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Making BritLit Kits

Making BritLit Kits A Brief Guide 1. Choosing the text When choosing a text - a story or poem to work on, obviously the first question to ask is 'Who is it for?' Principally you will need to think about • age group • interests • your own agenda • demands of the curriculum The age and the interests of the group are obviously part and parcel of the same thing, but there is often a big mismatch between the reading age of your students and their interest level when viewed against available literature. Most texts are written with native speakers in mind and are appropriate for an equal reading age and interest level for first language speakers, but not for second language speakers. For example, Michelle Paver's Wolf Brother makes a great read for a ten or eleven year old and is accessible to a good reader for that age group, but to a language learner of the same age it would probably prove too difficult, even though the interest level is the same. However - and this is a big however - young readers are capable of far more than many teachers give them credit for, especially if their interest level is high. What motivation is there for reading? If it is high enough then many obstacles will be overcome. Ambitious, curious readers always read higher than their supposed level, even in their first language. Publishers tend to publish books in age/interest categories. This annoys many authors, but can be useful for the teacher. One way through the wealth of material on offer is to use the Reading Agencies website, where they offer a 'find a read' section. Above all, read the story or poem yourself. If you aren't enthused, then you won't be able to transmit enthusiasm to the students. If the theme of the book is stimulating and lively for the age of the reader you are considering then carry out a quick scan of lexis (are their unusual verbs, lots of adjectives?) a check to see that grammatical constructions aren't too complicated, and that there aren’t too many obscure cultural references, believe that, if stimulated, your students will read texts more difficult than you might imagine – and you are ready to make a choice! The length of the text is important. Sometimes, but not too often, we can take chapters out of a novel if they are complete narratives on their own, and don't leave too many loose end and annoying questions that relate to previous or later chapters. Many of Melvin Burgess's novels, for example, come in chapters which are uniquely the view of one of the characters in the story and are thus frequently self contained stories. However, the best choice will always be a short story - something designed to be read as you intend to use it. But there are short stories and there are short stories, and while some are very short indeed - 500 words or even less - others

are pretty long - 5000 words or more. You will know instinctively by the number of pages as to whether it is suitable in length, but a guide would be somewhere between 500 words and 2000 words, which is approximately 2 to 8 pages of a normal sized, medium font paperback. This seems such an obvious thing to say, but I'll say it anyway: check the language! Yes, of course it will be in English, but what English? Is it contemporary or is it an earlier style of English? If earlier, does it contain lexis that is in contemporary use or will the student need to wade through lots of vocabulary that they might never encounter again? If the story is written in contemporary English, check that it is not full of jargon and contemporary slang which makes it difficult to read and could soon be out of date. Often, stories that have a lot of dialogue are easier to read than texts with lots of descriptive prose, but check the dialogue because this is where you will most likely find oddities of speech (slang, abbreviations, references lacking context, for example). If you are thinking of preparing materials as part of the BritLit project, then the text must be by a living author who has a direct connection with the UK. Finally, think about how you are going to use the piece. Even if it is only for your class and for no one else then copyright laws still apply. There is a rule of thumb that you can use up to 10% of a work for academic purposes (this is covered under 'fair use' of copyright materials) but does that apply to short stories? Some people would argue that 10% of a collection of short stories would cover them, but short stories are usually covered individually by their own copyright, so each short story in a collection would be considered as a complete work, so you should only use 10% of the short story! The same applies to poetry: each poem is a unique and complete piece of work. However, most publishers and author's agents are only too happy to let individual schools and colleges use an author's or a poet's work, as long as you ask beforehand. Keep copies of correspondence; a 'paper trail' is essential in case the copyright police come knocking at your door! If you plan to write a 'kit' for the BritLit project, then this will be sorted out by the BritLit team, but try and check that it is possible with the author or their publisher you have chosen before you start work.

2. Pre-reading Activities

The most important part of the classroom activities is the prereading section. Students should never be given a text to read without preparation. The purpose of the pre-reading section is not simply to run through a series of ‘think about reading’ activities as is so frequently the case, but to allow the students to engage with the narrative of the story before they read it. Reading is a creative act and the preparation for it should also be creative and proactive. The basic principle is to give the student space to create their own story (individually or in groups) by using some elements from the story that they have yet to read. They are not aiming to give polished versions of a tale (or a poem) of their own, and they should not be asked to write their stories down. Ideally, small groups will devise the basic outline of their own story, using elements from the ‘target’ story that you have supplied, and tell their story to the rest of the class. So, the first things to remember are: o o o o o o

do not give the ‘target’ story to the students to read until they have created their own story. remember that reading is a creative not a passive act allow space for students to create their own stories based on fragments of the ‘target’ story, individually or in small groups do not ask students to write their stories, though they might want to make notes encourage students to tell their stories (collectively?) to the rest of the class encourage students to further develop their own stories if they are enthused about their own ideas

