Writing a paragraph: “The Marvelous Toy”

Here is a lesson I’ve been using to teach the younger learners how to write a simple paragraph. Extracting the main idea and relevant information from a text, making inferences, using basic connectors to link ideas, or creating a picture with information from the text and personal experience, are also some of the main skills that will have been worked on by the end of the lesson.

1. Have students listen to the song “The Marvelous Toy” by Tom Paxton. Elicit the main idea.

2. In groups, students read the lyrics of the song and underline the different characteristics of the toy. For example:

– many bright colours
– “zip” when it moves, “bop” when it stops, “whirr”when still
– two big green buttons on the bottom
– lid
– no name
– unique
– everyone loves it
– nobody knows what it is!

TheMarvelousToy-Lyrics.pdf

3. Teams report back to the rest of the class. Write a web with all the ideas and ask questions such as “Does it have wheels?”, “How do you start it?”, “Is it remote controlled?”, “What do you think the lid is for?”, etc. in order for students to infer other features not explicitly shown in the text.

Toy 1

4. Tell the students they are going to write a paragraph about the toy with the information they have. Explain what makes a good formal paragraph:

topic sentence 

supporting details (revise basic connectors used to link ideas, e.g. “first”, “then”, “next”, “in addition”, etc.)
conclusion

5. Write with the students the topic sentence and one or two more sentences, asking them for ideas and discussing them. Model through the process, reminding them of the different features.

Toy2

6. Have the students finish the paragraphs by themselves. Discuss the type of information the final sentence should include.

7. The students share their paragraphs with the rest of the class and discuss any differences.

8. Finally, the students draw a picture of the toy according to the song. You may want to discuss what other features are left open for them to be creative (shape, pattern, size, material). But remind them we can’t have a name for it in any of the languages we speak! (“I never knew just what it was, and I guess I never will”.) Students then write a second paragraph independently including some of the new features and their personal opinion about the toy.

9. Hold a gallery walk!

MT

Advertisements

A school community building project

The last few weeks have been busy at school. It’s the fourth year we organise a musical in which students across the years, from 12- to 18-year-olds, participate by acting, singing, holding a cardboard tree on stage or playing an instrument. Admittedly, this may not be directly linked to language learning as is usually the case here, but let me make an exception this time and share this school-wide project with immediate practical implications for our daily life at our state secondary school, but also for learning in general.

It was some sort of need to do some school community building that got us started, in an attempt to get the students involved in school affairs beyond the project itself with a non-academic activity that would focus more on social skills. My department is very much into music, and a musical seemed like the perfect format that the students across ages could find somewhat attractive, a musical about our school that would involve students, parents and teachers. Using the excuse of a ghost that was trapped in our school even before it was built, the first musical dealt with the history of the school itself, with references to subjects, teachers, caretakers, canteen and cleaning staff, headteachers, secretaries — you name it! Of course, there had to be a love conflict, which was solved in the second musical on the following year. The third one was a version of “Dracula”, and this year Alice travelled to a wonder school in which our current educational system was revisited in a critical yet constructive manner.

A project like this would find it difficult to succeed without the efforts of exceptional teachers like my colleague Eduardo, also a teacher of English, who has volunteered his time from the very start to write the scripts, hold rehearsals with the performers and the band twice a week, and coordinate with dancers, the school choir, or the staff at the local auditorium where the musical is performed first on a Wednesday night for the families and the general public, and then on a Thursday morning for the students. Even to get this teacher to sing in front of an audience! It’s easy to see how the over 100 people on stage each year have benefited from his leadership skills, enthusiasm and hard work, but no matter how simple or complex the project may seem, the impact on our school community has been far-reaching. I don’t even know how much we are aware of this.

Not only does school community building link students, parents and teachers and promote inclusiveness and responsibility, but it also has major implications for learning and development, ultimately affecting academic motivation. Indeed, in this project students from different age groups, backgrounds, and learning and social abilities get to gather and share experiences on a weekly basis from the beginning of the school year as they make meaning together and unleash their feelings. A collective drive that has proved to be highly infectious for the past four years and which has marked and influenced our school in many different ways; sometimes in ways that are difficult to measure — or even to write about.

Thank you, Eduardo.


After watching some of the characters interact with Alice, the Chesire Caretaker who works at the wonder school finally yells to the audience: “Lunatics! They are all lunatics!”

This Is Your Song: Fine-Tuning Comprehension And Language Skills

The students first fill in the fifty gaps in the text by looking for a word in each hexagon with the same number:

  • The words are no more than six letters long (they can also be two, three, four or five letters long!)
  • The words read in a clockwise or anti-clockwise fashion starting at any point in the hexagon. For example, the first word is “little” (a six-letter word with no extra letters in the hexagon); the second one is “funny” (the students circle the extra “e” in the hexagon, which they will need in the next step.)
  • It’s important that the students cross out the letters that they use, or circle the letters they have not used and which they will need later. Model the procedure with the first few words.

