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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Call of the Wild

Not to be confused with the Call of Nature.

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Everyone loves a dog story—even when the pup can't talk. The Call of the Wild is the alpha dog of dog stories. Why? Because it’s so much more than a dog story. We'll help your students look beyond the furry coat at some of the novel's deeper meanings.

In this guide you will find

  • a project on survival and transformation.
  • a lesson researching the literary movements of Realism and Naturalism.
  • And—okay, okay—activities about dogs! (Specifically the way animals are portrayed by Jack London and his contemporaries.)

Hear that? It's the Call of the Shmoop teaching guide.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Yes, it is a dog story, and yes, it's true that the dogs nearly eat each other, but The Call of the Wild is much more than the sum of these parts, right? And while it's got some amazing characters (dogs!) and sleds and people we love to hate, what we'll be focusing on in this assignment is the literary movement it falls under—yep, Realism/Naturalism.

Your students will research the literary movements of Realism and Naturalism, and compare and contrast their styles and ideas with those of the preceding literary movement of Romanticism. Now, most of your students will assume that Realism has everything to do with Reality TV, and that in Romanticism, people were counting the ways in which their GFs/BFs were adorable. Of course, you will firmly and gently correct their misconceptions (as you always do).

In addition, the class will be discussing the emerging scientific theories of Darwin. (We are leading you down a sticky path, so you may have to tread carefully based on your district's evolution policies. Tip: Try to stay focused on survival concepts rather than wading into the murky waters of evolution.)

This lesson can be completed in two class periods, and will require students to work both individually and in groups. You can have the initial discussion and research before students read the book. They will make notes and journal as they read, and you can have the concluding discussion after they have read the book.

Materials Needed:

• Internet access for students to conduct research
• Notebooks for research notes
• Created anticipation guide or reading journals

Step 1: Let your students know that even though The Call of the Wild is a dog story, it will not be as cutesy as Marley and Me or Because of Winn Dixie. Explain that this is because Jack London was one of the Naturalist writers and that the style he followed was to tell it like it is, even if the truth was a bit harsh at times. (Remember to never ask a Naturalist whether you look fat in that dress!)

Naturalism was part of the literary movement of Realism, and in order to completely understand what Realism/Naturalism was about, your students would first have to examine the genre of writers coming just before the Naturalists: the Romantics.

1. Have students break into groups to research the literary movements of Romanticism and Realism. They should work on summarizing the characteristics of literature in each of these periods.

Here are some questions to get things rolling:

• What were some of the main subjects or topics that authors wrote about?
• What were the writers' philosophies or collective beliefs?
• What was going on in history at the time?
• What common literary devices, styles, and imagery were used?
• What (if any) are some works you have read from this period?

They can do their own research, but have them get started with Shmoop's definitions:

Realism
Romanticism

2. Ask each group to create a Venn diagram comparing the two movements. This will get them to clearly see what similarities these movements shared, and how they differed.

3. Reconvene as a class and create one large Venn diagram together. (You can put this up on the board to make sure that all students are on track with the ideas.)

Step 2: Give students a brief background to the historical events taking place at this time, especially with scientific advancement and Darwin's theories.

In your Venn diagram from Step 1, add another circle beside the Realism circle. Name this the Naturalism circle. Yep—things are getting saucy. Now share some elements of Naturalism with the class, or have them do the research on their own.

Discuss the similarities and differences between Realism and Naturalism. This one's not easy, so don't be afraid to point them in the right direction. For example, you can ask the class how the ideas of Darwin might have had an impact on the Naturalists. You might also want to review terms such as natural selection, determinism, survival of the fittest, and free will. You know, the biggies.

Step 3: Ask students to work on their own to complete an anticipation guide for each of the following Naturalist beliefs. Do they agree/disagree with the following statements?

• Man has no free will.
• Environment has the power to shape us and affect our actions.
• Heredity controls our actions and fate.
• Natural selection/survival of the fittest determines survival.
• Man vs. nature is a constant struggle with nature usually winning.

Have them jot down a few supporting examples or notes/sentences explaining why they feel the way they do. Ask a few to share their thoughts.

Step 4: Students should now get their coats and hats on and head with Buck into his cold world. As they read the novel, they should be thinking about the author's views and style that tag him as a Naturalist writer.

After they have read the novel, students will create a chart or PowerPoint slide in which they will locate one example (an event or a quote) from the novel for each of the points on the anticipation guide (as discussed in Step 3):

• Man (dog) has no free will.
• Environment has the power to shape us and affect our actions.
• Heredity controls our actions and fate.
• Natural selection/survival of the fittest determines survival.
• Man (dog) vs. nature is a constant struggle with nature usually winning.

As always, we're prepared with some questions to guide their reading:

• How does a first person narrator create a more realistic tale? How is it different from omniscient?
• How does the author convey his idea about nature vs. man? What events show the battle between nature and man? Which side wins?
• How does the author convey his idea about the environment controlling our actions and choices?
• What events show that Buck's heredity is controlling events or actions?
• What events show that only the fittest survive?
• When does man/dog seem to have no free will in the story?

