One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Gulag Archipelago played an important role in the downfall of the Soviet Union, yet Solzhenitsyn’s life and collective writings have much to offer beyond their impact in the 20th century. The Writer Who Changed History: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, has been written for students in grades 4th-7th, but will have considerable appeal for older audiences and can be used in any number of classes including history; psychology; literature; social studies; or biography. While there are many notable aspects of Solzhenitsyn’s life, we want readers to understand how his life unfolded and to help them use this information to better understand their own lives and the choices they make now and in the future.
To assist in the use of the book we have created the following tools:
As the book was being written, those involved in the process were asked to quantify what they wanted children to learn from reading this biography. Below are broad topics, which can be explored any time during the reading of the book. They can be introduced before students begin reading, as a guide for what to look for. Some lend themselves to specific chapters and all are useful in leading a discussion after completing the book.
1. The pen is mightier than the sword, One of the greatest advances in civilization came about once the art of writing was invented. Words can make us laugh or cry and entertain, inform or warn us. How did Solzhenitsyn use his writing to create change? Can the pen encourage the use of the sword? Is money more powerful than sword or pen?
2. In today’s world how can we resist evil actively, not just passively? Is it enough to be concerned about what’s happing in our community/country or should you be trying to help people in other parts of the world?
3. Resiliency was key to Solzhenitsyn’s life. He survived horrific conditions, such as the Gulag, exile and cancer while many others did not. Using the following characteristics of resilient people, discuss how Solzhenitsyn met adversity and was able to thrive. Are there other characteristics, not on this list that he exhibited that led to his survival?
- Flexible- Able to face challenges
- Take positive lessons from negative experiences
- Take action-they work on solving the problem
- Stay connected with family, friends and supporters
- Have outlets to relieve tension and stress by doing such things as writing in a journal, drawing, meditating, talking with a close friend
- Have good habits such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep
- Believe in yourself
- Have a positive outlook
4. Solzhenitsyn was concerned about the increasing focus of western culture on the value of money and material goods versus the intrinsic value of life. What is it about human life that makes it valuable? Is it of more value than other forms of life?
The following activities, questions and discussion points pertain to each chapter of the book. Note that the Resource section offers a variety of “hands on activities” that can be done at any time.
Keep in mind that while the book is for students in grades 4th-7th, there are developmental differences between these grades, to say nothing of the sensitivity levels of students. Please be sure to screen films and review websites before sharing with students.
Using maps locate Russia and the town where Solzhenitsyn lived. It is helpful to use a world map for the duration of the reading of the book in order to trace where Solzhenitsyn lived and traveled to.
1. Discuss the geography and climate of Russia.
2. Explore Russian History
3. Learn about the Tzars of Russia by making faux Faberge eggs.
4. Compare and contrast the government of Russia under the Tzars versus Communists
1. Explore Russia During World War II
2. Solzhenitsyn referred to Stalin as the “one with the mustache” in his letters to his friend. What code name would you have considered?
3. Learn about life in the Gulags
4. How do you, your family and friends talk about town, state and federal politics? Would you be at risk if you had lived during Solzhenitsyn’s childhood and early adulthood?
1. Learn about Nikita Khrushchev
2. Watch One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the film based on Solzhenitsyn’s book of the same name.
1. Learn more about the Nobel Prize for Literature
3. Watch Solzhenitsyn Receive his Nobel Prize
1. Solzhenitsyn was an agent for change. Outline the stages that he went through that led him to the point of exile. How important were other people in making the publication of his work possible?
2. In your school and community, who are agents of change and why? For more information on the subject of Agents of Change read Beyond Heroes & Role Models: Using Biographies to Develop Young Change Agents.
1. Town Meeting Day is a Vermont tradition that takes place on the first Tuesday in March when citizens meet to discuss the business of their towns. In Cavendish, Vermont, Town Meeting is held at 7 pm on Monday night. Download a copy of Town Meeting Day a Vermont Tradition to learn more about the history of Town Meeting and have the students conduct a mock town meeting.
2. Watch the following videos about Solzhenitsyn and his time in Vermont
3. Why was it important that the people of Cavendish understand the difference between Russia and the Soviet Union? Identify the ways that they were different.
4. What role did the people of Cavendish play in helping Solzhenitsyn and his family? Read Cavendish Journal's "Shielding Solzhenitsyn, Respectfully"
5. Learn more about the town of Cavendish Vermont
6. Cavendish residents would never give directions to Solzhenitsyn’s home. Do you think they still do that? Residents still guard the privacy of his home but it has become more difficult because of Google.
1. Watch videos documenting his return to Russia
2. Follow the day in the life of a Russian Child. How similar is this to your daily life??