Your Song

YourSong.pdf

Your Song Worksheet

YourSong-Worksheet.pdf

Apart from working on spelling, the students will sometimes need to choose between different possible combinations (e.g. 7 – “have” or “go”?; 9 – “ten”, “net” or “buy”?) by looking at the text and focusing on meaning and context clues. In other cases, they will be facing problems related to agreement, number or tenses as they put their comprehension skills to the test.

Once the students have completed the fifty gaps (or most of them), have them write the nine words that can be read across each row A to I formed by the letters that have not been used and which are in the right order. The students read the text again and decide which box each word belongs to.

A forgotten – B feeling – C sweetest – D travelling – E potions – F forgetting – G everybody  – H sculptor – I wonderful

This exercise in reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary and spelling is finally checked by listening to “Your Song” by Elton John (1970). The students correct any mistakes as they listen and identify any problems they’ve had.

 


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 

Pathways to Accuracy: “Somewhere Only We Know”

pathways-to-accuracy-fi

Making the right choices: “Lean On Me”

LeanOnMeF

Don’t Get Me Wrong

Don'tGetMeWrongFeaturedImage

“SEVEN IN…”

As they practise present and past tenses using descriptive vocabulary, the students get engaged in thoughtful discussions on ageing and emotional evolution in this reading and speaking task based on two literary texts. The students are first asked to focus on an extract from the poem “Seven in the woods” by Jim Harrison. After discussing the meanings of words like “bedroll” and “chickadee” (“What is it?”, “What kind of animal?”, “How do you know?”), the students draw a quick sketch of the scene on the left-hand side of a paper that has been folded in half:

[…] I was seven in the woods,
a bandage covering my blind eye,
in a bedroll Mother made me
so I could sleep out in the woods
far from people. A garter snake glided by
without noticing me. A chickadee
landed on my bare toe, so light
she wasn’t believable. The night
had been long and the treetops
thick with a trillion stars.

The students swap pictures with a partner, check that everything has been included, discuss any missing elements, and answer the following questions in their teams and/or as a whole group:
“Who do you think the narrator is?”
“Is it a boy or a girl?”
“What can we tell about his/her personality?”

Finally, the students read the whole poem:

Am I as old as I am?
Maybe not. Time is a mystery
that can tip us upside down.
Yesterday I was seven in the woods,
a bandage covering my blind eye,
in a bedroll Mother made me
so I could sleep out in the woods
far from people. A garter snake glided by
without noticing me. A chickadee
landed on my bare toe, so light
she wasn’t believable. The night
had been long and the treetops
thick with a trillion stars. Who
was I, half-blind on the forest floor
who was I at age seven? Sixty-eight
years later I can still inhabit that boy’s
body without thinking of the time between.
It is the burden of life to be many ages
without seeing the end of time.

Jim Harrison 

“Who is the writer?”
“How old is he?”
“What is the main idea of this poem?”
“What do you think of it?”

Now read the beginning of Sandra Cisneros’ short story “Eleven”:

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are –underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three. Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.

You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is. Only today I wish I didn’t have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I would’ve known how to tell her it wasn’t min instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.

Have the students write their personal reaction to the text first independently for a few minutes, then share it with a partner, and finally with the rest of the class. Discuss:
“Do you sometimes feel the same way?”
“Which metaphor about aging do you like most (the onion, the rings inside a tree, the wooden dolls)?”
“How much of a seven-year-old are you? ”
“Do you sometimes find yourself reacting or behaving as if you were seven?”

The students use the other half of the paper to draw a memory from when they were seven. Tell them that someone else in the classroom will be describing it later, including the mood, and coming up with a title starting “SEVEN IN…” The pictures are swapped and the students take turns describing each picture while the authors confirm or correct any details in their partner’s description.

A fantastic trip down memory lane about which the students had so much to say. (They enjoyed it, too!)

 


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 

Integrated Skills Through Literature: “All Summer in a Day”

All Summer in a Day

Mariners Ahoy! – “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” 

2823465045_bc5dc40831_b

“Annabel Lee”

annabel-lee-featured-image

Critical thinking and language skills: “There Was Once”

7985277589_2be1601a84_k

Don’t Get Me Wrong!

Students use grammatical and lexical knowledge, context clues and comprehension skills to solve this puzzle and reconstruct the lyrics of “Don’t Get Me Wrong” (The Pretenders, 1986). The students first start in the centre of the circle at number 1, follow the arrows outwards and inwards, and move clockwise. The lines are numbered for easier reference. There are three rings:

  • The inner ring, in which the words cannot be changed or moved. These belong to the beginning of odd-numbered lines and the end of even-numbered lines.
  • The middle ring contains a series of words which must be put in the right order.
  • The outer ring, which the students use to end or start a line by looking for a suitable phrase somewhere in the ring. The students are also provided with a few prompts in the writing sheet to help them move on.

Finally, the students listen to the song, check their answers, and try to explain any mistakes or difficulties.

