May 17, 2019
by Nora Nagy
0 comments

The Age of Innocence in the English classroom

We are all aware of the benefits of extensive reading, but some of us may feel unsure about how to approach longer texts in class. How should we scaffold the reading for our students and how much time should we dedicate to talking about the book in class? How will the students benefit from their reading experience? How can we link the book to our syllabus? These are just some of the questions a teacher might have to consider when thinking about teaching through literature.

In this series of posts, we would like to encourage you to take extensive reading seriously and take a novel into class. We will look at how you can prepare your students for the text and expand it beyond the frame of the story. It is important to prepare the students so they are aware of what they are doing. Some of them may feel intimidated by the idea of reading a book in English, others may not see the benefits. These fears and preconceptions can be easily addressed and thereby make the reading process much more beneficial and all-importantly FUN for the students. It is always a good idea for students to keep a WORD BOOK where they can jot down new words and expressions. We also recommend getting your students to read slightly below level (‘I’ minus 1) so they are at ease with the language and consolidating language while learning new words in context. We also encourage you to offer projects for students individually or in groups so that they can connect with the novel through many pathways. These projects place the story in a wider cultural, historical and scientific context.

Our next story is The Age of Innocence, written by Edith Wharton and published in 1920. The following year Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the novel. You can read a short description of the Helbling Reader edition here.

The book was adapted by Nora Nagy and illustrated by Simone Manfrini for intermediate level learners (from pre-teen to adult) of English (CEFR B1). Read our interview with Simone Manfrini here.

Our aims are to:

  • raise interest in the story,
  • become familiar with the reader,
  • find pathways into the story through projects,
  • expand the social, cultural and historical setting of the story,
  • explore the scientific topics in the story,
  • make personal links,
  • have fun.

CLIL links:

  • History: The Gilded Age
  • History: New York Society
  • Social issues: Marriages and arranged marriages
  • Social issues: Personal freedom
  • Communication: Flowers
  • Geography: American Cities
  • Culture: Social events

INTRODUCTION

1 Talk about the title and read the blurb. 

“Newland Archer does everything that is expected of him in the New York high society of the 1870s. He is a respected lawyer, he socialises with all of the most elegant families and he is engaged to May Welland: a beautiful, innocent and wealthy young woman. It is a perfect match. But then Newland meets May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, who has arrived in New York with a bad reputation. Soon the couple fall in love. But what about May? And more importantly: how can they avoid a scandal?”

  • Who are the three people on the cover?
  • Which one is May and which one is Ellen? (Explain your choice.)
  • What can “innocence” mean?

2 Look at the cover and the characters. Simply ask your students what the characters in the novel are like based on these images. You can also show a picture (from the Helbling reader, a film adaptation or another illustrated book) to give some help if needed.

The main characters in The Age of Innocence. Illustration by Simone Manfrini. © Helbling Languages

3 Make predictions from the illustrations. 

Ask your students to browse the book and write some words/short sentences about what might be going on in the pictures. They can write them in their notebooks and then go back to their predictions as they are reading the book.

4 Before you start discussing the projects, share this Wordle image with your class.

It shows the fifty most frequently used words in the readers (the bigger the word the more it is used). What do these words tell us about the story? Get the class to ask questions and make statements based on the words.

Wordle image with the top 50 words from the reader.

PROJECTS

When you have become familiar with the book, offer a series of projects for your students to explore on their own or in pairs/groups. We recommend that your students choose their topic whenever they feel best prepared to do so (before, during or after reading). Some students might not be comfortable reflecting on the story from a personal point of view and they might not have the linguistic toolkit to analyze it critically. Projects can provide friendly pathways into the stories and they can also provide the basis for cross-curricular projects.

1 History: The Gilded Age

The setting of this novel influences both the plot and character development in all sorts of ways. The historical, economical and social changes that happened after the American Civil War (1861-1865) are present in every detail of Wharton’s text. This period is called the Gilded Age. Introduce the topic by asking the students what is meant by the word “gilded”. What do students associate the word with? What kind of quality is it? How can an ‘Age’ be gilded?

Then read the dossier ‘The Gilded Age’ on pages 10 and 11 of the reader. Ask the students to find out more about one of the topics discussed in the dossier.

2 History: New York society

In the novel, New York society of the 1870s is described as a pyramid and a labyrinth. Both the hierarchical structure and the complex relations between pepole are reflected in these metaphors. There were a few important families who possessed most of the economical and social power, and the other families were organized around them.

