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This is actually more an idea at the moment. Doing my best to jazz up a lesson on the UK education system with my evening students I found an interesting video. It’s a stop motion film of chalk writing and drawing on a black board of a poem by Roger McGough, My First Day At School.

The video I think is great. Not only does the text come up on the screen as it is being read (allowing for simultaneous reading and listening) the style in which it is done is very particular. Sara Hannam said of the video and poem in a response to my comment on her blog that it neatly presented the experience of being a new pupil or student at school and I agree.

While there are possibilities to exploit the text for language teaching (I am sure each individual teacher will come up with their own – I will make a few suggestions) I am going to suggest ways in which to use the video for:

  • prediction and personalisation, using words and images from the poem and video
  • discussion of students’ different experiences of ‘first days’

Click here for the plan My-First-Day-At-School.pdf and here for the pictures My-First-Day-At-School-Pics.pdf

As I’ve said above, I haven’t actually done this lesson yet, so I would love to get your feedback about the following: What age students would you use the activity with? What level would you teach the lesson at? How long do you think it would take to teach the lesson (and maybe how long with different groups)?

Any comments would be greatly appreciated :)

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22 Responses to My First Day At School – lesson plan

  1. mikeharrison says:

    Here are a couple of language points I would use the poem to teach or raise awareness of:
    Phrasal verbs:
    That don’t let me in. Games That are rough, that swallow you up. (for two examples)
    School-related vocabulary: playground, lesson, classroom (misspelt in the poem)

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anita Kwiatkowska, Michael Harrison. Michael Harrison said: My First Day At School New Lesson Plan, Comments welcome =) [...]

  3. Anita Kwiatkowska says:

    Hi Mike!

    I’ve just realised that Youtube isn’t blocked in my school so I took my chances and watched both Lindsay’s video on your guest post and this one. The poem and the video are awesome!

    To me, the most interesting thing would be discussing the language of the poem (the millionbillionwillion, lessin and tea-cher, for example)and digging into the perception of the world by the lyrical I. What senses does he use to describe his experiences? You could also show students the poem and let them guess the title.

    I used to read and analyse Robert Frost’s and E.E. Cumming’s poems back in Poland with some of my students and they loved the idea. Hopefully yours will like it as well.

    Thanks for sharing the poem – it’s beautiful :)

    • mikeharrison says:

      Hi Anita!

      Very nice to have you here. I really like your suggestions! I had thought about looking at the language coming from the perspective of a child (that is, looking at the misspelt words and millionbillionwillion style vocab, as well as a teacher being one who makes the tea :) )

      I looked at some Shakespeare last year with my students in preparation for a trip to the Globe. I’m wondering if that wasn’t too big a leap too soon (after all, Shakespeare can go over the heads of native speakers!) so perhaps I’ll look at some poetry this year, but maybe some more modern stuff.

      Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. mikeharrison says:

    Some excellent suggestions from Janet Bianchini last night on Twitter.
    Using a Wordle word cloud for a text prediction activity, with something like this:
    Wordle: My First Day At School by Roger McGough
    and students writing about their first day at school using some words from the poem.

  5. Sara Hannam says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks so much for making reference to our discussion on my blog. Poetry is such a powerful way to look at language isn’t it. I agree with Anita’s suggestion above and think the child-like nature of language is one of this poem’s strengths. It also expresses size – as in how enormous the world seems to children -an enormous endless unexplored land – and how that shifts into adulthood in ways that can seem to hem us in (perhaps represented by “the railings”). The beginning of that process.

    I thought your lesson plan was great and would gladly do it in my classroom. I loved the consideration of the images! I do lots of similar things and think the reading of a poem on utube is a fantastic way to bring it to life, as well as getting students to read poems aloud themselves.