Don'tGetMeWrong

Don’tGetMeWrong.pdf

Don'tGetMeWrongWorksheet

Don’tGetMeWrong-WritingWorksheet.pdf

Lyrics.pdf

This positive, vibrant song about one’s feelings in somebody’s proximity can also be used as an introduction to this short film. After summarising what the song is about, have the students watch the short film and discuss whether the woman or the man in the film would be the singers of “Don’t Get me Wrong” and explain why. Perhaps both in different ways? The students can then watch it again and write a short review using these questions as a guide:

  • What is the title of the film?
  • What genre is it?
  • Where is it set?
  • What is the story about?
  • What is the main theme?
  • What do you think of the film?
  • Would you recommend it?

“If music be the food of love, play on”

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

 


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 

Pathways to Accuracy: “Somewhere Only We Know”

somewhere-only-we-know

Making the right choices: “Lean on Me”

LeanOnMe1

This is your song. 

YourSongFI

Film Dubbing: a Flexible Integrated Skills Task

A context or topic that is relevant and interesting for the students is one of the main factors that helps to make language learning tasks successful and memorable. Flexibility is another ingredient: if tasks are flexible, the students will be able to work at their own performance level while working on the same goal. This is especially important in mixed-ability groups or teams within a group, but it also holds true for other more homogeneous settings where each student may need more work on different areas and skills at a given time. Finally, flexible tasks carried out in engaging contexts result in student ownership. When students manage to create something that is unique by making the necessary connections, linguistic and non-linguistic alike, learning naturally results.

There are probably many other elements that help to make tasks and lessons successful and meaningful, but over the years I’ve found these three elements to be decisive. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t expose our students to topics they are not interested in or less flexible tasks such as having them practise a particular structure; however, trying to twist the dullest of content or routine practice to include at least some of these characteristics often pays off.

A flexible task that I like doing with my teenage students is film dubbing. At its very simplest, the students are shown a clip from a film again and again with no sound until they can write a script and read it as they synchronise with the actors in the scene. Clips from classical or popular films work best as the motivation to deconstruct the whole thing will be higher (I’ve used clips from “Casablanca”, “Gone with the Wind”, “The Goonies”, “Braveheart” or even “Rambo”!) MovieClips.com and its YouTube channel has tons of clips to choose from. The students first identify the number of people participating in the dialogue and the length of each contribution, then they brainstorm ideas in their teams or in pairs, and finally write the script down. Apart from language accuracy, the students will be manipulating the language so that it fits each contribution, they will be making decisions regarding register, and they will be practising pronunciation skills such as intonation.

As the students make the scene their own, in a flexible setting and with a topic of their choice, the students analyse the language by comparing how they thought something should be said and how it is actually said, or simply by becoming aware of language gaps and making up for them. Again, this is a highly personal process but in this case within a context that is engaging enough for language needs to become personally salient and, therefore, more likely to be acquired. And once the clips are shared with the rest of the class, a good amount of language will come into play and a great opportunity to focus on specific language items through mini-lessons based on the students’ production.

I’ve always kept it low-tech, but this activity can get as simple or technologically complex as you want, and you may even want to consider recording the dialogues and adding them to each clip using software such as Movie Maker — even special effects! Would you give it a go? Have you tried anything similar?


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 

Rewriting Established Texts: The Day They Got Creative

f

Integrated Skills through Literature: “All Summer in a Day”

All Summer in a Day

Working On Connected Speech: The Fresh Prince

5358851629_c3f4b2cd55_b

Listening for detail: “Kilkelly, Ireland”

American songwriter Peter Jones discovered a collection of letters in his parents’ attic written by his great-great-great grandfather, Byran Hunt, to his son, John Hunt, who had emigrated from Kilkelly in Ireland to the United States in 1855. The Great Famine in Ireland had forced large numbers of people to emigrate in search of a better life. The five-stanza ballad he wrote based on these letters cover the time period from 1860 to 1892.

“Kilkelly, Ireland” is a breathtaking, thought-provoking song in which family news, including births and deaths, are shared for a period of thirty-two years. In the activity, the students listen for specific information by writing an explanation for each of the words, names or pictures in the timeline. Pat McNamara, for instance, is the teacher who writes the letters for John’s father. At the end of each letter, go over the answers and have the students read the lyrics if necessary before moving on to the next. If needed, you may want to pre-teach a few words such as “dampness”, “turf”, “pass on”, “bury” or “feisty”, although both the slow rhythm pattern of the song and the type of words used in the lyrics make it a challenging yet attainable listening task for students with a B1+ level and above.

Kilkelly

Kilkelly.pdf

 

The song could be an excellent starting point to get the students talking about why people migrate and cultivate empathy in the classroom. Alternatively, the students could write their own personal responses at the end of the song and focus on the universal theme of the sadness and longing by people who have been separated for a long time. In my experience, though, the song is so powerful that you can often tell what the students want to talk about after listening to it and thinking about it for a short while. Perhaps now it’s our turn to listen.

 


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 

Reconstructing a story from questions: “Tom’s Diner”

7816674250_9ab6c96ed3_z

Parties, Story Maps, and All That Jazz

Parties Story Maps and All that Jazz

Pathways to Accuracy: “Somewhere Only We Know”

pathways-to-accuracy-fi