Students learn more about this topic from the Fact File on pages 8 and 9 in the reader. Encourage them to find out more about the famous “400” and the families that belonged to them: the Astors, the Vanderbilts or the Rockefellers. Which other families were significant? Are these families still important?

3 Social issues: Marriages and arranged marriages

The theme of weddings and marriage is important in this novel. One of the main characters, Countess Olenska mentions that it is fascinating that in America people marry for love, and marriages are not arranged like in Europe. The novel is set in the 1870s, and of course since then these customs have changed in Europe, too. What are the most common wedding traditions in your country? How are they different from the proposal, engagement and wedding traditions described in the novel?

Students can research the topic of weddings and compare a typical wedding in the 1870s in the United States and at the present time in your own country.

4 Social issues: Personal freedom

The question of personal freedom is central to the novel. The expectations of the characters’ families and social circles have a great impact on their decisions. As the students are reading the novel,ask them to collect examples of things which may influence the characters. For example, where they live, what they wear, who theytalk to at a social event… How much has this aspect of life changed since the time of the novel?

On pages 94-95 and 100, you will also find a Life Skills and an After Reading project dedicated to the topic.

5 Communication: Flowers

There are several ways the characters in the novel use to communicate with each other other than speech. The most traditional ways are telegrams and letters. As time passes, the telephone also appears. However, one of the most fascinating ways of sending messages was through flowers. Newland Archer, the main character sends lilies-of-the-valley and yellow roses to the women in his life. What messages can different flowers send?

In this project students research the language of flowers and show examples of social occasions when flowers have important meanings.

6 Geography: American cities

The novel is set in New York, and we can read a lot about the different districts of the city and how they developed over the years. The characters also travel to Newport, Boston and St. Augustine in Florida. Why are these places significant? Other places, like Skuytercliff and Rhineback are also important.

Students can find these places on a map and explain what they are famous for today. Zooming in on New York, ask students to follow the characters’ steps through the city as they are reading the novel. Various quarters and avenues are described and they are associated with different groups of people. What are these places like today? After checking them on a map, students can also find pictures of these areas today.

We recommend this fascinating research project by Meredith Goldsmith, a university professor and the editor of the Edith Wharton Review.  She has followed the steps of the characters in The Age of Innocence: she collected large dataset with locations and then built an interactive map, which you can explore on her website.

7 Culture: Social events

Opera nights, the annual balls, engagement and dinner parties and archery competitions are some of the most important social events that take place in the novel. In this project students can describe these events in detail. When and where did they happen? What did people wear to them? What customs were connected to them?

8 Edith Wharton, the author

Students can read about the life of Edith Wharton and find out how the plot of the novel is related to her own life.

Extra topic

Film adaptation: The Age of Innocence, 1993

This excellent film adaptation directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder renders the atmosphere of the novel perfectly. The creators of the film paid attention to the language, the movements and the clothing of the characters. Not only the costumes, but the decorations and the buildings are accurately represented to take us back to the time of the novel.

Watch the trailer of the film to become familiar with the era:

DOWNLOAD our The Age of Innocence Project Planner (PDF) to use for keeping notes and organizing your ideas.

May 14, 2019
by Nora Nagy
0 comments

Using classic fiction to talk about families in the English class

Since 1993, United Nation’s International Day of Families is observed on 15th May each year. This year the focus on families and climate action. “Although families all over the world have transformed greatly over the past decades in terms of their structure and as a result of global trends and demographic changes, the United Nations still recognizes the family as the basic unit of society” (UN website, 2019). This gives us the opportunity to talk about the importance of families, introducing very different family models and looking at how each family faces different challenges in life. We have collected seven amazing families from classic literature for a family-themed lesson in your English class.

Talking about families

The family is an recurring topic in English courses and exam preparation, but tends to be presented as a ‘traditional’ family. Students may find it difficult or uncomfortable to talk about their own families or feel that their family is in some way different. One way to introduce the topic is by talking about families in literature, looking at their lives, their challenges and their sources of happiness. Some of these families are funny, some of them are traditional, some are unusual or have curious members, and some face life-changing events. Together they create an inclusive extended family for your students.

You can use these activities in a special themed-based lesson or as an introduction to an extensive reading session. The families selected here are all from novels which have been adapted as a Helbling Reader. The level of the books vary between elementary and intermediate (CEFR A1-B1).

