Teaching Winnie The Pooh By A. A. Milne In The Foreign Language Classroom
Teaching literature in classroom
During second language acquisition, there are many internal and external factors which influence language learners. Among them, there are two which play fundamental roles in second language acquisition: input and interaction. Before you start talking and writing in a foreign language, your brain needs to be exposed to the right amount of correct sentences in that language. Teaching literature in the classrooms is one way to give the right amount of input. As a teacher-in-training, I should properly learn how to provide meaningful and useful literature class to my future students. It is not easy because there are several conditions to be applied, but if I want to be a good teacher I must learn them by heart and I must learn from my failures, too.
How should we teach literature?
When we teach literature, we should not forget about the three steps of a reading task: pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading tasks. Pre-reading is very important to set a context, activate the students’ background knowledge, make students interested in the topic and make it relevant for them. While-reading activities are used in the classroom to make the students look for the gist or specific information and examine the text closely. This takes most of the time out of the three. Last, but not least the post-reading activities are related to the text, but it can facilitate imagination and let the students do something in connection with the main topic of the class. A post-reading activity closes the lesson down and gives a frame to it.
“A philosophy of language teaching which incorporates examples of texts of any kind that demonstrate how language works within the rules and beyond the rules will expose learners to the representational possibilities of all language”. According to Brumfit and Carter’s practical criticism has two presumptions. The first one is that a literary text is made out of language, so the emphasis is on linguistic utterances and patterns. Secondly, the text’s effect on the mind and emotions is also worth to be analyzed.
Michael N. Long said that the reading skills do not develop the students’ relationship with the text because teachers focus on accuracy over fluency and there is no methodology to use literature in foreign language teaching. The reason is very simple: students do not have energy to respond to the literary work as they are busy understanding the text. Instead of these, literature teaching should encourage responses to the currently discussed text.
The students’ responses can refer to a first-hand and a second-hand response. In a second language class the practice of telling back the interpretation of the teacher (which is the second-hand response) was common, but students should not be asked to form or repeat criticism (which is the interrogation of a literary form in details from a professional) rather to voice their response to the text. During those years, literature teaching was about structures and formulas rather than understanding, also the separation of literature and linguistic studies reduced the efficiency of language teaching, the language classrooms are rather linguistic and literature is not used. Let me point out a few words about the usual texts used in class: they are practical, there is no information gap, they are not interesting or motivating and there is definitely no aesthetic reason behind them. There is no response by the learner, it is rather imitation of patterns. The good news is that we can master a foreign language by copying the method used in our mother tongue: getting as many language input as we can. It means that we should teach literature as a way of providing students native input which is not directed and structured to language learning. Although, the input can come from referential texts it does not make any difference if we use the representational language of literary works and put some elements of understanding and interpretation to our classroom. This way we encourage responses of the students.
The more input we gain the more chance we get for speaking another language faster, safer, and more effectively and accurately. When I designed my lesson plan, I intended to keep these points in mind as well as to create a unified and entertaining lesson to the second language learners of foreign language my classroom.
For my micro-teaching, I would like to use a short story because its reading is more convenient so I can save some time with it. After a quick research, I picked a chapter from House at the Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne. Why is it a good choice of text? It is still popular nowadays and it is a good motivation to learn a new language. The cause is simple: it can give safety to students because they are already familiar with it. Also, the teacher can choose from a wide range of topics e.g. friendship or adventures. The texts use easily comprehensible language, so it can be used in all level. There are a lot of adventurous and interesting episodes which help to identify different topics. This chosen chapter is about Tigger’s arrival and how can he find his place in the Forest. The chapter is not so hard to understand; therefore, I chose this particular one. I designed my lesson plan to fit for 10-12-year-old students in an A2-B1 level. As the topic of the class I try to set the theme to be helpful for discussing the text itself. The aims of the lesson are to get familiar with a literary text, to develop speaking, listening and reading skills, to increase critical thinking and to make students practice some grammatical structures they have already been familiar with.
As the first step of my lesson I give students the text to read at home in advance. Then they have to create a reader’s journal as well because it helps the progression of the classwork. I start my lead-in with questions which are for introducing the topic: What animals do you like the most? What do you feel about a bear? What do you think when you hear the word ‘tiger’? What would you do if you found a tiger in your garden? etc. After that contextualized lead-in I ask whether can anybody recognize the picture on the PPT (it is a picture about Hundred Acre Wood). Then I ask whether they have some background knowledge about this place and its residents.
In the while-reading section I distribute the text and a handout. Firstly, the students have to read the chapter again. Then the following task is the analysis of text based on the questions in the handout. These questions are about the characters, the setting and the theme. In the first section I ask low-order questions because they create an involvement with the text (When did Tigger arrive? Was Pooh pleased to see him? How do you know? Where did Tigger sleep? What was Tigger doing when Pooh woke up? What did Pooh give Tigger for breakfast?). After that the following task is a pair work. In this task, the students have to imagine that Pooh and Christopher Robin have a conversation and create a dialogue about Tigger’s arrival. It is a useful task because students not just build a dialogue, but they can differentiate between literary and non-literary text. The next section is a discussion in groups. The students have to discuss the following question in groups: What would you do if somebody knocked at your door in the middle of the night? In this type of task students can express their own opinion about the text and also can practice the way of the oral production. To develop the listening skills, too I show a video (with subtitles) about the same extract and compare it with the text itself.