All well and good, but how do we do this? Luckily a number of tried and tested methods for creating effective and creative pre-reading activities. Here are three:

1. Predictive questions Some might find this activity a little counter-intuitive to begin with, but persevere if this is the case for it possibly the most effective pre-reading activity in existence. The idea is to ask a series of questions about the story which they students have not yet read. The answers to the questions lie in their imaginations, which will be fuelled by their innate knowledge of how stories work, with protagonists working towards a resolution. The questions are drawn from the ‘target’ story and should appear in the same order as they would in the target story – this gives the activity a shape and the resultant story, the one which emerges by applying imagination to answering the questions, will follow the same narrative journey as the ‘target’ story. It is recommended that a maximum of ten questions are asked. This activity works well in small groups and is especially useful for very short stories.

As an example, look at these questions from a story you (probably) haven’t read, though it might appear very familiar: 1. What did the king say to the poor man who wanted to marry his daughter? 2. What did the poor man agree to do? 3. What did the princess think of all this? 4. Where did the poor man go? 5. What did he do? 6. What did he find? 7. What happened next? 8. What did the king say? 9. What did the princess say? To check the story this was based on, go to this link.

2. Chunking ‘Chunking’ is where sections – or chunks – of the text are extracted from the original and the students are asked to make predictions about how they are connected, or what happened before, or what happened next. It is particularly useful for longer texts, or where you want to find a creative way to pre-teach certain vocabulary or some cultural reference. Be sure not to make the chunks too long (a paragraph, or a short dialogue is usually enough) and not too many of them: four is frequently the maximum before the activity starts to look like a reading exercise rather than a creative story telling exercise. The idea is that having looked at the chunks, the students (individually or in groups) can work out their own version of the story. For this reason it is best never to use the final paragraphs of a story, to keep it open ended. An added advantage is that the student will find they will have a series of familiar ‘stepping stones’ when they tackle the full text – especially useful for hesitant readers. The following example shows a mixture of ‘chunking’ and ‘predictive questions’:

During the early years of his life, Calum McCall was surprised to find himself waking up every morning in a winter country of darkened tenements, black railings and streets of pitiless traffic. He wanted to know what had happened to all the colours he had known as a small child. Every so often he tried asking his parents: 'What has happened to the multicoloured suns that used to bounce across the sky, and to the colours that trailed after like rain?'

Answer these questions (without reading the rest of the text!) 1. What do you think his parents said to him in reply to his question? 2. What event when he was a young man caused the colours to temporarily come back? 3. What was his reaction to his own son looking with pleasure at the sky? 4. Why did the doctor prescribe him multi-coloured pills?

To read the story this is based on, go here.

3. Non-verbal prompts Using pictures (stills or video) or audio prompts are a powerful way of creating the stimulus for creating stories. Most stories can be suggested by visual prompts, though it is a good idea to focus on the background or the scenery if possible so that vivid narratives can be built on top. In other words, avoid trying to portray characters in any depth (using silhouettes, for example, is better than using figures which have clear features). On the other hand, stylised pictures can be used as these have often achieved a neutral aspect – for example, in the story featured in 1. Predictive stories , Disney-type kings and princesses might be used. Using audio takes longer to prepare but is a highly effective way of creating a very open story building activity. Sound effects strung together can create a highly suggestive narrative line upon which imagined action and dialogue can be easily built. Mixing pictures and audio is extremely powerful. An example is given here (using music): and the same idea but using sound effects is linked here . The story on which these were based can be found here.

3. Presenting the Text The obvious way to present the text, after the prereading activities, is the printed page. Obviously you will have gained permission to be able to do this from the copyright holders first. Depending on the length of the text, you might wish to interpose with questions during the reading of the text, something which Rob Pope called 'Textual Intervention'. During longer texts (1000 words and over) it can act as a breathing space for those readers who read slowly or reluctantly, and can a point at which the creative reading elements can be further explored. Any point of interest can be focused (e.g. what were the protagonists wearing? why is X so bad tempered? etc) and it is a useful exercise to get students to talk about related context that isn't mentioned in the text (e.g. what did Y do after she left the room? what was the dog asleep on the rug dreaming about? etc). Obviously it is a good chance to predict what happens next. How is this managed? It might be that your group prefer silent reading, at their own pace. In this case copy out the story/poems in the sections you have chosen to break it into. Otherwise reading aloud, or listening to the author reading aloud (BritLit has collected many of these) while the text is followed by the students. Do not, however, ask the students to read aloud as this will distort their experience of reading and they will only be aware of the bit of the text that they, with beating heart and an elevated level of adrenalin, read aloud. It is a different matter, of course, if there is a willing volunteer. The use of audio, where someone other than the teacher reads the text, is a valuable tool, especially so if the reader is the author. Some teachers prefer to record themselves reading the story or poem and play that, leaving them free to monitor the activity however be warned that this loses the spontaneity that a 'live performance' might bring.

