August 2, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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Quick Guide to Children’s Books 5: Children’s poetry

The world of children’s literature is an enchanting place which often looks like a colourful maze with imaginary creatures in fantastic worlds. These creatures and worlds are mostly versions of our own realities, and through them we can learn more about our own worlds, and through the words and the images in the stories we can explore our own lives, reflecting on its beauties and dealing with its difficulties.

When you enter a book shop, these miniworlds which we call picture books are well-organized on shelves, usually labelled and categorized in a systematic way. There are picture books, silent books, illustrated books, comics, graphic novels, poetry books and many more formats. What is the difference between these books? What are their main characteristics?

In this series we will explore the world of children’s books together, providing definitions and examples for each main type of books. In this fifth part we enter the magical world of children’s poetry.

‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall:

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty in his place again.’

(Lewis Carroll)

Why we love children’s poems

The Mouse’s Tale. A handwritten page of the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, illustrated by the author. Held and digitised by the British Library. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Can you remember the first rhyme you learnt?  Do you know where and when you first heard it? It’s very unlikely you can do either of these. The first rhymes we hear are lullabies and short rhymes which are often hummed and sung to us when we are infants. We rarely remember learning them, but can invariably chant or sing them as soon as we hear them. These first encounters with poetic language belong to the oral tradition which we all have knowledge of. These rhymes have practical functions, ranging from soothing the crying baby to playing with and teaching words. They initiate us in the idea of playfulness within the rules of language. As Iona Opie writes, ‘they are narratives which pack a whole drama into four or six lines’ so they are like memorable stories in a condensed form (Hunt, 2004). At the same time rhymes can also be nonsensical, giving children the real power to play with language, the language, which cannot always express all our thoughts and feelings, and which is sometimes difficult to use or understand.

These rhymes are the foundations of our relationship with poetry, and this relationship develops through lullabies, nursery rhymes, school chants, conventional and less conventional poetry. We turn to them when we are with small children, and through them respond to the changing of the seasons, celebrations, important events and natural observations.  As a result of this, as adults we often read poems to grasp a feeling or enjoy the beauty of language. A fascinating description of the power of poetry is given in the book Understanding Children’s Literature (edited by Peter Hunt), when Hunt quotes the sixteenth-century humanist educationalist Juan Luis Vives:

poems  contain  subjects  of  extraordinary  effectiveness,  and  they  display human passions in a wonderful and vivid manner. This is called energia. There breathes in them a certain great and lofty spirit so that the readers are themselves caught into it, and seem to rise above their own intellect, and even above their own nature.

Vives 1913:126

Where can we find children’s poems?

Children’s rhymes and poems are easy to find as they come in many forms: nursery rhymes, dongs, skipping rhymes, folk poems and chants and classic verses. Some children’s poetry is intentionally written for children, and some of it is written for adults and also suitable for children. There are famous examples of verses and chants in classic children’s fiction, just think of  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Some of the most famous children’s poets are Edward Lear, Dr Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Jacqueline Woodson, Carol Ann Duffy and Michael Rosen, and classic writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Roald Dahl and Ted Hughes.

Here are two lists of poems we can recommend:

Why should we read more poetry with children?

As great researchers of children’s literature, like Morag Styles, Evelyn Arizpe and Abigail Rokison point out in the Routledge Companion to Children’s Literature, poetry is an innovative and thriving form of art and it should be part of everyday educational practice. They refer to a 2007 study in the UK which claims that poetry is less well-taught than other subjects in English. They, just like us, invite you to read and teach more poetry in school and read more poetry (if possible, aloud) at home, too.

The Poetry and Memory Project, a recent research project run at the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge investigated the impact of poetry on our memory. The researchers found that certain aspects of the verse form has found that ‘even in fragments, memorised poetry appears to constitute a personal language capable of articulating deep emotional currents and subtle perceptions that cannot be communicated in any other form’ (Pullinger & Whitley, 2016). They also explain that ‘the distinctive qualities of poetic language – rhythm, rhyme, line length, image and rhetorical patterning – are sympathetic to the functioning and constraints of working and long-term memory.’ The language teacher can also take advantege of these aspects of poetry. Through rhyme, rhythm and repetition they create memorable and playful resources which will motivate students to memorise short or long bodies of texts. We recommend you start a ‘Poetry by Heart‘ project or start organising a poetry recital day for nursery, elementary and even secondary school students.

Apart from these benefits, the practical functions we discussed above also have a beneficial influence on learning. Poems do not only soothe the crying baby, but they also teach us things about the world and entertain us through their distinctive poetic functions, which let them condense complex feelings in a single verse.

Some fun ideas for poetry lovers

1 Start organising a Poetry Reading or Recital Day. These days can be successful even in nursery schools. Reading poetry aloud will also give your older students confidence once they realise it is okay and fun to play with language.

