I had come across a 3 minute animation showing extracts from the graphic biography of Anne Frank that I wanted to show students, but I thought that language might be a bit difficult for them. The research, sharing, visually organizing, and writing activities that we first worked on, and that I wrote about in the previous post, paved the ground for stepping smoothly into watching the animation.
The Anne Frank animation – ordering the events
I prepared a worksheet with 10 events from the video and jumbled them up. This is an activity drawn from Kieran Donaghy’s excellent resource Film in Action. Students watched the video twice and they ordered the events as they appeared in the animation.
Representing: my image of Anne Frank’s story
On finishing the lesson, I asked students to choose the most important thing from Anne’s story and communicate their ideas in both verbal and non-verbal ways. A wealth of hand made drawings and digital work was brought in class.
Many students chose to draw Anne’s diary associating it with her life events and her writings about the war. Others drew Anne herself writing in her diary and the importance of what she wrote not only for herself, but also for us, as future generations. A student drew Anne with a “Jew” badge on her chest the moment she was arrested by the Nazis. There was also a group of students who had chosen to work on this collaboratively and came up with a series of 4 portraits of Anne capturing all the important events in her life. These portraits were inspired by the imagery in the animation and were linked to four relevant life moments. Each portrait was related to her state and feelings starting from birth when she was free, moving to her receiving the diary (happy), hiding and writing in the Annex (sad, angry) and finally being arrested (scared).
Sentence-phrase-word: what speaks to me
The last activity on this topic involved being exposed to Anne’s writing. I was lucky enough to trace the definitive edition online and made a worksheet with 3 excerpts. I first read the excerpts to the students and we worked on language they did not know. Then, we worked on the sentence, phrase, word routine. I asked them to choose:
that were important, meaningful, powerful or moved them. I also encouraged them to justify their choices.
Some students chose their sentence, phrase, word from the first excerpt, some from the second, while some from the third. Some others tried choosing from more than one excerpts and some made one choice from each excerpt. Finally, some students chose only one or two of the stems (sentence or phrase or word). I realize that this activity requires a deep, personal insight into a topic which is not an easy one, let alone when you have to express yourself in another language. Students’ answers were touching and showed an admirable effort to offer their personal interpretations on Anne’s writing.
Some responses for excerpt 1
for excerpt 2
for excerpt 3 and mixed responses
By the time, we reached the end of our work, Anne Frank and her diary had become a topic of everyday discussion whether we had a class together or not. I can even say that I was slighlty surprised by the impact it had on the students. Books bought were brought in class, others had already been ordered, excerpts from their Greek language textbook on Anne Frank were discovered and they asked their Greek language teacher to work on them; students were sharing among themselves youtube addresses where they could watch and find out more about her. It was great to see the resonance of her story with the children. I believe it genuinely touched them.
Some diary excerpts from previous decades that were in our coursebook sparked the idea of dealing with the most widely read diary: the diary of Anne Frank. Not a happy ending story, yet one that I felt is important for my young sixth graders (A2, eleven year-olds) to know. It can trigger thinking about injustice and discrimination, about where hate can lead, and stimulate empathy for others through a real story of a girl close to their age.
I first showed them a screenshot from an animation on Anne Frank and we worked on the see-think-wonder routine. They observed silently and answered 3 questions:
What do you see?
What do you think about it?
What does it make you wonder?
They took notes of their ideas. I went round the classroom and offered help with language when needed. Some asked for words like “wires”, “torn”, “borders”, “bent” (shoulders). One needed help clarifying between “die” and “kill”.
We shared our ideas in class. They fact that the girl in the image was writing a diary was a prominent answer among most of the students. They identified the feeling of sadness in the girl’s face and made associations with a war situation. Two of the students straightly associated the image with World War II because the shape of the airplane reminded them of similar airplanes they had seen from that period. A student used the word “cloudy” to describe her thoughts about the girl and word choice made me smile. I found it creative and unexpected.
