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

Posts tagged ‘word clouds’

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.

Emotions word clouds

I created these word clouds based on The Little Book of Feelings and Emotions which I received at a recent conference as promotional material from Oxford University Press.

I have been using them with my 1-2-1 post-Proficiency student, and we have two questions for you.

Which five-ten of these words/phrases would you be most likely to use?

Are there any which you would never use? Why not?

Thank you!

And as a bonus, I created a downloadable slideshow using the #eltpicsEmotions‘ set on Flickr…

Enjoy!

Story Prompts with #eltpics

In April 2010 I attended a talk by Laura Patsko at the IH Prague Conference about storytelling in an adult classroom. This week I finally got round to adapting it to make use of some #eltpics (pictures for teachers by teachers which can be used under a Creative Commons licence) and thought I would share the presentation and the lesson plan with you. Feel free to use it however you like. (My context was an Advanced group, but it could be used with other levels)

I showed them the first slide of the presentation and told them we were going to look at six pictures and talk about the ideas in the word cloud. I copied the cloud onto each picture so that they would have some ideas.

Once they had talked about each picture and I had given them any extra vocabulary they needed, they voted on the most interesting picture. I copied and pasted it onto the final slide, right-clicked on it and chose ‘send to back’. We were revising narrative tenses, used to and would, hence the orange box, but you could change it or delete it entirely.

I told the class to imagine that this picture was an image taken from the midpoint of a film. They were going to create the story of the film. Half of the class worked on the story leading up to the picture, the rest worked on the story after the picture. They were allowed to take a few notes, but could not write out the whole story.

After about fifteen minutes I then reorganised the groups. Each new group had one ‘beginning’ student and one ‘ending’ student. They then had to put their halves together to create one logical complete story.

The final step in the process was for each pair to tell their story to the group. I recorded it using Audacity and emailed it to the students after class. Next week we will focus on their use of narrative tenses, used to and would based on the recordings.

One-to-one variation

I also (unintentionally) taught the same lesson 1-2-1 when only one student turned up from a class of five! We followed the same process, but got through it much faster, finishing all of these steps in about 30 minutes. Once we’d recorded the story, the student then typed out what she had said. We then went through a series of drafts, each time focussing on one or two changes, for example tenses, punctuation and choice of vocabulary. This is the document we produced based on the picture of the two girls at the castle door:

What worked

  • The students found the pictures interesting and were motivated to discuss them.

  • They enjoyed being able to create their own stories.
  • They used their English in a natural way, so it recording their stories really showed the areas which they need to focus on.
  • In the 1-2-1 lesson, the student was given an intensive personalised focus on her errors. She also learned about punctuation in a relevant way, particularly the punctuation of speech (which I personally find can be difficult to teach/learn)
What I should change
  • At the beginning of the lesson I should have introduced the idea of storytelling in more detail. We could have talked about why we like stories and what a good story requires.
  • With more time we could have created more detailed stories, adding in information about the characters, using more adverbs etc.

If you choose to use this lesson (and even if you don’t!) please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions to improve it.
Enjoy!

Teaching 2.0 in the One-Computer Classroom

This is the post to accompany a talk I gave at the PARK language school conference in Brno, Czech Republic on April 2nd, 2011.

You are welcome to download the presentation, especially if you want to see how the Powerpoint games work (you can’t see this in this version of the presentation). Please credit me as the source if you do this.

All of the links are clickable.

If you would like to know more about how exactly to use any of the things I mentioned in the presentation, please leave me a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Further Reading

Easy Technology for the EFL Classroom

I did a special seminar for teachers at IH Brno today, based on easy-to-learn, easy-to-use technology that they could incorporate into their teaching. Here is the presentation, complete with clickable links:

All of the links and a lot of the ideas came from Twitter, which I would highly recommend joining if you’re not on there yet (see this post for more information)

Please let me know what you think, as well as if you have any extra ideas you can add to the mix.

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