A web site for the developing language teacher

What a tangled web we should weave:
Teaching English, promoting critical awareness and using art in EFL classes
by Alexandre Dias Pinto
& Carlota Miranda Dias Pinto

Theme: Parent-child relationship
Grade: 9th or 10th grade (ages 15 to 16): intermediate level
Number of classes: four fifty-minute classes
.to promote the practice and the development of the students' linguistic skills (speaking, listening, writing and reading);
.to teach the form, use and meaning of one of the following grammar items: the present perfect tense, prepositions, the imperative, word-formation or phrasal verbs (see Activity 7);
.to review the structure of the informal letter;
.to promote the students' interest for art in its different forms of expression (literature, painting, sculpture, photography, etc.);
.to develop the students' critical awareness about issues related to the contemporary world;
.to expand the students' knowledge of the culture of the English-speaking world, in this case, the Liverpool poets.



Activity 1. Warm up (10 minutes)

1. The teacher asks several students if they think their parents impose a strong discipline at home and listens to their answers.

2. The students are given a questionnaire (Handout 1) and are asked to answer it.


The following list contains some of the things that young people enjoy doing. Tick those that your parents do not allow you to do:

• Eating hamburgers every day
• Dating someone
• Smoking
• Drinking alcohol
• Spending all your money on clothes
• Coming back home at 5 o'clock in the morning
• Going out in the evening before an exam
• Spending your holidays with friends
• Doing bungee jumping
• Spending the whole evening on the phone

3. The students are asked to state the things that they are not allowed to do.
Afterwards, the teacher asks the students to provide the motives and reasons why their parents impose rules and discipline to their day-to-day lives.

Activity 2. Analysing and interpreting a work of art (35 minutes)

1. Using an overhead projector, the teacher shows a photo of Louise Bourgeois' sculpture Maman, which was exhibited at the Tate Modern. This thirty-feet high sculpture represents a pregnant spider (a black widow). Photos of this work of art can be found at: or

2. The teacher asks the students to describe (just describe) the sculpture, calling their attention to features such as colour, size, shape, etc.

3. The students gather in pairs to analyse the sculpture and to interpret the symbolic meaning of certain features of the spider. The instructions are in Handout 2:


Bearing in mind that this spider represents a mother, answer the following questions in order to explain the symbolic meaning of some of the traits of this creature:

1. Why is this spider so big?
2. Why are the spider legs so long and thin (taking into account that the sculpture is very large and heavy)?
3. What does the shape of the spider remind you of?
4. Why is this spider (i.e., mother) black?
5. Spiders make webs. What does this omitted element (the web) represent?
6. Why are mothers compared to spiders?
7. Why is the title of the sculpture Maman (and not Mother nor Mère)?

4. After finishing this activity, the students state their answers and debate some of the conclusions that they have arrived at. They are then encouraged to provide an overall interpretation of the sculpture.

Activity 3. Systematising conclusions (5 minutes)

1. The teacher draws a simple two-column table on the blackboard; one of the columns bears the heading "protection" and the other "imprisonment".

2. Taking into account what was said before about Louise Bourgeois' sculpture, the teacher elicits from the students the ideas, words or phrases that describe different aspects of the parent-child relationship (for instance, love, authority, power, rules). The words and expressions are registered on the correspondent column of the table.


Activity 4. Reading-Comprehension (15 minutes)

1. Pre-reading activity: The teacher starts the lesson eliciting from the students the theme of the learning sequence and some of the words and phrases that were used to describe different aspects of the parent-child relationship.
After that, the teacher writes the first and the second lines of Brian Patten's poem "Little Johnny's Final Letter" on the blackboard:

I won't be home this evening, so

The students are called upon to speculate about the information contained in these two lines by answering the teacher's questions:

a) What sort of text is this?
b) Who utters these words?
c) Why won't the "son" come back home that evening?
d) What is going to happen?
e) Why does the "son" write this letter?

2. The students are given a handout with Brian Patten's poem "Little Johnny's Final Letter" (Handout 3). The teacher reads the poem aloud and, afterwards, the latter is read aloud by one of the students. The teacher explains the meaning of the words the students do not know.