They also hypothesized about the relationship between the two female figures. Some thought the woman at the back was the girl’s mother, others her grandmother. A couple of them thought that the people were refugees trying to cross the borders because of the wired fence at the back and their torn clothes.
Students’ questions embraced all the who, where, what and why relevant to the topic: Who are these people? What is the girl writing? Why is this war happening? Why are they sad? Where are they?
I took some notes of their ideas on the board and encouraged students to do the same in their notebooks.
By the end of the session they were more than curious to find out who the girl in the image was. I revealed her name and wrote it on the board: Anne Frank.
Some of them went bright-eyed. Two had the Greek translation of the book at home, but had never read it. One said he was a member of an amateur theatre club and he remembered once talking about staging a performance of this play, but not doing it in the end. A fourth one had been to the theatre with her parents and had attended a professional performance based on Anne Frank’s life. She could not remember many things though. A vague familiarity with the cloudy girl in the image began to spread in the classroom.
I asked them what they knew about Anne Frank and three things came up: she was writing in her diary about the war, she lived in Germany, she was a Jew (that was a word that they knew in Greek, and I provided them with the English equivalent). When they asked what Jew means, I explained in simple terms that it is a religion.
At the end of this first session, I asked them as a follow-up to:
Write a short paragraph about the lesson, based on their notes and class discussion.
Research, read about Anne Frank (reading could be done in either L1 or L2) and come back next time with 4-5 sentences about what struck them as most interesting.
Organising Anne’s story visually
Skills: reading, listening, speaking, note-taking, story building
Until our next session, I was pleasantly surprised and happy to see students come and find me before the morning assembly or during breaks to report either that they had started reading the book or that they had asked their parents for a copy. Those who had started reading it were amazed to find out how many things Anne could not do because she was a Jew.
In our second session on the topic, individual students initially read their paragraphs and some feedback was given.
Then, they started sharing their choices of sentences. I knew that not all students would come up with the same things. I trusted that from the multitude of sentences we would manage to create an as complete as possible picture of Anne’s story. I also had in mind of asking them at the end of the session for a writing assignment that would incorporate all the elements shared in class.
I decided to organise the information into a more visual form to illustrate the connections and relationships between various aspects of what we were discussing. I hoped to enable students to refer to, relate between information, and help the writing process.
The diagramme was built around the first 4 sentences that were read in class, namely that she was born in Germany, she was a Jew, she wrote a diary and that she died in 1945. From thereon I intervened at times and facilitated building the story by asking some questions and seeing whether students had written a relevant sentence.
For example, I asked “What was happening in Germany at the time Anne was born?” and a student had written a sentence about Adolph Hitler and the Nazis coming to power. That’s how the left part of the diagramme started being formed. The next question was “Why was this important for Anne?” and someone else had written that the Nazis discriminated against the Jews and made life difficult for them. I went on by asking “So, what did Anne’s family do?” and we found out that they moved to the Netherlands. “Were they safe there?” was the next question to get the answer that “no” because “persecutions against the Jews intensified”.
We finally reached the point where the family hid in the Secret Annex with four other friends. The Secret Annex was linked to her writing the diary and the people were linked to the aftermath i.e that the Nazis arrested them, and they were taken to a concentration camp where Anne died. Which brought us back to one of the first four sentences.
While writing on the board, I used colour coding: blue for the information, black to highlight verbs used, red for things of importance, and finally a green contour around new language. This was language students had included in their sentences, but other students were not familiar with since each one had come up with different sentences.
It’s interesting that in the group of sixth graders where the students who had the book were in, we were able to have more details about the discrimination issue. It was something that made a strong impression to the students who had read about all the things that Anne could not do because she was a Jew. It made an even stronger impression to their classmates to hear about all the prohibitions Jews were subjected to.
In both classes, at the end of the session, I asked students to draw on the diagramme and retell the story. We did this as a relay race. One would start, I would say stop, another student would take up from that point and go on with the story. We tried this two or three times and it went well. Students left the class to do their writing assignment feeling quite confident about it. I left thinking about the next stage of the topic which is still going on and I hope to write about it in a next post.
