Monday, 30 March 2009

Fabulous Freebies

Going through my e-mail this morning I stumbled upon a notice about Itunes U. Judging from the amount of material there, I guess it must have been around for a while, but I believe it is new in the Norwegian version of Itunes. This addition to the store offers a great variety of educational podcasts and short films. FOR FREE! There is a large number of topics to choose from and after briefly browsing through it I am pretty sure this may just be a goldmine for me when searching for material on history, social science and literature. A lot of the lectures and other material here is from universities, which means some of it will prove too advanced for my students. However, I did find a number of useful items as well. For example, I found a lecture by Barbara Welke, "US History: 1865 to the present." The lecture only takes a tiny half hour, which seems short for such a huge topic. At the same time, I think it can give students a fairly good introduction to American history. You will also find a lot of material on American politics and there are podcasts of speeches held by Martin Luther King, Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson, among others. Explore and enjoy!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Britishness and multiculturalism

The topic in our English class this week will be British culture. Today, curry is as British as football, Agatha Christie and Queen Elizabeth II. Still, when Norwegians travel to London most of us spend more time on Oxford street than on Brick lane or Brixton market. In class we will take some time to reflect upon what we think of as typically British. Afterwards I will give a short presentation about immigration to Britain and finally the students will work in groups and make short presentations about Britain as a multicultural society. My colleague Liv Kristin made this lesson plan: What does it mean to be British? and my presentation is available on slideshare. In order to introduce our students to the topic we watched the film East is east last week. Take a look at what LK wrote about the film here.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The conflict in Northern Ireland

This week in my English class we are going to have a look at the conflict in Northern Ireland. Recent headlines from Ulster are a tragic reminder of The Troubles of the 70s and 80s. However, a vast majority of the population of Northern Ireland seem to agree that they have had enough and that a few extremists won't be able to undo the enourmous steps taken towards peace in the last ten-fifteen years. In our lesson U2's "Bloody Sunday" is going to lead up to a short lecture on the historical background of the conflict. Afterwards we will have a look at the current events and the reactions to these, and finally we are going to read Liam O' Flaherty's gripping short story "The Sniper" from the Irish Civil War. Have a look at my lesson plan here. You can also have a look at the slides I plan to use in my presentation below. The presentation is available on slideshare. There are a number of good films about various aspects of the conflict, for example:

Friday, 13 March 2009

Monsoon Wedding

Once again I go on about films, but the weekend is coming up, isn't it? I am among those who haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing the Indian film of the moment, Slumdog Millionaire, but I hope to get around to it very soon. With the new curriculum plans from 2006, the English subject here in Norway has widened its focus area and it now to a much greater degree than before includes studying the societies and cultures of non-western English-speaking countries, like for example India. One of the complex and interesting aspects of Indian culture that we have discussed in class is the tradition of arranged marriage. A number of films and texts view this issue from a western perspecitve and describe arranged marriages as oppressive. I personally have not been raised to question such accounts to a great degree. However, I do think it is interesting to show the pupils a different story, and Mira Nair's film Monsoon Wedding is perfect for this. It gives an account of the arranged wedding between two young people in modern India and it certainly sheds a different light on this tradition than what I and most of my pupils are used to. You can find study questions about the film here. The scene above gives you an impression of the wonderful atmosphere of the film.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I have just finished reading The Curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon and I absolutely loved it. My colleague Liv Kristin suggested we read this novel in our English classes (Norwegian upper secondary year 1, age 16) this year and I am really glad she did. The novel is fairly short (quite a few pages, but the pages are not dense with text) and the language is very simple. At the same time, the issues raised in the text are interesting and the novel can certainly teach us something about how we treat fellow human beings who are not exactly the way we are. In this respect, I hope the novel can be a challenge to our pupils. The advantage is that they are not discouraged by complicated sentences and difficult vocabulary. Instead, they can concentrate on the content. This gives us the opportunity to read the novel thoroughly and focus on the details. One interesting aspect of the book is the way everything and everyone is seen through the eyes of Christopher, who has Asberger's Syndrome. "He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings", as it says on the cover of the novel. Therefore, the reader has to constantly interpret Christopher's accounts of everything that happens in light of his unusual perspective on things. I have made this google document for pupils to fill in when they analyse the characters in the novel: CHARACTERS Curious incident... For the publisher's information on the novel go to: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time I also found these study questions online. Cover photo from the Randomhouse/Vintage website

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Taking "The Wire" into the English classroom

If you are an English teacher who, like me, have become addicted to HBO's TV series "The Wire" , you have probably, like me, at some point thought "I wish I could use this in the classroom". Our students are experienced TV viewers and so are we, but how can we take advantage of this in our English lessons? I recently attended an interesting and very useful lecture by Janne Stigen Drangsholt (University of Bergen, Norway) on this particular topic. Drangsholt presented "The Wire" as a television series that can be used successfully to teach students about certain aspects of American society. "The Wire" has by some been called the best television series of all time. It is set in Baltimore and at first glance it may seem like just another traditional cop show where the viewer in each episode is presented with a crime that is solved at the end of the very same episode. However, "The Wire" is completely different because the makers have attempted to create a TV drama that tells us the real story. No crimes (completely) solved, (almost) no villains caught, no happy endings. The main issues addressed in the series are corruption, drugs and more or less organised crime. In season four the focus is on the children/ teenagers of West Baltimore. Drugs and guns are parts of their everyday life, but in season four the viewers are also invited to join them in the classroom. Of course, the series is at its best if you can watch an entire season, but if you, the teacher, know the season well enough to introduce it to your students, it can be fruitful to simply look carefully at one episode. In her lecture, Drangsholt used episode 8 of season four, "The corner boys," as an example of such an episode that works on its own if properly introduced. She also suggested a couple of newspaper articles to use in class with the episode. I have made this detailed lesson plan based on the episode where I make use of the articles suggested by Drangsholt. The clip above is from an earlier episode in the same season. If you have any comments on my lesson plan or if you have experiences with using "The Wire" in the classroom, please let me know.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Gun control in the US

American gun culture and gun control in the US are always hot topics for the English classroom. BBC Learning has a useful case study on gun control and on the NY Times Learning website there is a lesson plan on the topic. I have made this lesson plan on gun control that combines the two online rescources. The suggested article from NY Times (PART II of my lesson plan) may prove difficult for some students, so one can for example use PART I of the lesson plan with the entire class and give PART II to those who need an extra challenge. Photo: Little Posh, Big Gun