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October 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

Sundry Literature Lessons (3)

Robert Feather, 64, and still teaching after 43 years – half of them with Pilgrims. Creating lessons and then seeing how well they work with the students who gave rise to them is, for me, the best way of keeping alive my interest in the language and in the students. 



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


Dream Reading

Level: B+ Depending on level of text


Find a suitable text. The text should be only one or two paragraphs in length. It’s best if it is from the start of the poem, short story or novel you want to look at. This is so that it is only the learners that guide the dream interpretation or continuation. If there is already a context around this section then the learner’s mind will operate at the conscious level fitting the text into a pre-existing pattern of meaning.

Dream Questionnaire


  1. Do you remember your dreams?
  2. Do you dream in colour?
  3. Do you hear what people say in your dreams?
  4. Have you ever had a flying dream/ a dream in which you want to run but you can’t/ a falling dream/
  5. Have you had nightmares?



Possible texts


“On the Scheles’ house, stained glass on either side of the brown front door, Sidney shakes the rain from his plastic mackintosh, taking it off to do so. He lets himself into the small porch, pauses for a moment to wipe the rain from his face with a handkerchief, then rings the bell of the inner door. It is how they like it, his admission with a key to the porch, then this declaration of his presence. They’ll know who it is: no one else rings that inner bell.

‘Good afternoon, Sidney,’ Vera greets him...”


‘Three People’ by William Trevor



“Climbing to her seat in the organ gallery, up three flights of stairs, was such an arduous business, and she was so slow nowadays, that Clay had to begin early, even before the warning bells were sounded. She hated the thought of arriving breathless, of being locked out, or of looking, on the way up like an old girl in need of aid.”


‘That Antic Jezebel’ by David Malouf



“From the outside the hotel looked promising. Like an old ski lodge in the mountains: chocolate brown siding, a steeply pitched roof, red trim around the windows. But as soon as they entered the lobby of the Chadwick Inn, Amit was disappointed: the place was without character, renovated in pastel colors, squiggly gray lines a part of the wallpaper’s design, as if someone had repeatedly been testing the ink in a pen and ultimately had nothing to say. By the front desk a revolving brass rack was filled with tourist brochures about the Berkshires, and Megan grabbed a handful as Amit checked in. Now the brochures were scattered across one of the two double beds in their room. Megan unfolded the cover of the brochure to reveal a map. “Where are we, exactly?” she asked...”


‘A Choice of Accommodations’ by Jhumpa Lahiri



“Snipe drove along through a ravine of mournful hemlocks, gravel snapping against the underside of the Peugeot. He had been driving for an hour, past trailers and shacks on the back roads, the yards littered with country junk – rusty oil drums, collapsed stacks of rotten boards, plastic toys smeared with mud, worn tires cut into petal shapes and filled with weeds. He slowed down to look at these proofs of the poor lives the same way other drivers gaped at accidents on the highway, the same way he had once, years before, looked out a train window into a lighted room where someone sprawled naked on a mattress , a hand reaching for a cheap bottle.”


‘Heart Songs’ by Annie Proulx​​​​​​​



“Heather was sitting with the Dunes, Don and Debbie, beside their swimming pool. The Dunes were old. Heather, who lived next door to the Dunes in a little rented house, was young and desperate. They were all suntanned and drinking gin and grapefruit juice, trying to do their best by the prolifically fruiting tree in the Dunes’s back yard. The grapefruits were organic, and pink inside. They shone prettily by the hundreds between leaves curled and bumpy and spotted from the spider mite and aphid infestation”


‘Lu-Lu’ by Joy Williams



  • To encourage the learner to enter deeply and imaginatively into the work of literature.
  • Through this, to show that literature is able to speak directly to individuals on matters of identity, the way they handle and balance their feelings, their questions about others and their sense of their existence



This is a creative reading. It is non-critical. It is a parallel reading. A reading responding to images in the text as if they were a dream dreamed by each individual reader in his or her own unique way. And this dream is intended to provoke the dreamer to write their own dream.



  1. Teacher introduces Dream questionnaire and asks learners to answer the questions in groups of 4.
  2. Discussion: What are the typical qualities of dreams?
  3. Teacher explains that learners should treat the text that he/she is going to read out as a dream not a written text. This is not a critical exercise. Teacher asks learners to relax, breathe regularly and slowly and to half-close their eyes & de-focus them till they have reached an almost hypnogogic state.
  4.  Teacher reads text in a rhythmic, deep, strong but not loud or dramatic voice.
  5. Teacher asks learners to write down what they have just heard as if it were a dream they had just had. Also, to add details e.g. if the author describes only the character’s clothes, then learners can describe their physique, their posture, their way of moving, their state of excitement or calm. If the author describes a place in visual terms, then the learners can add the sounds and smells of that place. Learners can also add the feelings given off by the place and the characters. Learners can continue the story telling what happened next.
  6.  Learners can then read their dream to their partner if they wish. If not, they can keep it as something personal.



