Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime is quickly becoming a classroom staple. It’s especially great for World Literature classes. If you’ve decided to add it to your syllabus, check out these Born a Crime teaching tips!
Not sure if you should add Born a Crime to your curriculum? Check out this post on why you absolutely should teach Born a Crime!
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Born a Crime Teaching Tips #1: Choose the Right Version for Your Classroom
One unique feature of Born a Crime is that it’s available in two formats: the original unabridged version and a version adapted for young readers.
The young readers’ version shortens some chapters, eliminates chapter 12, and replaces swear words with more appropriate ones.
If you have the time, the maturity level, and the parental consent to read the unabridged version, I highly recommend it. It’s funnier, and, let’s be honest, swear words are more engaging for our teen readers.
The “realness” of the unabridged version is one of the features of this text that make it perfect for reluctant readers.
More importantly, if you teach the unabridged version, you can make full use of the audiobook recording.
However, if you’re short on time or teach in a more conservative district, the young readers’ edition makes teaching Born a Crime still possible! The text is shorter (giving you a day or two back in your lesson plans), and there should be no offensive language.
Think about your students and your district, and decide which text will work best for your classroom. Understand the differences and make sure that if you purchase or use others’ resources, they correlate to the correct version of the text.
Born a Crime Teaching Tips #2: Build Background Knowledge First
Once you know which version of the text you’ll be using, make a plan for building students’ background knowledge.
To understand the setting and Noah’s life experience better, students will need a firm foundation in South Africa’s apartheid era. There are a ton of resources out there to help you with this.
I have this apartheid lesson and activities resource if you want to make this easy. But there are tons of resources out there on the internet as well. The South Africa Apartheid Museum website has some great ideas and tons of primary sources you can use.
You’ll also want to make sure students have some idea of who Trevor Noah is. In my opinion, he’s a likable guy, and if you can get your students to see his charm before they start reading, they’ll be more invested in his story.
Born a Crime Teaching Tips #3: Use the Audiobook
Not all audiobooks are created equally, but Born a Crime’s is fantastic! Trevor Noah himself reads it, so you get to enjoy that South African accent and his inflections as he tells his story.
The audiobook is only available for the original text, however. If you’re using the unabridged version, I recommend listening to the full audiobook in class.
However, if you’re using the young readers’ version, you won’t be able to use the whole audiobook. Still, you can use some excerpts of the audiobook (much of the unabridged and young readers versions are identical), so students still get the “flavor” of Noah’s voice.
#4: Dig Into the Book’s Themes
Born a Crime deals with great themes like identity, love and family, and systemic oppression. Dig into these with your students.
In my Born a Crime unit, I have students write their first major essay of the class with this text. They write a theme analysis essay based on a theme of their choice (I provide the options). This essay resource is customizable if you want to do something similar.
You could, however, also do class discussions around the themes.
Either way, make sure you find some time to talk through the big ideas in the novel.
#5: Connect the Text to Today
After finishing the novel, I recommend connecting the themes in this novel to other texts you read in your class. The theme of identity is so universal that you’ll easily be able to connect it to another work.
Even if you don’t read any more novels with clear links to Born a Crime’s themes, you can still discuss the novel’s relevance with students.
Noah lives in a South Africa torn apart by racism and segregation. This topic always gets students talking, and the parallels between South Africa and America’s histories regarding how each treats Black citizens are uncomfortably similar.
You can discuss the lasting impact of apartheid in South Africa and segregation in America.
For a lighter topic, you and your students can discuss the importance of humor in life. Noah (and his mother) often use humor to create resilience. How do your students do the same?
Trevor Noah is incredibly relatable even if the circumstances of his childhood feel foreign to your students. Lean into the universal experiences of his childhood to have deep conversations with your students.
Born a Crime is not only a fun novel to read, but an excellent novel to teach. It’s one of those engaging stories that your students won’t be able to resist discussing.
Make sure you make the most of your unit by really building that background knowledge, making sure students “get to know” Trevor Noah, and digging into its rich themes.