In my 8th grade classroom, our study of The Hobbit is in full swing. We’ve been to the unexpected party, had Thorin’s map deciphered, acquired a magic ring, met Beorn (which is one of my favorite parts of the book), and are now deep into Mirkwood.
Every year, the mix of students is the same. Some start off with no interest in reading The Hobbit. Several claim they don’t like fantasy (which just blows my mind… especially when they then proceed to tell me that they do like Harry Potter), and others seem to just be afraid of how excited I am about it. Others are ambivalent (but usually it only takes a week or two for them to fall in love with Middle-earth). And then there are those who looked at the syllabus and spent the whole semester anxiously waiting for it to start. (They also are the ones who then demand for me to follow up with The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.)
Sometimes appealing to all three groups is hard, but I think I finally found one activity that unites everyone: writing names in Elvish.
At first, only the Tolkien enthusiasts are onboard. The others stare at me like I can’t possibly be serious. Then I proceed to write my first name on the board, and even the most reluctant follow suit. By the time they’ve written down all the letters for their names, they have stopped noticing how nerdy it is (or wondering why I insist on talking so much about linguistics) and are intent on writing their names right. The change is both unbelievable and hilarious.
In the past, the fervor for writing names in Elvish usually lasts for a short while before students seem to forget about it. That definitely wasn’t the case this year, since I was then greeted one day to one of the semi-enthusiastic students writing on my board in Elvish. In my book, that’s mission accomplished.