“The Great Gatsby”

1. Play the following: 

Have students write down 10 words they can think of while listening to this piece of music. Ask them to share a few words with their partner or team. 

Explain that jazz became very popular in the 1920s, influencing dances, fashion and culture.

2. Tell the students they are going to watch a party scene set in the 1920s where this type of music would be played. Play the clip with no sound so that the students can focus on the atmosphere. As they watch, the students tick any words from their previous list that they can see in the clip and add any other words that may help to describe the atmosphere. The students share their ideas. 

3. Explain to the students they are going to read a few extracts from a book set in the 1920s in the USA. Think-Pair-Share: the students write a question for the answers provided, first individually, then checking with their partner, and finally with the whole group. Notice that there are several answers provided for most questions, but the students should only focus on writing a question that can answer any of the options at this time.

4. Ask the students to look at the front and back covers of the book and to read the information. Which questions can they definitely answer? Which ones can they guess? Now they should be able to choose the correct answer to the questions with more than one option. Encourage the students to share any additional questions they may have about the story.

5. The students read the first extract and decide whether the sentences are true or false. If false, have them provide the right information using evidence from the text.

6. The students focus on 6 words and expressions from the text. They first match the words and expressions with their meanings. Then they read the text again and explain why each of these words or expressions are used in the story.

7. Play the following: 

Before watching the clip, read the following questions with the students: 

  • What’s the name of the man at the beginning of the clip?
  • Where does he live? 
  • What or who is he looking for? 
  • What is this man’s role in the story? 

Discuss the answers.

8. Have the students read the second extract belonging to the end of the novel and ask them to answer the questions. Allow enough time for students to answer the questions individually first, since most of them will ask them to provide their own personal reaction to the text. The students share their answers with the rest of the group. Is the information gap we have created distinctive enough to get the students to read the novel or watch the film?

9. Writing: Does money bring happiness? The students write a for and against essay on this topic. To help them with the planning stage, ask them to discuss a few statements with their partners first.

Libraries and bookshops around the world: a video project

For World Book Day on 23rd April, my students are working on very short videos showcasing unique libraries and bookshops around the world. Once they are edited, QR codes for each video will be displayed around the playground for students to watch them and look for specific information about each of them.

1. After explaining the goals of the project, I used wheelofnames.com to assign one library or bookshop to pairs of students. As simple as cutting and pasting the list below!

Tianjin Binhai Library (Tianjin, China)

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library (Chicago, USA)

Stuttgart City Library (Stuttgart, Germany)

Trinity College Long Room (Dublin, Ireland)

Boston Public Library (Boston, USA)

Epos (Norway)

The Library of Alexandria (Alexandria, Egypt)

Royal Library (El Escorial, Spain)

Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Bodleian Library (Oxford, UK)

Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico City, Mexico)

Beitou Public Library (Taipei, Taiwan)

Handelingenkamer Library (The Hague, Netherlands)

State Library Victoria (Melbourne, Australia)

Livraria Lello (Porto, Portugal)

Cărturești Carusel (Bucharest, Romania)

El Ateneo (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Boekhandel Dominicanen (Maastricht, Netherlands)

The Bookworm (Beijing, China)

Libreria Acqua Alta (Venice, Italy)

Shakespeare & Co. (Paris, France)

Cafebrería El Péndulo (Mexico City, Mexico)

Oodi Central Library (Helsinki, Finland)

Duchess Anna Amalia Library (Weimar, Germany)

2. Before starting their research, I told the students their videos should be around 30 seconds long. We revised the differences between synthesising and summarising information, and the need to identify key points in each source, differentiate main ideas from details, or distinguish facts and opinions.

3. To help them through the planning process, I suggested following this basic structure:

  • Name of the library or bookshop, city, country.
  • When was it built?
  • What makes it so special? Include at least three distinctive features.
  • Think of a powerful closing sentence for your video.

