So, you are starting a new Omnibus book. That is an exciting time for any teacher. The Omnibus curriculum provides a class in each chapter called a Prelude. This type of class helps introduce to the book, the background materials, and the worldview issues that you will be considering as you read the book. There are a few issues to keep in mind in order to make sure that you have great Prelude and that getting off to a good start in your new book. Here are three of the most important issues to consider if you want to have a great Prelude:
The Prelude starts with “A Question to Consider” just like the Discussion classes. The questions for Preludes are chosen for two reasons. First, we tried to choose questions that would be overarching questions that can help the student have insight in one of the key issues found in this book. Second, the questions are there to help you as a teacher stir up interest.
Typically, if teachers struggle at this point, it is because they rush through and fail to stir up interest. They want to get on to reading and discussion. Don’t give into the temptation. Take your time. I remember, before the official Omnibus curriculum was created, the first class when I was teaching The Republic to a group of 5 tenth graders. I started giving background issues on Plato’s Philosophy. I was talking about the world of the ideas or forms. I heard one of the students say under his voice, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Yikes! Interest was not being stirred up; it was being put to sleep. I had the sense to stop. We spent the next few days looking at trees and tables asking, “What is real?” and “What makes a tree a tree?” By the time we got done with this “Prelude” I had a class full of kids who were much more interested—some of them were ready to declare that the tree in the courtyards was just a shadow and that the real tree only existed in the mind of God. So, if you are starting a new book, take your time and stir up interest.
If your students are struggling to understand the background material and worldview essay, take the time to read it out loud. This gives you the opportunity to help the students understand information they might otherwise miss. This is especially important students new to Omnibus who might not have a background to understand the historical context of a book.
This also has the great benefit of letting the instructor hear the students read aloud. This will help you know when concepts or names are very foreign to your student. If a student says, “SO-CRATES” instead of “SO-CRA-TES” the teacher can know that more explanation is probably necessary.
Finally, make sure that you read the essay before the Preclude class. A few of the worldview essays do give away important plot points that you might want to avoid revealing at the beginning of the book. There are some books where this really does not matter, in fact, there are some books where you want to give away as much as possible beforehand. It does not hurt students to know some of what happens in The Republic or in another book of Philosophy. You aren’t giving away much when you tell students that Dante goes to Hell in the Inferno. This issue often comes up when you are reading plot driven novels (like The Great Gatsby for instance). Just make sure that you read the essay before giving it to the students and avoid spoiling the interest in the book.
So, what should you do in the Prelude class if you decide to put of the reading of the Worldview Essay to avoid the spoiler? I would recommend that you intentionally take more time to stir up interest with the “A Question to Consider” and, perhaps, you can take some time to start reading the book either silently or aloud during the remaining class time.
The Prelude is an important class. A great Prelude can be the prelude to wonderful discussions and more depth in the reading done by the students. Take your time to stir up interest, consider reading aloud, and avoid the spoilers. If you are careful to do this, you are taking the best first steps toward a successful reading of your next Great Book.