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Starting from scratch by Philip David Grey, Bjørkelangen vgs

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communication, and after three months I observed that my pupils, some of whom could only count to three and say Big Mac in English at the beginning of the course, were able to communicate better than I could in French after enduring five years of the grammar-translation method at school. Although I used a whole host of props, by Christmas I felt that I could probably teach any structure at the beginner grammatical struc gram level using one of my trusty pens: Is this a pen orr a book? ok? TThis pen is the longest; I’m slowlyy puttingg my pe pen on the table; what wass Maria Do Dolores olores doing while I



I began my teaching career twenty-five years ago in Barcelona, where I used the “this is a pen” Inlingua method to teach English to young adult beginners. Using simple props, pictures, a lot of only si the target language, I would miming and th particular language demonstrate a partic structure until my students appeared to have grasped the idea, and then I would encourage them to reproduce it among th themselves. l Fi Fixedd ddrills ill were soon followed by transformations, with the aim always being to reach free practice by the end of the lesson. Rooted firmly in the tradition of the direct method, the focus was unashamedly on oral

was putting my pen on the table? I want to write something so should I use my pen or should I use my book? I found the whole experience invigorating and rewarding. My students learned how to understand and speak English, and I became virtually unbeatable at charades. However, working with beginners is a bit like teaching scales on the piano all the time; you never really get to hear the music. I wanted to be able to discuss the content of a text with my students, rather than ask them to read a dialogue

As he was wheeled out of Howard County General Hospital, John couldn’t help wondering if he was being punished for something. Only a month earlier he couldn’t believe his luck. He’d won just enough money to buy a used 360 Modena, F-1 Spider. He’d always dreamed of owning a red Ferrari. Within a week of scratching the lottery ticket he was sitting behind the wheel of his metal monster. He was used to the quiet dirt tracks of his hometown and the big city traffic confused him. He felt like he was being asked a hundred questions, all at the same time. All he remembered about the crash was thinking “Insurance ain’t gonna cover this mess”. In fact the car was insured, but the medical expenses ate everything up. He was broke again, and all he’d gained was a long scar down his left leg.

just to draw their attention to the difference between “stop to smoke” and “stop smoking”. After four years of teaching people that what I was holding in my hand was called a pen in English, I went back to university and studied English literature and spent the next fifteen years teaching at a university in Sweden. Given my background as a TEFL teacher, and the goal of developing students’ skills in literary analysis, I soon found myself searching for the textual equivalent of a pen. I wanted something I could hold up and use to demonstrate how to analyse literature! Having spent yet another unproductive weekend skimming short story collections, I eventually decided to write a text myself. I have used it mostly within teacher education in seminars on how to use literature in the classroom, but I have also used it with my own pupils at Bjørkelangen videregående skole. These days I am practicing in Norway what I preached in Sweden. And so, belatedly, here are the aims of this article: to present a handy little story which you are free to use, modify or completely rewrite; to show how it can be used to introduce learners to key literary concepts; and to demonstrate how this text can be utilized in the often challenging but very important task of differentiating in the classroom. (See the story “Scratch” on page 4.) What follows first is how I use the text to explain and exemplify the key analytical concepts of close reading. Having read the story out loud to them, I ask the pupils to summarise the plot in their own words: “A man buys a lottery ticket, wins lots of money, buys an expensive car, crashes it, gets

hurt and loses all the money he won by paying for his medical expenses”. To do this task successfully learners have to reorganise the story into chronological order, which brings us to the narrative structure. The story begins in medias res, followed by a flashback. At this point it is worth asking where else the story could have started, with scratching the lottery ticket and the car crash being popular suggestions. If the story begins with the car crash it has the classic B-A-C structure, where the reader jumps straight into the action, is told how John arrived at this dramatic point in his life, and finally learns what happened afterwards. In “Scratch” John does not tell his own story. The narrator can access the character’s mind and knows how he was feeling and what he was thinking, so it is third-person omniscient. Again it is worth asking the pupils to reflect on how the story would change if it was written in the first-person. Combined with changing the narrative structure, this is one of the rewriting tasks I suggest below. When I am introducing pupils to literary analysis I make a distinction between character and characterisation. I say the comments about character answer the question: “What is the character like?” There may be references to physical appearance on the one hand, and personality on the other. In “Scratch” we can only comment on the latter. He is poor (“broke again”), he is from a village in the country (“the quiet dirt tracks of his hometown”), he is irresponsible, not a very good driver, and wonders if he has sinned and if some sort of force can punish him for his behaviour. The choice of the very common name John might suggest he is just a regular guy. Comments about characterization, in contrast, answer the question: “How do we know what the character is like?” Does the narrator tell us explicitly what John is like? Does another character tell us? Does John himself tell us? Or do we have to deduce what John is like ourselves? Or is it a combination of these ways, because if so we need to compare, for example, our ideas ©Thinkstock