2 Give a poem as a gift. Poems make wonderful gifts. You can print and frame them, or you can write them in a card.

3 Choose poems for each month, important even or season and read them out loud to your students.

4 Look for famous people reading poems on YouTube or Vimeo.

5  Teach rhymes to older students as well. You can also write rhymes together. Here is an idea. During my lessons I like collecting words which are either new or difficult to pronounce for my students. At the end of each lesson I write a rhyme or a short poem with them and get all my students read them out loud.

Here are some more ideas to use poetry in the classroom.

References

  • Debbie Pullinger & David Whitley (2016) Beyond Measure: The Value of the
    Memorised Poem, Changing English, 23:4, 314-325, DOI: 10.1080/1358684X.2016.1203248
  • Iona Opie (2004). Playground Rhymes and the Oral Tradition. In. Hunt, P.  (Ed.) (2004). International companion encyclopedia of children’s literature. London: Routledge.
  • Hunt, P. (2009). Understanding children’s literature: Key essays from the second edition of The International companion encyclopedia of children’s literature. London: Routledge.
  • Rudd, D. (2012). The Routledge Companion to Children’s Literature. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

July 21, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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All about adaptations: speaking and writing tasks to have fun with adaptations

This week we have been looking at various aspects of adapatations. This time we take a more practical approach and share some ideas on using and creating adaptations in the language class.

Exploring differences: from page to screen

Your students have probably seen most of the major adapatations of literary classics either on film or TV. Recent hits include the Sherlock stories, Anne of Green Gables, the Jane Austen film adaptations, the Dickens classics from Oliver Twist to Great Expectations, and then there are the Jack London stories, and Gulliver or Robinson Crusoe. Continue Reading →

July 18, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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All about adaptations

Think of your favourite classic tale or novel, and then try to remember the different adaptations you have read, seen or heard of it. Adaptations surround us, not just because so many great stories have been written, but also thanks to our tendency to tell and retell the stories which are significant in our lives. When you enter a cinema, a game store or a theatre, most of the films, games, plays and musicals you see will be adaptations. We  benefit from the power of these narratives not only in our personal lives but also in education. It is also fascinating to realize that some of the blockblusters of our times are adaptations of classic stories, just think of Frozen which is based on The Snow Queen, or the recent hit, A Handmaid’s Tale, which is contemporary classic written by Margaret Atwood. There are more obvious adaptations like the numerous novels, contemporary rewritings, film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. For example, apart from the obvious BBC series, you will see creative and fun examples like The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, Bridget Jones’s Diary (both based on Pride and Prejudice) or the film Clueless (based on Emma).

How can you incorporate adapatations into your language courses? Why should you do it? And how can you approach them? Let’s look at some basic characteristics of adaptations. In our next post we will look at different ideas to read and learn with them in the language classroom.

Adaptations

When we think of adaptations, most often we focus on the film adaptations of literary classics and tales or retellings in different genre of text, for example a short and modernized version or a comic book retelling. However, as contemporary theorist Linda Hutcheon (2007) reminds us, there many more forms of media and genres in the playground of adaptations, and it is not a recent phenomenon. If we look back at the Victorian Era and the Pre-Rapahaelite Movement, we notice that many artists cross the boundaries of different forms of expression. Biblical and mythological stories, medieval legends and classic literary works were frequently retold in paintings and poems. Think of the story of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and you then of the painting by John Everett Millais. The transformation of a story told in one medium to another was common practice. The spectrum of these media has widened in our times, and now you can see theme parks, video games and musicals added to the long list of poems, novels, dances, songs and operas.

Ophelia. John Everett Millais, 1851. Tate Britain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

What is an adaptation?

Continue Reading →

July 13, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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Quick Guide to Children’s Books 4: Comic books and graphic novels

The world of children’s literature is an enchanting place which often looks like a colourful maze with imaginary creatures in fantastic worlds. These creatures and worlds are mostly versions of our own realities, and through them we can learn more about our own worlds, and through the words and the images in the stories we can explore our own lives, reflecting on its beauties and dealing with its difficulties.

When you enter a book shop, these miniworlds which we call picture books are well-organized on shelves, usually labelled and categorized in a systematic way. There are picture books, silent books, illustrated books, comics, graphic novels, poetry books and many more formats. What is the difference between these books? What are their main characteristics?

In this series we will explore the world of children’s books together, providing definitions and examples for each main type of books. In this fourth part we enter the magical world of graphic novels and comic books.

What are comic books and graphic novels?

What does a comic book and a Grecian urn have in common? How is the Bayeux Tapestry connected to Garfield? Can you see any similarities between Egyptian hieroglyphs and your favourite comic strips? All of these forms of art and storytelling can be collected under the umbrella term of ‘comics’ (McCloud, 1994) as well as ‘sequential art’ (Eisner, 1985). It simply means that in all of these art forms we get a narrative which is the product of images and often texts juxtaposed in a sequence. All of these types of sequential art rely on similar visual vocbulary and grammar, which might be the key to their success.