When you start the lesson, ask students if they know any families from books they have read or films and TV programmes they have seen. If necessary, revise the vocabulary of the family taking care to focus on different models and encouraging the students to talk about their families if they wish. Then share the titles of the stories below with the illustrations of the families. Invite each student to choose a family they would like to learn more about. Print the basic worksheet and ask students to fill it out at home: they can look for information in the readers if you already have them or search the Internet for answers. In the next lesson, students can share their findings in pairs or small groups. The best way to continue these activities is reading the stories!

7 families in fiction

Here are seven families from some of our favourite classics. You can use the original worksheet with any other ficitonal family your students would like to discuss.

1 The family in Five Children and It

  • written by Edith Nesbit
  • Helbling Readers Level 1 (CEFR A1)

The main characters in Five Children and It. Illustration by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

2 The Darlings in Peter Pan

  • written by J. M. Barrie
  • Helbling Readers Level 1 (CEFR A1)

The Darling children with Nana in Peter Pan. Illustrated by Manuela Santini. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

3 Mowgli’s family in Mowgli’s Brothers

  • written by Rudyard Kipling
  • Helbling Readers Level 2 (CEFR A1/A2)

Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera in the jungle. Illustration by Roberto Tomei. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

4 Anne Shirley, Marilla and Matthew in Anne of Green Gables

  • written by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Helbling Readers Level 2 and 3 (CEFR A1/A2 & A2)

Anne Shirley with Marialla and Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables – Anne arrives. Illustration by Arianna Operamolla. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the stories here:

5 The Marches in Little Women

  • written by Louisa May Alcott
  • Helbling Readers Level 2 (CEFR A1/A2)

The Marches in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Illustration by Cecilia Tamburini © Helbling Languages

6 The Earnshaws and the Lintons in Wuthering Heights

  • written by Emily Brontë
  • Helbling Reader Level 4 (CEFR A2/B1)

Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff at the Lintons in Wuthering Heights. Illustration by Valentina Russello. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

7 The Bennets in Pride and Prejudice

  • written by Jane Austen
  • Helbling Reader Level 5 (CEFR B1)

The Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Illustration by Sara Menetti. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

The stories are available in these readers:

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May 9, 2019
by Nora Nagy
0 comments

The Invisible Man in the English classroom

We are all aware of the benefits of extensive reading, but some of us may feel unsure about how to approach longer texts in class. How should we scaffold the reading for our students and how much time should we dedicate to talking about the book in class? How will the students benefit from their reading experience? How can we link the book to our syllabus? These are just some of the questions a teacher might have to consider when thinking about teaching through literature.

In this series of posts, we would like to encourage you to take extensive reading seriously and take a novel into class. We will look at how you can prepare your students for the text and expand it beyond the frame of the story. It is important to prepare the students so they are aware of what they are doing. Some of them may feel intimidated by the idea of reading a book in English, others may not see the benefits. These fears and preconceptions can be easily addressed and thereby make the reading process much more beneficial and all-importantly FUN for the students. It is always a good idea for students to keep a WORD BOOK where they can jot down new words and expressions. We also recommend getting your students to read slightly below level (‘I’ minus 1) so they are at ease with the language and consolidating language while learning new words in context. We also encourage you to offer projects for students individually or in groups so that they can connect with the novel through many pathways. These projects place the story in a wider cultural, historical and scientific context.

Our next story is The Invisible Man, written by H. G. Wells. The book was first published in 1897, and it was Wells’ second science fiction novel. You can read a short description of the Helbling Reader edition here.

The book was adapted by Donatella Velluti and illustrated by Paolo Masiero for pre-intermediate to intermediate level learners (from pre-teen to adult) of English (CEFR A2-B1).

Our aims are to:

  • raise interest in the story,
  • become familiar with the reader,
  • find pathways into the story through projects,
  • expand the social, cultural and historical setting of the story,
  • explore the scientific topics in the story,
  • make personal links,
  • have fun.

CLIL links:

  • Physics
  • Technology
  • Biology
  • Ethics
  • Sociology
  • Literature

INTRODUCTION

1 Talk about the title and read the blurb. How is it possible to become invisible? Who do you think the Invisible Man is?

“One night, during a snow storm, a mysterious stranger staggers through the doors of a pub in a small English village, wrapped up from head to foot. The people in the village have a lot of questions. Who is the stranger? What is in his suticase? Why has he come to the village? And why won’t he let anyone see his face?”

