This is a unit I’m currently working on with my high-beginning/low intermediate students. The unit is based around the themes of Herd Mentality and Mob Behavior. At the end of the unit, students will work on an essay that applies the terms to a short story in the unit. The unit reflects a pedagogical shift currently taking place in California which argues that students are far more capable of tackling challenging tasks than we had previously given them credit.
Instead of frontloading language functions and topics, this unit uses the theme and content to get students using the English they already know to complete theme-related activities. As questions arise, we talk about them and work through them, and students learn through the process.
One purpose of this unit, then, is to get students focused on the task at hand and engaged in the content, so they forget that they’re in my class to learn English. I want the language to become the tool they need for the task instead of the activity (worksheet, decontextualized practice, oversimplified activities etc.) being the tool they need to practice the language.
You may look at the reading jigsaw activity in this unit and say it’s too complicated for anything but academic levels. I’ll admit that I was even a bit worried about it before testing it out in my class. However, watching the students work together, talk, question, annotate and share resources to unpack their sections of the reading, I realized that my gut instinct had been right, and my fears had been wrong – more often than not, students are far more capable than we may give them credit. Sure, they didn’t understand everything, but they learned a lot, and that was the point.
Language Skills in Context: There are many ways that you can use this unit to address traditional language topics in the context of the readings. Below are a few ideas:
- Simple Past Tense: After reading the story “The Meeting,” put students into groups and have them mine the text for the past tense verbs. Have each group discuss why they are being used and what patterns they notice. Have each group make a poster explaining the past tense.
- Alternate ending: after reading the story “The Meeting” have students work in groups to write an alternate ending. Have them read their story to the class and then explain why they chose to rewrite the story the way they did. This will get them to use the past tense and also think about the themes of the unit.
- Skit: Have students work in groups to prepare a skit in which Jaimie, the main character in the story “The Meeting,” meets “them.” Students will be practicing their speaking skills, but will also have to think about the meaning and themes of the story and imagine how such a meeting would go.