4. Students started researching and selecting information in class, they looked for sources of public domain pictures and/or videos they could use, and they planned how they wanted to create the video, including their roles and responsibilities. With so many months of distance/blended/hybrid learning under their belts, it should have come as no surprise when they found tons of different (and tech-savvy!) options in a few minutes!

5. The students are sending their videos through our LMS. I will be holding conferences with each pair to go over their work and check what may need improving. I know the videos will be fine content-wise, and the students know we will be focusing on accuracy and intelligibility (and that they might need to make slight – or major – changes after the conference!) The students have also been asked to write two questions they would ask about their library or bookshop.

6. I will be uploading the final videos to the media site of our LMS and will create a QR code for each of them (qrcode-monkey.com/). These will be printed out and displayed outdoors on the school premises so that students can use their mobile phones to watch each video and answer the questions in the worksheet(s) I will be writing (using a selection of questions they have submitted.) The activity can be easily adpated to any level, so other groups of students will be invited to take this virtual tour around these fascinating bookshops and libraries as they practise a variety of listening comprehension skills.

By the way, would you add any other library or bookshop to the list?

Misunderstandings

Have you ever totally misunderstood a word or phrase in your first language? In this lesson, the students read and listen to two texts based on different types of linguistic misunderstandings. In the first one, the person describes how he/she spent years wondering how “France is bacon” could possibly fit in the “Knowledge is power” quote, while in the second one, the speaker confesses having been calling a person “Cofion Cynnes” for a month and how he realised that was actually Welsh for “warm regards”!

1.Explain to the students they are going to read one text and listen to another one, both of which revolve around misunderstandings. The students complete the chart by answering three questions for each text: 1. What was the misunderstanding?, 2. What was the reason for the misunderstanding? and 3. How did each of these people find out what was going on?

2. Have students read the first text and answer the questions. I added another purpose to read and had them complete the gaps with the verbs in the right tense for some quick revision practice, but you could also focus on other areas or simply have them read the text itself!

3. Allow some time for students to complete the chart for Text 1 independently, then check and discuss the answers with the whole group.

4. The students listen to the second text and complete the chart for Text 2. Click on the link below for the video! Depending on the level, the students may need to listen to it several times, or help them identify key words by pausing the video at certain points.

5. Compare and discuss both texts. Encourage your students to think of words or phrases they misunderstood as children or even as learners of English! Have them write down a short explanation first, following the questions in the chart they worked on as a guide.

The stories my students shared at the end of this lesson were the most hilarious! We all share a first language, so it was easy for us, but I’m sure this would be even more interesting in a multi-lingual context with all the extra detailed linguistic (and probably cultural) description that would be needed.

All I know now is I need to put together my very own list of misunderstandings into one (loong) blog post…

“Bookshelves”

Brian Bilston’s poem “Bookshelves” is used in this lesson to get the students to work on reading comprehension, creative writing, and vocabulary related to tidiness. I’ve always enjoyed his imaginative poems, and I immediately thought of this one when I started writing the objectives of this lesson for my B2 students. In fact, I was surprised by the speed with which he gave permission to use “Bookshelves” here and publish the lesson on this blog. Thank you, Brian!

Lead-in

1. Display the following pictures and ask the students to describe them. Write down any words they come up with.

wonderlane-6jA6eVsRJ6Q-unsplash

(Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash)

olena-sergienko-dIMJWLx1YbE-unsplash

(Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash)

Do the students find any of these pictures familiar? Which objects or places they use tend to get messy or untidy? Perhaps their bedroom or wardrobe? Do they often find archeological treasures of all sorts in their backpacks? Was that pencil case really meant to be that way? I loved that many of my students referred to “that” chair where virtually any object is destined to be piled up!

Pre-reading

2. Ask the students to match the words that rhyme. Some of them are pairs of words, but there can be groups of 3 or more words. Check the meaning of any unknown words as you correct the activity.