about what John is like with his own, another character’s or the narrator’s. As with character, I feel it is important in literary analysis to consider two aspects of the setting in a story. Firstly, there might be physical descriptions of locations. There are dirt tracks and a big city, for example. I have also included clues to suggest the United States (the County General Hospital and the “ain’t gonna” thought). Huge medical expenses are also frequently associated with the U.S., and pupils occasionally mention that they have seen people wheeled out of hospitals in American TV programmes and films. In addition, the setting has a “personality”. That is to say, it has a specific culture. So we need to ask which values are dominant among the people who live there. Through John we may perceive some American values, such as dreaming of being rich and owning a materialistic status symbol such as a Ferrari. When we consider the use of language we can identify alliteration (“metal monster”), a simile (“like he was being asked a hundred questions”) and a metaphor (“the medical expenses ate everything up”). The use of contracted forms (couldn’t, he’d) makes the language informal. The adjectives are very simple (quiet, big, long) and there are no adverbs of manner. Asking learners how they could change the tone or voice of the narrative is a very rewarding exercise. How could it be made more humorous, for example, or more poetic? Genre awareness is one of the main communication goals of English studies at the higher levels of the Norwegian school system, so it is important to look closely at how language is, or could be, used in a text. I suggest some genre transformation tasks below, but pupils should be aware of the genre conventions they are expected to adhere to before they embark on such a task. A number of observations can be made about the title. John starts from scratch (he is broke), he scratches the lottery ticket, he returns to scratch when he loses all the money (broke again), and he acquires a long scratch in the form of the scar on his leg.

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When asked to explain what the story


is about pupils frequently respond by saying that it is about winning the lottery, or it is about a car crash. I often have to point out that the writer probably wants to comment on something about life and/or society, and simply uses the lottery and the crash to do this. So some prompting may be required before the themes are identified. Suggestions I have received include “Easy come, easy go”, “Karma”, and “Criticising the American Dream”. It

can be a good idea to see if a character seems to be rewarded or punished in the story, and in the case of “Scratch” this point is straightforward. The writer would appear to be suggesting that John acted irresponsibly when he bought the car.

Lowest level

• Rewrite the story in the firstperson, beginning with the car crash.

• What is the name of the man in the story? (John) • What kind of car does he buy? (a red Ferrari, a used 360 Modena, F-1 Spider) • Did he live in the country or in the city? (the country) • True or False: John buys a secondhand car (true) • Which word in the story means good fortune? (luck) • Which phrase in the story means driving? (sitting behind the wheel of)

Next level • Why can John afford to buy a Ferrari? (he has won the lottery) • Why is he in a wheelchair? (he was in a car crash) • How long was he in hospital? (just over 3 weeks) • Where can we add adverbs to the story? (e.g. slowly/carefully wheeled out, gradually/eventually ate, nervously/excitedly/ disbelievingly scratching) 01 02 03 04 05 06

Next level • How would you describe John? • Do you think he deserved what happened to him? • What would you have done with the money? • Could this story have taken place in Norway?

I have chosen to present the various kinds of tasks that could be assigned in connection with this particular short story in ascending order of difficulty,

Next level • Imagine John writes a diary while he is in hospital in which he philosophises about life. Write his diary, and feel free to add details about his life, family and friends. • Write a tabloid newspaper article about John. Use wordplay in the headline and find a suitable picture to go with the story. Include quotations from people who know John or who have met him recently. • John’s parents have always been disappointed with him. Rewrite the story as it is told by either his mother or his father.

Next level • As in the short story “Scratch”, sitcoms such as The Simpsons must return to the status quo by the end of each episode. Watch Episode 310: Flaming Moe’s at simpsonsepisodes. com and write an essay in which you compare and contrast the rise and fall of John and Moe. • Use “Scratch” to discuss how the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism would explain what happened to John differently because of their different understanding of the notion of karma.

loosely following Bloom’s well-known taxonomy. The aim should be to provide pupils with the opportunity to experience a sense of achievement while at the same time pushing them to develop their English skills. I have not suggested how long the written tasks should be, but I would expect them to increase in length as they become more demanding. The highest level tasks should be options from which pupils select one. As well as differentiating in terms of difficulty it is also possible to customise tasks to meet the interests of your pupils. Ideally you will know the individual interests within a class. Here I offer a few suggestions based on three first-year vocational programmes.

Teknikk og industriell produksjon • Look at all the 360 Modena, F-1 Spiders on eBAY and decide which one is the best deal. Prepare a presentation in which you explain why your choice is the best. • Which car would you buy if you won the lottery? Make a PowerPoint with pictures and take it in turns to explain your choice to a small group. Helse og sosialfag • John has been experiencing stress and anxiety since leaving hospital. Write notes on what you can say to help him. • Write a dialogue between John and a health care worker. Act it out. Media og kommunikasjon • Create a multimedia presentation about road safety based on what happened to John.


With the “this is a pen” method of teaching grammatical structures, it is important to move away from the pen as quickly as possible: this is a door, this is a book, this road is the longest. Similarly, once pupils have grasped the key concepts such as characterization and setting it is important to move to other texts. You start from “Scratch”, but the world of literature is your oyster. Ferrari 360 Modena. ©Thinkstock

Starting from Scratch  

Article about lierary analysis

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