tangled web we should weave:
Teaching English, promoting critical awareness and using art
in EFL classes
by Alexandre Dias Pinto
& Carlota Miranda Dias Pinto
- LESSON PLAN
Theme: Parent-child relationship
Grade: 9th or 10th grade (ages 15 to 16): intermediate
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
.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,
.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.
1. Warm up (10 minutes)
The teacher asks several students if they think their parents
impose a strong discipline at home and listens to their answers.
The students are given a questionnaire (Handout 1) and are
asked to answer it.
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
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
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
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:
The teacher asks the students to describe (just describe)
the sculpture, calling their attention to features such as
colour, size, shape, etc.
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:
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:
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)?
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)
The teacher draws a simple two-column table on the blackboard;
one of the columns bears the heading "protection"
and the other "imprisonment".
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)
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
students are called upon to speculate about the information
contained in these two lines by answering the teacher's questions:
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?
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.
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...
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)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
London WC3 5YA
Tuesday, 14th June 2001
7. Grammar practice (35 minutes)
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.)
grammar structure: - The Present Perfect Tense
- Phrasal verbs
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
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
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).
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