves a considerable legacy of fiction and nonfiction works, Lee wrote one great novel and arguably achieved a wider degree of fame. To Kill a Mockingbird is an important literary work in its own right, but it also sits at the heart of many secondary school English courses – studying it is something of a rite of passage. It is probably not an overstatement to suggest that the book has the capacity to change lives and outlooks; its universal messages of justice and equality remain as relevant as ever. The story, perhaps, is made even more poignant by the consideration of how prejudices may have changed in the last 60 years in the USA and Australia, for better or for worse.

This week’s post features a speech from The Wheeler Centre’s ‘The book that changed me’ series, which features prominent Australians discussing the books that changed their lives or their outlook. Posted on 14 February this year, the podcast features Kon Karapanagiotidis, the CEO and founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, discussing his discovery of Martin Luther King Jnr’s Strength to Love as an isolated 14-year-old. Karapanagiotidis’ story is likely to strike a chord with most students and unmistakably echoes the central values of Lee’s narrative too.

The speech will work well as an EAL listening task or to complement text studies focused on themes of racial intolerance and social isolation, such as To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a great model to share with students, if only to help them understand that speeches don’t need to be stiff and formal, and that they shouldn’t be afraid of letting their personality and sense of humour shine through. Karapanagiotidis has a natural, unaffected delivery style and an accent that will be familiar to many students as it contains a hint of his Greek heritage. Karapanagiotidis’ approach may seem quite casual on the surface, but his vulnerability and openness is complemented by some well-chosen and sophisticated oral techniques. His language and expression vary widely – from simple and colloquial to sophisticated and formal – and he seamlessly weaves a series of quite complex arguments underneath the main thread of his narrative. In terms of his delivery, he stumbles slightly over words occasionally, but this lends his message a powerful authenticity. (It also shows students that they don’t need to force an unnatural and overly formal enunciation style to be a powerful orator.) The speech comes across as sincere and free from artifice because the speaker has tailored his content and presentation so aptly to his purpose and audience.

The speech would also be suitable for exploring argument and persuasive language in oral texts. It contains a range of readily identifiable but well executed persuasive and presentation techniques, particularly repetition, and carefully controlled pace and intonation.

Scroll down for a concise content breakdown that will help you to assess if this resource is right for your school context or class, and for a free downloadable PDF of guiding questions and activities.

Best wishes and happy teaching.

Sandra Duncanson
Senior Editor

The resource

‘The book that changed me’ by Kon Karapanagiotidis

Source: The Wheeler Centre Gala Night of Storytelling 2016 (audio posted online by the Wheeler Centre on 14 February 2016)
Form: audio recording
Length: 11:21
Author information: Kon Karapanagiotidis is a lawyer, social worker, teacher, and CEO of Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, an organisation he founded in 2001.

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Download includes content relevant to the following. 

  • Year 11 EAL: developing listening skills
  • Year 11 & 12 English/EAL: text study and presenting a point of view
  • Year 10: understanding that interpretations of texts are influenced by historical context and personal values (ACELA1565), exploring and examining the different structures and features of spoken texts (ACELY1750), and a range of text studies that explore themes of overcoming intolerance and coming-of-age journeys, such as To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • Year 9: exploring how cultural perspectives influence text construction (ACELY1739), listening to spoken texts to consider how they position an audience, especially with regard to rhythm, pitch and intonation (ACELY1740)

Suitability and relevance

Central ideas: tells the story of being empowered by reading Martin Luther King Jnr’s book Strength to Love at age 14, and the ways the text has helped shape his outlook on life

Cross-references: Martin Luther King Jnr’s Strength to Love, Tony Abbott’s Battle Lines, Kevin Rudd’s Stolen Generations apology speech

Content warnings: some minor coarse language: ‘shittiest’ at 3:16 and ‘f-off’ at 4:03 (which is actually ‘effoff’; the full word isn’t spoken)

Suggested pre-listening vocabulary for EAL students: conformity, respectability, controversy, prestige, harmonises, fragile/fragility, idealism/idealistic, vulnerable/vulnerability, transformative, bosom (welcome to my), segregation, ‘Newest Australians’

Additional resources

  • ‘Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird author, led a life of great courage’ by Richard Gray, Professor in English Literature, University of Essex, published on The Conversation 20 February 2016. This piece discusses why To Kill a Mockingbird is such a life-changing novel.
  • Review: ‘Has Go Set a Watchman helped topple the notion of the white savior?‘ by Michelle Smith, Research fellow in English Literature, Deakin University, published on The Conversation 22 July 2015. This piece is a review of Go Set a Watchman. The language and issues it raises will be too complex for most Year 9 or 10 classes studying To Kill a Mockingbird, but the article should provide you with the inspiration to try some interesting comparative exercises examining key passages that develop the characterisation of Atticus in both novels.
  • If you’re not familiar with Umberto Eco’s work, you could read The Name of the Rose, but if you’re not into medieval intrigue I would recommend the wonderfully absurd How to Travel with a Salmon and other essays (Harvest Books, 1992) instead. It’s a hilarious collection of well-crafted anecdotes and clever linguistic delights that every English and English Language class should be encouraged to read.


©Insight Publications 2016

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