Tag Archives: news

‘The Syrian Malala’: a free downloadable lesson

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A free downloadable lesson about the issue of girls’ education, and the work of Muzoon Allmellehan, a young refugee from Syria, who is campaigning for girls to be allowed to learn.

The lesson starts with a few statistics about the education of girls, and a short video to provide some background information.

The students then read an article about Muzoon, and carry out an FCE style multiple choice exercise. There is also a focus on guessing meaning from context.

Finally the students use the information they have learnt over the lesson to write a short essay about the topic.

 

Download lesson plan PDF here: ELT Resourceful – The Malala of Syria

Look here for more lessons about gender issues:

Some lesson plans on gender equality

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Filed under Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, FCE, Reading

Some lesson plans on gender equality

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The American dictionary, Merriam Webster recently tweeted, ‘Lookups for ‘feminism’ spiked today. It’s “the belief that men & women should have equal rights and opportunities.” It is believed that this was in response to Kellyanne Conway’s (a top Trump adviser) remark that “It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in a classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male..”

Feminism is not about being anti-male, but it is about recognising that, despite the strides that have been made in certain parts of the world, women are still very much disadvantaged. This doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen to men, or that men aren’t discriminated against too sometimes, but that there is still a lot of work to be done to make things equal.

I’m a member of a new group on facebook, Women in ELT, (set up by Nicola Prentis) and the stories I have heard from my fellow female teachers around the world (more than 600 members so far) would make your hair curl. It’s only open to women teachers (which has been controversial), but if you’re one, just put in a request to join.

The great thing about this group, and the great thing, in my opinion, about Trump’s election, is that it is waking people up and pushing them into standing up for what they believe. And that includes me. I hope I don’t get a backlash, but I think it’s something I’ll have to risk.

So here are some lesson plans you could use to look at feminism and gender equality with your classes and wake them up too. Some from me, and some from some very talented teachers I’ve met through the facebook group. I’ll add more as I find them.


Women in Science– the lesson begins by challenging some stereotypes and asking students to consider why there aren’t more women in science. They then read a text which provides some possible reasons, and discuss how these relate to their own opinions.

The lesson then focuses on reference words, and how they link a text together, before a final speaking tasks about different jobs and gender.


Unsung Heroes– the lesson begins by asking students to think of well-known people that they consider to be heroes. It is likely that many of these will be men, so the students then go on to learn about 5 remarkable women in a jigsaw reading activity.

The students discuss these women’s achievements, and learn some useful vocabulary for talking about social issues. There is then a focus on relative clauses, before the final task of writing about another female hero, using the vocabulary and relative clauses where appropriate. For a 50-60 minute class the writing stage could be done at home.


Labels– the lesson is built around a viral advertising video which focuses on the idea that women are not treated equally in the workplace, being judged differently from men for doing the same things. The video has no dialogue, just a soundtrack.

The lesson starts by looking at the words used in the video to ‘label’ men and women. For example, persuasive vs pushy. It would probably work best not to tell the students the topic of the video at this stage.  Students then watch the video and answer a couple of simple comprehension questions.

They then go on to read an article about the video, which discusses the issue in more depth, and also how suitable it is to use an advert selling a beauty product to discuss a feminist issue.

Finally the students discuss their own opinion of the message of the video and consider other viral videos they have seen which promote a message.


A conversation lesson about self love– by Cecilia Nobre. Cecilia says, ‘When I first came across Jessamyn’s story, I thought it was gutsy and moving. She is a yoga teacher who has become an Instagram star for her body-positive message and for showing the world that Yoga teachers can come in all shapes and sizes. I tend to plan my lessons around topics that interest me first, and I then reflect on whether my students might also connect and engage with these topics.

Most of my sources are authentic and this one is no exception. I essentially based all of the tasks on Jessamyn’s impressive Facebook profile; she posts interesting news articles, videos, photos and different sorts of media items.

This topic couldn’t be more relevant: self-love, self-acceptance, self-esteem, fat shame are currently hot topics in the mainstream media. She talks about her body insecurities and I believe that 98% of all women can relate to this, in one way or another – and certainly some men too. Therefore, your adult learners might have dealt with these issues at one point or another during their lives – so why not bring the topic into the classroom?’

The Women’s March Vienna 2017– by Katy Simpson on her site, myenglishvoice.com. Katy says, ‘My English Voice is all about helping people to make their voices heard. So we were very excited to join in the protests on Saturday, 21st January 2017; it was a historic day for people around the world who feel their voices are not being heard.Up to 2 million people took part in protests around the world in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. There were marches in 161 cities across all seven continents the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States. (Source: The Guardian). This lesson is about the march in Vienna, Austria.’

