The Digitally Literate Classroom: Reading Inanimate Alice

xposted at Frontline Books
Katherine Gallagher notes that "teachers…cannot ignore the new media, at any cost" and Rita Raley explains "the critical discourse on new media writing (in different accounts "cybertext" and "electronic literature") asserts an intricate and necessary connection between the text and the medium."

I too cannot ignore new media (I don't think anyone can) and it's role in education. On a pedagogical front it is most important that students are encouraged to be and do become digitally literate and transliterate (for example) in order to take into account both the story and the medium in which it is represented. What follows is my attempt to bring a digital fiction into the classroom.

(NB you can tweak this lesson to make it level appropriate – I’m interested in hearing any reactions you or your student’s might have)


Digital Literacy Lesson Plan: Connection between story and medium in “Episode 1: China,” Inanimate Alice

Student Resource:

Digital Literacy: “Literature in a Hypermedia Mode: An interview with Marjorie Luesebrink by Thomas Swiss and “Electronic Literacies” by Caitlin Fisher

Modes: “Examining a Picture” by Dr. Martha Driver, “On Gold and Silver Ages and the Elements of Hypertext” by Jennifer Ley (see page 2) and “Hypertext and the Art of Memory” by Janine Wong and Peter Storkerson

Reflective Reading: Handout Here

Media Type: Online, internet connection required


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify and become familiar with multiple modes of representation.
  • Critique the effects of various modes on the narrative.
  • Give examples of explicit calls for participatory reading in Inanimate Alice.

Introduction to the Lesson:

Direct students to the resources listed above: “Literature in a Hypermedia Mode” and “Electronic Literacies.” Alternatively, print copies of both of the above for distribution in class. Divide class into small groups of two or three and have each group read one of the resources. Have each group share two points from their readings with the class (create a list on the white board). Ask for students’ reactions to the points garnered. Initiate a discussion of whether students think the points are relevant only to digital literacy or apply also to print works.

Teaching Strategies:

  1. Begin by going over (with students) elements of representation: images, sound, video (streaming video, flash), animations, text, and links. Refer to the student resources listed under “Modes.”
  2. Show students Episode 1: China, Inanimate Alice – this will take approximately five minutes.
  3. Allow students to work in pairs and navigate the story on their own.
  4. With the whole class explore the use of “sensory inputs“: sound, image, and text in this episode.

Some Directions:

  • Notice that the music begins on the third screen. Why do you think it appears here? Turn your volume off (or turn the speakers off) and look at the third screen closely – what effect does the music have on the general tone of this screen? Does it lend a sense of urgency which otherwise is not there?
  • On the sixth screen the arrows which allow the reader to proceed appear on the road. Why do you think they are placed here and not close to the text as in previous screens?

  • Screen seven is in stark contrast to the preceding scene in terms of sound. This node is almost silent. What sounds do you hear? What do you think that noise is? What might it suggest about Alice’s home at the base?

  • Screen eight enables the reader to proceed to the next part of the story relatively quickly. If the reader waits, a painting evolves on the left-hand side of the screen. What do you see emerge? Do you notice a difference in the colours used for each layer of the painting that appears?

  • Midway through the narrative the reader and Alice must take photographs of all the wild flowers they can see. When you read the story for the first time, did you know you were required to take the pictures or did you think it was only for Alice? How many flowers did you see? Was Alice’s mum driving too quickly for you to take photographs of all four flowers? Did the music help you concentrate?

  • When Alice writes her list of things she’d rather be doing, does she sound like an eight year old? What else (hint, look at the font) helps us think she is only eight?

  • Examine the final two screens of the story. How do the various modes help you understand that this is the end of the story (even if the words do not say: “the end”)? (hint: listen to the sound, notice the jeep driving off the screen, see the darkening sky)

Follow Up:

v Critical Thinking. Give an example from Episode 1 that demonstrates Alice’s comfort with technology. What other examples can you find to support this view? What message do you think the creators are trying to convey?

v Summarising. What, according to the story, are some of the benefits of technology? How does the story persuade readers that this is the case?

v Extending. Certain critics of hypertext suggest that the reader becomes disoriented resulting in an unintelligible narrative. Do you find yourself displaced when reading Episode 1 of Inanimate Alice? How do you think the creators attempt to guide the readers through the evolving narrative? Do you have your own suggestions for making the path through the narrative clearer? Explain your answers.

v Evaluating. Episode 1 of Inanimate Alice makes use of a variety of modes such as sound, image, text as well as demanding reader participation. In what way are these modes related? If you had to choose a single mode that adds the most to the story, which would it be? Explain your answer.

Student Assessment/Reflections


1) Use the Student Reading Response handout to encourage personal reflection on the reading process. Have students share their likes and dislikes of the online reading experience with partners. If the technology permits, have students post their responses on the class blog.

2) Inanimate Alice is just one example of an online fiction. Ask students to add their own choice (or more) to a class list on the class blog.


2 thoughts on “The Digitally Literate Classroom: Reading Inanimate Alice

  1. Digitise of Die – A Personal Reflection

    As I entered the empty auditorium (I was the first there) I paused and took in my surroundings: padded leatherette seats for the audience, modern, sleek white armchairs for the panel, a bottle of water next to each long-necked microphone,…

  2. It is now possible to create your own stories in the Alice style and add them to the “canon”. iStories is a simple program that combines music, visuals and text.
    see for more info.
    It is ideal for primary classrooms but good enough too for “big” people!

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