In the end of my class, I give them a homework, where they have to pick a character from the text and introduce their choice as their new friend. The aim of this task would be to increase students’ creativity and to develop writing skills, too.
Winnie the Pooh is a fairy tale, which is very obvious and simple: an adult tells a story in the evenings to a little boy around the age of five. At this age, the child likes the stories about himself and his narrow environment. That is why the writer chooses the little boy as a hero of the tales. Although the episodes are centred on Pooh, the reader feels that the characters express the imagination and emotion of Christopher Robin. The nature of the frame is that sometimes the storyteller and the little boy engage in dialogue with each other and evaluate the events on the go and give a motif to the next story. Each chapter is a short story and only connected to each other by the characters and locations. In each of the episodes different situations from childhood appear. There are some which based on real events and there are also imagined ones by the child. Real situation e.g. stumbling, miscarriage, searching for something, hospitality and giving. Planned situation e.g. the flight of the balloon, the trapping of the elephant and the flood surrounds of our heroes. Each chapter is structured in the following way: exposition, conflict, rising action, climax and the solution. This is the oldest and most common fairy tale structure.
Christopher Robin and his friends do not live in an abstract, timeless world. The place is indirectly revealed in different episodes: the everyday life of the 1920s. We can also conclude that Christopher Robin does not have a sibling, and Pooh is the one who plays this role in his life. Christopher also has some parental responsibility and care for his animals, so he actually accepts the imitating role-play that characterizes his age, and approves his parent-child relationship. The story shows the little boy’s mentality and self-esteem: the conflicts and difficult situations in the fairy tale can only be solved by Christopher. In the eyes of the plush animals, the human child is the oracle: they expect wise advice, guidance, help, praise, everything the child would expect from an adult. One of the greatest desires of a five-year-old child is to feel safe. This desire is at the heart of almost every scene. In life, in most cases, the adults are the safety giver, so children turn to the stronger and smarter adults; for the animals, Christopher embodies this role.
All characters – except Christopher – are plush animals but they think, speak, behave like four-year-old kids. The character who gives the title to the story is Pooh. He is the most well-presented character and he is involved in every adventure. He is a kind, lovable creature due to his personality: originally a teddy bear who acts like a human child. He and his friends often think that he is a little bit foolish but occasionally he has the clever idea which can solve the problem. He is also a talented poet and the readers can find his poems in the episodes which make them more colourful. All of the characters are different persons so they all have different motivations, life tasks and problems. However, if there is a difficult situation or when they are in trouble, they need help from each other and obviously they can rely on each other, too.
From all of the animal characters, only Kanga is the one who has adult human qualities. She embodies motherly love and care in the work. She is more clever and humorous than the rest of the characters. Her child is at the center of her attention. Christopher Robin is the character between the plush animals and the adult story teller and connects the Hundred Acre Wood’s world with the real world. He only has a relationship with the story-teller. When it comes to animal clumsiness and flaws, the narrator interacts with Christopher Robin, realizing what is wrong and what is the right decision. Therefore, the episodes have educational intentions, but they are not explicit. In the behaviour of Christopher Robin, we can observe the stage of the development of childhood personality when his logical thinking started to appear. The episodes provide and show the progress, how the child can learn the mechanism of thinking.
Winnie the Pooh is a great literary experience for both adults and children. As an adult, we can discover different values in the work with our “adult” thinking, due to the experience that we have gained over the years. While a child unknowingly seeks out and finds him or herself in reading and listening to the work. Adults are consciously seeking the human equivalent of the characters of the animal figures. They also unintentionally identify themselves with a character, and they find the characters’ personality suitable for their friends and acquaintances. What is great in this children’s book is that the recognized flaws are making you smile. Because the “silliness” is so nice that their negative effect disappear almost entirely. Winnie the Pooh bears the message that we have to accept each other without prejudice and the secret of coexistence is tolerance. We can highlight human’s faults in a constructive way, and if all this is accompanied by love and kindness, we can improve them without hurting each other. In the books and also in the cartoon there are no aggressive manifestations this might be the reason why they are so popular nowadays. The story presents the friendliest company ever. Adults and children find their foolishness and mindset, too. Winnie the Pooh is unconditionally recommended for all children and adults.
All in all, I still have to learn a lot about teaching, how to construct a lesson, how to make meaningful and interesting tasks, how to make tasks that are at the right level for the students and I should not forget that time management is also a crucial point while planning a lesson, because learners might not work as fast as I expect them. Teaching literature is something beautiful but challenging, however it is not a good enough reason to neglect it, as many teachers do. Literature is not only for professional language speakers, but there are also texts for all levels. In my teaching, I try to focus on not just teaching the given literary text, but also make my students enjoy the text itself. In my opinion when we teach literature not only the useful exercises are important, but to let students explore the beauty of the short story itself. There is a long way ahead, but with practice, I feel, I can develop my skills to teach literature for students in real situations.
- Brumfit, Christopher, and Ronald Carter, edited by Literature and Language Teaching. Oxford University, 1986.
- Long, Michael N. “A Feeling for Language: The Multiple Values of Teaching Literature.” Literature and Language Teaching. edited by C.J. Brumfit and Ronald Carter, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986, 42-58.
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