    What I might also do with my students (to bring in a little bit of a critical edge) would be to explore the idea of conformity. This is a poem written by an adult through the ‘eyes’ of a child and apart from capturing beautifully how the world seems at that age, it is also attempting to comment on things in the adult world too. I found it interesting how ‘uniforms’ and ‘bells’ (and again ‘railings’) are also metaphors for the process of getting children to conform into a school system. Part of the problem that the narrator is talking about is knowing how to conform, and thinking that others are more successful at it “lived all their lives in playgrounds” rather than going with his instinct to run away back to the safety of his mum. That touches on fear as well, the most powerful of human emotions! Of course the isolation that is being described is at some point felt by all (in-groups/out-groups) and this would be an interesting way to encourage discussion. What does it mean to be part of a group? Or not? And how do children learn to function in the adult world which is “rough” and “swallows you up”? The world of adult “games”

    I am probably reading too much into it! But that is the beauty of poetry. It touches everyone in differnet ways.

    Thank you again for this lovely post. Put you on my blog roll (apologies for not having done sooner – I needed to do some housework on my blog for ages!)

    • mikeharrison says:

      Hi Sara! Thanks very much for your very considered comment.

      I totally agree with you about poetry touching us in different ways. I also really like your suggestions for using the poem to look at a few critical aspects. There are so many elements to the poem to be discovered, from a superficial look at the experience of a child’s first day at school to much deeper issues like conformity and inclusion/isolation (as you point out).

      (Incidently, I just remembered that I had read the poem MarxistELF linked to on your blog, 40 love, in a book on British poetry – another McGough one, very different but probably just as rich in ideas)

      Thanks very much for your wonderful suggestions =)

  6. Sara Hannam says:

    Thanks Mike!

    I realised that I didn’t answer any of your questions. What level – intermediate onwards. It’s what you do with the poem that can be adjusted to make it more challenging. The message can be “got” even by lower levels but perhaps not with the same degree of nuanced understanding or expectation of follow up. Age: not very young learners. Maybe early teens onwards? I think that with teens I would do a different sort of lesson than that I’d do with adults (cd maybe go further with the implied meanings with older teens and adults). As the poem is quite long, I’d take at least a significant part of a double session (1.5 hours). I think the wordle intro is a lovely idea! And there is loads of room for discussion and fluency all the way through this activity. Poems take time to unravel if they are done properly. For me the ‘best’ part of the lesson would be the discussion on how each person in the classroom reacts to the poem and its messages and how they interpret it.

    Thanks again for an inspiring post!


    • mikeharrison says:

      Hi again Sara!

      Thanks very much for the answers to the questions. I’m planning to use this with a group of pre-intermediate students I teach in the evenings. Typically of our evening students, they are much better at speaking and listening than reading or writing (spikey profiles rule). I think that some of the discussion you mentioned earlier might be too much for that level, but we can probably at least have a look at different interpretations and sharing experiences of ‘first days’. I have this class for 3 hours (with a 15-minute break – crazy I know, but that’s another post) so I’m planning to be quite free with it and let the students lead the way. I fancy a bit of writing from their own experiences together with some drawing (Jamie Keddie influence showing here).

      Thanks again for the excellent comment =)

  7. Sara Hannam says:

    Sounds like you’ve really thought about how to do this and with your learners in mind. I am sure it will be a great lesson. Let us know how it goes. If you let the discussion be led by the students, maybe one of them may raise the issue of how school tries to produce the same behaviour in all children (through bells, uniforms etc) *which are often quite a shock for people from countries where school children don’t have uniforms like Greece. This is an easy way to consider conformity without the need for complex vocab? I’ve got a class not that far away from your level (though they are stronger in writing and reading than listening and speaking!) so may well do this lesson next week too. We can compare notes! I think all our classes have spikey profiles as is the nature of different learners of the language and their needs/backgrounds.

    • mikeharrison says:

      Yes, that’s exactly it! Thanks again for the fab suggestions =)
      Particularly like the idea of using the poem to talk about conformity without having to go in with way too complex vocabulary. Another plus point to using poetry, is that it can put into simpler, more accessible terms big issues like this.

      I’ll definitely post or comment again on how this lesson goes (it might even be an observed lesson – oo er) and would be very interested to compare notes.

      I think you’re right, spikey profiles everywhere, depending on context, country, culture and tradition. A very rare beast is the student that is all-around in all the skills of language.

  8. Hi Mike

    I love the different ideas for exploiting this poem and video and I am sure your lesson will be a great success. The lovely wordle you have created would be a great predict the text type activity:) I look forward to seeing how you get on. Definitely worthy of another post!

    • mikeharrison says:

      Thanks for the comment, Janet!