2 Look at the cover and the characters. Simply ask your students what the characters in the novel are like based on these images. Predict the setting of the story based on the clothes the characters are wearing. You can also show a picture (from the Helbling reader, a film adaptation or another illustrated book) to give some help if needed.

The characters in The Invisible Man. Illustrated by Paolo Masiero © Helbling Languages

3 Make predictions from the illustrations. 

Ask your students to browse the book and write some words/short sentences about what might be going on in the pictures. They can write them in their notebooks and then go back to their predictions as they are reading the book.

4 Before you start discussing the projects, share this Wordle image with your class.

It shows the fifty most frequently used words in the readers (the bigger the word the more it is used). What do these words tell us about the story? Get the class to ask questions and make statements based on the words.

The Invisible Man Wordle image.

PROJECTS

When you have become familiar with the book, offer a series of projects for your students to explore on their own or in pairs/groups. We recommend that your students choose their topic whenever they feel best prepared to do so (before, during or after reading). Some students might not be comfortable reflecting on the story from a personal point of view and they might not have the linguistic toolkit to analyze it critically. Projects can provide friendly pathways into the stories and they can also provide the basis for cross-curricular projects.

1 Physics: Optics

There are several ways to become invisible. In this project, students describe the scientific background of visibility and the characteristics of light. After having done Exercise 1 on page 16 in the Before Reading section students can research and describe how certain things look invisible and why a mirror reflects light.

Give your students who are more interested in Physics the task of researching the refractive index of objects.

2 Science: Invisibility

A lot of things around us are invisible and still exist. Students can make a list of invisible phenomena which surround us.

3 Biology and Ethics: Human experiments

A series of experiments on the human body have been conducted in the history of civilization. Some of them were set up with good intentions, for example to find a cure for a diease. Some others were cruel experiments motivated by warfare and politics. Discuss the ethical considerations of human experiments. Can your students imagine situations in which it is acceptable to experiment on the human body?

4 Science fiction: Superpowers

Invisibility is a kind of superpower we have seen in several science fiction and fantasy films. Can your students think of examples? What other superpowers related to the human body are your students familiar with? Ask students to prepare a poster presentation of the top three or five most interesting superpowers. Get them to think of the advantages and disadvantages of having each superpower.

5 Literature: Science fiction

The Invisible Man is a science fiction story. Discuss the characteristics of the genre and explain that H. G. Wells belongs to the tradition of 19th century authors who were inspired by the scientific experiments and developments of their age. A similarly fascinating author is Mary Shelley, who combined horror elements and science fiction in her novel Frankenstein (1818). There is a dossier at the beginning of the book about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (pages 8-9). Read these pages and then ask your students if they think that Frankenstein’s Creature really is a monster. Can they think of other stories in which a ‘monster’ is created?

6 Techology: Robots

In the After Reading section of the book (pages 90-91), you’ll find a dossier about Luddites and robots. Read the pages, then define the term ‘Luddite’. Do your students know anyone who acts like a Luddite?

Robots can spark fascinating discussions. Ask your students to do some research on the development of robots. Most robots have become part of our daily routine, and some only exist in laboratories. They can present their findings and share the most modern robots available today. Can students imagine life a world most of the work is done by robots? What would that world be like?

7 Sociology: Invisibility

Before the age of the Internet and digital techonology, it was much easier to live an invisible life. The dossier on pages 10 and 11 discusses the topics of surveillance, privacy and social media. This aspect of inivisbility is a crucial issue today. As an awareness-raising activity which also helps students reflect on their own habits and safety, ask them to write a list of applications, surveillance and social media platforms which track their activities on a daily basis.

8 H.G. Wells, the author

The biography of H. G. Wells is a real inspiration for a lot of students. Not only did he write fascinating novels ahead of his time, he also worked hard to receive an education. A childhood accident motivated him to read a lot, and then he worked to be able to pay for his own education. He studied zoology and was also well-read in philosophy and literature. Ask students to make a timeline of his life and highlight the most motivating facts about him.

DOWNLOAD our The Invisible Man Project Planner (.pdf) to use for keeping notes and organizing your ideas.

April 30, 2019
by Nora Nagy
0 comments

Share the love of short stories: lucky-dip stories at your school

When I read about the fabulous Short Story Dispenser by French publisher Short Edition, I imagined how wonderful it would be for each school to have their own short story dispensing machine. Then, as I was walking along a corridor of my own school, I noticed that there is a designated wall where students can leave their artwork, which that day was mostly photos and illustrations. I started wondering how many schools might have similar boards or walls for students which could be used for sharing not only visual arts, but also stories.

