Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘literature’

Good Omens lesson plan

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is probably my favourite book, and one of very few I’ve read multiple times. This is how Wikipedia summarises it:

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990) is a World Fantasy Award-nominated novel, written as a collaboration between the English authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The book is a comedy about the birth of the son of Satan, and the coming of the End Times. There are attempts by the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley to sabotage the coming of the end times, having grown accustomed to their comfortable surroundings in England. One subplot features a mixup at the small country hospital on the day of birth and the growth of the Antichrist, Adam, who grows up with the wrong family, in the wrong country village. Another subplot concerns the summoning of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, each a big personality in their own right.

In preparation for the upcoming series, which I am incredibly excited about, I’ve been re-reading it for the fourth or fifth time. In the process came across a short excerpt which can stand alone and decided it would make a good lesson for my Proficiency/C2 students. I think it could work for C1 students too.

We used it over two 90-minute lessons, but it’s very flexible so you can make it longer or shorter as you choose – it depends on how into the tasks the students get!

If you teach a 121 student, you may choose not to read the extract yourself beforehand, and go through the lesson making predictions, producing your own version of the text and reading it for the first time at the same time as your student. I promise there’s nothing offensive there! 🙂 A couple of teachers from our school who had never read Good Omens themselves used this plan successfully with their 121 students in this way.

Lesson stages

  • Tell students they’re going to read a short excerpt from a book. Before they read, they’re going to predict what happens. Emphasise that there are no right answers to this.
  • Show the pictures from Slide 1 of the Newt meets aliens Good Omens p203-205 presentation. Students work in pairs to make predictions of general events that might happen in the excerpt. Switch pairs to compare predictions and/or elicit some ideas as a class.
  • Show the word cloud from Slide 2. Tell students that this is a word cloud showing all of the language from the original excerpt. A word that is larger appears more often in the original text. Newt is the name of one of the characters from the book, and Lower Tadfield is the village he is travelling towards.
  • Students work in groups of three to write a version of what they think happens in the excerpt. They can use any of the language they want to from the word cloud. Give them plenty of time to do this: 20-30 minutes would be ideal. This is a chance for them to be creative, and to check language they’re not sure about in the dictionary or with you. Again, emphasise that the aim is not to reproduce the original extract, but to play with the language and experiment with ideas.
  • Groups read all of the other stories. Have they come up with similar ideas?
  • Slide 3 shows two covers for the book. Tell students that the excerpt they’ve been working with is from a comedy written about the end of the world. This part is a small event that happens half-way through the book. “Would you like to read it?” Hopefully their interest has been piqued by now and the answer will be yes!
  • Give them the Word document (Newt meets aliens Good Omens p203-205). As they read, they should compare the events in their versions of the story to the original, and decide how similar they are. They shouldn’t worry about language they don’t understand. They’ll need about 4-5 minutes to read, then should discuss in their groups the similarities and differences between their versions and the excerpt.
  • Slide 4 has follow-up questions for students to discuss in small groups. This is a great chance to work with emergent language that students are producing.
  • This excerpt is incredibly rich linguistically, as is anything written by Gaiman or Pratchett. Slide 5 gives students the chance to mine the text for any language that might interest them (see ‘language to mine’ below). They should take the lead in deciding what they want to steal.
  • Students then return to their original writing and write a new version of it. They can insert phrases directly lifted from Good Omens, or simply be inspired by the variety and richness of the original excerpt to make their own text richer through the use of synonyms, similes, and highly descriptive language.
  • They then share their original and rewritten texts (side by side) with other groups and answer the question: ‘What difference does the writer’s choice of language make to the enjoyment of the reader?’
  • As an optional extension, students could role play the situation of Newt meeting the aliens, or of Newt/the aliens telling somebody else what happened a few hours later. This would give them the chance to reuse some of the language they stole from the text.
  • To finish the lesson, show students the trailer for the upcoming series and ask them if they want to watch it. Slide 6 has the video embedded; slide 7 has the link in case it doesn’t work.

What happened in my lesson?

I only had three students out of a possible six, so my pair and share activity didn’t work when they wrote their own texts. They were surprised that the text they produced had the same broad strokes as the excerpt.

Although we used two lessons, we didn’t have time to go back to the writing and upgrade it, which would have been valuable. I felt like adding a third lesson to do this would have been dragging it out too much though.

Students were engaged in mining the text, and said they would like to try this with other texts in the future. We looked at the language of officialdom and how it was used to create humour in this excerpt.

One student had already read Good Omens before I introduced it, and went back and re-read it in Polish between the two lessons 🙂 [Here’s an Amazon affiliate link if you want to get your own copy.]

