My best lesson - How to draw inspiration from great writing

24th April 2015 at 01:00

When I want to lighten the atmosphere in an English lesson, I draw something on the whiteboard. Since I have no artistic skill whatsoever, my efforts are always met with laughter. And I frequently ask students to draw pictures, even though my subject deals mostly with words.

Discussion of a text can often be limited because students haven't read it closely enough. Asking them to illustrate part of a text means that they must read carefully if they are to draw an accurate representation.

I often use this method, which can be adapted for any level, to teach about characterisation.

For example, each student receives a copy of the opening page of Hard Times, in which Dickens introduces Mr Gradgrind. I read it aloud, then with no further discussion hand out paper and pens and ask them to draw a picture of Mr Gradgrind. Initial cries of "But I can't draw!" are met with a reminder of my own limitations and the promise that I will attempt the task as well. This helps the students to relax and we enjoy a leisurely 15 minutes of sketching.

I tell them to use only the information given, and gradually they work out how Mr Gradgrind's "square wall of a forehead", "square legs" and "square shoulders" can be drawn as a cartoon. They begin to search the text more and more thoroughly for details.

We pin everyone's pictures up on the wall (signing their masterpiece is optional; the timid can remain anonymous). Then we conduct a "viewing", which sends the students scurrying back to the text to check where some of the artists' ideas came from.

Next, we agree on five words to describe Mr Gradgrind and discuss why these words are appropriate. Because the students have now read the text so carefully, close analysis of Dickens' language and its effect on the reader is possible.

Ruth Ferguson is an English teacher in the South East of England

To download the plan for this lesson, visit www.tesconnect.comMyBestLesson

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