Little Johnny's Final Letter

I won't be home this evening, so
don't worry; don't hurry to report me missing.
Don't drain the canals to find me,
I've decided to stay alive, don't
search the woods, I'm not hiding,
simply gone to get myself classified.
Don't leave my shreddies out,
I've done with security.
Don't circulate my photograph to society
I've disguised myself as a man
and I am giving priority to obscurity.
It suits me fine;
I've taken off my short trousers
and put on long ones, and
now am going out into the city, so
don't worry; don't hurry to report me missing.

I've rented a room without curtains
and sit behind the windows growing cold,
heard your plea on the radio this morning,
you sounded sad and strangely old...

Brian Patten

Brian Patten, Little Johnny's Confession, London,
George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1967.

3. The teacher conducts a comprehension activity on the poem, asking the students the following questions:

. Who is the person speaking in the poem?
. What has he done?
. Why has he done that?
. How has his mother reacted?
. How does he feel now?

Activity 5. Interview (35 minutes)

1. Preparing an interview: group work. The students get together in five groups. Each group is given one of the following characters: Johnny, his mother, his father, his sister, his brother, a neighbour. The students prepare a TV interview in which a reporter will ask the character in question to describe Johnny's relationship with the other members of the family and to give his/her own view about what has happened.

2. Enacting the interview: role play. Each group chooses one student to play the role of reporter and another to play the character assigned to the group. These pairs will enact the dialogues in front of the class.

3. Withdrawing conclusions: class discussion. The students are encouraged to comment on the positions of the characters involved and to suggest solutions for the problem or for problems like this one.

The teacher reminds the students that the poem "Little Johnny's Final Letter" was written by Brian Patten and informs them that the latter is one of the "Liverpool Poets".
The students are asked to find information about the "Liverpool Poets" (in encyclopaedias or on the internet) and to bring poems written by them that allude to the parent-child relationship. This homework will be corrected only in the last lesson of the unit so that the students have more time to prepare it.


Activity 6. Revision of the structure of the informal letter (15 minutes)
1. The teacher elicits from the students the main facts and ideas of Brian Patten's poem "Little Johnny's Final Letter", which they read the previous lesson. Afterwards, the teacher reads the poem once again.

2. The teacher draws the model of the informal letter on the blackboard, eliciting from the students the elements that it comprises: date, address, name of the addresser, etc.

3. The students are given handout 4 with the elements of an imaginary informal letter that Johnny wrote to his mother. They should dispose these elements in the correct places. The correction is done on a transparency.


Imagine Johnny's letter to his mother. Put the following elements in the right places:


22 Wood Road
London WC3 5YA

Dear Mother,


Tuesday, 14th June 2001

Activity 7. Grammar practice (35 minutes)

In the remaining time, the teacher introduces a grammar structure, taking examples from the poem. The students analyse these examples and are asked to systematise the rule or the information of that grammar item. Then, the teacher provides the students with a practice exercise, which they can do individually or in pairs. The exercise is corrected afterwards. (The grammar structure should be chosen according to the level of the students.)

Suggested grammar structure: - The Present Perfect Tense
- Imperative
- Phrasal verbs
- Prepositions


Activity 8. Homework correction (15 minutes)

The students share the information they have collected about the "Liverpool Poets" and read poems by some of these poets. The teacher may collect all the poems and ask a group of students to prepare a poster into which the poems will be glued. The poster will then be hanged on the classroom wall.

Activity 9. Task: writing activity (35 minutes)

The teacher tells the students that they are going to write a text, in which they are expected to use the grammar structure learnt the previous class (activity 7). The text they will write must follow one of the text models that were present in this learning sequence: the letter and the interview (the dialogue). The students may choose to do one of the following tasks:

1. Johnny's mother writes him a letter.
2. A fourteen-year-old spider writes a letter to a friend talking about her problems with her mother.
3. A young spider talks to her aunt about the strong discipline the parents impose at home (a dialogue written in pairs).

To the article

Print-friendly version

To the articles index

Back to the top

Tips & Newsletter Sign up —  Current Tip —  Past Tips 
Train with us Online Development Courses    Lesson Plan Index
 Phonology — Articles Books  LinksContact
Advertising — Web Hosting — Front page

Copyright 2000-2016© Developing