Friday, 17 June 2016

Using graded readers across the curriculum - Part II - Animal Farm Revisited


One way of facilitating the readers’ interaction with the text and providing access to content and context is through various kinds of text-related activities that precede the actual reading. Students should be introduced to situations that generate expectations that will help them anticipate and predict content. Some pre-reading activities consist simply of scanning tasks where the reader has to go through the text quickly to find information, others focus on preparing the learner to cope with potential linguistic problems. The specific aim of these activities is to activate existing schematic knowledge to compensate for inadequacies in their general knowledge.

In this case, in order for students to fully grasp the meaning of the novel, some knowledge of the historical context and the life or the writer is essential.

1.Historical background

Both the Russian Revolution and WW II are in the History curriculum for 1st. Bachillerato, and students are assumed to have studied or be studying the concepts of totalitarian rule: Nazism, communism and fascism, Marxist doctrine and historical materialism  in History of Philosophy.

The questionnaire should trigger their schematic knowledge and prepare them for the reading. Also, the task should help them develop summarising skills by finding out main ideas, prioritising information and expressing the ideas in their own words.

Historical Background

Use the following questions to find information about the Russian Revolution of 1917. you will then use your notes for a class discussion.

1. What was the situation in Russia before 1917? Outline main characteristics.
2. Who was Lenin and why was he important?
3. Who was Karl Marx and how did he influence Lenin?
4. In whose name did Lenin seize power?
5. What changes were introduced?
6. Who was Trotsky and what happened to him?
7. What changes did Stalin introduce in the Soviet economy?
8. What were the Great Purges?
9. Describe the relationship between Hitler, Stalin and the Allies.

Students work on the questions in small groups, retrieving information from their History books and the Internet and the help of the teacher of History. This is followed by a class discussion where all the information is shared and I supply any that could be missing.
Afterwards we have a video session. We have a choice of two films: "STALIN" or "THE INNER CIRCLE" which the students review orally in connection with the worksheet

Once they have finished with the historical background, they turn to the author. Interest in the life of the writer can trigger interest in the book, but learning biographical data from a list is far from motivating for almost anybody, let alone adolescents, and it does not encourage either awareness of the importance of events on the writer or any personal response from the readers (Greenwood, J. 1988)

2. The writer's world

The aim of this activity is to ‘play around’ with the chronological information and to understand how certain events influence writers and how this influence manifests itself in their work. The students are not expected to look for any biographical data. This is supplied by the teacher in the form of cards. Each card contains one or two sentences referring to the author. I divide the students in groups of three or four and I give each group a set of numbered cards.The information is provided randomly and the students are encouraged to begin reading anywhere. They have to place the cards under three headings: CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE, MIDDLE YEARS and LATER IN LIFE.

So as to be able to order the cards, they will have to become aware of chronological sequences through the use of cohesive devices. They will also have to engage in group and whole-class discussions where they are expected to explain their point of view, give reasons for their choices, negotiate meaning and manage interaction. The role of the teacher at this point is that of observer. The students themselves are in charge of deciding the order in which they speak and what they are going to talk about and how they are going to say things. In real life, nobody protects the right of the foreign speaker (Bygate, M. 1987)); therefore, if they are to use the language for real-life communication and develop transactional skills, they have to do this for themselves without the help of the teacher. 

I ask the students to attempt to arrange the numbers under each heading in chronological order. We write the numbers on the board in the order they suggest. The role of the teacher here is simply that of scribe, not interfering in any way with the decision-making.
Each group reads aloud the text of the cards and a class discussion should start as they compare the information. They should reach an agreement as to which cards go in which group. The final numbers are written on the board. After this, each group decides which events had the greatest effect on the author's life and work and they justify their decision.

A video session follows. They watch "ORWELL" from the "GREAT AUTHORS" series or a similar documentary film, and compare their decisions with Orwell's life. After the film we discuss their findings.

The video session provides an interesting round-up for the activity because correction is conducted in a different way. It is not the teacher who points out the mistakes, the students themselves find the correct information or realise their assumptions are right. Moreover, they see the writer in his setting as a real human being and not as a name on a piece of paper, the biographical data they have worked with acquires a human dimension. This helps them remember fact and enhances interaction.

3. Documents

The aim of this activity is to anticipate the plot of the book to connect different ideas and develop these into imaginative story - telling.

I prepare a visual summary of all the possible documents which could have contributed to the story line of the book. The documents are associated with a specific incident in the reader without mentioning this event explicitly. They are cut out individually so that the students can play with the order in which the documents are presented.

I divide the class into small groups and give each group a collection of documents. If the class is too small, you may work with a single group.

Students study the documents and decide what sort of documents they are and give reasons for their existence. Then, they arrange them in an order which tells a story-any story they care to invent-but all the documents should be included. Once they have finished, each group shares its story with the rest of the class.

4. Character anticipation

The aim of this activity is to anticipate character through details from the text.
I prepared diagrams for the characters to be considered, namely Napoleon, Snowball, Squealer, the cat, Boxer, Mollie.

The information on the diagrams comes directly from the text, no subjective information has been added. I also prepared a selection of pictures of different types of people and a list of adjectives for each group.

I divide the class into small groups and give each group two or three diagrams and a copy of the adjective list. After the students have read the information, they tick the adjectives they feel apply to the characters they are working on and give reasons for their choice.

Next, I place all the pictures on a table and the students choose a picture to accompany the diagrams. As each group is made up of three members, they have to discuss which picture suits the description they have and report back to the class.

5.What next?

There is some useful material to use with this book. There is an audio recording of the book which I used for the first chapter. Also, there are two film versions "ANIMAL FARM", a 1954 cartoon version and a 1999 version by Hallmark with real people and animals, you may choose any but I think that the 1999 version is more attractive to students.

I play the audio recording of the first chapter to the point where Old Major is about to begin his speech. The students know it is the opening chapter of the book. In groups or pairs they discuss how they think the episode ends. They should note down all the details that will be mentioned, including any remarks they expect the characters to make. They report back to the class.

At this point they are given a copy of the book. They go through the text to find any points they have predicted while listening to the remaining part of the chapter. We compare the different stories to see which group came out with the highest number of correct predictions.

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