Skip to content ↓

June 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

Literature Lessons (2)

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.


Mumbling a literary text to yourself

Level  B2

Aims  to help a student interiorize a text prior to discussing it

Preparation  none

In class

1. Tell the students the passage you are going to read them is from Act 2 of  Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR, in which Caesar rejects the fears for his life of

people round him.

Cowards die many times before their death;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard

It seems to me most strange that men should fear,

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.


2. Check that all vocabulary is clear to the class.

3. Tell the students you are going to read the poem line by line, pausing for several seconds after each line so that they can say the line again to themselves. Do this three times.

4. Do the same as in Step 3 but this time yourself whisper the lines. 

This makes for a very quiet, reflexive atmosphere in the room.

5. Ask a student to go to the board and, with the help of the class, reconstruct the whole

    passage. Tell the students to copy out the text into their books. ( Copying a text is one

    very good way of interiorizing it.)

6. Now dictate these questions to the group:

Are people who are afraid of death cowards?

Is it true that brave people never think of death as a possibility?

Is Caesar right to feel that he can do nothing about dying?

How do you feel about your” necessary end”?

Do you know anybody who would agree with Caesar’s view of death.


( Taking down dictated questions allows time for thought)

7. Group the students in fours to answer the questions.

8. Round off with a plenary discussion.



We learnt the mumbling a text line by line from Alan Maley whose books on teaching literature are a must.


One poem becomes many poems

Level  B2

Aim    To help students to use  a poem as a sort of quarry and produce writing of their own from its lines.

Preparation  copy the poem for everyone

In class

1. Number the students off round the class: one , two, three, four, five ,six, seven, eight….one, two, three, four etc… each person gets a number between 1 and 8..

Tell them you are going to dictate one phrase to the ones, another to the twos another to the threes  etc…


ONES:       winter in the grave

TWOS       good looks fade

THREES   careers fold

FOURS     the longest of lives soon slips by

FIVES      suddenly the year ends

SIXES      over the sea the birds go

SEVENS  Listen to the sad song

EIGHTS  The leaves lie on the ground


Ask the students to work on their own and write a poem using  the line you have dictated to them. Each poem must be eight lines long, including the given first line. They have eight minutes.

2. Group the students in 8’s to read out their poems to each other.

3. Give out HARVEST END and ask them to read it silently.

    Round off the lesson with five or six  choral readings of the poem: vary tempo, volume

    and pitch. Ask the students which reading they preferred. Choral read again in the way   

    the group preferred.


Harvest End

(from the Welsh of Caledfryn)

R.S Thomas


The Seasons fly;

the flowers wither;

the leaves lie

on the ground. Listen

to the sad song

of the reapers: ‘ Ripe

corn’ as over the sea

the birds go.


Suddenly the year

Ends. The wind rages;

Everything in its path

Breaks. Dire weather;

In front of a stick

fire, fetched from

the forest, firm and infirm

cower within doors.


The longest of lives

too soon slips by.

Careers fold and with

them good looks fade.

Spring’s bloom is spent,

summer is done , too.

With a rush we come

to Winter in the grave.



We believe that reading literature is strongly linked to writing it and it is well known that poets will often be inspired by the lines they find in other poets.

Choral reading is one very effective way of helping students to feel the rhythm of  a poem and thus of the language as a whole


Sequencing love-making

Level   B1

Aims:  to enable the students to discover the correct sequence of a poem and thus, in a way, to compose it. 

Preparation:  if you have a class of  32 students make 36 copies of the poem ( 32+ 4)

                        “    “      “          “   of   40 students make 45 copies of the poem ( 40 + 5)

                        “     “     “          “   of   24 students make 27  copies of the poem ( 24+3)

The poem has 8 verses.  If you have a class of 32  take the four extra copies, cut them into their 8 verses and store in four envelopes.

In class:

1  Divide your class up into groups of  as near 8 as you can. So, if you have 27 students

    have groups of nine.

   Give out the verses to each group. In each group of nine, with 27 students, two student

   will have to share a verse.

2. Tell students to read their verses and ask you if there are words they do not understand.

3. Tell the groups that they need to get  their verses in order so the poem becomes a

    coherent  whole.

4.  After the sequencing work ask each group to read out the whole poem.

5.  Give out copies of the text to each student. Group the students in 3’s to rehearse doing   

     a three voice reading of the text:




Ideally the three should have one male and two females or one female and two males.

Give them 10 minutes rehearsal time.  Go round and help with voice use and timing.

6. Choose some of the 3’s to perform for the class.


e.e cummings


may I feel said he

(i’ll squeal said she)

just once said he)

it’s fun said she


( may I touch said he

how much said she

a lot said he)

why not said she


(let’s go said he

not too far said she

what’s too far said he

where you are said she)


may I stay said he

(which way said she

like this said he

if you kiss said she


may I move said he

is it love said she)

if you’re willing said he

(but you’re killing said she


but it’s life said he

but your wife said she

now said he)

ow said she


(tiptop said he

don’t stop said she

oh no said he)

go slow said she


(ccome? said he

ummm said she

you’re divine! said he

you’re mine said she



Cinema has over the 20th century has made explicit sex scenes normal in Western society and we feel that a humorous sex scene like the above is exactly the type of literary text that teenage classes usually respond to in a direct and intelligent way.


