About this Lesson
In the previous lesson, students explored the character of Mrs Birling, assessing which factors impacted her treatment of Eva Smith and constructing a graphic representation of her universe of obligation based on her words and actions in the play. Such exploration deepened student understanding of her character, and of the impact that society and identity have on shaping our choices and behaviour towards others.
In this lesson, students will continue to consider the impact of our choices and actions on others, whilst also thinking about the role that power plays in the decision-making process. Power, or the abuse of power, in An Inspector Calls is central to the characters’ interactions with Eva Smith (and each other). It is vital for students to consider this theme in the play and also examine how power can influence how they communicate and interact with others in their own lives. Once students understand the complexity of power, they can reflect on the power they possess in their lives and understand how, when regarded responsibly, power can be used as a force of good.
Students will also consider the role power plays in the interactions between characters of An Inspector Calls, focusing especially on the relationship between Eric and Eva. The interactions between Eric and Eva provide a lens through which students can examine the connection between power and responsibility. Eric’s sexual assault of Eva, implied in the dialogue in Act Three, reveals that Eric abused his position of power and provides the opportunity to discuss with students the issue of consent. As some students studying this text will be of the age in which they may be embarking on relationships, it is vital to have discussions about consent with them – it is a complex issue and one that requires attention and thought. However, given the potential difficulty of this topic, it is important for the classroom to be an environment in which students feel safe, and for the teacher to be prepared in case the topic touches on any trauma that the students have experienced.
In addition to reading the play, students will read an excerpt from the victim statement of Chanel Miller, the woman who was assaulted by Brock Turner in California in 2015. The excerpt used in this lesson does not touch on the graphic nature of the assault; rather, it focuses on the victim’s desire for the perpetrator to take responsibility for his actions. We advise against sharing the statement in full as there are elements which are quite disturbing. Students will then have the opportunity to discuss consent scenarios in groups before reflecting in their journals.
Students will also watch a video on consent which is promoted by Thames Valley Police. This video approaches consent by comparing it to offering tea. This simplistic approach, whilst effective, can be problematic in how it turns the topic of consent into a potentially humorous subject. If you do show students this video, discuss the post-viewing questions, which include thinking about any potential criticisms of the video.
The activities in this lesson refer to pages 50–5 of the Heinemann edition of An Inspector Calls.
- Comparison and Evaluation Skills (Lang-AO3/AO4)
- Critical Reading (Lit-AO1/AO3, Lang-AO1/AO4)
- Critical Thinking (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
- Reading Comprehension (Lit-AO1, Lang-AO1)
- Spoken Language Skills (Lang-AO8, Lang-AO9)
Students employ critical thinking skills to consider power: what it is, how it manifests itself in society, and the different forms that power takes. Then, having acted out a scene from the play, they critically and thoughtfully consider the power dynamics present in that scene, taking into consideration both the relationships between the characters and Eric’s treatment of Eva Smith. The drama boosts their spoken language skills and gives them a creative avenue through which to access the play, whilst the assessment of the play employs their comprehension and critical reading skills. Students unpack Eric’s behaviour in relation to Eva Smith further and use their inferencing skills to focus on a specific quotation from the play. Additionally in this lesson, students employ their comparison and evaluation skills when they read Chanel Miller’s victim statement, considering its content and its relevance to An Inspector Calls. The use of discussion and writing throughout gives students the opportunity to verbalise their thoughts and practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs.
What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?
- Why do some people have power over others, and how can an imbalance of power impact how we communicate and interact with others?
- How do some people misuse the power which they possess?
- What is consent and why is it important to understand consent?
- Students will complete a power anticipation guide, and discuss the impact that power has on relationships both in An Inspector Calls and in the world beyond the text.
- Students will read a testimony from a victim of sexual assault and apply what they learn from this testimony to their understanding of consent and its importance.
This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes:
- 7 activities
- 5 teaching strategies
- 2 handouts
- 1 video
- 1 PowerPoint
- 1 reading
- 1 extension activity
Preparing to Teach
A Note to Teachers
Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.
If you have a new class, we recommend that you discuss the content of the lesson with teachers who have previously taught the students to see if they know any reasons why this topic might be difficult for any of them. It is also worth speaking to the school counsellor or safeguarding team and informing them about the discussions that will be happening. You can ask them for support or even share the list of students who are going to be doing the lesson, to avoid triggering something without there being adequate emotional support in place.
It is also important to tell students that if the lesson does impact them that they can come and talk to you or the school counsellor. You should also stress your duty to report any safeguarding issues.
Eric's Decisions and Consent
Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson.
The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.
- Explain to students that they will be reflecting on the notion of power in this lesson, thinking about how it manifests itself in the world of the play and in society.
- Hand out and have students complete the What Is Power? Anticipation Guide handout.
- Give students time to discuss and share their responses in small groups. They can share their definitions of power and compare answers for the ranking exercises, looking for similarities and differences.
- If there is time, you may ask some students to share their ideas with the class.
- Before reading the next section of the play, consider starting with a range of warm-up drama activities.
- Explain to students that they will be acting out a section of the play in groups, before reading it as a class. If possible, it is worth moving the tables out of the way so students have space to act out the scene. Invite students to read power into their roles using their voices and body language to communicate power when necessary.
- Divide students into groups of five and ask them to read the section from the start of Act Three (p. 50) to where the Inspector says, ‘Stop!’ (mid p. 55). They will need to take on the following roles: Eric, Inspector, Mrs Birling, Sheila, and Mr Birling.
