Category Archives: Lesson Plans

Will & the Web

Will & the Web: Shakespeare and the Internet was the title of my presentation at IATEFL this year. It was a workshop where I shared some of the activities I have used with my language and literature students doing Shakespeare modules as part of their Erasmus/Study Abroad programmes at the University of Leicester. My aim was to make teachers realise that there are simple and very accessible online sources that can help teachers to use creative web tools available to promote independent learning and engage students outside the classroom.

I would like to thank everyone who attended my presentation for choosing to be there and for being such good ‘students’ – you were simply brilliant and very enthusiastic doing the activities. It was good fun working with you!

The sample activities that I used in the workshop are part of a two-term course on Shakespeare’s plays and are in two handbooks which contain the lesson materials that I designed for the modules. The materials were developed having in mind a hybrid approach to Shakespeare that should reflect the needs and interests of both Literature and English language students.  When compiling and designing it, I had to make a number of decisions regarding students’ previous knowledge of the plays and of the contexts in which they were created and have been received, as well as learners’ level of language proficiency.

My main objective, and challenge, was to try to find a balance between critical literary analysis of the texts and language work;  between the four skills while putting a clear emphasis on reading and academic writing, and a balance between the analysis of the plays as text and as performance.

As promised, I am making the material I used in the workshop available here. The activities are adapted versions of the ones in the materials I use with my students and you are also free to adapt them for classroom purposes only. Please acknowledge authorship. Thanks.

IATEFL2013_Will & the Web_worksheets

A very special thanks to Ben Crystal, whose book Shakespeare on Toast has inspired me to write the whole set of materials and kindly gave me permission to use some images. Cheers mate!

Pride & Prejudice: 200 years on

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Austen’s appeal endures. Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and  Prejudice and the book is still in the lists of the most read, celebrated, commented and loved works in the canon of English literature both at home and in many countries around the world.

Here in the UK a number of institutions, such as the British Library and the BBC, are organising events and initiatives to celebrate the book and Austen’s work. The British Council is also marking this very special year with a dedicated website to help English language teachers and learners to engage with Austen’s life and work.

The brand new website launched today brings us six lesson plans on Pride and Prejudice complete with teaching materials and teacher’s notes. All available for free download. There are also a series of articles exploring different aspects of Austen’s texts. Besides that, links to relevant websites,  a blog, audio podcasts and special videos are also on the way and will become available throughout the year.

I am really happy to be involved in this project and if you use the lesson plans and materials, please do send me a word. Your feedback is really important. It will help me to know what things really worked for you and your students and serve as input when I am designing the lessons for the other novels.

Click here to visit Jane Austen 2013


On Fairy Stories & Semantic Change

The idea for this lesson comes from the Tolkien’s Week which is happening at the LMCS Discussion List. On Day 2, the focus was on Tolkien’s essay, ‘On Fairy Stories’

Level: language & literature students / TESOL students   Length: 50 min    Aims: language analysis/ semantic change

Task 1: Contextualisation. Look at the pictures below. In pairs, make a list of words and/or expressions you would use to describe the creatures in the images.


 Task 2. Reading. Match the extracts below to the works in the list.

1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare     2. ‘The Fairy’ by William Blake   3. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie   4. ‘The Stolen Child’ by W. B Yeats  5. A description of a scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

A. So a Fairy sung.
From the leaves I sprung;
He leap’d from the spray
To flee away;
But in my hat caught,
He soon shall be taught.
Let him laugh, let him cry,
He’s my Butterfly;
For I’ve pull’d out the sting
Of the marriage-ring

B. Really, he thought they had now talked enough about fairies, and it struck him that Tinker Bell was keeping very quiet. “I can’t think where she has gone to,” he said, rising, and he called Tink by name. Wendy’s heart went flutter with a sudden thrill.

“Peter,” she cried, clutching him, “you don’t mean to tell me that there is a fairy in this room!”

C. Through the house give gathering light,
By the dead and drowsy fire:
Every elf and fairy sprite
Hop as light as bird from brier;
And this ditty, after me,
Sing, and dance it trippingly.

D. The Great Hall is decorated with twelve towering Christmas trees, festoons of holly, mistletoe, and other Christmas-oriented accents. In addition to this, the school has been known to be decorated with real live fairies, which fly around the trees.

E. Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping
than you can understand.

Task 3. Think About Language. Fairies have been a constant theme in English literature. They appear in old Celtic folk tales and also in Chaucer. However, through ages the concept of fairies has greatly changed. Check the entry for Fairy in the Oxford English Dictionary. The first 3 definitions are marked with a +, which means they are obsolete and thus no longer in use. The dates mark the first use registered in the OED and the second late entries.

Forms:  ME feiri(e, feirye, feyri(e, feyrye, (ME fery, 15 feirie), ME faierie, faierye, fayerie, fayerye, (ME fayryȝe), ME–15 fairé, fairey, fairie, fairy(e, fayré, fayrey, fayrie, fayry(e, (15 fayere, 15–16 pharie, 16 farie, phairie, pherie), ME– fairy; farie

Etymology:  < Old French faerie, faierie (modern French féerie ), < Old French fae (modern French fée )

+ 1. The land or home of the fays; fairy-land. (c1320 – 1612)

+ 2. A collective term for the fays or inhabitants of fairyland; fairy-folk (c1320 – 1603)

+ 3. Enchantment, magic; a magic contrivance; an illusion, a dream (c1300 – 1533)

4. One of a class of supernatural beings of diminutive size, in popular belief supposed to possess magical powers and to have great influence for good or evil over the affairs of man. (1393…)

“fairy, n. and adj.”. OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press.

J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings,  was a philologist, a person who studies language in written historical sources, and a Professor of Old English. Tolkien defends the use of the word in its more obsolete meanings. For him,

The definition of a fairy-story—what it is, or what it should be—does not, then, depend on any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country.

However, words always change meaning; this is technically called semantic change.

 Task 4. Speaking. Discuss the questions below in pairs or small groups:

  • Why do words change meaning?
  • Why do words change spelling?
  • Can you think of words that people have recently used with new meanings? Make a list.

Task 5. Homework

For language & literature students:  Choose at least two of the texts you read for Task 2. Use complete poems or longer extracts. Compare the fairies in the texts with Tolkien’s idea of Fairy. How different are they? Is there any of the old concept of fairies still remaining in the texts?  Write a short essay (1,000 words).

For TESOL Students: check the professional literature and write a short essay (1,000 words) on semantic change and its implications for the way we teach vocabulary to our students. You will have to do your own library search, but you can start with the titles below:

  • Cowie, A., Semantics (OUP Oxford, 2009)
  • Crystal, David, How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning and Languages Live or Die (Penguin, 2007)
  • Crystal, David, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 (OUP Oxford, 2009)
  • Hatch, Evelyn Marcusen, and Cheryl Brown, Vocabulary, Semantics And Language Education (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Edward & George

This is a lesson plan based on a short story by Mark Twain, from the creator of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Swayer. Mark Twain achieved great success as a writer and public speaker due to his wit and satirical writing. This is a very interesting story that has a lot to do with our times as well and was the text discussed in the ELT Online Reading Group this July.

Level: Upper-intermediate/ TESOL students Length: 50 min Aims: reading fluency/ vocabulary development/ writing skills.

Task 1: Contextualisation. Discuss the questions below with your colleagues in pairs or small groups

  • Do you have any brothers or sisters?
  • Do you know of any kids who have been adopted and raised like brothers and sisters?
  • How different and similar can kids growing in the same family can be?
  • What factors determine a person’s character?

Task 2: Reading & Speaking. Download the text from    Read the short story and write down in the shapes the ideas, feelings and actions you associate with each of the main characters. Then tell your partner why you have chosen them.

How similar/different are your interpretations of the Edward and George?

Task 3: Language work. Semantic analysis of the text reveals that there are 27 references to time and 24 references to money. Scan the text and highlight all words connected to time and money you can find.

Now use some of the collocations below to write your own sentences.

  • thousands of times
  • a very brief time
  • day and night
  • from that time forth
  • a heavy expense
  • a large sum of money
  • a comfortable salary
  • a mass of solid cash

Homework: Read the text again. Look at the graph below that shows the other themes in the text and how they relate to time and money. Think about how these relationships happen in the story. For example, how does money relate to family and social group? How does time relate to religion?

Choose some of these themes and write your interpretation of them in the story. Write between 350-500 words and hand it in to your teacher or post it to your class blog or discussion list.