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Teaching Guide

Teaching Moll Flanders

Who knew prostitution was so literary?

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Howdily doodily, neighborino! If the only Flanders your students know is Ned, you’re in for a challenge. The good news is that Moll Flanders (not Ned’s great-great-grandmother) can be tied into everything from the birth of the novel to reality TV to gender dynamics. And we can help you connect the dots.

In this guide you will find

  • a lesson helping students understand the novel’s 17th-century setting and then updating it for modern day.
  • an activity exploring Defoe’s authorial intentions.
  • discussion questions about Moll’s impact then and her relevance now.

Ned Flanders says our teaching guide is okely-dokely! And Moll would agree.

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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: Truth Bomb #1: There are a lot of books written by old dead dudes.
Truth Bomb #2: Most the main characters in those books are also dudes.
Truth Bomb #3: The Spice Girls promote girl power.
Truth Bomb #4: Moll Flanders was keeping it real back in the 18th Century.

Moll Flanders delves into issues of morality, money, gender roles, sex, and redemption and forces its readers to question the actions of the title character. Is Moll a bad person? Is she a victim of circumstances? Is she an empowered woman? How would she be viewed if she were a man? Can we empathize with her? Does she really change in the end?

In this lesson, students will explore the portrayal of women in Moll Flanders and relate their analysis to modern ideas on gender and femininity. Sure, the book is creeping up on its 300th birthday… too many candles, but these are poignant questions that students can apply to their world and experiences.

This lesson should take about one class period.

Materials Needed:

  • Computers with Internet access (for content review)
  • For Teacher: Set numbered questions, timer, the ability to play Devil's Advocate
  • For Each Group: One 6-sided die, one set of numbered questions
  • For Each Student: Pen (blue or black ink) or pencil, loose leaf paper

Step 1: Rev up with a little review: As homework or in class, have students review the content of Moll Flanders, most notably the theme of Women and Femininity. Instruct students to don a "ladies" lens for this review, meaning they should keep an eye out for stuff that pertains specifically to gender and the social role of women.

Step 2: Divide the class into groups of three to five and distribute the six-sided die and the set of six questions:

  1. Is Moll being objectified or just "shaking what her mama gave her?" Explain.
  2. Is Defoe criticizing society's view of women, the actions of individuals, or is he singling out women and criticizing them? Explain.
  3. Are Moll's actions a result of her sneaky criminal mind, or does she act out of necessity? Explain.
  4. What is Moll's worst action? Explain.
  5. Is Moll really penitent, or is she just regretful? Explain your answer with specific references to the text.
  6. How would Moll's actions be viewed today? Consider the context of her life and respond with specific textual references.

Note: For the set of questions, have each question on its own index card. On the opposite side of the card, have the corresponding number of dots (1 dot for question 1, and so on through question 6). The students will answer the question that matches the number they roll. Easy peasy.

Then get those students rolling like gamblers at the craps table—except, you know, without the gambling. Instruct students to appoint a time-keeper and answer the questions thusly:

  • One person will take a turn rolling the die. He or she will verbally respond to the question that matches the number rolled in 90 seconds or less.
  • Everyone else in the group will write down notes about the response given.
  • Following the initial 90-second response, the entire group will get to comment/discuss for 2 minutes. These can be rebuttals, agreements, questions, etc. It's like a political debate, English Lit. style.
  • Following the 2-minute discussion, the next person in the group will roll the die to answer the next question.
  • Each group will go through this process twice so that everyone gets to respond to two different questions.

Step 3: Time to show your cards: Each group should be ready to share some of their responses in a whole-class discussion. Allow students to explain where they agreed and disagreed and look for common conclusions among the groups. Wrap things up with a few of these questions:

  • In what ways are these issues of women and femininity relevant today? Can the modern woman relate to Moll at all?
  • What does it mean to be truly penitent? How do we know if a person is truly penitent or not?
  • How does Moll Flanders compare to other feminist-themed literature that you've read? How does Moll compare to other girl-power heroines?
  • How do you feel about Moll in the end? Do you find yourself sympathizing with her or criticizing her?

Instructions for Your Students

Truth Bomb #1: There are a lot of books written by old dead dudes.
Truth Bomb #2: Most of the main characters in those books are also dudes.
Truth Bomb #3: The Spice Girls promote girl power.
Truth Bomb #4: Moll Flanders was keeping it real back in the 18th century.

Moll Flanders delves into issues of morality, money, gender roles, sex, and redemption and forces its readers to question the actions of the title character. Is Moll a bad person? Is she a victim of circumstances? Is she an empowered woman? How would she be viewed if she were a man? Can we empathize with her? Does she really change in the end?

In this lesson, you will explore the portrayal of women in Moll Flanders and relate your analysis to modern ideas on gender and femininity. Sure, the book is creeping up on its 300th birthday, but these are poignant questions that we can apply to our world and experiences.

Step 1: Let's rev up with a little review: Look over the content of Moll Flanders, most notably the theme of Women and Femininity. You'll need to don a "ladies" lens for this review, meaning you should keep an eye out for stuff that pertains specifically to gender and the social role of women.

Step 2: In small groups, you'll receive a six-sided die and a set of six numbered questions… Can you guess where we're going with this? (And no, it's not gambling.) You'll need to appoint a time-keeper and answer the questions thusly:

  • One person will take a turn rolling the die. He or she will verbally respond to the question that matches the number rolled in 90 seconds or less.
  • Everyone else in the group will write down notes about the response given.
  • Following the initial 90-second response, the entire group will get to comment/discuss for 2 minutes. These can be rebuttals, agreements, questions, etc. It's like a political debate, English Lit. style.
  • Following the 2-minute discussion, the next person in the group will roll the die to answer the next question.
  • Each group will go through this process twice so that everyone gets to respond to two different questions.

Step 3: Time to show your cards: Each group should be ready to share some of their responses in a whole-class discussion. We want to know where you agreed and disagreed and what common conclusions to came to. Then we'll wrap things up with a few more questions—can't have too much of a good thing.

  • In what ways are these issues of women and femininity relevant today? Can the modern woman relate to Moll at all?
  • What does it mean to be truly penitent? How do we know if a person is truly penitent or not?
  • How does Moll Flanders compare to other feminist-themed literature that you've read? How does Moll compare to other girl-power heroines?
  • How do you feel about Moll in the end? Do you find yourself sympathizing with her or criticizing her?

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING MOLL FLANDERS?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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