Language to mine from the text

This is very much NOT an exhaustive list of examples of language that could be taken from the excerpt. Any of these could be used by students to create new texts as a follow-up (for example a description of a crazy car journey), or could be used as a language focus if you want something more targeted than the word cloud from slide 2.

  • Phrases and phrasal verbs:
    fall over
    wind (the window) down
    think of (sth) (as sth else)
    wander off
    run sth through a machine
    (let sth) build up
    let yourself go
    see to sth
    turn sth over in his mind
    turn around
    bawl sb out
  • Features of spoken grammar:
    an’ suchlike
    one of them phenomena
    Been…, haven’t we sir?
    Been…perhaps?
    Well, yes. I suppose so.
    I’ll see to it. Well, when I say I…
    We’d better be going.
    You do know…don’t you?
  • Ways of describing speaking:
    gabbled
    flailed
    rasped
  • Ways of describing movement:
    a door in the saucer slid aside
    skidded down it and fell over at the bottom
    walked over to the car quite slowly
  • Descriptive phrases for a spaceship and aliens:
    satisfying whoosh
    gleaming walkway
    It looked like every cartoon of a flying saucer Newt had ever seen.
    Brilliant blue light
    frantic beeping
  • Connected to cars:
    He had the map spread over the steering wheel.
    He had to brake hard.
    rapped on the window
    He wound it down.
    He drove up on the verge and around it.
    When he looked in his rearview mirror…
  • Connected to officialdom:
    in the worldwide approved manner of policemen already compiling the charge sheet in their heads
    Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you, sir…
    …are below regulation size for a [planet] of this category, sir.
    We’ll overlook it on this occasion, sir.

A little bit of theory

This is a task-based lesson, with the focus on meaning early in the lesson. For the initial task, students have to use their own linguistic resources to come up with an episode in a story, and they are free to go in whatever direction they choose. They have the scaffolding of the pictures and the word cloud, but are not required to use any particular language point. Sharing their texts is the report phase, and they then see a model which they can mine for language. This language can then be incorporated into their own work – it is student-led, with them choosing the language they focus on, rather than following the teacher’s agenda of what ‘should’ be learnt next. This task repetition and upgrade stage is where a lot of the learning will happen, as students experiment with the language. There is then another report phase, with reflection on language use in general (writer choices), not just the specific language used in this lesson.

The language I’ve pulled out above reflects principles of the lexical approach (I hope!), working with longer chunks of language rather than isolated words. Collocations can be explored, as well as areas like features of spoken language. This can help students to move away from a focus on single words and verb tenses plus other structures typically appearing as part of a course book syllabus, which they often still have even at proficiency level.

Teaching students how to mine a text in this way can also be useful for their own self-study, thus developing learner autonomy. Techniques like this can be challenging for students to incorporate into their own learning without being shown how to do it the first couple of times.

More of this kind of thing

I’ve previously shared materials connected to the first chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Literature in EFL (an #eltchat summary)

On Wednesday 8th June at 21.00 BST teachers from around the world met on Twitter for #eltchat to discuss “Creative and effective ways of bringing literature into the EFL/ESL classroom”. I wasn’t able to join in, but I did get to write the summary [and add my own ideas]!

If you want to read the whole conversation, click here.

Literature eltchat word cloud

Why?

  • A language is its literature too – a very important part of its culture (@Marisa_C)
  • I think lit is one of the most powerful tools to increase a student’s language ability, & I’m amazed it isn’t used more often. (@theteacherjames)
  • The fun aspect is absolutely crucial. I want to build a reading habit that will lead to a love of the language. (@theteacherjames)
  • The great thing about literature is the way language is used so well. It’s very satisfying to read well turned phrases for students too (@hartle)
  • Using literature in class positively encourages active reading – sometimes reading is passive (@pjgallantry)
  • I like to believe students can become “better ” people if they read. Opens their world + learn English at the same time. (@mkofab)
  • Literature is a real key to higher level language skills… playing with language seems to help (@pysproblem91)

General

  • Use it to build critical skills (@theteacherjames)
  • “Change endings” of well known pieces by substitution followed by guessing games (@Englodysiac)
  • We have also used local folk tales and stories translated into English with our refugee classes – better than Johns and Marys (@Marisa_C)
  • Use it as a springboard: reviews, role-plays, change endings, etc. (@rliberni)
  • Use cartoon makers to predict the end of a story (@helen100463)
  • Sometimes students could read aloud, especially younger learners taking turns (@smaragdav) Most of mine enjoy doing that,they hear their own voices,know when they’re not stressing properly (@vickyloras) They could also read aloud in pairs (@fuertesun) You could pretend it’s for the radio / a podcast (@Marisa_C) It did wonders for @helen100463’s teens.
  • Show videos (example) of a person’s book choices and ask students what these choices say about the owner (@hartle) [you could also do this with photos of bookshelves]

