Teaching a classroom packed with muttering sixth graders the basics of English grammar and literary structure can be a chore for the most experienced of teachers.
But as Neil Chaffin begins to read from the first few pages of “The Hobbit,” he said he finds that having a fantastic story, written by a literary genius in J.R.R. Tolkien, is the easiest way of easing students into learning.
Chaffin, a teacher at Classen S.A.S. Middle School in Oklahoma City, said he has been reading “The Hobbit” to his students every year since the school reopened as a magnet school in 1994.
Chaffin said the book, a story about Bilbo Baggins' great adventure traveling through Middle Earth with 13 Dwarves to battle a dragon named Smaug, provides the perfect level of literary aspects to get his young students interested.
“I'm not a big sci-fi and fantasy reader and I never was but I hit upon this book when we opened here because it was imaginative and something that demonstrated the aspects that I was teaching for literary objectives and language,” Chaffin said. “It's all in there. Tolkien has been my best English teacher, essentially.”
Chaffin, 58, said he has probably read the book a little more than 30 times; though listening to him rattle off long passages from memory would suggest he's read it a few hundred more.
“There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go,” Chaffin recalls Gandalf the wizard saying to Bilbo.
With the popularity of the blockbuster “Lord of The Rings” movie trilogy and now with the release of “The Hobbit,” Chaffin said it's made teaching the book even more popular in his class.
(‘The Hobbit') was imaginative and something that demonstrated the aspects that I was teaching for literary objectives and language. It's all in there. Tolkien has been my best English teacher, essentially.”