When students are faced with the perspective of studying literature their first reaction is to show the teacher that they do not like it and they are not interested in the topic. “Do we have to?” is the most common asked question and it is not an element of surprise for most of the teachers. We try to teach children who are less and less interested in literature and the biggest challenge is to prove them that literary works can be fun an interactive. So, the question is how can teachers make the literary pieces attractive and interesting for their students to learn from them and to study them? Some pupils say that literary works such as those written by William Shakespeare are very old and difficult to understand and this is why children dislike studying them.
The present case study is aimed at pupils aged 17-19 who study English 2 hours per week of an A2-B1 level.
The study started from a literature piece we had to study and their reaction was firmly against it. I asked them if they found literature interesting and 20 students out of 30 said “no”, while 12 said that it depended on the book while only 8 of them said “yes”. Another question asked beforehand was if they thought that studying Shakespeare was difficult and 28 out of 30 said “yes”. Taking these pieces of information into account, I thought about designing a set of activities to teach All’s Well that Ends Well and Measure for Measure in a fun and interactive manner, hoping to change the percentages in children’s satisfaction when it comes to studying literature. The results did not surprise me at all but I was curious to see if I could change them by choosing the best activities that would make my pupils change their minds.
Interactive stories are a great way to practice reading and make learning more exciting. As Jeremy Harmer observes , they represent blend entertainment and education as children listen to correct pronunciation and learn new words. Unfortunately, there are no interactive stories from Shakespeare’s works but there are other stories that can convince children that literature is interesting and fun. When it comes to authors who have not been made available into the interactive space, I believe it is the teacher’s job and responsibility to find the best activities which can lead to the best task achievement and which can make children see literature in a fun manner.
Storybird, Blogs and Padlets
Storybird is a site that teachers and children can use in order to create their own stories or poems. They can create picture books, long form stories and poems. It is one of the easiest sites to use with this task as it is free to create an account and all your work is save on your account. There are simple steps to follow: they can use pictures created by an illustrator and they can browse through portfolios using keywords that match their task, they choose the format that they are interested in, they drag and drop images onto their book as they write. They can publish their work to Storybird’s public library or they can keep it private, they can share it on different sites or they can embed it on different blogs. They also have the option to order it as a keepsake or as gifts. They can choose different backgrounds and thus change the story that they work on, creating a modern version of the story.
My pupils have been very enthusiastic with respect to this tool and they have spent a lot of time finding the best layouts and characters that matched their ideas. For schools, long form is an ideal alternative to Google docs or Microsoft Word. Students find the art inspirational and a way to jump past the blank page. They can work on any device, anywhere, knowing their work is safe and accessible. And comment tools get them necessary feedback from classmates and teachers. Teachers track progress on long form books through the Review tools, provide private or public feedback, and grade final books. Importantly, they allow their writers to develop their stories over a semester or the year, easily following along as the work changes and develop. A dedicated landing page is created for books with more than one chapter and includes a directory of all chapters and metadata about the book.
Readers who add a book to their bookshelf will be automatically notified when the next chapter is published. This creates a tight bond between writer and reader, encouraging writers to push forward with their stories and rewarding readers for their support and feedback. The best way to use this tool is to have students work in groups and present their final product in front of the class. But in order for this tool to be used, they need to be familiarized with the story and this is why the teacher may ask them to read the plays All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure in order to be able to create their stories and/or poems. They can choose to tell the story from a character’s perspective or they can tell the story from their perspective.
When it comes to blogs, students are very enthusiastic about them as they are part of the modern day-to-day life and they represent a domain in which they are very interested. They can create free blogs using simplsite.com, wix.com, wordpress.com, blog.com, blogger.com, medium.com or penzu.com. When they are assigned the task of creating and updating a blog, they feel in control and they feel responsible. They gain a lot of experience by handling tasks related to the blog they create.
For example, www.theswanofavon.simplesite.com is one of the blogs we have created in our English classes in order to work on Shakespeare’s different plays. The class is divided in various working groups and each of them is assigned a specific task. There are two main groups: the first group is working on Measure for Measure page while the second one is working on All’s Well That Ends Well. Both teams are given different tasks and this is why they divide in smaller working groups: characters, plot, symbols, themes, and quotes.
Padlets are also very easy to be used in English classes as they can be uploaded on a blog or on a site. It depends on the teacher to create a stimulating task so that pupils to be interested in the plays they study. I created Padlets for different purposes: Quotes from Measure for Measure, Quotes from All’s Well That Ends Well, Who do you like? (Pupils choose their favorite character, they upload a photo or a drawing and they write a justification of their choice) and My Favorite Scene (They search for photos of their favorite scenes and they five their justification).
Of these three instruments, my pupils liked the Padlets and the blog a lot as they gave them more freedom than the Storybird which limits their options for the drawing section. They said it was easier for them to save and upload photos of characters or scenes from the two studied plays and they found the interfaces to be accessible for the tasks they had to do.
Comics, Drawings, and Posters
The modern language teachers have new challenges and duties given by the evolution of our society and the methodology of English teaching has also evolve with the introduction of new methods and modern instruments. Of course, a lot of teachers prefer the traditional methods but this does not mean that they are not aware of the fact that they need to change their teaching methods in order to make difficult topics accessible to their pupils. Technology has evolved and there are numerous digital instruments that teachers can use in order to approach literature topics including Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well.
Teachers can use Pixton or ToonDoo as digital instruments to create online free comics. The class is divided in smaller groups and they have to follow four simple steps: set a group, assign an activity, add people and create avatars. The group is set according to age and subject. The teacher can browse from a collection of lesson plans, assign a simple activity for students to familiarize with the site or create an activity from scratch. They can create comic strips, mind maps, storyboards, graphic novels, character maps, plot diagram, photo story, timeline, and poster. In ToonDoo, students can choose the avatars they want for their task and they can create their lines.
In order for students to work on All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure they need to know the plot, the characters and the themes of the two plays. They can explore different aspects they like from the play and illustrate them in comic strips to be presented in front of their colleagues. They can create dialogues between students talking about the plays or they can create dialogues between characters of the play using modern English language. For example, they can discuss different aspects from All’s Well That Ends Well and also express their opinions on the way Helen tricks Bertram or the way in which the Countess handles the situation.
Drawings are another way to make students have fun and also feel they are inside the story. As Jeremy Harmer points out , drawings can be used to provoke questions and lead to actual conversation. For some students this task might sound difficult as they do not have any special skills in relation to drawing or painting. But there are others who are very talented at it and they may find themselves very comfortable in dealing with a task like drawings a scene from Measure for Measure, for instance- a drawing showing Isabella’s meeting with Angelo who is giving her shameful alternative to saving her brother’s life, or another one illustrating the meeting between the two siblings discussing Isabella’s possible sacrifice in order to save Claudio’s life while Once the drawings are completed, the students can be divided into team and each team suggests possible captions for the drawings or they can create bubbles with lines
Using these tools to make the stories fun and interactive may not seem simple task for teachers who do not have a very good control of their ICT skills but I firmly believe that we constantly learn and we have to find ways to connect to our students and to make them study subjects they do not like. After having used the above mentioned activities in class I asked my students the same questions as at the beginning and the situation changed: 28 students out of 30 said that they believe that literature can become interesting while 22 of them said that they no longer considered literature as being difficult. The main conclusion was quite simple: if a teacher finds the correct activities and methods, they can make students study different pieces of literature including Shakespeare’s difficult plays.