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Teaching Guide

Teaching Robinson Crusoe

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Survivalists might stockpile bottled rations, but are they bringing books? If so, they should include Robinson Crusoe.

No ready-to-eat meals in this guide, but you will find

  • an activity exploring Defoe's philosophy of survival.
  • reading quizzes from shipwreck to escape.
  • essay questions about civilization and culture on an island with neither.

If you're stranded on a deserted island and can only bring one teaching guide, make it this one.

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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

“I Will Survive.” — Gloria Gaynor

Objective: While Gloria Gaynor did know quite a bit about survival, she only had to survive a breakup and didn’t have to eat wild goats to do it. In this lesson, your students will investigate the elements of survival in the wilderness (vs. in a 70s nightclub).

There are two ways you can integrate this activity: It can either be completed as an introduction to the novel before you begin reading; or it can be done while you are reading the first 100 pages of the novel, specifically the part leading up to Crusoe actually needing the survival skills.

In this activity, students will ponder the all-important question: Can we actually live without the Internet or a toothbrush? They will research and discover practices that must be followed in order to survive if abandoned alone in the elements. They will determine priorities and the necessary steps that must be taken. They will then create multimedia presentations to educate their classmates on the basics.

Students will journal as they read the novel to record Crusoe’s survival actions and the events on the island related to his survival. Once they have completed the novel, they will analyze Crusoe’s choices.

Materials Needed: novel, selected videos of survival shows, excerpt from Lord of the Flies (step 2), Internet access for group research

Step 1: Introduce the idea of wants vs. needs.

Ask your students: What do we need in life? What do we want? What is the difference?

Ask them to share their list of “wants” and “needs” and write these up on the board. Challenge students on their “needs” as you see fit—you will probably see “Xbox”, “iPhone” and “car” in the “needs” column.

Extend the discussion toward survival and our basic life needs such as food, shelter, water, safety, rescue, and mental well being. Did they think of all of these things? Ask them:

  • What is important about each one? 
  • Why do we need each one as humans?
  • Is one more important than another?

Introduce the basic plot of Robinson Crusoe and let them know that:

A. They will be learning about how to survive the wilderness.
B. They will be analyzing stories of those who actually successfully did this. (Of course, we don’t mean the stars of the Survivor TV show—they had cameramen who distributed bug repellent, treats and deodorant.)

Step 2: Give students a quick summary of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. By now, many high schoolers have read it, and we always love some good ol’ text-to-text connections. Beyond this, it is an excellent tale in which characters face similar challenges and fundamental questions of survival as Robinson Crusoe.

Read the following excerpt from Lord of the Flies aloud to the class:

Chapter 1:

“I climbed a rock,” said Ralph slowly, “and I think this is an island.”
“They’re all dead,” said Piggy, “an’ this is an island. Nobody don’t know we’re here…we may stay here till we die.”
Merridew turned to Ralph, “Aren’t there any grownups?”
“No.”
Merridew sat down on a trunk and looked round the circle.
“Then we will have to look after ourselves.”
“That’s why Ralph made a meeting. So as we can decide what to do…”
“We’d better have all names,” said Ralph.
Jack spoke. “We’ve got to decide about being rescued.”
“Shut up,” said Ralph absently. “Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things.”

Ask your students to picture themselves in a similar situation, and lead a discussion by having them answer the following questions:

  • What would you do first? What is the most important step and why?
  • How would you feel in this situation?
  • This is a different scenario from Robinson Crusoe because there is a group of stranded people here, but they are only children. How is this different in terms of survival (being stranded alone or being a stranded adult)?
  • Do those who have read the book remember what some of the boys’ mistakes were?

Step 3: Play a clip of the show Survivorman—or a whole episode if you have the time.

After they have watched the clip(s), ask them:

  • What basic needs did Les Stroud establish he had to address?
  • What did he have with him and why were they important?
  • What did he do first and why?
  • How would you have felt? Could you have thought clearly to take action?
  • Would you have done anything in a different way or in a different order?

Step 4: Now, it’s time to turn your students into Les Stroud clones! Break them up into groups for research. Each group will tackle one element of survival (from Step 1) of food, shelter, water, safety, rescue, and mental well being (a.k.a. how to keep from cracking up). They will then create and present a multimedia presentation to educate their fellow classmates on survival techniques for each. These multimedia presentations could be: a slideshow with narration, a video, an online newsletter, a mock webpage or wiki. Want to throw in a debate? Have each group defend why their survival item is the most important.

Students can watch more episodes of Survivorman for ideas and inspiration. 

Students should definitely take notes because they will be thinking about Les Stroud’s suggestions and actions while reading about Crusoe’s.

Step 5: Once they reach the part in the book in which Crusoe is shipwrecked, students will begin journaling from the novel as they read about his experiences on the island.

Have them create sections in their journal for each element of survival (from Step 1). They should record examples of Crusoe addressing each basic need. They should also record challenges and problems for each with his specific solutions, along with his failures.

Here are some questions for them to consider while they read:

  • What steps did Crusoe take toward survival? What was first, second, and third?
  • What things were considered luxuries or wants vs. needs?
  • What did he have with him already and then gain from the wreck? How did these things help him?
  • What good choices did he make? What could he have done differently? 
  • What were some of the consequences of his mistakes?
  • What were his greatest challenges and triumphs?