Papyrus – Enfants Musée Café Zoetrope
by Caroline de Cuverville © Short Edition

During our language lessons we often ask students to write stories, poems and many other text types, which are often only read by the teachers. It would be entertaining and motivating to share some of these stories with the whole class or school on a regular basis, and students would have a real target audience and purpose for their writing. Inspired by Short Edition’s creative initiative, we invite you to create short story spots in your schools to spread the love of reading and writing stories.

The original idea

Visit the website of Short Edition to read about their project. Each Short Story Dispenser gives the readers stories for free at the push of a button. People can choose 1-, 3- and 5-minute original stories or longer classic stories. On their website all the stories are available through a random story picker. They also organized Button Fiction Spring Contest, a community short story writing competition, and all the winners’ and finalists’ stories are available online.

In class, watch this 1-minute film with your students and talk about what the machines are about and why they are exciting additions to city life.

Read the stories in class

Using the Random Stories selector on the Short Edition website, ask your students to choose a 1-, 3- or 5-minute story to read in class. We recommend these stories for students who are at least at a pre-intermediate (CEFR A2/towards B1) level of English. If you start with 1-minute stories, create groups of 3 or 4 and ask them to read the same story, then they can share the gist with the rest of the class. It is a quick reading activity to get a reading class going.

Write stories in class

Storytelling can serve a wide range of purposes. Apart from the pure fun of reading a story, you can have specific stories to introduce a topic, learn about a historical period or geographical region, or simply introduce new vocabulary and language structures. The language of description, characterization, narrative tenses and linking words can be practised through storytelling.

If you follow the original idea, you can invite your students to write 1-, 3- or 5-minute stories. The time should indicate the minutes one needs to read a story. You can ask your students to write a story at home, and then share it with others in class and time their reading. Then, ask students to give feedback to each other, give feedback yourself, and ask students to revise their stories at home and read them aloud. This way they can perfect their stories before handing them in.

When they write their first stories, only the length should be limited, but not the topic. If your class is working on a particular topic, you might want to ask the students to focus on that topic. Once you have accepted the stories and the students have given you permission to share it with others (with or without their names), ask them to print several copies and save one for themselves.

If you would like to learn more about storytelling, writing stories and creative writing, check out our resource books for teachers. Altogether they contain over a 100 activities for you to try and adapt to your classes.

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Find out more about these resource books here:

Sharing the stories

When your students have written their stories, you should find a way to share the story with others in the class. You can use boxes or large envelopes on a wall. Of course it is a good idea to make the boxes and envelopes safe and strong. Encourage students to pick stories randomly, without looking. When students choose their story, it might feel like a game of lucky dip, in which the prizes are guaranteed.

Exhibiting the stories openly on a board dedicated to stories is also a possibility, but it will change the purpose of the project. This way students won’t be able to take the stories with them and read them alone.

Share this idea with other teachers in your school and encourage to invite their students to participate!

April 24, 2019
by Nora Nagy
0 comments

Exploring India with Kim in the English classroom

We are all aware of the benefits of extensive reading, but some of us may feel unsure about how to approach longer texts in class. How should we scaffold the reading for our students and how much time should we dedicate to talking about the book in class? How will the students benefit from their reading experience? How can we link the book to our syllabus? These are just some of the questions a teacher might have to consider when thinking about teaching through literature.

In this series of posts, we would like to encourage you to take extensive reading seriously and take a novel into class. We will look at how you can prepare your students for the text and expand it beyond the frame of the story. It is important to prepare the students so they are aware of what they are doing. Some of them may feel intimidated by the idea of reading a book in English, others may not see the benefits. These fears and preconceptions can be easily addressed and thereby make the reading process much more beneficial and all-importantly FUN for the students. It is always a good idea for students to keep a WORD BOOK where they can jot down new words and expressions. We also recommend getting your students to read slightly below level (‘I’ minus 1) so they are at ease with the language and consolidating language while learning new words in context. We also encourage you to offer projects for students individually or in groups so that they can connect with the novel through many pathways. These projects place the story in a wider cultural, historical and scientific context.

Our next story is Kim, written by Rudyard Kipling. You can read a short description of the Helbling Reader edition here.

The book was adapted by Janet Borsbey and Ruth Swan and illustrated by Gianluca Garofalo for pre-intermediate level learners (from pre-teen to adult) of English (CEFR A2). Continue Reading →