Another way of presenting the text is to use audio plus visuals, perhaps combined as a simple flash movie. This has the advantage of providing visual clues to the words. There are a few of these flash movies available (for example the story of Calum McCall (see Chunking) which you can find here. ) On the other hand it is a simple matter to make your own. Simple, but time consuming, so be warned that you'll need a few hours to prepare a four or five minute story. Note also that some stories are presented to be read on-line. These are usually the kind of stories which have been adapted to basic hyperfiction treatment - that is, where, at key moments in the story when choices are made, the reader can explore alternative directions that the story could take. You can find an example of this kind of story here:

4. Follow up activities Follow up activities are an opportunity to develop links that the story or poem has with the general school curriculum, or the course book. Course book themes are usually very general and very predictable, and there are few stories or poems that can't be linked to some theme within the curriculum. It is useful, therefore, to make the links broad and general too. For example, in the BritLit story 'The Return of the Moonman', a fanciful tale of an autocratic and technophobic Welsh farmer who finds a space ship has landed in his fields, the follow up and extension activities developed included an activity on character types (the autocratic farmer), the machine-hating luddite movement, alternative energy (Wales is the centre of study for this in the UK) and a brief look at the Welsh language. Follow this link. There is an opportunity to explore some grammar features used in the text. Unlike text books which usually manage to create very artificial contexts for exploring grammar, narratives, in particular, provide very real contexts for grammar use and thus give an opportunity to revise some aspects of the language in use. Beware, though, that this is less likely with poetry, which frequently has its own special relationship to the way that words are put together. Follow up activities also provide a useful point to close the topic through some kind of summary. Again this is best done by exploring creative options such as designing a book jacket for the story or writing the next chapter or interviewing one of the characters.

5. Points to Bear in Mind Key or Teachers’ Notes Here a clear index of answers should be provided, plus a number of suggestions to the teacher on how they can get the best out of the material provided. This may take the form of suggesting ways in which the material can be adapted or presented. The subjective nature of many answers when dealing with literature as a text should be emphasised in phrases such as ‘possible answers might include….’

Subjective focus The materials should offer as much opportunity as possible for the student to relate their own experiences to those being explored and, especially, those developed in the text. Eliciting personal responses, feelings and reactions is as important as encouraging accuracy and fluency. Understanding how the students might place themselves within the subject matter is therefore of prime importance.

Cross-curriculum Explore the opportunities for multi-discipline learning that literature often presents, whenever possible. Science, technology and social studies are frequent visitors to the pages of stories. Adapting the story material to other forms (e.g. stage plays, radio dramas, visual arts) will also offer a variety of opportunities.

Cross-cultural While most British stories will naturally lead to some references to British culture, either explicit or implicit, it is important to make sure that the similarities or differences with the students own culture is explored as fully as possible. Some aspects, such as food or weather, are easily dealt with others, such as relationships, families and customs may require some detailed research.

Mixed-level responses Much of the original BritLit material was designed with mixed ability 15/16 year olds in mind and as such has a large number of exercises which require responses that may suit the differing abilities of the students. Right and wrong answers are avoided in many cases, and speculation and freedom to express students own thoughts and feelings (which can never be wrong, if offered honestly) are at a premium. For this reason discussion instead of Questions and Answers should be the preferred options.

Copyright All sources must respect intellectual property rights, and permission must be given in writing. British Council staff can help with this important aspect of the work.

6. Style conventions Branding To identify with the BritLit branding image, the logo and the details of the layout (below) should be copied. The logo is a British Council approved sub-brand and can be used with British Council logos by British Council offices. Material being produced for the Teaching English website must contain both the British Council logo and the BritLit logo on each page of each worksheet (except the text, which should have no logos). Non British Council offices and organisations can use the logo as long as acknowledgement of the source is given. An electronic version of the logo available from

Details of Layout To conform to a standardised layout, the following basics should be noted: The principle font used text is Arial Western.

Title Headings are in Arial point 22, normal Main Section Headings are point 22, bold Worksheet headings are point 18, bold Subsections are in point 14, bold Introductory text is in point 11, bold Main text is point 11, or point 10.

Text quotations are in point 10, set in a Text Box which has no borders and a 15% grey background (RGB 221,221,221)


Genie-us Pre-reading Story Building Look at the first sentence from the story ‘Genie-us’ If you want to marry my daughter,' said the king, 'you must prove yourself worthy of her hand.’

1. Who do you think the king is talking to? What other characters might there be in the story? 2. What kind of story do you think this is going to be? A spy story A love story A fairy story A detective story A science fiction story A true story Why did you choose the one you did?

For other questions please contact E&E, British Council Bridgewater House 58 Whitworth Street Manchester M1 6BB

+44 (0) 161 957 7000 Porto, Portugal 2011

Making BritLit Kits  

A brief guide on choosing texts, preparing and presenting materiuals for inclusion in the BritLit project

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