This post reports on how we worked some time ago with a group of fifth graders (A1 level students, 10 years old) using Norman Rockwell’s “The problem we all live with”. The aims were to:
collaboratively build a story with prompts
raise awareness of intolerance and racism
practise Past tenses (Past Simple, Past Progressive)
develop viewing, observing and description skills
link to Art, History, and Geography
“The problem we all live with” is an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. It depicts Ruby Bridges. She was the first African-American child to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in 1960.
Building the story
I framed the procedure as a viewing/describing activity towards collaboratively building a story with prompts. For the prompts I used the typical journalistic questions: Who? What? Where? How? Why?
I first introduced the painting by saying: Well, this is Ruby…,and then invited the children to go on with the story, prompting them to respond by providing full answers to my questions:
Who was she?
What was she doing/carrying/wearing?
Where do you think she was going?
How did she look?
Was she alone?
Who was with her?
The students were speaking, they listened to their classmates’ ideas and took notes. As the story was gradually built, individual students narrated it, adding each time the new elements, so that they could get an as good as possible grasp of it. They came up with descriptive pieces of writing based on their notes and class discussion.
Students were very happy with Ruby’s story. They liked the painting and they also liked this beautiful little black girl. They thought that the four policemen were walking with Ruby and protecting her because she was an important person. They made associations with the former USA president.
What more can we find? Ruby’s real story unfolds
Then I started drawing their attention to other details in the painting by asking:
Look carefully, what more can we find?
We started developing the real story. They first noticed the tomato splash on the wall and the tomato on the ground. I asked them:
What do you think about that?
What was happening?
Students were surprised to realise that “Oh! people were throwing tomatoes”. Then they noticed the word Nigger on the wall above Ruby and they asked: “What is a Nigger?” I explained in simple terms that this is a racist word to talk about black people. They finally noticed the letters KKK on the top left corner of the painting and again they wanted to know what these stand for. I said that it is an organization in the USA that terrorizes black people. All this was added to our initial notes about Ruby. It was at this moment that the students were shocked, sad and angry. They had grown to like Ruby so much that when the actual story unfolded in front of their eyes, they felt it was unfair. It was an apt moment to ask:
Why do you think that people were reacting like that?
It came very natural to children to say that this had happened because she wasn’t white, she was different.
I then provided them with the geographical and historical context of the incident.
We also moved from racial intolerance in general to the racism of our everyday life. I asked them to look at each other and notice how different we are, whether that means height, weight, whether we are strong or less strong, and the things we like. We are all different. It was about raising awareness of intolerance towards difference: the more “different” the other is perceived, the stronger the fears and negative feelings tend to be.
Interactive work on Ruby’s story
Following classroom work on Ruby’s story, I developed a course presentation with interactive slides to give students the chance to further practise vocabulary and grammatical structures involved in the lesson. It comprises of 12 micro-activities, each one dealt with in a different slide:
drag and drop vocabulary activity
reading, part i
reading quiz- answer 5 questions
reading part ii
reading comprehension gap fill
focus on language structures: Past Progressive identification
focus on language structures: Past Simple & Past Progressive gap fill
Interactive video (hotspots with questions and information): Ruby Bridges talks about herself and the painting.
Choose one of the following 2 activities:
Work in groups of 3. One of you must get in the shoes of Ruby, one in the shoes of a US Marshal, and one in the shoes of one of the people in the crowd. From your point of view, answer the questions: What do you think? How do you feel? What do you care about? These questions build understanding of multiple perspectives.
Watch the trailer from a film about Ruby Bridges. Answer the questions: How is the trailer similar to the painting? How is it different? How do you feel? Why? What new things did you learn about Ruby’s story?
Choose one of the following 2 activities:
Visit GoogleEarth – Louisiana (make sure you open your browser in Google Chrome). Prepare a word doc or a ppt presentation about 3 things that you find interesting about Louisiana.