Novels

  • Encourage students to read outside class.
  • Look at some comprehension, some vocab but also theme motif and literary devices too (@Marisa_C)
  • Ceri Jones’ activity on translating an Isabel Allende text
  • Use exam set texts: “I think the strongest groups of C2 level Ss I have taught are those who took the set text option for the CPE exams” (@Marisa_C) Should ss watch the film based on the book they read or be encouraged to read parts of it again ? (@smaragdav) – many chatters answered they should watch it
  • Use clips of the film as part of the pre-reading and prediction for reading (@Marisa_C). You could also use the blurb from the book/DVD jackets for this (@hartle) Show comprehension by discussing what’s not in the film (@Shaunwilden)
  • Students can/would never read the same number of pages in just “texts”. It is great confidence boost that they can read novel. (@mkofab) I’ve seen sts beaming because they’ve finished their first ever novel in Eng. I was proud of them too! (@theteacherjames)
  • Send the characters to be interview for specific jobs (@Marisa_C) or create fakebook profiles for them (@hartle)
  • Have groups summarise, present and order a story (@Marisa_C)
  • Making a front page of a newspaper from a book or short story is also a great idea for a class project (@Marisa_C)
  • Give students the titles of books and they have to guess the plot (@fuertesun)
Examples
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse (@hartle did an extensive reading project with this)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan: “One year we experimented and did all our FCE exam prep through 39 steps – Wild success!” (@Marisa_C)
  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (If anyone wants to use Peter Pan, I’m recording it for my kids. First 3 audio chapters on my website. http://tinyurl.com/4k5rcpv – @tarabenwell)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

Short stories

  • Cut up the stories, students rearrange it, play with the structure and create new links (@divyabrochier): playing with words and structures is how language is learned and enlivened (@pjgallantry)
  • Use them for ‘double’ translation. Take a piece of text, get stds to translate it into L1, then translate it back to English. In trying to recollect the original piece while translating back sts learn chunks (@englodysiac) – could be seen as to much of a specialized skill though (@Marisa_C)
  • Use a timeline and a feelings line together to help students enter a short story. (@12mandown)
  • Animate the story (@Marisa_C) – some classes might not like comics, so give them a choice (@naomishema)
  • Students work together to tell stories they know from their own culture, with the teacher listening (@nutrich)
  • Mixed texts: 2 versions of one extract with mixed up parts of text . Students sort out the original (@hartle)
  • Use a story with a moral for discussion. Then students write a modern version themselves (@nutrich)
  • Reveal a story line by line and make SS think of the rest of the story (@toulasklavou)
Examples
  • Thank you Ma’m‘ by Langston Hughes
  • Frederic Brown – very short sci-fi stories, tales with a twist, e.g. ‘The Weapon’
  • Katherine Mansfield – ‘The Singing Lesson’, ‘Bliss’
  • Kate Chopin – ‘The Story of An Hour’
  • Brothers Grimm
  • Aesop’s Fables (including podcast versions) – over-familiarity could be a problem, but could help too – start with the ending and predict the story (@hartle). Also useful with weaker students. Or try ones that aren’t as popular as the well-known ones. Or get them to guess the moral. (@tarabenwell) Examples of Tara’s online learners reciting Aesop
  • Greek/Roman myths
  • Bible stories
  • Nasruddin stories

