Reading, Writing but no Arithmetic

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I wrote a couple of weeks ago about studying (excerpts of) The Hobbit, and writing about Bilbo Baggins in my literature class. Since then we have examined some love sonnets. But as the main objective of this course is to instill the love of literature in English, I thought it would be nice if my pupils could read large chunks of writing without having assessment in mind – at least for a while.

So when I saw a message on a forum for English teachers from a colleague in Morocco who was looking for people to read and appraise her pupils’ short stories, I jumped on the occasion and suggested my own students could be part of the jury – her original idea was for teachers to rate the stories.

My colleague was quite enthusiastic about it and sent her pupils’ works via email. I printed the short stories and gave them to my pupils to read. Their task was to read them and pick out their favourite piece. It was a pleasure to see them read and discuss their choices for two hours.

My colleague’s students had been set a common topic through a question ‘What does a Moroccan think when he drinks mint tea?’ They were to write a maximum of three pages. Twelve students volunteered and submitted their works; their stories include a variety of themes such as child sexual abuse, drugs, sexual identity, childhood, memories, culture clash…

When my own pupils marvelled at the other students’ abilities to write in English, I thought that maybe I could challenge them and suggest they write their own short stories. My school has writing competitions in French but not in English. Next year, with my colleague, we have plans for a contest that will include several schools but I’d like my pupils to have confidence in their writing abilities first.

Have you ever taken part in a writing competition? Do you think that a set topic reins in writing creativity?

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The Good and the Moving

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This week my pupils are sending me audio files about their favourite films. Here is what they like; the films are listed in alphabetical order:

Black Swan
Dear John
Desert Flower
The Expandable II
Forrest Gump (two pupils)
The Hangover
Inception
The Lord of the Rings
The Mask
Pearl Harbor
P.S. I Love You
Slumdog Millionaire
Star Wars: A New Hope
Skyfall (two pupils)
Taken
The Town
Twilight (part one)
Twilight (part two)
The Vow (two pupils)
Up

I am sharing two assignments to give you an idea of what was expected of them. The first is good and cleverly done (don’t think all my pupils have such a mastery of the English language). The second one was recorded by a very quiet but keen black girl whose family comes from Senegal and reflects her interest in the issues African girls still have to face today.

Forrest Gump

Desert Flower

Bilbo – the English Hobbit

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For the second year, French pupils who follow the most literary of the three streams of the French General Baccalauréat are now specifically taught literature in a foreign language, often English.

The idea is to instill knowledge and love of literature in English rather than specialise in technical terms, even though my pupils seemed to have fun with the rhyming scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet last week.

In December we did some work on The Hobbit, focusing on the poster above for Peter Jackson’s film, the 1938 New York Times book review and the first pages of the novel.

During the holiday, the pupils were asked to write several paragraphs to answer the following questions:
– Is Bilbo adventurous?
– To what extent can we say that Bilbo is typically English?

I found their answers to the latter both interesting and amusing so I thought I’d share a selection from different essays with you. Their ideas of what English people are supposed to be like are quite sweet.

His home:

We can say that Bilbo is typically English because he has got a very comfortable, cosy and warm house.

His house is a definition of what English houses look like.

His clothes:

Bilbo also likes wearing bright colours.

He also wears bright colours which match the image of the English who wear colourful and original clothes.

His habits:

Bilbo smokes a pipe like English characters such as Sherlock Holmes.

We can say that Bilbo is typically English because he smokes a pipe. Indeed the most popular character who smoked a pipe was Sherlock Holmes, an English fictional character.

He is very fond of flowers and gardens like British people.

Tea:

What is typically English is the fact that he has tea during the afternoon with visitors.

Bilbo invites Gandalf to come to tea which is a very typical thing in Britain. Tea time is at five in the afternoon and to invite someone to tea in Britain is typical.

His manners:

Bilbo Baggins looks typically English because of his way of talking. In fact he uses the words ‘dear sir’ many times to talk to Gandalf, which is a British, especially English, expression which shows a mark of respect.

Bilbo is also English because he doesn’t speak much.

Bilbo, even if he doesn’t want any adventures, is and remains polite. He uses very good and clear language, like a gentleman; something which is typically English.

One of the important things is that Bilbo is very polite. He says: ‘Good morning’ many times to Gandalf. In France people are known to be a little rude whereas English people are always polite, even to strangers.

Moreover some stereotypes say that English people are reserved concerning conversations. For instance, they rarely ask questions to the person they are talking with. That’s what we see with Bilbo and Gandalf. Indeed, the hobbit didn’t ask for Gandalf’s name; he only said ‘Good morning’.

Bilbo is a discreet character who is well educated, this is the idea we have of English people.