Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Christmas Story: Part One

Earlier this week, I had a moment of panic.  Four lessons to go before our annual ESOL achievement ceremony/Christmas party, and my class and I were woefully under prepared!  In previous years we have made and shown films and read international poetry but this year we hadn't been quite so organised. Time was running out!

There were also a few issues to consider:

  • I have not been teaching my current pre-intermediate intensive class for all that long (just a couple of months now). I've played it relatively safe so far (I didn't want to risk scaring anyone away!) and I wasn't sure how they would react to being involved in a creative project.
  • Two of my learners have difficulties reading and writing (although their spoken English is very good - they even speak with Shetland accents!)
  • One of my learners had requested that we write and perform a modern day nativity story. Now, that sounded fine to me, but some of the suggestions this learner proceeded to put forward would not have gone down at all well with the devoutly religious members of the class and the community!

Time, then, to bite the bullet and momentarily become a wee bit more of a teacher autocrat.  I decided that we would, indeed, write a Christmas play, but that the writing of this play would be very much managed by me.

I went home and outlined a short and simple, contemporary Christmas story that would hopefully not offend any audience members. Here it is:

A Christmas Story

It was a cold, dark day in December  and the wind was blowing very hard.  Marie and Joe were walking the streets of Lerwick.  Marie was nine months pregnant and very tired. Joe was sad because Marie was furious with him. Again.

Joe and Marie had left their home land and travelled many miles to Shetland. Joe was unemployed, but he had some friends in Shetland who had told him that there was a lot of work there. But when Marie and Joe had got off the boat that morning, the friends were not there. Joe had tried to call them on their mobile phone but there was no answer.

They looked for somewhere to stay the night. But it was difficult. They didn’t have very much money with them.  Finally, Marie got very angry with Joe. Joe told her not to worry. He would go to a hotel and ask if they could stay the night there.

The receptionist of the Shetland Hotel was not happy when Marie and Joe told him they had no money.  But Joe begged him to let them stay, and finally he said they could have a room for the night because it was Christmas.  Joe and Marie promised to be very quiet, and Joe said he would wash the dishes the next day. The receptionist showed them their room (a tiny store room) and told them to be quiet. He didn’t want the boss to find out what he had done.

A minute after Marie and Joe got into their room, Marie felt that the baby was coming. She started to give birth, and Joe had to do what he could to help her.

Meanwhile, Joe’s three friends were looking for him. They had been at a party and forgot the time. They felt really guilty for not meeting their friend at the boat. They walked the streets, looking for their friend. They met a girl dressed in white standing outside Posers. Because she was dressed in white they thought she was an angel. The angel told the three friends that she worked at the Shetland Hotel and that she had seen a man and a pregnant woman asking for a room there. When she described the couple Joe’s three friends were very happy. They quickly went on their way to the Shetland Hotel.

Meanwhile, Joe had to go and ask the receptionist for some hot water. The receptionist was very angry, but got him the hot water. Two minutes later, Joe had to come back and ask for some towels.

The three friends and the “angel” arrived at the Shetland Hotel.  The receptionist was angrier and angrier, but let the three friends go to the room.

Suddenly, there was a chorus of angela singing. The receptionist went to the room and started shouting…but then he saw the baby and his heart melted. It was Christmas Day.

This story was printed out on a piece of paper and I had made a copy for everyone in the class. At the last minute, though, I realised that handing out an A4 piece of paper covered in print would instantly demotivate many in the class: particularly those with reading difficulties. So I quickly cut the story into strips: and gave every learner the first paragraph of the story.

We read the first paragraph and we spoke about how Marie and Joe might be feeling at this point. The learners then worked in pairs improvising what the couple might say to each other at this point in the narrative. Nobody needed to write anything at this point. I monitored the class, jotting down examples of good language and amusing phrases.

As a class we wrote up the first scene on the whiteboard.  Here it is:

Marie and Joe. Very cold, walking the streets. Marie is heavily pregnant. 

M: What are we doing? Where are your friends? You told me your friends were coming to meet us to help you get a job. Where are they?

J: My friends couldn’t come today because they were working and they were busy. Don’t worry, everything will be fine. 

M: Well, you have to get a room for me right now. I need some dinner, some food, and a hot cup of tea!  GGrrr!

We continued in this way until we had written the whole play. I would give the learners the next installment of the play, we would briefly discuss it, they would act it out and after we would write the next scene. I was delighted at how smoothly this went: their was very little disagreement and a lot of good humour. Although I usually prefer story ideas to come from the learners, I did find this a time effective way of teaching writing, which had the added bonus of providing support to those who need additional help in reading and writing.

Ten minutes before the end of the class, we read through the whole play, discussed casting and parts of the play which needed tweaking. The learners seemed really proud of what they had produced: now we have to crack on with the rehearsals!

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