Friday, 17 June 2016

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

While-reading activities

After we have finished the previous activity, I give them a second worksheet with sets of questions for each of the ten chapters of ANIMAL FARM. 

The students read them on their own. Once a week there are class discussions on a previously agreed set of chapters. The aim of the questions is that the students do some reflective reading trying to discover the purpose of the writer, the motivations of the characters and the relationship between the book and real life.

Every time a set of chapters has been discussed, I give the students a collection of headlines and they choose those which, in their opinion, are related to the most important events described in those chapters in order to write newspaper articles in groups. 

These articles should reflect the opinion stated in the headline. For example, a headline like "FREE AT LAST" would be followed by an article clearly in favour of the Rebellion.

Once the book is finished, the stories are glued to the pages of a newspaper together with suitable pictures.


1.Video session

The aim of this activity is to compare the book and the film and make a critical appreciation.

The 1954 film "ANIMAL FARM" ends in a way which lends itself to discussion not only because it is different from the book but because it may be compared to what happened in the former Soviet Union during Gorbachov's government.

Immediately after the film has finished, the students write their own critical appreciation of the book and the film and their interpretation of the end of the film.
I chose this approach to prevent students with a stronger personality from influencing shier ones and because at this stage I am interested in the opinions of individual students. After they have finished writing, we discuss their views.

2. The trial

As a round-up session, Napoleon, Squealer and Farmer Jones are put to trial.
The students represent some of the most important characters in the story, namely Boxer, Clover, Snowball, Moses, Mollie, the dogs, the sheep, Benjamin, Pilkington and Frederick, Napoleon, Squealer and Jones, plus a defence counsel, a prosecutor a judge and the jury.

Another class is usually invited to act as jury because they have not read the book so their verdict will be based only on the evidence presented during the trial.
The proceedings are prepared outside class hours. The "attorney" and the "defence counsel" interview the accused and the witnesses and plan the course of action to be taken. The teacher only intervenes if required by the students. The defence counsel and the prosecutor can produce as much evidence as they need and as many witnesses as their strategy requires, but they must remember that they cannot invent information. The facts have to based on facts in the story.

It is important to fix a time limit to keep the task interesting. The judge will have to see that everybody has a fair share of the allotted time and that order is kept in the classroom.

After the trial has finished, the jury will retire to a neighbouring room to confer. When they have reached an agreement they will return to the room and read the verdict. The judge will then decide on the sentence, in case they are found to be guilty.

The charges against the accused are fixed when the roles are distributed. These are:

       Napoleon: 1. murder of Boxer and other dissenters
                        2. high treason, betrayal of the principles of the Rebellion
                        3. dictatorship

       Squealer: 1. deliberate distortion of facts
                        2. high treason, betrayal of the principles of the Rebellion
                       3. complicity in the murder of Boxer and the dissenters

      Farmer Jones: 1. starving the animals to death
                              2. mismanagement of the farm

A suitable follow-up is having the students who acted as jury write an account of the proceedings of the trial in the form of an article for the newspaper.

This task is carried out after the students have read and discussed the book in class. A role-play was chosen for a number of reasons. To begin with, two of the general goals of the tasks are to develop interactional skills and to use the target language for real communication. When the students are engaged in role play, they have a listener who needs to know something they know. In the case of this task, the audience is a group of students from another class who have not read the book and who will act as jury. If the students have a purpose in speaking, they find themselves in a situation in which what they say and how they say it has a great significance; therefore, it counts whether they use the language effectively and accurately. Moreover, as the performance of the task requires extended chunks of speech, the students acquire experience in being in charge in a speech situation and responsible for effective communication (Brown, G & G. Yule, 1983).

Secondly, this kind of task reinforces interaction between reader and text. In ‘To kill a mockingbird’, Harper Lee says ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’. Playing the characters in the book gives the students an insight into their motivations, flaws and ambitions, enabling them to ‘live’ what they have read.

This role play comes thus close to Scarcella’s Sociodrama in that the focus is on the development of skills in social interaction; it is student centred because the students decide what roles they want to play and they are free to determine their course of action, as preparation takes place outside class hours without the teacher’s intervention, and the enactment centres around a clearly stated conflict which is relevant to the students (Nunan, D. 1989)

The fact that the students are able to choose the role they want to play enables the shier ones to take part in the task in roles that will not expose them to the public eye for too long. In addition to this, if they are usually reluctant to speak about personal experiences, role play provides them with a mask that will make them feel that their personality is not threatened. Moreover, the fact that they can prepare their parts beforehand liberated them from the fear of making mistakes in public (Porter Ladousse, G. 1987)

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