Wksheet-2a

Bookshelves_Worksheet_2.pdf

tidy – Friday – biology – knowledgy
created – curated
fiction – diction – mention – editions – condition
glaze – plays
histories – mysteries
travel – unravel apart – heart
bookcase – space
fixed – mixed
books – looks
jammed – crammed – rammed

3. Tell the students they are going to read a poem based on the words in 2. What do they think the poem might be about?

Reading

4. Give out the poem, discuss its shape, and allow some time for students to explore it. They should first work out how to read it and where to start! This rather different way of approaching a text for the first time will take some time, but it should also generate some meaningful discussion in the process.

bookshelves-gapped

Bookshelves_Worksheet_1.pdf

5. Get teams of students to fill in the blanks using the rhyming words in the first activity. The rhymes themselves should help them to demonstrate comprehension in most cases, but there might be some other more challenging blanks they may want to skip and check later. The fact that the poem lacks punctuation marks doesn’t help either! Correct the activity as a whole group.

bookshelves

Focus on vocabulary

6. Have the students write the words in the poem related to tidiness and untidiness under the correct column. Then ask them to classify the words on the worksheet. Explain the meaning of new words.

Versión 2

Bookshelves_Worksheet_2.pdf

Writing

7. Discuss the structure of the poem: “What does the writer decide to do with his bookshelves in the end?” Tell the students they are now going to write their own text following the same structure and using the model provided. They should first choose one of the objects or places they discussed in step 1 above. Encourage them to use as many new words as possible. I didn’t ask my students to make their pieces of writing rhyme, but there were some pretty good attempts!

Wksheet-2b

Bookshelves_Worksheet_2.pdf

8. The students edit their texts and publish them using the shape of the object or place they’re describing.

bookshelves-2-1bookshelves-4bookshelves-1bookshelves-14bookshelves-7bookshelves-3bookshelves-8bookshelves-5bookshelves-10bookshelves-13

One-pagers: “The House on Mango Street”

My first take on one-pagers as a way of getting students to demonstrate comprehension didn’t turn out that bad! We read and analysed a few excerpts from “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, belonging to the beginning, middle and end in class, and then I asked my students to create a one-page visual report as a snapshot with key information they found relevant. This time I asked them to include:

  • A brief summary.
  • 5 quotes they liked.
  • 10 key words.
  • A personal reaction or opinion.

The students were encouraged to use visuals that somehow illustrated symbols or themes, in a way reflecting their own response to what they had read. With such an explicit symbol (and a whole unit revolving around housing!), it seemed clear that most of them would use the house to organise the information, but I recommend reading this article for those that might find the more “artistic” side rather off-putting or to deal with other types of text.

After reading the one-pagers, however, I do think we could have done away with the summary and focused on other areas instead, such as looking for some interesting figurative language or writing a couple of questions they still had after reading the excerpts. This could have helped to sort of guide the virtual gallery walk we’ll be holding soon. The one-pagers are all first drafts so, apart from content and meaning, we will be definitely working on the language produced by students, too, including some peer correction!

One thing is clear: I no longer feel like the only teacher of English on Earth who’s never worked with this book! If only this activity had been a good hook for a few students to read the rest of it one day.

“Think about Things”: referencing and comprehension

The vast majority of my students speak Spanish as their first language. Verbs in Spanish carry enough information for subject pronouns to be most of the times unnecessary, but this is sometimes a problem with learners of English who fail to include them when references are clear enough. Although this activity will certainly help my students work on this particular feature, it was mainly designed as a reading and listening comprehension task that will get them analysing this song-based text using cohesive devices such as referencing:

  1. Have students read the text in the box and ask them what they think the text is about, who is speaking and who they think this person is speaking to.

2. Listen to the beginning of the song until “you are yet to learn how to speak”. You may want to write it down, too: Though I know I love you / I find it hard to see how you feel about me / ‘Cause I don’t understand you / Oh you are yet to learn how to speak. Discuss the students’ choices again (the song is about a father talking to his newly-born child.)

3. Now that the context is clear, tell the students they will have to put the sentences in the spirals in the right order by writing the number in the centre. To do this, they will also need to fill in the gaps with one of four pronouns: I, you, me or we. References across the text will need to be clear to do this task successfully, and certain words will need clarifying before deciding on the right subject or object pronoun.