Write the poem before you read it

Level: B2

Aims:  to encourage students to react to words from a poem and lines from a poem before reading the text.

Preparation: copy the Siegfried Sassoon poem

In class:

1. Write these words up on the board. Elicit their mother tongue translations from the students and write these up as well.:

To grin    lonesome       trenches       lark       glum      cowed   smug-faced

Crump      lice         to sneak home

2 Ask the students to pair off and stand up. Tell them you want them to have a 20 second dialogue using only the word to grin  and its mother tongue equivalent . They can vary the way they say the two words as much as they like.

Get the students to have these word pair dialogues with each of the remaining nine words and their mother tongue equivalents.

3. Dictate this sentence :  A boy who grinned at life in empty joy

   Ask the students to work on their own and write the next line.

   Ask several students to read out the line you gave and their following line.


   Dictate  No one spoke of him again

   Ask the students to write the next two lines they imagine.

   Group them in fours to read out their sets of three lines to each other.

4. Go to the back of the class and ask the students to close their eyes.

    Read out the poem slowly, in a low voice.

    Read it a second time, this time in harsh voice and a little faster.

    ( Tell the students to pen their eyes.

5. Give the students copies of the poem. Deal with any comprehension problems they


6. Ask them to work on their own and write a response to the poem or a comment on the

    poem  in four sentences


Suicide in the Trenches

Siegfried Sassoon


I knew a simple soldier boy

Who grinned at life in empty joy,

Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,

And whistled early with the lark.


In winter trenches, cowed and glum

With crumps and lice and lack of rum,

He put a bullet through his brain.

No one spoke of him again.


You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye

Who cheer when soldier lads march by,

Sneak home and pray you’ll never know

The hell where youth and laughter go.


Language note: “crump” here refers to shells thudding to the ground and exploding.


Asking the students to work on and react to single words and sentences prepares them for the impact of the whole poem.

Does it, however, in some way damage their ability to react to the whole poem?

The directionality of a poetry reading can be important and to listen to a text coming from behind when your own eyes are closed can increase the impact of the words


Writing inspired by literary text

Level  C1 ( because of the texts chosen- with a simpler test, the activity could be done  from A2 upwards)

Aims  to encourage students to write under the inspirational influence of something they have just read

Preparation   read the two lists below and  write a similar one of your own. You may want to stay with “rare things” or “unsuitable things” or you may prefer to choose another  heading like “ things that have lost their power”

                                  “ things that may belong to the future

                                  “delicious things”

                                  “things that now belong to the past”

                                  “ insignificant things”

Photocopy the Sei Shonagon lists


In class

  1. Dictate your own list to the students.
  2. Explain that  Sei Shonagon was a lady of the Japanese imperial court in the 10th century of the Christian era  and one of Japan’s earliest   women writers. Her Pillow Book was a kind of intimate diary. Give the students the two lists and  ask them to read them silently.
  3. Help with any unknown words.
  4. Invite the students to model on the Sei Shonagon lists and/or your list and write a list of their own. They could use one of the headings given or a new one of their choice.      
  5. Get the students up and moving. Ask them to pair off and listen to some one else’s list.

Ask them to do this with a new partner six or seven times.


Rare things

Sei Shonagon

A servant who does not speak badly about his master

A young bride who is loved by her mother-in-law

A silver tweezer that is good at plucking out the hair

Silk that is so beautiful that one cries out in admiration

To avoid getting ink stains on the notebook where one copies poems

A servant who is pleasant to his master

People who live together and still manage to behave with reserve towards each other.

A son-in-law who is praised by his adoptive father


Unsuitable things

A woman with ugly hair wearing a robe of white damask

Hollyhock worn in frizzled hair

Ugly handwriting on red paper

Snow on the houses of common people. This is especially regrettable when the moonlight shines down on it.*

A woman who, though well past her youth, is pregnant and walks along panting

It is unpleasant to see a woman of a certain age with a young husband; and it is most unsuitable when she become jealous of him because he has gone to visit someone else.

An elderly man who has overslept and who wakes up with a start

An old woman who eats a plum and, finding it sour, puckers he toothless mouth.

A woman of the lower classes dressed in a scarlet trouser-skirt.

A handsome man with an ugly wife.

An elderly man with a black beard and a disagreeable expression playing with a small child who has just learnt to talk.

* Regrettable because common people do not appreciate the beauty of the snow



The transition from the reading to the writing state of mind is a very natural one, especially when you realise that most reading is an act of “re-composition” and is far from passively receptive.

Lists seem to have a magic of their own. See THE VERTIGO OF LISTS, Eco, 2010 and  THE LIST POEM, Larry Fagin, Teachers’ and Writers’ Cooperative 1991

Your list is very important as your students have much more of a relationship with you than with most distant writers. Your list should give their writing relational energy.

When people write lists they normally use noun phrases. A focus on the noun phrase is unusual in the EFL tradition, in love, as it is, with the verb phrase and all its complicated tenses.


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 
  • Sundry Literature Lessons (2)
    Robert Feather, UK

  • Literature Lessons (2)
    Mario Rinvolucri, UK

  • Poem as an Ice-breaker
    Jaber Kamali, Iran

  • An Effectual Oral English Course Formula for Chinese University and College Oral English Classes That Foreign Experts Can Use on a Regular Basis
    Clair Lasater, US

  • Pirates Project
    Helena Tunysová, the Czech Republic