Prepare a word doc or a ppt presentation about Norman Rockwell.
Ruby’s story triggered students’ curiosity and evoked self-initiated work and further research. They made little booklets with illustrations, handmade word clouds, little posters. I think what happened to Ruby spoke highly to children’s hearts and minds.
Note: The interactive work was created using H5P, an online tool for creating, sharing and reusing interactive HTML5 content.
Last weekend the Image Conference took place. This is the annual event of the Visual Arts Circle. VAC is an innovative and collaborative project which seeks to explore the possibilities of film, video and images in language teaching and learning. The conference is held in a different city every year. This year it was its seventh edition and it took place in Athens, hosted and co-organized by New York College. There was also a strand of the conference being run by GISIG (Global Issues Special Interest Group).
The event was very stimulating and focused which is something I really like. I find an add-on the fact that this year, apart from the overarching theme of images and video, there was also a focus on the migrant and refugee crisis. This offered a new perspective to the conference. It was mainly dealt with in the sessions of the GISIG strand. I have however the overall impression that many of the teaching approaches presented in other sessions, too, showed a heightened awareness of global issues and this is really interesting and important.
I feel very honoured to have been asked by Kieran Donaghy and Sylvia Karastathi to give one of the plenary sessions during the Conference. My session focused on the use of paintings and how they can be linked to social topics. I reflected on work we have done with the students and discussed activities that nurture the development of thinking dispositions, meaningful language, visual literacy and social awareness through examples and insights from my classroom practice. Here is the link to the slides I used in my plenary session.
The 2019 Image Conference will take place in Brussels and it will be hosted by the Belgian English Language Teaching Association (BELTA).
The 21st of March is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. We worked with eleven-year-old primary school students on the topic of racism, not only on that day, but also during the following week. Here is an account focusing on two of the resources we used and the activities we worked on.
Racism Explained to My Daughterby Tahar Ben Jelloun
Tahar Ben Jelloun is a Morrocan writer whose entire work is written in French although his first language is Arabic. Racism Explained to My Daughter is a wonderful book which involves a compelling dialogue between the author and his ten-year-old daughter on the difficult topic of racism in an admirably straightforward and understandable way. There were three main activites that guided our way through the excerpt we worked with:
I described this in the previous post. It is a thinking routine that provides learners with a structure for identifying key ideas and committing them to memory. It can be used after reading a text, watching a movie, or being presented with new information or ideas. Students are asked to a) recall and note (a list of key ideas), b) exchange notes with classmates, read others’ ideas and add one new thing to the list, and c) review their returned notes with all the additions from their classmates and maybe add any new ideas they have picked up from reading others’ notes. The way we tried it in class was slightly adapted since recalling from memory would be difficult for the students’ language level. I let them have a look at the excerpt whenever they felt they needed to.
Make note is a routine that enhances students’ memory of and engagement with ideas by focusing on capturing the heart and distilling key issues and questions.
After a film, reading or discussion we ask students to make a note of ONE of the following:
What is the most important point?
What do you find difficult to understand?
What question would you most like to discuss?
What is something you found intesting?
A final activity that we tried with the same text was the sentence-phrase-word routine. Students chose a sentence, a phrase and a word that they thought was powerful, important or moving and justified their choices. The children offered a wealth of ideas highlighting diverse aspects of the issue. Some choices and explanations offered:
Murder at Sharpeville by Godfrey Rubens
This painting by the painter and photographer Godfrey Rubens portrays the massacre in the town of Sharpeville, South Africa, which took place on the 21st of March, 1960. The incident in which 69 unarmed black African people were shot dead during a peaceful protest against apartheid’s pass-books system marked a turning point. It is the reason that today this day is commemorated as the Universal Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
See, think, wonder
We first worked with the see, think, wonder routine. The children wrote and shared interesting ideas and thoughts and were very curious to know what, where, and why this happened.
