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Victor Hugo: Les Misérables teaching materials

The rare items displayed in the Library's Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage exhibition give students an insight into one of the most popular French stories of all time. The following learning activities are designed to help students understand the world of Victor Hugo’s characters, make connections between the text with events from Victoria’s history and explore adaptations of the iconic story. The activities align with the Australian Curriculum and AusVELS for Years 5–9, and can be adapted to suit your own classroom.

Book a school visit to the Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage exhibition and school program at the State Library of Victoria.

See the bottom of this page for links to the Les Misérables education resource pack, Victor Hugo research guide, French resource, activity worksheets, and primary and secondary booklets.

Identify and synthesise

  • The story of Les Misérables is based on historical events in France and their impact on the life of Victor Hugo. The learning kit below includes a chronology of Victor Hugo’s life (pp 8–11) and a timeline of the history that led to the novel, musical and films (pp 13–14).
  • Choose one event from these timelines to investigate further and report back to your class with a short summary and relevant visuals.

Create a new story

  • You are a fanfiction writer. Create a new storyline based on the Les Misérables plot, characters or setting.
  • Google ‘Les Mis fanfiction’ to get you started.

Making connections: text to world

  • Victor Hugo was concerned with the rights of prisoners, women, children and the poor, those he called the Miséres.
  • Discover how the fight for equality played out in Victoria.

The world around us

  • When writing Les Misérables, Victor Hugo was greatly influenced by the events occurring around him.
  • Find a historical headline in the Library’s newspaper collection or via Trove.
  • Write a synopsis of a story, film or musical that could be based around this event.

Comparing ‘criminals’

  • Jean Valjean and Ned Kelly were both convicts, were both on the run, and were both considered ‘misunderstood’ in different ways. One was a fictional character and one a historical figure, but both are remembered as cultural icons who represented the downtrodden and stood up against authority.
  • Consider the life of Ned Kelly through resources in the Library’s collection and compare his story to the fictional life of Jean Valjean, using the Circle of viewpoints character worksheet below.
  • Create a fictional meeting between the two characters: write a dialogue, stage a scene, draw a comic. What might the two characters discuss?

Books that change the world

  • Victor Hugo wrote in the preface to Les Misérables: ‘...as long as ignorance and misery exist in this world, books like the one you are about to read are, perhaps, not entirely useless’. (Victor Hugo, ‘Preface’, Les Misérables, Julie Rose (trans), Random House, (1862) 2008)
  • How can a book help to end ‘ignorance and misery’ in the world? Discuss this idea in your class.
  • Can you think of examples of books that have changed the world? Have any books changed your world, and if so, how?

Circle of viewpoints

  • Different characters have different perspectives, different ideas of what is fair, and different attitudes on how to survive in the world.
  • Working in groups of six, ask each student to select a character card from the Circle of viewpoints character worksheet below.
  • As your chosen character, present your perspective on key events in the story of Les Misérables. Use the synopsis to help you with this.
  • After you have each had your say, pose a question from your character’s point of view.
  • Reflect on how you feel about your character after taking on their perspective. Have your feelings changed at all? Discuss your reactions as a group.

Tug of war – a fairness dilemma

  • Valjean is imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. On release, he is an outcast and he breaks his parole to start a new life under a false name. Inspector Javert, the police officer, pursues Valjean for many years in the name of justice.
  • As a class, consider the two sides of this dilemma using the Tug of war worksheet below.
  • What are the ‘tugs’ or the factors that could be considered on each side of the dilemma?

Curate your own exhibition

  • The Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage exhibition brings together items from a large number of institutions across the globe to tell the story of Victor Hugo and Les Misérables.
  • Choose a figure from history or today that you have a particular interest in – it could be a writer, musician, sporting hero, actor, artist or public figure.
  • Create a plan for an exhibition that tells the story of this person’s life. What items could you include? What themes might it explore? What interactive aspects might there be?
  • Items featured in Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage are very precious; for example, the manuscript of Les Misérables has never before left Europe. What might be the most treasured item in your exhibition?
  • Present your plan visually or as a written brief.

Review

  • View or read an adaptation of Les Misérables: consider films, graphic novels and storybooks.
  • Create a review of what you saw. Consider what you liked, what you didn’t like and the devices it used to tell the story of Les Misérables. You could even write a review of the Library’s Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage exhibition.
  • You might like to write a review for a magazine or blog, create a short video of your review (check out the At the movies website) or record a review that might be aired on radio or podcast.

Musical in a minute

  • In small groups, use the synopsis of the musical to create a ‘play in a minute’.
  • Consider costume items, props, dialogue, entrances and exits that can effectively communicate the key events and characters of the story in the shortest time possible.
  • Perform your musical to the class.

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