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Talking Sense and Sensibility in the English class

May 17, 2018 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

We are all aware of the benefits of extensive reading, but some of us may feel unsure about how to approach longer texts in class. How should we scaffold the reading for our students and how much time should we dedicate to talking about the book in class? How will the students benefit from their reading experience? How can we link the book to our syllabus?

In this series of posts, we would like to encourage you to take extensive reading seriously and take a novel into class. We will look at how you can prepare your students for the text and expand it beyond the frame of the story. It is important to prepare the students so they are aware of what they are doing. Some of them may feel intimidated by the idea of reading a book in English, others may not see the benefits. These fears and preconceptions can be easily addressed and thereby make the reading process much more beneficial and all-importantly FUN for the students. It is always a good idea for students to keep a WORD BOOK where they can jot down new words and expressions. We also recommend getting your students to read slightly below level (‘I’ minus 1) so they are at ease with the language and consolidating language while learning new words in context.

This month we continue with the much loved novel, Sense and Sensibility written by Jane Austen. 

Helbling Readers Blue Series Classics Sense and Sensibility

The book was adapted by Elspeth Rawstron and illustrated by Sara Menetti. The activities were written by Elspeth Rawstron and Gianfranco Martorano. The reader is written for teens and adult readers at an intermediate level of English (CEFR B1).

Our aims are to:

  • raise interest in the story,
  • become familiar with the reader,
  • find pathways into the story through projects,
  • expand the social, cultural and historical setting of the story,
  • make personal links,
  • have fun.

CLIL links:

  • Sociology
  • History
  • Psychology

A novel about love, marriage and social issues

This novel was published in 1811, and it shows the danger of Romanticism, and suggests that there needs to be a fine balance between emotions and common sense. It also describes the social issues of the middle and upper classes in 18th- and 19th-century England by showing how unstable people's social status - especially women's - can become.

The characters in Sense and Sensibility. Illustrated by Sara Menetti. © Helbling


1 Start by discussing the title and the characters.

What do you think the title means? What is the difference between sense and sensibility? Which characters represent 'sense'? Which ones represent 'sensibility'?

You can also discuss this short description of the story:

Two very different sisters meet and fall in love with two very different men. Elinor is the elder sister and she represents sense. Marianne is the younger sister and she represents sensibility. Elinor falls in love with Edward, a kind and sensible young man. Marianne falls in love with Willoughby who is handsome and romantic and everything she ever hoped a man to be. Will everything be simple in love so that Elinor and Marianne can marry the men of their dreams?

2 Make predictions from the illustrations.

Before you start reading the story, browse the reader and look at the illustrations.

  • What do the illustrations tell you about the story (time, place, genre)?
  • What do they tell you about the emotions of the characters?
  • Choose one character and look at a number of illustrations of her/him. How do her/his emotions change?
  • How do these images make you feel?
  • What do they remind you of?
  • What kind of mood do they represent?

Here you can explore the illustrator’s visual world:

3 Before you start discussing the projects, share this Wordle image with your class.

Based on these words, predict what the story will be about.

A word cloud created in Wordle using the thirty most frequent words in the story.


1 Geography: The setting

The novel is  set in southwest England, London and Sussex. Find these areas on a map and list the major cities. Then, check what the countryside is like, and what activities you can do here.

  • Where is Devon?
  • What are the major cities and towns here?
  • Where is Sussex?
  • How did people travel at the end of the 18th century between London, Devon and Sussex?

2 History 1: King George III and the Regency Era

The time of the novel can be placed at the end of the 18th century. Study this period of British history.

  • Who was the King of Britain in the 1790s?
  • What happened to him?
  • What does 'Prince Regent' mean?
  • What is the Regency Era?
  • What were the major events in world history in between 1790 and 1820?
  • Which famous British Queen's reign followed the Regency Era?

3 Society: social classes

What does a class system mean? The characters are mostly part of the 'middle class'. What other classes exist? How can being part of a certain class limit your life?

4 History 2: Inheritance

The Dashwood sisters find themselves in a difficult situation because they could not inherit their father's money. What were the rules of inheritance in the 18th and 19th century? What are the rules now? How about your country today?

5 Psychology: Love and reason

Organise a short debate about the questions of love and reason. Should you listen to your heart or your mind? In which situations do you think it is better to be less emotional and more rational? List examples from your own shared experiences.

6 Etiquette

The rules and conventions of social interactions are important in this novel. When you have read the novel, prepare a list of things you can and cannot do when going out to meet others or inviting visitors to your home. How are these rules different today?

7 Film adaptations

The story has been adapted for the screen several times. We recommend the now classic adaptation from 2005, directed by Ang Lee, starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant. Find more information about the film here.

There are also BBC adaptations in series. Have you seen any of them?

Watch the trailers and discuss your expectations (if you watch before reading) opinion (after reading)?

8 The author: Jane Austen

Find out more about Jane Austen  and prepare a short essay or presentation about her. Focus on these points:

  • Her background, identity, family
  • Her other novels
  • Why did she publish this novel anonymously?

We recommend the film Becoming Jane (2007) if you would like to see a popular romantic film about her life.

Download a project planner from here to print out and take notes.

Here you can read more about other novels written by Jane Austen and see lesson plans dedicated to her life and work.