Friday, 25 November 2016

Cambridge Global English 9

Just arrived! My latest production for Cambridge Global English Teacher's Resource 9. 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Animal farm revisited - Using graded readers across the curriculum - Part III



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.


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)

Animal farm revisited - Using graded readers across the curriculum - Part II


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.


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)


The aim of this activity is to ‘play around’ with the chronological information and to understand how certain events influence writers and hoe 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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Aimal Farm Revisited - Using graded readers across the curriculum - Part I

According to teachers, there are two main reasons for reading: reading for pleasure and reading for information. According to students, a third one should be added: reading because the teacher wants them to.

For a number of years, students of English at different levels in different countries faced the task of reading books for retelling or for answering a set of written questions. Consequently, most of them (the only possible exception being the very few who liked reading in any language anyway) had a negative attitude even before starting the book. And, why deny it, most of us also had a negative attitude as this kind of reading only produced endless papers for correction or half a class of desperate efforts to get some coherent facts from the weaker students. How could we make reading more enjoyable?

Reading should be an interactive process. Interaction implies reception and expression of messages but it only takes place when interest is present. To promote interaction in any language, we must maintain attention and participation among the students, thus facilitating the processes of inference, prediction and perception of the message being communicated. Students should be given the opportunity to relate their own lives and experiences to the second or foreign language and to what is read in that language.

To provide greater interaction with the text and among students, group work should be stimulated. In this way, the students will have the opportunity of working together learning not only from what they have read but also through working with other reflective individuals. Through the checks and contributions of others, they learn to relate bodies of knowledge meaningfully to make cultural observations and to develop richer interpretations of the text. It will be up to the teacher to decide how large or small the groups should be or whether her students will find it more profitable to work individually at their own pace and pool their ideas together at a later stage.

But above all we must keep in mind students' interests and stimulate that interest through meaningful activities from the earliest stages if we want them to continue reading.

To integrate reading experiences and developing language control, reading should be linked with purposeful communication, both oral and written, and it is our duty as teachers to provide our students with meaningful tasks associated with the reading, develop activities which encourage them to communicate within their competence and create a classroom environment where they feel free to experiment with the language and express their own ideas. One way of doing this is integrating the readings we do in the English class with other subjects across the curriculum.

What follows is the result of experimenting with different tasks for a few years trying to make my upper-intermediate students enjoy (or at least appreciate) one of my favourite books: "ANIMAL FARM". This book can be related to Literature, Citizenship, History and History of Philosophy. And the age group with which it has been used is that of 2nd. Bachillerato.

There are several techniques that are used to carry out the different tasks that the students will have practised and concept they are familiar with through the study of citizenship in ESO.

Why use discussion?

Discussion has been at the heart of education for thousands of years. It helps learning because it encourages students to voice opinions and support their point of view in a Group so ideas are shared and developed. Members of the group have to learn to listen to other people’s perspectives and ideas, consider them and respond. This is a central aspect of the skills that the Citizenship Programme of Study expects young people to develop.

Discussion is always more than just chatting because it addresses a serious matter and aims to develop a deeper understanding of the problem or issue. And young people can begin to realise the difference between just stating a view and being prepared to justify and defend it.

Why debate?

Debate is part of any democratic process. It also underpins the development of reasoned argument and an appreciation of other people’s points of view. Debate is a structured process which requires students to listen to arguments, contribute and question before making a decision about their own point of view.

Many young people are strong proponents of one point of view and are unwilling to listen to others. Creating a formal environment provides a structure in which they can develop skills which help them to appreciate that other people may have valid ideas. The formality itself can be helpful in the classroom because it provides a structure for a lesson and gives both evidence and arguments to support a point of view.

Debate can be used in the classroom in a variety of ways. Within a lesson, it can be used to sum up a topic and show a democratic decision. It could also be used in an almost impromptu way if students are demonstrating strong divergence of opinion as it makes them think hard about the arguments on each side.

Why investigate?

When students leave school, they need to put into practice the skills and knowledge that they have acquired during Citizenship lessons. Voting, shopping or looking for a job requires investigative skills and the use of knowledge to make sense of very different kinds of information. Investigation in school not only helps students to develop these skills but can also capture their imagination. It has specific advantages in managing information and perspectives, learning and transferring skills and helping students to become independent learners. Investigation provides the opportunity to think about issues, to consider appropriate data, and to see how looking at things from different perspectives leads people to come to different conclusions. Investigations can teach students that there may be different explanations, and that different ‘models’ can be used to explain data in different ways.

