The Treasure: working with short stories in middle school classes

From the drafts folder.

I want to share some of the activities my classes did last fall around a short story called ‘The Treasure’. 

This is the gist of the story:

Isaac is an elderly Eastern European man. He is poor and doesn’t always get enough to eat. He has a dream which prompts him to travel – to the capital city – in order to find his treasure. In the capital city, Isaac meets his foil – a captain of the guard with a comfortable life, who also had a dream. The captain dreamed that he would find treasure under the stove in the house of a man called ‘Isaac’.

This is the background of the classes who used the story:

I shared this story with two classes of 16 year olds. Their levels are elementary, they don’t interact with any English at all (including homework) outside of class, and they are not super motivated. I’d been working with them for two years and slowly they have made progress. It is always challenging to find things that will motivate them and give them reasons to use English. This story kept both groups engaged enough to build a whole unit around it.

The two classes were very different in their make-up. One was a group of 6 boys who loved sports and video games, and didn’t see the value of  English at all. The other was a mixed group of 4 girls and 7 boys who had more varied interests and were sometimes responsive to activities within their ability level. I chose The Treasure because it was easy and repetitive but not childish, and it didn’t need any adaptation. (And I have to admit, I was hoping to make only one set of lesson plans for these two groups.)

Listening Dictations:

Group 1: I introduced the story at first as a listening exercise. I showed them the cover and told them about the story, and then I read it to them. I didn’t let them see the pictures. I read it a second time and the first class took dictation. They compared their notes, corrected each other, and finally asked me questions they still had.

Group 2: I divided them into teams and each team took dictation on a different part of the story while they all listened. The teams compared notes, corrected each other, and asked me their remaining questions. That took us to the end of the class period.

Reflection: I changed the activity for group 2 because group 1 had found it frustrating to take dictation on such a long story. The second way worked better, but in the future I’d give groups that are not writing a different task – like to draw or take notes.

2016-03-25 03.55.39

Listen (or read) and draw:

Group 1:  I divided the first class into pairs. I gave them each a segment of the story and asked them to draw it as a comic strip. They completed their comic strips and presented them to the class as a way to retell their part of the story and put it all back together.

Group 2: I asked each team to draw a picture of their own segment of the story without reading it to them again.  They drew pictures and explained them to their classmates. Then I asked them to write three questions about their own part of the story to quiz their classmates. They exchanged questions with their classmates and answered them.

Reflection: I read the story again to the first group, but decided not to with the second. I wish I had had both groups read the story themselves. The comic strips took longer, but worked better as a review of parts of the story than the individual images. But I liked the time left over for questions that the students asked each other.

2016-03-25 03.48.36

Golden Bell review game and character interviews:

Group 1: We used the questions the second class wrote in the previous week to play Golden Bell (A game show where students write their answers on mini white boards. Correct answers win points.) with the first class.  Then they wrote five questions for the other class to answer in a similar game.

Group 2: The second group started with the Golden Bell review game. In the remaining class time, I divided them into new teams. They chose roles, brainstormed questions, and recorded interviews with the characters in the story.

Reflection: Both groups enjoyed playing Golden Bell with questions another class had made for them. Telling group 1 how their questions would be used made them focus a lot more on accuracy, and their questions provided a good review of the story (for both groups). The extension activity for group 2 ended up being pretty surface level. I wish I had encouraged them to go deeper.

2016-03-25 03.56.09

Some more thoughts:

The two classes both liked the story and liked working with it, but their level and pace turned out to be quite different and I still had to plan separately for them in the end.

The groups made a lot of the materials for the classes themselves. I had to do it that way because I didn’t have time or energy to do it all for them. I think it was good for them, though.

Giving them a purpose and audience for their activities made the first group focus more on accuracy.

The drawing is something I wish I had included more in lessons with both these groups. They have a lot interest in drawing and showing off their art and I could have exploited that more. I’d had a belief about art in English class that stopped me.

This unit made me realize that I had been confusing ‘willingness’ with ‘ability’ in both of these classes. It raised my standards for them.

Some post-CELTA thoughts:

I taught this class last year when I was too tired to plan much and before I had taken the CELTA course. Looking at this through post-CELTA eyes, I can see that I would now order the activities differently. I would also structure the classes a little differently. I kept too much information from the students, forgetting the aims of the lessons. I didn’t always even have explicit aims for the classes. Activities that might work well next time with this text: a jigsaw reading activity; a dictagloss; write/draw/present a new page of the story; discuss/ present your thoughts on the deeper meaning of the story.

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  • Hana Tichá  On March 25, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Hi, Anne! Thanks for this post. I think it’s great if you can each two groups of the same level and use the same material. The truth is, however, that although you use the same material, the lessons usually turn out to be completely different. This can sometimes be almost frustrating, but it’s a great lesson for the teacher (metaphorically speaking).

    I like the way you kept adapting your approaches ad methods based on your previous experience. I also appreciate the fact that you included some post-CELTA thoughts at the end of the post. By the way, this is my favorite story – I think it’s similar to The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, isn’t it?

    • livinglearning  On March 25, 2016 at 10:25 pm

      Hi, Hana! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.
      What you say is true in my experience: every class always turns out different because the people involved are different!
      I love this story, too. And it does remind me a bit of The Alchemist. I’ve actually brought it with me on my travels. I suspect it will find a good home soon, though.
      All the best,

  • HL  On March 28, 2016 at 3:43 am

    Thanks Anne, I really enjoyed this. I have little experience with elementary classes and am always impressed by what Ts do with them! It made me think of this call for creative writing papers I’ve literally just seen via Twitter…

    • livinglearning  On March 29, 2016 at 1:11 am

      Dear Helen,
      Thank you for your comments. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Elementary level teens have been my most challenging groups of students, but it can be really rewarding when I find things that work with them.
      Thank you also for the link. I will check that out.
      p.s. I didn’t realize you had a blog, but I’m a follower now!


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