If they need some extra help, Shmoop is on it:

Man and the Natural World
Fate and Free Will

Step 5:

1. Now, let's see if Jack London turned your students into little Naturalists! Have them revisit their anticipation guides and decide how they feel about each statement now that they have read the novel. They should once again list "agree" or "disagree" next to each question.

2. They should write at least two paragraphs explaining any change on the guide or explaining why there was no change at all in their beliefs. Make sure they cite direct examples from the novel to support their ideas.

Extension/Honors: First, as we love debates, feel free to open up a can of worms and have a classroom debate on any of the issues on the anticipation guide. If you are teaching this book at the high school level, you might take it up a notch by starting an investigation of the "big thinkers" who were around during London's time, such as Marx, Herbert, Jung, and Nietzsche. Analyze the novel to see if you can spot the influences of these thinkers' big ideas in the story.

Instructions for Your Students

Yes, it is a dog story, and yes, it's true that the dogs nearly eat each other, but The Call of the Wild is way more meaningful than the sum of these parts. It's got some amazing characters (dogs!) and sleds and people we love to hate—ooh, we do love those. In this assignment, we'll be focusing on one reason why this novel is still considered such an important piece of literature: It is an example of Realism/Naturalism.

In this assignment, you will work in groups to conduct research and compare and contrast the genres of Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalism, and create an anticipation guide based on some Naturalist beliefs. While you read the novel, you will look for elements of Naturalist literature in the author's style and in the story.

Step 1: Excited to start reading a dog story? It's hard not to be, right? However, here's a warning: This book will not be as cutesy as Marley and Me or Because of Winn Dixie. The protagonist, Buck, is totally adorbs, but he might raise his eyebrow at you if you offer to rub his belly.

Jack London was one of the Naturalist writers and the style that he and his band of merry men followed was to tell it like it is, even if the truth was a bit harsh at times. (Remember to never ask a Naturalist whether he likes your new haircut!) So, in this book, he keeps it real. No cats in pants. No talking donkeys.

Naturalism was part of the literary movement of Realism, and in order to completely understand what Realism/Naturalism was about, you'll first have to examine the genre of writers coming just before the Naturalists: the Romanticists.

1. Break into groups to research the literary movements of Romanticism and Realism. You will work on summarizing the characteristics of literature in each of these periods.

Here are some questions to get things rolling:

• What were some of the main subjects or topics that authors wrote about?
• What were the writers' philosophies or collective beliefs?
• What was going on in history at the time?
• What common literary devices, styles, and imagery were used?
• What (if any) are some works you have read from this period?

You can do your own research, but get started with Shmoop's definitions:

Realism
Romanticism

2. Working as a group, create a Venn diagram comparing the two movements. This will help you to clearly see what similarities these movements shared, and how they differed.

3. Reconvene as a class and create one large Venn diagram together.

Step 2: Time for a quick history lesson. Your teacher will give you a brief background to the historical events taking place at this time, especially regarding scientific advancement and Darwin's theories.

In your Venn diagram from Step 1, add another circle beside the Realism circle. Name this the Naturalism circle. Yep—things are getting saucy. Your teacher will give you the low down on Naturalism, or you can do some research on your own.

As a class, discuss the similarities and differences between Realism and Naturalism. You might want to break out the big brains by considering how Darwin's ideas may have impacted the Naturalists. You might also want to pay special attention to the following terms: natural selection, determinism, survival of the fittest, and free will. You know, the biggies.

Step 3: Now, work by yourself and complete an anticipation guide for each of the following Naturalist beliefs. All that means is that you're going to choose whether you agree or disagree with each statement.

• Man has no free will.
• Environment has the power to shape us and affect our actions (determinists).
• Heredity controls our actions and fate.
• Natural selection/survival of the fittest determines survival.
• Man vs. nature is a constant struggle with nature usually winning.

Jot down a few supporting examples or notes/sentences explaining why you feel this way. Feeling brave? Share your thoughts with the class.

Step 4: Time to get your coats and hats on and head into Buck's cold world! As you read the book, think about the author's views and style that tag him as a Naturalist writer.

After you have read the novel, you will create a chart or PowerPoint slide in which you will locate one example (an event or a quote) from the novel for each of the points on the anticipation guide (as discussed in Step 3):

• Man (dog) has no free will.
• Environment has the power to shape us and affect our actions.
• Heredity controls our actions and fate.
• Natural selection/survival of the fittest determines survival.
• Man (dog) vs. nature is a constant struggle with nature usually winning.

Here are some questions to guide your reading:

• How does a first person narrator create a more realistic tale? How is it different from omniscient?
• How does the author convey his idea about nature vs. man? What events show the battle between nature and man? Which side wins?
• How does the author convey his idea about the environment controlling our actions and choices?
• What events show that Buck's heredity is controlling events or actions?
• What events show that only the fittest survive?
• When does man/dog seem to have no free will in the story?

If you need some extra help, Shmoop is on it:

Man and the Natural World
Fate and Free Will 

Step 5:

1. Now, let's see if Jack London turned you into a Naturalist! Revisit your anticipation guides and decide how you feel about each statement, now that you have read the novel. You should once again list "agree" or "disagree" next to each question.

2. Write at least two paragraphs explaining any change on the guide or explaining why there was no change at all in your beliefs. Be sure to cite direct examples from the novel to support your ideas.

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