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Feb 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

Literature Lessons (1)

Mario Rinvolucri is a Pilgrims associate, who was one of the four people who worked on WAYS OF DOING that Cambridge brought out in 1998. Barbara Garside and Paul Davis were the other two writers and Penny Ur was our loyal and demanding editor. The book is about psychological and practical processes in general life and also in the FL class and exam rooms. He is also known as author of Grammar Games, CUP, sparsely known for a book on Story-telling Once Upon A A Time, CUP, co-authored with John Morgan, and 98% unknown for Culture in Our Classroom , written with Gill Johnson, first published by Delta, and now efficiently resuscitated by Klett Verlag, Germany. Mario could be accused of spending too much time dreaming about practical, classroom techniques.



The exercises from a book Mario Rinvolucri, Paul Brewer and Robert Feather thought of writing together back in the early 2000’s.


Changing genre

Level:  B1

Aims  to enable the students to understand the poem well enough to transmit  its message

               in another genre or medium.

Preparation: none

In class

1  Read the poem to the students. Read it a second time and translate words they may not


2. Dictate the poem to the students but use a whispering voice that demands the students’

    fullest attention. One student takes down the dictation on the board.

3. With the students’ active participation weed the text on the board of errors so that

    everybody can correct their own texts

4. Tell the students they can work alone or with up to two classmates.

    Their task is to either  re-write the poem as an email

                            or        draw a three-four frame story board showing how the scene

                                       could be filmed.

    Give them 10-15 minutes for this work           

    Be everywhere helping.

5. Group the students in sixes to share their work and to explain why they have done what

    they have done


The window of the tobacco shop

C.P. Cavafy


They stood among others

close to a lighted tobacco shop window.

Their looks met  by chance

and timidly, haltingly expressed

the illicit desire of their bodies.

Then a few uneasy steps along the street

until they smiled and nodded slightly.


And after that the closed carriage,

The sensitive touch of body to body,

Hands joined, lips meeting.



To successfully transpose genre or medium demands a full, in-depth understanding of the text. This is a generic activity that can be used with many short texts.

The beauty of the above text is that it does not, as so many literary love texts do, exclude the 10% of readers who are homosexuals. You can read the text heterosexually or homosexually.


“Dictogloss” as a way into an author’s style

Level  C1 , because of the difficulty of the text given here. The technique  works at lower levels, too.

Aims  to help students feel the author’s style by reconstructing a  sentence from

           short term memory. The example given here is from John Fowles’ THE FRENCH

           LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN . This sentence pattern is typical of much of  Fowles’


Preparation    rehearse reading the sentence below so you can read it slowly and


In class

1. Explain to the class that they will be listening to a text about a man loading his bag into a  train , sitting down in a compartment and waiting for the train to leave.

Tell the students their task as you read the sentence will be to listen with full concentration until you finish the reading. As soon as you have fallen silent they are to

jot down all the key words they  can remember hearing.

They will then be asked to re-construct the text as close to verbatim as they can.

Tell them they need to pay a lot of attention when you read as you will read once only.

2. Read the text to the students as fully and convincingly as you can.:

Charles arrived at the station in ridiculously good time the next morning: and having gone through the ungentlemanly business of seeing his things loaded into the baggage van and then selected an empty first class compartment, he sat impatiently waiting for the train to start.  ( Chapter 55  P 388)

3. The moment you finish reading remind the students to jot down key words and phrases.

Suggest they do the reconstruction working with a partner.

     If this is their first time doing “dictogloss” you may see that some are on the point of  giving up. Relent and give them a second reading.

4. Once most pairs have got some sort of a text ask one student to go to the board without their paper and write a final version of the sentence, helped by the whole class.

When the re-construction on the board is complete give your text to a weak student who reads it out slowly, so that any mistakes can be corrected by the “board scribe”.



If you do this exercise three or four times with typical sentences from the book being studied the students begin to be able to “ write “ in the author’s style.

We suggest that this is a very active way of  feeling your way into the syntax favoured by a given author.


From personal experience to a text

Level   C1

Aims  to open up an area of  experience for the student prior to reading the poem.

           This activity works well with a mature class who find reflective work attractive.

Preparation    Bring to mind a time when you were faced with a forked path decision.

                         Prepare to tell your students the road you took and also any after thoughts

                        or regrets you had about the decision and the way you had not taken.

                        Copy the poem for each person.

In class

1  Tell the students your story about the path you took and also about your feelings about

    the path you did not take.

2. Tell the students they have fifteen minutes to write about a path they took and about  

    their thoughts and feelings about the path not taken. Tell them that this writing will be

    private to them; no one else, including you the teacher, will see it. Remind them to

    write in English.

3. After the writing period, give them the Frost poem to read on their own.

    Deal with any language problems.

    Read them the poem in quiet, pensive voice.

4. Ask them to write a page in reaction to your story, to their private writing and to the


    Tell them that this text will be read by others.

5. Brings the students together in groups of five or six to read their texts to their class-



The road less travelled

Robert Frost


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no tread had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood and I—

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.



