English To Go is a wonderful resource where you can find lesson plans for any age and level, based on Reuters News articles.

At the end of the 1990’s the editors trained me, and I composed a number of lessons in the required format for the site. Since the format and the tasks were basically the same as those of the newly-introduced final state school exam, I began to compose my own lessons based on various authentic sources. I usually choose a human interest story, or a curious news item, or fascinating scientific discovery news. This last one is always an attraction for the local students, because we live in an academic research community, so anything connected to science strikes a chord.
For instance, some years ago I read about a piranha fished out of the Thames River. Definitely not the kind of fish one would expect to find there. I had a class of teenagers who were steadily progressing from Elementary towards Lower-Intermediate – Intermediate level. We began with the customary pre-reading exercises.
A. How much do you know? Match the following words with their definitions.
Words: tarantula, barracuda, piranha, anaconda, scorpion.
Definitions: a very large snake, a fierce river fish, an insect whose tail has a poisonous sting, a a large fierce fish, a large hairy poisonous spider
B. Where do they live? You may write your sentences here:
a) Piranha lives …
b) Tarantula lives …
c) Barracuda lives …
d) Anaconda lives …
e) Scorpion lives …

A. Discuss your ideas with your partner, and then ask your teacher if your answers are correct. Scan the text quickly to find out which of the creatures from the previous activity are mentioned in it. Then read the text carefully, paying attention to the glossary.

This is mostly vocabulary work. Students read the text, consult a dictionary if needed, and check the Glossary which I placed at the end of the authentic text.

For Post-Reading Activities, I suggested several exercises.
A. Grammar. I would suggest that the student scan the text again, looking for the passive forms.

B. Another good activity is discussing the language used. We may offer one phrase, and have students give their own interpretations of its meaning:
The reputation of the piranha is worse than its bite.

In pairs or small groups, discuss the meaning of this phrase. Try to remember an English saying which is used here. Do you have a similar phrase in your language?

C. We can now make several lists. In groups of two or three people, students may compose lists of things which frighten them, or some people they know; or they may enumerate things they dislike; or it may be a list of creatures they consider ugly and scary. If we are lucky, we may get at least one Gerald Darrell type of pupil who loves all the creatures! Then they may take turns telling the class about their partners: Student A likes all fish, but hates snakes. Student B likes mice but dislikes rats. We can turn this little activity into a grammar exercise by asking the students to turn their active sentences into passive, like this:
Snakes are disliked by Student A, but fish are liked by him/her. And we can ask them to look through the text and find all the Passive Voice forms they can identify.
D. To consolidate the vocabulary and to introduce a lighter note at the end of the lesson, we can suggest that students look at one of the key words in the text: bite. Phonetically, it sounds the same as “byte”, which they invariably find quite funny.

For my colleagues, I always include Teacher’s Notes and Answer Keys.
Pre-Reading Activities.
1) Match:
Piranha a fierce river fish
Tarantula a large hairy poisonous spider
Barracuda a large fierce fish
Anaconda a very large snake
Scorpion a tropical insect whose tail has a poisonous sting

2) Where do they live?
a) Piranha lives in South American rivers.
b) Tarantula lives in Southern Europe and tropical America.
c) Barracuda lives in the tropics.
d) Anaconda lives in South America.
e) Scorpion lives in the tropics.

Post-Reading Activities.
A. Grammar. The Passive Voice.
The Passive is one of the most difficult grammar topics for students of any age, simply because it is not widely used in many other languages. I would give a short explanation or a reminder:
The Passive Voice is used when we do not know who does the action, or when it is not necessary to say who does it. The action is more important than the person who acts.
The Passive is formed with a tense of be + past participle. You may need to explain it in greater detail, and to give some examples to show how it works:
We speak English.
English is spoken by us.

B. Language. The saying is, of course, “His bark is worse than his bite”. It means that someone may shout a lot, but he is really quite nice, and calms down easily.
Let your students discuss the phrase from the text, and try to find a similar expression in their own language if possible. If not, you may point out that languages are different, and so are the ideas expressed in them.

C. Making a list. Let your students make a list of scary creatures, and talk about their likes and dislikes.
D. Language. To bite means to cut with teeth; a bite is an act of biting.
Most animals, fish, insects bite, but some don’t. Humans bite. Bees, wasps and scorpions sting; sharks bite, but whales swallow, and rays give one an electric shock. Let your students come up with their own examples!

When I conduct this type of lesson, I grade students’ work in the same way I grade any other work. I have been in situations when neither the school nor the parents could afford to buy new textbooks, so we used all the lesson plans I myself wrote.

Nina MK, Ph.D.

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