Step 6: Crusoe survived nearly three decades; he must have done some things right. Too bad that he didn’t get a $1 million prize and interviews on the Today show!

Students should analyze Crusoe’s actions. They can write an essay or create a presentation like a PowerPoint explaining (with examples from the text, of course):

a. What Crusoe did to survive
b. Actions they consider to be good decisions and actions they consider to be poor decisions
c. What their overall opinion is of his actions
d. Why they feel this way

Extension/Advanced

  1. Students can watch the pilot episode of the show Lost or read an additional survival story and write a compare/contrast essay about the events and outcomes.
  2. Students can create imaginary diary entries for 15 days of their lives while imagining being stranded alone in the wild.

Instructions for Your Students

“I Will Survive.”—Gloria Gaynor

Objective: While Gloria Gaynor did know quite a bit about survival, she only had to survive a breakup and didn’t have to eat wild goats to do it. In this lesson, you will investigate the elements of survival in the wilderness (vs. in a '70s nightclub).

Though you might feel like you are surviving high school pretty well (yeah, we know it’s a jungle out there), do you have what it takes to make it in an actual jungle? For this activity, you will research and discover practices that must be followed in order to survive if you are ever abandoned alone in the elements. You are already an expert on surviving school lunches, so it should be no trouble for you to become an expert on overall wilderness survival.

So, think you can survive without the Internet or a toothbrush? Do the research, and then create multimedia presentations to educate your classmates on the basics.

Step 1: Think about your basic wants vs. needs. What do we need in life? What do we want? What is the difference?

As you share your list of wants and needs, your teacher will write these out on the board. 

Now think more about actual survival and our basic life needs such as food, water, shelter, rescue, safety, and emotional well being. What else should you add to the “needs” column?

  • Did you think of all of these things? 
  • What is important about each one? 
  • Why do we need each one as humans?
  • Is one more important than another?

Robinson Crusoe survived by himself for 28 years on a remote island. We will be learning some survival tips so we’ll be able to survive, too, if we are thrown into a similar situation. We’ll be also looking at some other real-life survival stories and analyzing how others have successfully done this. (Of course, we don’t mean the stars of the Survivor TV show—they had cameramen who distributed bug repellent, treats and deodorant.)

Step 2: An excellent story about a group of boys surviving on a remote island is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The characters in this tale face similar challenges and fundamental questions of survival as Robinson Crusoe.

Your teacher will read an excerpt from this novel out loud to the class. Pay close attention. Then, picture yourself in a similar situation as the boys in the story, and answer the following questions:

  • What would you do first? What is the most important step and why?
  • How would you feel in this situation?
  • This is a different scenario from Robinson Crusoe because there is a group of stranded people here, but they are only children. How is this different in terms of survival (being stranded alone or being a stranded adult)?
  • If you have read the book, do you remember what some of the boys’ mistakes were?

Step 3: Next, you will watch a clip or clips from the show Survivorman. Yep, the one where they eat worms, bugs, tree bark, and other delicacies!

After you have watched the clip(s), answer the following questions:

  • What basic needs did Les Stroud establish he had to address?
  • What did he have with him and why were they important?
  • What did he do first and why?
  • How would you have felt? Could you have thought clearly to take action?
  • Would you have done anything in a different way or in a different order?

Step 4: Now, it’s time to turn into Les Stroud clones! Your teacher will break you up into groups for research. Each group will tackle one element of survival (from Step 1) of food, shelter, water, safety, rescue, and mental well being (a.k.a. how to keep from cracking up).

As a group, you will then create and present a multimedia presentation to educate your fellow classmates on survival techniques for your topic. These multimedia presentations could be: a slideshow with narration, a video, an online newsletter, a mock webpage or wiki. Try to defend why your survival item should always be top priority in the wilderness!

You should definitely take notes while the others are presenting because you will be comparing and contrasting Crusoe’s actions and the researched survival tips.

Step 5: Time to read! If you are just beginning the novel, hang in there! It will take about 100 pages for you to get to the island. Once Crusoe is shipwrecked, you will begin journaling from the novel about his steps toward survival.

Create sections in your journal for each element of survival that you discussed in Step 1. You might get lost or drift a bit during his long explanations of his daily routines and actions. Writing all of this down will help you keep it all straight:

  • Record examples when you encounter Crusoe addressing each basic need. 
  • Record challenges and problems for each with his specific solutions. 
  • Record any of his failures.

Here are some questions that might help:

  • What steps did Crusoe take toward survival? What was first, second and third?
  • What things were considered luxuries or wants vs. needs?
  • What did he have with him already and then gain from the wreck? How did these things help him?
  • What good choices did he make? What could he have done differently? 
  • What were some of the consequences of his mistakes?
  • What were his greatest challenges and triumphs?

Step 6: Crusoe did a few things right. Too bad that he didn’t get a $1 million prize and interviews on the Today show!

Once you are finished with the novel or once Crusoe leaves the island, you will analyze his actions. You can write an essay or create a presentation like a PowerPoint to demonstrate your ideas and analysis. You should include specific examples from the text to support your points. Consider including the following points:

  • What Crusoe did to survive 
  • Actions you consider to be good decisions and actions you consider to be poor decisions 
  • What your overall opinion is of his actions
  • Why you feel this way

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING ROBINSON CRUSOE?

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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