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Filed under classroom ideas, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Materials development

Ways to exploit news articles with minimal preparation

Why use news items?
In a recent post I talked about the idea of narrow reading and passed on a suggestion from Scott Thornbury that learners could read a series of articles about a news story they were interested in, thus exposing themselves to the same vocabulary several times (and hopefully thus retaining some of it).
Obviously another advantage to this approach is that learners would be able to choose for themselves what they wanted to read. It seems obvious that this may well be more motivating than something the teacher has chosen for the whole class.
And finally, reading news items is pretty authentic, mirroring what learners may do in their first language, and may encourage extensive reading in L2.
However, there are several potential problems with using news articles.
1 Finding and selecting articles
Students may not be very good at finding appropriate sources of articles, or know how to select articles which are at the right kind of level of difficulty/challenge.
Obviously what makes a good source for news items will very much depend on your teaching context and the level of your students. There are specific sites online with news adapted for lower level learners (such as BBC Learning English), and the style of some newspapers seems to be clearer than others (I find the Telegraph quite good for learners, though it wouldn’t be my personal reading choice). I also rather like happynews.com, which ‘scoops’ news articles from various different sources, but guarantees that all the stories are positive (for when you don’t want a worthy but depressing lesson).
So, either point your students in the direction of suitable sources, or you could select a number of different articles and let them choose which they feel is most interesting or appealing. This can work well with the kind of newspaper which has a number of small articles on the same page. Mike Harrison gives a good example of this in his blog here
2 News articles are notoriously difficult to read.
Before students even start reading, headlines can be impossible to decipher. They often use puns and are frequently extremely culturally bound. This is particularly true of tabloid newspapers, which you might think would use simpler language, but are in fact about the hardest to decipher because of this. A headline chosen pretty much at random from today’s Mirror:
Ruff table manners: Rottweiler needs surgery after swallowing five-inch spoon
Although the picture would certainly help (!),  to understand this you need to understand that ‘ruff’ can be the sound a dog makes when barking, and that ‘rough’ also means not very polite. You need to know what ‘table manners’ are and what a ‘rottweiler’ is. You also need to understand the phrase ‘needs surgery’ and, for a full understanding, know how long five inches is! And that’s before we start to look at the syntax and who (or what) actually swallowed the spoon. Not too difficult in this case, but there are some famous examples, such as:
Police help dog bite victim
The text itself is also likely to be very dense and contain a lot of elision and unusual syntax.
As Bermejo (2000) puts it:
‘Journalistic stories are complex and ambitious, they tell new events, but they also include quotations, background and consequences of those events.., so editors very often have to package the information in a way that is sometimes forced and can be difficult to understand.’
If we are going to work with news articles, students need some help and training in understanding the features of the discourse.
For example, the headline is frequently confusing, but there is often a subheadline which makes things clearer. E.g.:
Max had to have an emergency operation after wolfing down a strawberry… and the spoon it was served on.
And then the first paragraph usually summarises the story:
A fruit-loving dog had to have surgery after wolfing down a strawberry… along with the spoon it was served on.
Max the rottweiler had to have an emergency operation after getting the five-inch teaspoon lodged in his stomach.
This first paragraph nearly always contains what journalists call the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where and why). In his 2003 article, Antepara makes the point that getting students to try and find the 5 Ws (or as many as possible), just using the headline and first paragraph, is a way of leading them into the rest of the text, which usually just adds detail to these main points.
We can also help learners to decode typical newspaper syntax. As we can see in the example above, a very common structure is before/after + ing. This can cause confusion because the subject isn’t directly stated. Some practice with simple sentence transformation can help learners:
After he wolfed down the spoon he had to have surgery.
After wolfing down the spoon he had to have surgery.
Another common feature is the use of reference devices. Obviously we find these in all texts, but because of the concise way newspaper texts are written, it can be particularly hard to follow the chain of reference. For example:
The 10-year-old’s owner, Annette Robertshaw, of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, said her brother had been visiting her and was eating some strawberries when Max took a shine to them.
He offered Max one on a teaspoon but was caught totally by surprise when the dog gulped down both items.
I think a lot of students would assume that ‘He’ at the beginning of the second paragraph referred back to the dog, because Max has just been mentioned, when it actually refers right back to ‘her brother’.
A couple of ideas for working on reference, which don’t require any preparation:
– Getting learners to underline reference words and then draw arrows back to what they refer to.
– Asking learners to rewrite texts with as little reference as possible and then give them to a partner to put the reference back in.
And, as you will have noticed, there are also a lot of idioms (especially in the tabloids). With a short article like this one, you can ask students to underline any idioms they find (wolf down, gulp down, take a shine to something) and look them up. They could then try and rewrite the article (or a section of it) without any idioms, put the idioms in a list below and, again, ask a partner to try and rewrite the text or section.
3 Working with authentic news articles can be extremely labour intensive.
Teachers often spend a lot of time thinking exercises to exploit news articles. And, because they date, the material can rarely be used again.
Furthermore, if every student has been reading something different, the task of exploiting all these texts can seem impossible.
One solution is to provide a generic task:
A good example of this would be the 5Ws task outlined above. This could be set for any news article, enabling learners to work simultaneously on completely different texts.
Alternatively, you could create a generic worksheet. Heather Buchanan has a good example of this, though designed for listening to the news. For example, you could start by asking learners to identify the type of news it is (human interest, politics, sport, finance). Then ask about the 5 Ws and finally ask for some kind of personal reaction.
The other solution is for tasks to be learner generated:
We have already seen some examples of this in the second section above. Other ideas might include:
-With a group of very short articles you could give a pair of learners one article each with the headline missing and ask them to write a headline. All the headlines and articles are mixed up and learners then work together to match them. A further stage might be to then match with the original headlines.
-Ask learners to choose, say, no more than 5 sentences which seem to carry the main points of the article. This can then be checked by a peer (while you monitor).
– Ask learners to rewrite a short article, changing some of the information to make it a lie (as outrageous as they wish. For example, Max might swallow a five foot spoon… A partner then reads it and spots the lies.
Essentially, try to rethink any activity you might devise for a text and see if the learners can do it themselves. This way they work harder, you have less preparation and it’s all personalised and learner centred.

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Filed under Exploiting authentic reading materials, Vocabulary