A few days ago I watched this video of Scott Thornbury in response to the question: “What do you mean by ‘unpacking a text’?”
He said a text has many layers, like onions. Teachers should unpeel the onion to get students’ engagement. Coursebooks usually don’t do it (so true!).
The same week I was going to introduce my 12-year old students (CEFR A1-A2) to English literature. A quite tough work, especially because I decided to only use authentic texts.
Since they love fantasy novels, I started with “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis.
My “onion” was the Introduction to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
That’s the way I’ve “unpacked” it.
I first read the text twice and answered general vocabulary questions, mainly giving students synonyms rather than a translation into their L1.
- Analysing the surface
I put three questions on the board, I did this activity as pair work:
1. What kind of text is this?
2. What’s the purpose of the text?
3. What’s the relationship between the reader and the writer?
- It was quite clear it was a letter, or kind of, written a long time ago.
- The purpose of the text is to introduce a story.
- As for the relationship, here it is clearly stated at the end of the text, the writer is positioning him as the Godfather.
Many other questions came up at this point: who is Lucy? what story is he talking about? when did he write this?
We were easily moving to the next step
- Analysing the schema of the narrative
To get further into the text I used multiple choice questions.
- Lewis wrote the story but Lucy didn’t like it.
- Lewis published the story when Lucy was too old.
Are fairy tales only for young people?
At this point I highlighted meaningful sentences to lead them to the correct answer.
- Analysing some language features
There are many language features to analyse here. I focused on the past simple (regular and irregular) and the use of adverbs.
There are also:
- adjectives to describe people and feelings
- expressions of modality
Having noticed all this students got quite curious about what’s next. What kind of book did Lewis write to Lucy? Why?
- Follow up
Once they have knowledge of the text they can move to other kinds of skills work. Interesting writing activities could be:
- Write your own introduction to a story you liked.
- Imagine you are Lucy, write your letter back to your Godfather to thank him.
Next step: Chapter One – Lucy looks into the wardrobe