Thursday, November 18, 2010

How to teach Harry Potter!

By Holly Van Houten

Many of you have asked that I explain in more detail about some of the things I teach in my Harry Potter courses.  So, in honor of the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) movie, opening at midnight tonight, I'm posting a brief explanation and a copy of my syllabus for this semester.  I'm hoping my three favorite teachers (pictured above) would approve!

Although the class this semester includes multiple crafts and we have a ridiculous amount of fun with them, they primarily serve to keep hands busy while we explore and discuss the larger themes I've selected for the day.  For example, we begin the semester with sorting, but since students are familiar with the whole series, we're already discussing the benefits (team work, loyalty, camaraderie) and drawbacks (divisiveness, animosity) of  the practice, with a view towards how Rowling ends the series with all 4 houses seated at the same table.  As we make our wands, we discuss how the three "Unforgivable Curses" are the negation of the three inalienable rights Jefferson delineates in the Declaration of Independence (Avada Kedavra/Life, Imperious/Liberty and Crucio/Pursuit of Happiness).

We explore issues of prejudice and discrimination that run throughout the series and consider Dumbledore's take on determinism.  We also look at the literary techniques of narrative misdirection, comic relief, time travel and parallel structure in the novels.  We venture into sundry wizarding classes:  potions, herbology, arithmancy and charms.  These correspond roughly to the muggle subjects of chemistry, botany, math and language arts.  For example, in charms we play around with poetic techniques like alliteration and couplets, before progressing to latin/greek prefixes and suffixes to devise our own Potteresque names for spells.  We even explore how Rowling's iteration of Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale deepens her focus on Voldemort's obsessive fear of death!  Fun, fun stuff! J

I also heavily promote the writing.  Students regularly submit articles for our weekly edition of the "Daily Prophet" and we spend an entire week exploring "underground journalism" techniques when we create our own "Quibbler."

Anyway, this gives a you a taste of how we spend our time -- ENJOY!

Syllabus – Harry Potter’s Realm of Wizardy

Week 1 (9/13):  We’ll use the Sorting Hat (and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of sorting/segregation), begin creating our magic wands (with emphasis on the meaning of different kinds of woods/cores) and invite students to contribute articles to the Daily Prophet (our student created newspaper with weekly editions) .

Week 2 (9/20): Finish work on our wands and to examine connections between the “unforgivable curses” in the HP series and Jefferson’s concept of inalienable rights.

Week 3 (9/27):  Work on how to write articles for “The Daily Prophet,” make our Quidditch brooms and discuss the ins and outs of the game.

Week 4 (10/4):   Focus on Book 1 (Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone).  We’ll learn about the concept of “Stoicism” in relation to the Harry Potter series and make “The Mirror of Erised” and gobstones from Spell-O Clay

Week 5 (10/11): Gobstone games.  Narrative Misdirection.  Potions:  Dragon’s Drool!

Week 6 (10/18):  Focus on Book 2 (Chamber of Secrets).  Consider the influence of books in our lives and make our own “Diaries” decorated with the Hogwart’s Crest.  We’ll also examine symbolism of 4 houses.

Week 7 (10/25):  Arithmancy (the magic of numbers).  We’ll examine prime numbers and make Wizarding Currency – sickles, knuts & galleons.

Week 8 (11/1):  Charms!  (includes Language Arts instruction in alliteration, similes, rhyme, noun/adjective/verb recognition and Latin and Greek prefixes and suffixes.  Herbology:  Zingiber Roots

Week 9 (11/8):  Focus on Book 3 (Prisoner of Azkaban).  We’ll examine time travel (as literary motif) and make our own “Time Turners.”

Week 10 (11/15): Focus on Book 4 (Goblet of Fire) We’ll examine Rowling’s focus on discrimination/prejudice in the Harry Potter series and make our own S.P.E.W. badges.

Week 11 (11/29):  Focus on Book 5 (Order of the Phoenix)  We’ll examine Rowling’s views on Education and how she uses the Weasley twins as Comic Relief in an otherwise Tragic and dark novel, while making our own Skiving Snack Boxes complete with puking pastilles, fever fudge and nosebleed nougat. 

Week 12 (12/6):  Potions:  Chemistry experiments with potions that create movement! (Basilisk Antivenim & Chimaera Mixer)

Week 13 (1/3):  We’ll explore Rowling’s commentary on the media in her series and put together our own version of Luna Lovegood’s Spectre Specs and “The Quibbler.”

Week 14 (1/10):  Focus on Book 6 (The Half Blood Prince).  We’ll explore Voldemort’s back-story, make “Pygmy Puffs” and practice our “School Song” for the End of Semester show.

Week 15 (1/24):  Focus on Book 7 (The Deathly Hallows).  We’ll explore the difference between horcruxes and hallows (2 crucial themes, not only of book 7, but of the series as a whole), decorate our own “Hufflepuff Cups” (one of the horcruxes) and a special version of Slytherin’s locket.  


  1. My friend Patchfire and I have actually been talking about turning next school year into year one of Hogwarts for our turning-11 children (her son, my daughter). So neat to see your syllabus!

  2. Excellent SmrtMama! I just took a look at your friends blog and left her a comment :) Good to meet you. Good luck with your year!

  3. Man, I wish I was in your class. OK - so, I did teach "the mysterious ticking noise" (Snape, Snape, Severus Snape, Dumbledore!!!! - look it up on You tube in case you don't know it)to my 5th grade music class!!!! At Noah's suggestion!!!! Real hit, not very intellectual, but filled with ostinatos and cool music things. Lame?

  4. Lame? NEVER! Heather -- that was the musical hit of the class last year (that and the Hogwarts School Song, which I had my classes sing for the End of Semester show). In fact, the girls had a combined sleepover party for their birthdays back in February and we pulled the couch out, so the girls that knew it (or learned it that night) could pop up from behind the couch on cue, singing "Snape, Snape, Severeus Snape. DUMBLEDORE") I think we had to do it about twenty times, so each kid got a chance to be "Dumbledore" in the song.

  5. I LOVE this! I so wish my kids could be in these classes (me too)

  6. What a clever idea! Thanks for sharing and for stopping by my blog!

  7. My 13 yo old daughter starting writing a similar Harry Potter homeschool curriculum two years ago after we finished book 7. She was very excited to hear how much her curriculum followed your.

  8. Gosh, your program looks like Such fun! My kids would love to take those classes!

  9. love the outline and how you explain things. Will surely be back to borrow some ideas.

  10. Way cool! Wish I had thought of this before my son turned 11!