Notice that while most gaps have one clear answer, a few might be open to interpretation. This could lead to fruitful discussions about the text itself and its context, which is always a great opportunity to put specific comprehension strategies and skills to the test, isn’t it?

No agreement? Have the students listen to the song and check!

15 post-reading activities

The following board contains a series of activities that the students can choose to do after reading a novel or a short story. Students take on a number of roles, such as detective, journalist, designer or disc jockey, to work on a particular area. When used as a whole group, with the teacher assigning all the roles to different students in the group, the result will be a creative, in-depth study that analyses the narrative text from multiple perspectives.

post-reading activities

Post-ReadingActivities.pdf

The task board presents the main idea for each role, and details will be needed depending on the teaching context and the level of the students, including the amount of scaffolding that may be needed. The board does allow for differentiation, taking different interests and levels of difficulty into account. While some tasks can be carried out independently, others may require structured cooperative work in pairs or larger teams. In more homogeneous settings, roles could also be assigned numbers or colours according to their level of difficulty so that students can choose to focus on one task or engage in two or three to get the same points.

Combine these activities with this book report to check comprehension right after reading!


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A book report

editablebk

Developing learner autonomy: a homework choice board

HomeworkChoiceBoard

Narrative beginnings

NarrativeB1

A book report

Here’s a simple report that students can complete after reading a novel, a short story, or any narrative excerpt. Apart from including basic elements such as the title and the author, the setting, the characters or a summary of the plot, the students are also asked to write a few personal responses to different excerpts from the text and a short review. This should allow them to demonstrate different ways in which they have interacted with the text. In the double-entry section, for instance, the students are asked to choose five excerpts that they liked and write them down in the left column, and then explain why they have chosen each of them on the right. A few prompts are provided, too, to help them with the selection.

BookReport

You can download the PDF file here or, if your students have a Google account, you can share this editable Google Slides version that they can complete (and then share with you with a link, as a PDF file or a picture!) Just click on the picture below and a copy of the file will be stored in your own Drive.

editablebk

Combine this book report with these 15 post-reading activities!

Extensive reading and learner autonomy: 10 websites

Are you looking for websites with material for extensive reading? Sharing some of these resources with students and encouraging them to engage in regular reading can help them to improve their language proficiency while developing learner autonomy. Indeed, extensive reading has multiple benefits:

  • Students develop a wide variety of reading strategies.
  • It improves reading fluency, which affects comprehension.
  • It’s a perfect way to learn new words in context and revise the vocabulary they are already familiar with.
  • Students can test their own grammar but also notice new constructions that help to convey different meanings.
  • It may affect the students’ motivation to learn the language!

The following websites offer free access to both graded and unabridged reading materials, and they cover a range of text types and genres to suit a variety of interests. Please click on the pictures to get access to each website!

1. Lit2Go is an online collection of stories and poems in MP3 format.

Lit2Go

 

2. https://english-e-reader.net/ offers online fictional readers with 8 different reading levels (A1 to C2).

EnglisheReader

 

3. CommonLit requires you to create an account and share a code with your students. In return, students get access to a massive library and well-designed interactive activities to help them with their reading.

commonlit

 

4. In TweenTribune you will find articles adapted from Smithsonian Magazine on a large variety of topics and in different reading levels.

TweenTribune

 

5. Each fictional and non-fictional graded text in DreamReader comes with an audio file version.

dreamreader

 

6. This site offers short 5-minute mysteries for students to read and solve. Students do need to sign in, though.

5minmystery

 

7. LearnWithNews shares news items in 3 levels, including a glossary and a series of comprehension activities for each of them.

learnwithnews

 

8. American Literature.

americanliterature

 

9. Here’s a nice compilation of very short stories from 100 up to 2,000 words long, including a brief summary for each of them.

books-683901_960_720

 

10. The Short Story Project curates short stories written by authors from all around the world.

shortstoryproject

 

Do you use any other websites? Which ones would you add to this list?