In the world of comics we have different subcategories, which are based on the length of the sequence. A comic strip contains a few panels and are often features of a newspaper or magazine. Some comic books are compilations of these comic strips in a magazine or book format. There are other comic books, which are self-contained stories, for example the superhero comic books. Graphic novels, which are longer comic books, became popular in the 1990s with the Pulitzer Prize winning Maus (Spiegelman, 1991). The only differences between a comic book and a graphic novel are the length and self-contained nature of the story (Duncan & Smith, 2009). Different definitions of graphic novels agree on the description that all graphic novels are comic books but not all comic books are graphic novels.

Comic book elements in David and the Great Detective by Martyn Hobbs. In Helbling Readers Fiction Graphic Stories series. © Helbling

Reading comic books and graphic novels

Continue Reading →

July 11, 2017
by Nora Nagy
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Empowering young people on World Youth Skills Day

World Youth Skills Day (WYSD) has been observed as an official UN Day on 15 July since 2015. UNESCO – UNEVOC join their forces and resources to raise awareness about the importance of skilled work, technical and vocacational training.

We are joining their #SkillsForAll campaign to support the inclusive view that “everyone should have the opportunity to discover and develop their talents”.

Why is WYSD an important day?

Unemployement and underemployment among young people aged 15-24 is an issue all over the world. Study the WYSD Infographic for facts and figures below.

World Youth Skills Inforgraphic. Downloaded from the UNESCO – UNEVOC website.

On this day we can appreciate the hard work of skilled workers, highlight their achievements, and encourage them to set new objectives. This day is also a good occassion to look at the various aspects of youth skills, what training and education they can receive, and what the reasons are for the high unemployment rates.

In this video, Shyamal Majumdar, Head of the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training explains what work has been done and what can be achieved through hard work.

How are these work skills related to language and literacy skills?

To be able to develop any kind of skills, learners need to have sound literacy and language skills. Their performance during the training process as well as on the job will highly be affected by how well they can communicate and make meaning through various sources and channels. From reading the instruction manual to assemble a desk through learning from multimedia material to learning about metal or wood, and training other workers around them, our learners will need to rely on complex literacy skills, and not just technical skills.

The 2018 OECD definition of Reading Literacy has responded to the social, economical and technological changes in our world, and the 2016 updated framework proposes a new definition of the construct of reading literacy. It is understood as “understanding, using, evaluating, reflecting on and engaging with texts in order to achieve  one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society” (OECD, p. 11). Another important aspect of the 2018 PISA reading framework is the inclusion of digital reading literacy skills which enable students to read and interact with digital texts.

In order to understand how these The 2018 PISA understanding of ‘text’ is a crucial step in guiding us towards visual literacy skills. According to this interpretation, text includes

“all  language  as  used  in  its  graphic  form:  handwritten, printed  or  screen-based.  In  this  definition,  we  exclude  as  texts  those  purely  aural  language artifacts  such  as  voice  recordings,  as  well  as  film,  TV,  animated  visuals  and  pictures  without words.  Texts  do  include visual  displays  such as  diagrams,  pictures, maps,  tables,  graphs  and comic  strips,  which  include  some  written  language  (for  example,  captions).  These visual texts can exist either independently or they can be embedded in larger texts” (OECD, p. 13).

As language teachers we need to consider working with various types of texts in our classes. Learners receive training and education in any sector through different types of texts. In a language class, the best thing we can do is introduce digital, visual and multimodal texts just as well as written text and see how our students comphrened them.

Check out the Motivating for Skills Development: A Campaign Package, prepared by UNEVOC. You can see how video and written materials can be used to explore a topic.

World Youth Skill in the Classroom

We propose that you introduce the topic of world skills in a classroom discussion. Some of your high school students might not consider enroling in vocational training, and others might not know enough about the diverse jobs other young people do all over the world. Learning about these skills and training opportunities might open new doors in front of many students.

The UNEVOC Campaign Package above can be a good start to explore the opportunities offered by different sectors.

Modul 4 from SURE pre-intermediate. © Helbling

Talk about jobs in the classroom

In our two courses, SURE (for teens) and JETSTREM (for young adults and adults). Here are three lessons that you can use from these courses.

  • SURE, pre-intermediate: Module 4, Nice work
  • SURE, intermediate: Module 6: Part-time jobs and personal growth
  • JETSTREAM, pre-intermediate: Unit 3, Lesson 1: Work and its problems

Reference

OECD. (2016). PISA 2018: Draft analyitcal framework. Paris, France: OECD Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/data/PISA-2018-draft-frameworks.pdf