- After ten minutes, ask one group of students to perform the play to the class (not all students need to be from the same group). If needed, assign students parts and their relevant props, and ask them to perform the section of the play.
- Ask those not acting to identify and annotate points in the text when the characters do or do not have power. They can use their What Is Power? Anticipation Guide to help them think about the different ways in which one has power. See the Anticipation Guides teaching strategy to learn more about using Anticipation Guides.
- After the group has performed for the class, give students the opportunity to discuss the following questions in pairs using the Think, Pair, Share strategy before facilitating a class discussion:
- How do the characters use their power in this section of the play?
- How do characters abuse it?
- What gives the different characters power?
- How is power in this section of the play linked to identity and social context?
Invite students to return to their What Is Power? Anticipation Guide and respond in their journals to the following questions:
- How has reading the play impacted your understanding of statements on the power anticipation guide?
- How, if at all, can your definition of power be developed?
- Would you alter any of the rankings that you gave the statements?
- Explain to students that in this lesson, they will begin to focus on one part of Eric’s behaviour in relation to Eva Smith and will be discussing consent. Given the serious nature of the lesson, we recommend that you spend time reviewing your classroom contract with the students to encourage the creation of a safe space.
- Project the following section of the play from pages 51–2 on the board:
ERIC:Yes, I insisted – it seems. I’m not very clear about it, but afterwards she told me she didn’t want me to go in but that – well, I was in that state when a chap easily turns nasty – and I threatened to make a row.
INSPECTOR:So she let you in?
ERIC:Yes. And that’s when it happened. And I didn’t even remember.
- If needed, give students a brief review of inferencing (see the Learning to Infer strategy for ideas). Remind students of some of the inferencing strategies they used in previous lessons: understanding vocabulary in context, figuring out who or what pronouns represent, and tapping into prior experience and knowledge of context. Also remind students of the ‘It Says/I Say/And So’ formula they used to help craft inferences earlier in the scheme of work.
- Then, ask students to respond in their journals to the following prompts. Project the questions one at a time so students have time to process and write about each one.
- What do you think prompted Eva Smith to let Eric in when she did not want to?
- What can we infer the ‘it’ that happened is? What makes you say that?
- What can we infer from Eric’s statement as a whole?
- Give students the opportunity to discuss the questions in partners using the Think, Pair, Share strategy before leading a short class discussion to check that students are on track with their inferences.
- Explain to students that in the rest of the lesson, they will be exploring the concept of sexual consent, and that as part of this exploration they will be reading an excerpt from the statement written by a victim of assault. This excerpt does not go into details of her assault, but it contains her message to the perpetrator and outlines some major issues concerning how assault is dealt with in society.
- First, show students the video Tea and Consent (2:49). Then, project and give students five minutes to discuss the following questions using the Think, Pair, Share teaching strategy before fielding ideas from the students:
- What is consent? Define it in your own words.
- Why do you think the video uses tea to explain consent? Is this comparison effective or ineffective? What makes you say that?
- What criticisms might people have of this video and how it deals with a serious subject matter?
- Give students the reading Stanford Sexual Assault Victim Statement. Ask students to follow the text as you read it aloud, underlining anything that stands out to them or that they find troubling. Prompt them to recall their discussions about power, gender, and class in previous lessons as they annotate.
- Give students the opportunity to have a personal response to Miller’s statement in their journals so that they have space and time to process their thoughts. Use the following questions if desired:
- How does reading Chanel Miller’s statement make you feel?
- How is hearing Miller’s personal testimony in her own words different from reading a scene about an assault in a play or learning about it from the news?
- Next, lead a short class discussion clarifying any queries and fielding questions from the students. If desired, use the following questions as prompts:
- Miller tells Turner that he has ‘decades of years ahead to rewrite [his] story’. What does she mean? What does this response suggest about her?
- Then, divide students into groups and project the following questions on the board. It is important to circulate whilst students are discussing these questions, so that you can monitor what is being said:
- What power did Brock Turner have over Chanel Miller in the situation? How did he abuse it? How did he try to excuse his abuse of power?
- How does Miller say her identity changed as a result of the sexual assault? What does this change teach us about identity? What does it teach us about the impact of our choices?
- Miller wanted Turner to take responsibility for his actions. Why do you think this is the case? What does this tell us about the power of owning up to our mistakes?
- Miller’s real-life sexual assault occurred over one hundred years after and in a different country from the fictional assault of Eva Smith. How is Miller’s experience similar to or different from that of Eva Smith? How has society changed, if at all?
- Finally, give students the Consent Exit Card handout to complete. Students can also do this on paper or in their books, but if they do so, ensure that they hand their work to you in a readily accessible way at the end of the lesson.
- It is important to review what students write to ensure that you can address any misunderstandings with the class or with individual students.
Help students deepen their understanding of the notion of consent by examining scenarios and making connections between the play, Chanel Miller’s testimony, and their own lives. Students work in groups of four to discuss different scenarios regarding consent using the Consent Scenarios handout. Then, facilitate a class discussion where students have the opportunity to feed back and ask questions. We recommend concluding this extension activity with a private journal reflection so students have time and space to process their learning.
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Eric's Decisions and Consent
Analytical Writing: A Character Paragraph
Persuasive Writing: A Speech about Consent
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