Poetry

  • Use powerpoint to make slideshows illustrating lines of a poem. (@naomishema)
  • Show students limericks, then get them to write their own (@helen100463/@Marisa_C) – although can be frustrating when trying to think of a rhyme for someone’s name (@pjgallantry)
  • Use haikus to raise syllable/pronunciation awareness (@Marisa_C). A Haiku is a Japanese poem of 3 lines, with a set number of syllables in each (5-7-5)
  • Use the web to find rhymes (@helen100463), for example @flocabulary’s “What rhymes with orange?” or Rhymezone
  • Saw a lesson once where T gave ss only the final (rhyming) words of each line of poem – ss had to complete it – worked brilliantly! (@pjgallantry)
  • Expression through poetry is very satisfying for learners too, it’s real and can be done at low levels. Grammar poems reinforce too. (@hartle)
  • Poetry is expression and can be sparked by all kinds of things: music, images, words… the brain just needs something to set it off (@hartle)
  • Use a poem as a dictogloss, then discuss it. I read the poem, they had to listen and write then get into pairs and re-construct and listen again and then again (@fuertesun) I’ve also used mixed up texts , 1 group with nouns, another with verbs etc. They reconstruct text & read (@hartle) More on dictogloss
  • I use a lot of poetry: short, we can stop every now and then and comment; even those who “don’t like it” love it in the end & learn! (@vickyloras)
  • Use rhymes to teach vocabulary – ‘Word Up‘ from @flocabulary
  • Poems are great for seeing word relationships and collocations (@rliberni)
  • You can come back to a poem or story later and see what the students remember (@divyabrochier)
  • Encourage students to learn a poem by heart (@fuertesun) – espeically good for stress and intonation (@nutrich) @divyabrochier’s Arabic teacher makes them learn something by heart every week ” I am learning a lot of words and remembering them!”
  • Practise rhythm /stress by making them do them as a kind of modern rap (@mkofab)
Examples

Plays

  • Did an exercise with Romeo & Juliet which looked at using the two families in the play. Students had to spread rumours about the other group. (@rliberni)
  • Carry a story forward into our times and change the setting (@Marisa_C)
  • Modernize the text (@flocabulary)
  • Enact roles, then debate and write from the characters’ viewpoints (@pjgallantry)
  • Get them to create own keyword cues for dialogues (@divyabrochier)
Examples
  • Shakespeare – including Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet
  • Oscar Wilde – quite a few on youtube too

Readers

  • Build a reader into each term of your classes (@pjgallantry)
  • Turn a short reader into a comic book (@smaragdav)

Other sources #eltchatters have used

  • Graphic novels
  • Cartoons
  • Translated poems/stories from different cultures (not only English poets/writers) – ind English language writers from India, Singapore, Africa, Malaysia etc.. there are many (@rliberni) – for example the OUP reader Land of my Childhood has stories from South-East Asia
  • Sometimes they like buying the audiobook too and listen to it on their way to work,works wonders for their language (@vickyloras)
  • Such Tweet Sorrow on Twitter

Getting literature to your students

  • Share your novels/books with them. Start a private library
  • Use a book box.
  • Use poetry and short story excerpts if longer sources are not available.
  • Use e-books
  • Encourage students to exchange books among themselves
  • Use Google reader to select reading and listening and then do a project presenting and swapping links on class wiki (@hartle)

Problems

  • We have to teach literary concept and thinking skills with the literature. (@naomishema)
  • Be age appropriate – “I had an early put-off experience with literature in EFL class: tried teaching some 14-yr-olds some William Blake!” (@pjgallantry)
  • It’s important to set the tasks right for literature: just an overview can be enough or select bits (@rliberni)
  • What level should extensive literature reading by introduced?
  • Do students already read literature in their L1? Even if they don’t, you should still teach them reading skills. (@Marisa_C)
  • Be careful of the ‘cultural imperialism’ thingy – some lit can be controversial! (@pjgallantry) But can be avoided by presenting a range of global literature which the sts can choose from. (@theteacherjames)
  • Some topics can be controversial: “My teaching Richard Cory sparked a huge eng. teachers debate about if it is o.k to teach a poem that has suicide in it. Scared me” (@naomishema) – “Taught Richard Cory to 10th-12graders. They actually related to seemingly perfect guy on the outside is unhappy inside”
  • I worry that it is hard to ‘justify’ using literature in Further Education’s utilitarian view of education as skills training (@pysproblem81): Is being able to appreciate literature, theatre, film etc.. not also a life-skill? (@rliberni)
  • Mistakes (used deliberately) in the source text: you can use them to show non-standard use (depending on level of students): noticing this type of thing can reinforce the normal rules (@hartle) I used “Of Mice & Men” which is full of mistakes. Great practice for reading skills & they could check with peers & me. (@theteacherjames)
  • Students have trouble with higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) if they’re not taught them in L1 (@naomishema): personally think literature is a real key to higher level language skills… playing with language seems to help (@pysproblem81)
  • A lot of teachers have come to ELT from other disciplines and not familiar with literary tradition (@Marisa_C). The teacher must feel enthusiastic and communicate that feeling for any literature work to be really effective (@pjgallantry)
  • Very few coursebooks promote literary text – it’s all journalese (@Marisa_C)

Links shared

Resource Books

  • Literature in the Language Classroom by Joanne Collie (on Amazon)
  • The Inward Ear: Poetry in the Language Classroom by Alan Maley (on Amazon)

And to end with, here’s one of my favourite poets of all time, performing one of my favourite kid’s books:

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