The story behind the painting
This high curiosity level led us to look at the historical facts behind the painting. I wanted to avoid developing another reading text since we had already worked with the excerpt from Tahar Ben Jelloun’s book. I decided to frame it as a listening activity. I started telling the story using simplified language to ensure understanding. At the same time I was writing key points on the board. Students were listening and taking notes. From time to time I asked them questions or invited them to ask me questions. I also paused regularly and asked individual students to repeat the story so far. Little by little we built a diagram with the story behind the painting on the board. When we finished that session I asked them to study the diagram at home and be prepared to talk about it next time. In the lesson that followed children practised speaking about the incident by drawing on the diagram. We tried this a few times, students took turns among them each narrating a part of the story and then another would take up and continue. Their confidence gradually grew. During this stage, we added two more clouds to the diagram. In the first one we included the verbs they used (base form) while in the second some other words and phrases they needed to refine their story-telling. The final diagram served as their blueprint for stepping into writing the story. We started that in class and they finalized it at home. Although it was one of the longest texts the children have written so far, it worked really well. I asked them in the following lesson how they coped with writing the story and they said that having the diagram with the key points, verbs and extra words was very helpful. Some of them also said that having talked about it in class made writing easy because they “had it in their minds”. We spent a small part of that session narrating the incident again and after having told, retold and writing about it there was a very satisfying, smooth speaking flow.
I remember that when we started working on this topic, I had asked students if they knew what we celebrate on the 21st of March. They had come up with the answer: the world day of sleep. It did not come as a surprise. After all, World Sleep Day was quite prominent on tv those days, and I myself had seen a surge of tv commercials for furniture, mattresses and other relevant products. The children had probably seen them, too. I think it’s good that they now know it is the day against racial discrimination.
It happened last week before a teaching session with a group of eleven-year-olds was about to start. This was the second lesson we were to have on the topic of racism. This topic had been triggered by the celebration of the 21st of March as the Universal Day against Racial Discriminations. We had just got into the classroom after the break and we were getting organized when I overheard this short exchange between two of the students in the class.
“You are racist. You don’t respect difference. All people deserve equal rights. I am unique.”
“I humiliate you every day with my racist remark. I hate you. You have not dignity.”
During our previous lesson I had introduced the issue of racism through an excerpt from Tahar Ben Jelloun’s Racism Explained to My Daughter. Students read the excerpt individually and we discussed new language. The words they wanted to know the meaning of were: complacent, deserve, difference, dignity, diversity, equal, flourish, identical, hatred, humiliate, law, miracle, mistrust, racism, racist, remark, respect, rights, unique
Then I asked them to:
Take 2-3 minutes, work individually, and make a note of 1 or 2 key ideas that they felt are important to hang onto.
Exchange notebooks in groups of 4-5 students, read their classmates’ ideas, and add one new thing to what they read.
As a homework activity I asked students to read the excerpt again and revise the new language. Also, to come up with a sentence, a phrase and a word that struck them as powerful, important or moving, and explain why.
I have always felt it important to deal with social issues in the English class. Admittedly, the topic of racism is a complex one and you cannot possibly explore all its aspects given the few instructional hours that are available. Besides, the materials and activities have to be within their reach linguistically and meaningful to them. Even by having taken all these things into consideration, one can never be sure about how much learning has taken place.
Back to the two students’ impromptu exchange. I found creative the way they engaged in this brief communication. They drew on their emerging linguistic resources on the topic and accommodated in six sentences a great deal of the new language we had dealt with in our previous lesson. They are best friends, tolerant, and broad-minded children. In this brief, self-motivated dramatization instance, I found that they had committed to memory and demonstrated understanding of key ideas in racism. They did that in a succinct and deliberately playful and ironic style which pleasantly surprised me. I was even more surprised and happy that they chose to do it with a topic that one might think would be “heavy” or “difficult” for children of their age and language level.
More to follow in an upcoming post with a fuller report.