This activity displays several crucial features:

i) teacher modelling of the first writing task which can establish an atmosphere of openness, trust and seriousness

ii) intra-personal writing, not for the eyes of  others about their own experience

iii) quiet reading of the poem on the page leading to a thought-through written reaction.


From reverie to translation

Level  C1

Aims To enable students to float from English to mother tongue and thus appreciate

          the literary text  in two versions

Preparation: copy the text for the students

                       Rehearse reading the text in a slow, gentle, dreamy way.

In class:

1. Ask the students to sit physiologically comfortably,

    back straight,

    both feet on the ground

    and head upright.

  Ask them to shut their eyes and listen to your voice.

  Start slowly reciting the alphabet, pausing after each letter “ A………. B…….C……..D……E……F…….G………H…….I……..J…….K……..L…….M……N………O……….P……..Q…….R…….S……..T…...U “


After a longish pause read the letters backwards from U  to A.


Now gently say that you are going to read them a poem.

Read it slowly and reflectively.


Tell them t that you are going to read it again but more slowly….invite them to hear what you say in English but to allow it to change into their mother tongue, phrase by phrase.

Tell them you will read the poem a third time and invite them to hear more and more of it in mother tongue.

2. Give out the text of the poem for them to read and re-read silently.

3. Tell them to either work alone or with a friend and re-write the whole poem in their

    mother tongue. ( in a multi-lingual class, for example, one with a lot of immigrant

    students ask them to pair up, if they want to, with some one of the same mother


    In a monolingual class go round helping.

4. In a monolingual class ask  a selection of people to read out their version

    Round off  by giving them a final reading of the English.

    If the class is multilingual  invite people to listen to two or three different language

    versions so the melodies can be compared.



Translation work is normally done in a highly conscious, analytical way.

The way suggested above allows the translation work to be initiated while students are in  light trance and not trying consciously. Translations that float up from the unconscious linguistic mind tend to be better. They need, of course, to be finished off  consciously and analytically.

Translation is a marvellous  tool in literary appreciation  as it allows two representations of the same thought and feeling reality to sit side by side on the page and to flow side by side through the ear.

The novel the poem is taken from is a Dutch anti-colonial masterpiece from the 19th century.


Poem from Max Havelaar


A novel by Multatuli or Eduard Douwes Dekker , P 263


I do not know where I shall die.

I have seen the great sea on the South Coast , when I was there

making salt with my father;

If I die on the sea, and they throw my body into the deep water,

sharks will come.

They will swim round my corpse and ask “ Which of us

Shall devour this body, descending through the water?”

I shall hear not.


I do not know where I shall die.

I have seen the burning house of PA-ANSU, which he had set on fire

himself because he was demented,

If  I die in a burning house, the flaming timbers will fall on

my corpse,

and outside the house there will be a hue and cry  people,

throwing water to kill the fire.

I shall not hear.


I do not know where I shall die.

I have seen many at Badur who had died. They were wrapped in

A white garment and were buried in the earth.

If I die at Badur, and they bury me outside the village, eastward

against the hill, where the grass in high,

then will Adinda pass that way, and the hem of her sarong will

softly sweep the earth in passing…

And I shall hear.

( the poem has five verses and here we have included 1, 2 and 5.)


How well can you act the poem?

Level A2

Aims to help the students live the poem through their bodies

Preparation   copy the poem for each student

In class


1. Ask your students to sit comfortably. Ask them to shut their eyes:

    Please think of a red bus

    Please think of a yellow banana

    Please think of blue water

    Please think of a green tree

    Please think of a black and white cow  ( moooo moooo)

   Please think of  blue sky

   Please think of a red and yellow sunset…….


The student still have their eyes shut and you say:


And now I am going to read you a poem:




He put the coffee

In the cup

He put the milk

In the cup of coffee

He put the sugar

In the café au lait

With the coffee spoon

He stirred

He drank the café au lait

And he set down the cup

Without a word to me

He lit

A cigarette

He made smoke rings

With the smoke

He put the ashes

In the ash-tray

Without a word to me

Without a look at me

He got up

He put

His hat upon his head

He put his raincoat on

Because it was raining

And he left

In the rain

Without a word

Without a look at me

And I took my head in my hand

And I cried.

( the poem is by Jacques Prevert, translated from French by Ferlinghetti)

When the poem is over gently bring the students backing to the room, asking them to prepare to come back into the room, open their eyes and stretch.

2. Tell the students to break into group of four and to use the whole room. If possible

    each four should have a table and two chairs.

    Tell them that two people ( if possible a male and female) will be the actors, one

    person will be the reader and one person will be the director.

    Tell them they have ten minutes to rehearse miming the poem while it is being read


3. Once the rehearsals are over, ask each group to send its director to sit on the panel of

    judges. The judges have to award each mime + reading a score out of 20. The score is

    their individual marks added together.

4.Each group performs the poem in the front of the room where everybody can see.

5. The judges declare who the winning team are.

6. Allow time for students to write a response to the poem. Make clear to them that this

    must be done in English but that no one, including you,  will see what they have   



Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the CLIL for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Tagged  Lesson Ideas 
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  • Literature Lessons (1)
    Mario Rinvolucri, UK

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