Lahiri, J. 2008 Unaccustomed Earth. London:Bloomsbury

Malouf, D. 1999  Antipodes.  London: Vintage

Proulx,A. 1995 Heart Songs. London: Harper Collins

Trevor, W.2001 The Hill Bachelors. London: Penguin Books

Williams, J.  1990 Escapes.  London: Harper Collins


Poem from dream reading

Level: B1+


  • To encourage the learner to engage deeply with the imaginative atmosphere of the text
  • To show how a text can stimulate creativity in the learner


  1. Teacher gets learners to relax.
  2. Teacher reads short text.
  3. Learners re-write their impressions as a dream (see Dream reading)
  4. Learners then select 4 words that are key to the feeling or character or meaning of the text. These words may have been used in the text or be part of the learner’s own response.
  5. Learner writes these down on the left of the page leaving several spaces between them.
  6. Learner then writes a rhyme for each word so that there are 4 rhyming pairs.
  7. Learner then writes a poem in rhyming couplets in response to their chosen key words.


Events interpreted through different characters


  • Choose a character or event in the novel which could be interpreted in different ways.
  • List those ways (four ways would be good)
  • E.g. in The Reluctant Fundamentalist
    • Changez is a terrorist
    • Changez’ is not a terrorist, just someone who disagrees with American policy
    • The American is a CIA agent who knows a lot about Changez
    • The American is a tourist who has met Changez by accident
  • Find  two or three sections from the novel  which could be interpreted from these different viewpoints
    • E.g. in The Reluctant Fundamentalist
      • Pp34/35 The American uses his mobile phone
      • P 53 The scar in Changez’ forearm
      • P61 ‘many Pakistanis drink’
      • Pp74-76 Changez talks like an American

P83 Changez’ attitude to 9/11

  • P86-87 How much does the American know about Changez?
  • Pp203-205 Changez’ job at university


In class

  1. Individual work: Ask students to choose one of the ways of interpreting the events and to read the sections of the novel from this perspective. Be prepared to explain why the texts support or contradict this interpretation.
  2. Group work: Put students in groups who chose different interpretations. They give their reasons for continuing or ceasing to support their interpretation
  3. Plenary work: Show the following quotation from Roland Barthes:

“The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed... A text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” Barthes: Image, Music, Text pp146, 148


Discuss how far the group agrees that it is the reader, not the author who provides the unity of the text.



  • Write about how or if your interpretation of the novel has changed as a result of today’s session


Reading novels – Discussions

Level: C1- C2


  • To show that reading and appreciating a work of literature requires the ability to enter different mental states or processes and that all states are necessary and part of a full response.


  1. Learners read the following or the teacher reads them out to the class:
  2. The pleasure of reading a novel is to enter its world and be immersed to the extent that the characters become almost intimates and your attention is entirely taken by the events of the novel: it is something like a trance.
  3. The novel can provide learners with the opportunity to develop their own critical and language skills, their understanding of people, their understanding of discourse and can widen their cultural and historical knowledge and understanding.
  4. Teacher asks: Do you agree with these statements? Are there any conflicts between these statements?
  5. If there are conflicts, how can the learner improve their analytical evaluative skills without destroying the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoyment of the novel?

Coleridge recalled:

”... It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth on the other hand was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us ...”


S.T. Coleridge Biographia Literaria 1817

Voices of our time talk to characters from the classics

Level: C1


  • To deepen learners’ understanding of the characters in the text you’re studying
  • To highlight the source of attitudes towards literature
  • To identify the implications of different kinds of questions
  • To get learners involved in direct address to the characters in the novel, poem or play
  • To show how an interpretation may depend on the attitude of the interpreter
  • To develop freedom and creativity of response to a work of literature


  1. Discuss what voices there are in our current socio-political context and describe what they are urging us to do. Name those voices (as in Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress): e.g. Mr/Ms Effective and Efficient; Mr/Ms Make a Profit; Mr/Ms Green; Mr/Ms Get to the Top; Mr/Ms Couch Potato; Mr/Ms Homebuilder; Mr/Ms Emotion; Mr/Ms Scandal; Mr/Ms Get the Latest Gadget etc.
  2. Each learner chooses one of the above and, in that character, thinks of 5 questions to ask a character from the work of literature you are studying.
  3. Groups of 4: One learner acts as the character from the work of literature and the others act as modern characters. A conversation arises in which the character answers the questions.


Mr Effective and Efficient: Why don’t you just go and kill Claudius? It’s clear he killed your father.

  • I can’t be 100% sure. In any case, wouldn’t it be a sin?

Mr Get the Latest Gadget: Don’t listen to him Hamlet. You don’t need to worry. Let Claudius do all the boring stuff like governing the country. Enjoy yourself. Get the King to buy you the latest rapiers. And while you’re at it, get him to finance your own acting company so you can enjoy yourself with the players.

  1. Report back: Each group reports back on how convincingly the character from the literature reacted to the questions.
  2. Discussion: Do you think the voices in the society at the time the work was written were the same as they are today?


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