2 Introductory Lesson Ideas for Villainification

Aaron Thacker

Option 1: The Self as a Villain

History’s “villains” and “heroes” are, essentially, ordinary folk like you or me. In what way would the story of your own life (so far) be depicted differently if it were written by someone who sees you as a villain (or as a hero)?

Potential Assignment

Write the story of your life—or of a portion of your life—from the perspective of a nemesis, like a teacher, parent, or peer with whom you disagreed substantively.


Option 2: Villains in Personal History

Each person has his or her own history, one which tends to be self-narrated. Who are the “heroes” and “villains” in that narrative?

Potential Assignment

Write an exaggerated version of the story of your life that transforms the mundane or quotidian individuals in your life into heroic or villainous characters.


Option 3: the ‘Other’

Considering the us/them binary and the presentation of the villain as “Other,” it is somewhat strange that we take pleasure in prominent presentation of villains. Why is the representation and inevitable downfall of individualized villains so affectively satisfying?

Potential Assignment

The media is overwhelmed by coverage of “people we love to hate”: depending on your position, that person might be a Kardashian (or all of them), or Justin Bieber, or Alex Jones, or Kanye West, or Lena Dunham, or Anne Hathaway (for whatever reason). Choose a “person we/you love to hate” along with an angry blog/vlog post about this person, and compare that post to the depiction of a villain in your textbook.

Option 4: Zeitgeist vs. Poltergeist

Instead of imprinting the zeitgeist (spirit of an era) of a particular historical milieu onto a singular historical figure, would it be more helpful to characterize the systemic and subconscious tendencies of a historical moment as a poltergeist (spirit of influence/disturbance/noise)?

Potential Assignment

What would the “personality” of the twenty-first-century Canadian poltergeist be? In what way would this poltergeist influence Canadian citizens?


Option 5: Textbook Narratives

If textbooks do indeed provide narratives—in the sense that they are constructed—then we are denied the initial third of the narrative arch (antecedence, exposition, and incitation). Would history’s “villains” have more nuance if this aspect of their narratives were to be “fleshed out?”

Potential Assignment

Choose a “villainous” historical figure and investigate his or her childhood, family, and the zeitgeist in which he or she came of age. Potential creative assignment: dramatize that childhood as a theatrical “prequel” to the information provided in your textbook.

Option 6: Googling Villains

Nothing quite captures the contemporary zeitgeist like Google Image’s search algorithms. Enter a word, and all of the imagery that is prominently associated with that word—at that moment in time, coloured subtly by the individual’s search history—will appear. When the word “villain” is searched, what patterns among the images can be recognized, and what do those patterns say regarding contemporary assumptions about villainhood?

Potential Assignment

Create a composite of the characteristics of the villains that appear in your search, and compare that composite to the characterization of a historical “villain” (past or present).


Option 7: Writing Villains

“How to Write a Memorable/Convincing/Engaging Villain”—the title of countless blog contributions and writers’ guides such as this one. How could textbooks be written differently if the writers attended to the suggestions of these blogs?

Potential Assignment

Amend the depiction of a historical “villain” of your choosing in your textbook based on the suggestions of a few of these blogs while also trying to remain historically accurate.


Option 8: Shifting Perspective

“Every villain is the hero of his or her own story.” A variation of this adage has been attributed to nearly every author of the twentieth and twenty-first century (most recently, George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame). How would the story of an historical “villain’s” life be written differently from the perspective of the “villains” themselves?

Potential Assignment

Rewrite a subsection of your textbook in first-person, from the point of view of the “villain,” rather than third-person.


(Created by Aaron Thacker, 2018)


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The Grim Educator Copyright © 2019 by Aaron Thacker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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