Learning and transferring skills

It is possible to teach students such higher order skills through investigation and there is evidence of both deeper understanding and greater transferability when compared with strategies which simply require students to acquire knowledge (Shayer and Adey 1994).

Becoming independent learners

In investigative work students can be put in a position where they have to make their own decisions about the selection, collection and classification of evidence. They may take part in a group activity where leadership and collaboration are at a premium. This may involve, for example, investigating and reporting back on a particular issue. In such situations, students learn to make their own judgements and to test them out within safe boundaries. With help, they can learn to use appropriate strategies and to evaluate their own progress.

Motivating students

Investigative activities can be fun and therefore motivate a wide range of students.
Teachers have been surprised to find students pursuing ideas and issues beyond lessons with an unanticipated level of enthusiasm.

There is evidence from interviews which shows how students valued engaging in activities with clear links to the outside world and a focus on current events which caught their interest and were meaningful to them (Wallace 1996).

Why use role play?

Role play asks students to step into someone else’s shoes and argue an issue from their point of view. It immerses them in the issue and helps them to develop their cognitive understanding as well as their feelings and values.

Role play helps them to develop a personal meaning and to work out dilemmas with the help of others in the group. A problem is defined, acted out, discussed and conclusions reached in the light of other people’s points of view. Even if there is no final agreement, students are learning that a rationale is needed to justify any point of view. The emotional element in role play contributes to later analysis. The student, who becomes completely wrapped up in a role, learns to appreciate that people’s actions have an emotional as well as a rational content. It is important to realise that in issues that are influenced by attitudes, values and perceptions, the emotional and rational content are often closely intertwined and have to be untangled if students are to evaluate effectively.

Being able to move into a different persona can make it easier for students to consider their own and other people’s views on an issue. The ‘third-party’ experience of taking on and discussing issues within a role provides a safer setting than having to talk directly about a personal experience.

Being asked to take on a role that contradicts their own point of view means that
students have to work out the rationale from another perspective. This is a powerful strategy because they are often willing to discount other people’s perspectives as irrational.

Playing a role involves the whole person. When body, mind and voice are all committed to the activity, students become immersed in a way that most activities do not allow. As a result, their thought processes can become more sensitive to the attitudes of the person whose role they are playing.

The objective of a role-play activity is often to solve a problem that involves both
personal and interpersonal issues. Students are therefore being asked to put a rational construct on personal perspectives. Having to think through arguments from different perspectives prepares students to ‘negotiate, decide and take part responsibly in both school and community based activities’ as the Citizenship Programme of Study requires.

All these ways in which role play can be used help to develop a sense of empathy so students do not just discount other people’s views, issues and values as invalid.

Why work in groups?

Collaborative learning means working together, respecting other people’s points of view and coming to a democratic conclusion. These are all skills that Citizenship aims to develop. As evidence shows that group work enhances learning, there are powerful reasons to use it in the classroom.

Learning democratically

Working in groups helps students to develop a democratic context for learning. By practising making collaborative decisions, students are developing habits that should make the transition to larger scale democratic processes more straightforward.

In Citizenship this might involve coming to a joint conclusion when selecting an
activity to undertake and then deciding who will take each role. Establishing rules for group work provides a framework for such discussion and decision-making.

Developing social skills

Group work facilitates the development of interpersonal intelligence (Gardner 1985) because students have to learn together. This involves negotiating with others who may have a different point of view and coming to conclusions as a group. A group is a small, safe, unit to practise in both for the confident student and others who are less willing to participate. Having watched others contribute to discussion, a less confident student may become more willing to have a go. Peer group pressure also means that individual students take their contribution seriously because they will be letting the group down if they don’t.

Developing cognitive skills

Solving problems is often the objective of group work. To achieve results, students have to work out exactly what they mean and explain concepts and ideas to others.
In Citizenship, arriving at a shared meaning of terms such as rights, responsibilities and fairness, is important if further discussion is to be meaningful.

Providing emotional support

Group work has a motivational effect because students are working together on a common problem. This often creates an environment in which people are prepared to play their part and try out ideas because they feel secure in a smaller community. Where groups are competing with each other or contributing to a whole class activity, the same applies.

In Citizenship a student might be happy to discuss the different identities that make them an individual in the context of a small group but not in a whole class. These identities might include ethnic background, religion, club membership or how they spent their leisure time.

Small group work:
• creates a climate in which students can work with a sense of security and self confidence
• facilitates the growth of understanding by offering the optimum opportunity for students to talk reflectively with each other
• promotes a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect.

(Whitaker 1995)