      Your ideas definitely helped to kick start the suggestions here, so thank you very much. In particular, the tip for using Wordle – I’ve done that before with songs and found it a very interesting tool to make us of with students.

  9. Alan Tait says:

    Very nice lesson, Mike.

    I tried it tonight with a small group of upper-intermediates who enjoyed it a lot, and were keen to recall their earliest memories. Everybody liked the video interpretation, too. Who made it, BTW?

    Language-wise I hadn’t noticed the theme or symbolism of conformity.


    • mikeharrison says:

      Hi Alan, thanks very much for your comment. Glad to hear that your students enjoyed the lesson – that’s what it’s all about :)

      I had missed a lot of the subtext to the poem, as well. That’s part of the reason I wanted to post this particular lesson – to try and get other peoples ideas about the lesson and the poem.

      The only thing I know about the person who made the video is that his name is Andrew and his YouTube channel is Haven’t really checked out his other stuff – am actually doing so now – and looks like more good stop-motion stuff. I recommend a visit to his page :)

      Thanks again!!

  10. MisterMike says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks a lot for this post, I think I will be using your lesson plan with an High Entry 2 ESOL class who have completed their exams and are wanting a challenge!

    I really like the idea of predicting the video via the images and also the dictation / word discussion you suggest. In addition to your lesson plan I think I will also explore the many pronouns in the poem. My students have found pronouns to be particularly tricky so I plan to give them particular pronouns to look for and then to identify who or what they refer to – I’ll let you know how my learners got on with it.

    I also love how this poem also lends itself beautifully to the opportunity of gaining feedback from students about their first day on the course.

    • mikeharrison says:

      Hi Mike, thanks very much for your input. Great ideas re the pronouns in the poem.

      I’ve done the lesson a few times and might post a sort of review of how I’ve done it (with lower E2, high E3 and Level 1) – quite successfully each time! =)

      I also gave my students the opportunity to write about the first day on the course as opposed to first day at primary or secondary school. Some of my students couldn’t remember so far back in the past!

  11. MisterMike says:

    This lesson was a definite success!

    I used it with a High Entry 2 ESOL class who are mostly 16-18 year olds. They were able to remember their first days at school because they are so young! There were also some interesting anecdotes about corporal punishment and the lack of respect that young people show to teachers in British schools.

    I found the predicting part of the lesson to be very challenging for students who have not developed a perceptive artistic mind. European students definitely found the predicting stage easier to engage with and came up with a lot of ideas especially with the fourth picture where they suggested; the surface of the moon, a beach by the sea and also a river.

    After playing the clip I asked the students to look for the 13 words in the text and then to identify any words they didn’t understand – swallow, railings, wolves, puddles, sewn were the only additional words!

    Thanks again for sharing the idea and I encourage others to experiment with this poem and any others they can find on YouTube. I found the students really seemed to respond to the different format of text and how the writer can take on the attitude and mind of another person. They also showed a lot of interest in how the animation was created and I think we may explore this in a later lesson.

    • mikeharrison says:

      Hi MisterMike

      Thanks for your feedback. I’ve responded to your comments on your blog, so I won’t repeat word for word what I said over there on this page.

      I think the best thing is what they came up with for the picture – very imaginative =)

      Glad it went well.


  12. [...] My First Day At School – lesson plan – I really enjoyed that the idea for this post came from a comment I made on Sara Hannam’s blog Critical Mass ELT about using poetry for teaching English. Well, it actually came from Sara’s response to my comment, in particular some neat observations about the video in the plan. Great example of how something small can go out in the blogosphere and become something else, bigger and better. I kept the idea open and asked readers here to add their ideas to my initial lesson plan. Please check it out – people have some cool ideas out there. I’d also recommend Sara’s post on poetry: A poetic interlude. While you’re at it, there was a small piece on Scott Thornbury’s blog as well =) [...]

  13. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TaskMagic, Mike Harrison. Mike Harrison said: Schools is the topic for tomorrow afternoon's lesson, so I'm doing this again: #poetry #stopmotion #video #elt #esol [...]

  14. [...] love this one. See a lesson plan and blog discussion on using it for English language teaching Click to view on BBC Learning [...]

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