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12 Angry Men: A Dramatic Activity Plan

The drama that can happen between a group of people in one room has always been of great interest to me; Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, Jerome Bixby’s The Man from Earth and Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men to name but a few.* This last one, 12 Angry Men, was a movie with Henry Fonda in 1957.  In 1997 the film was remade, this time with Jack Lemmon in Fonda’s role.  Lemmon’s turn as Juror #8 was so well received that Ving Rhames, upon winning the Golden Globe that year, immediately invited Lemmon on stage and instead passed the award on to him!

The basic story of 12 Angry Men is simple: 12 members of a jury sit down to decide the verdict of a murder case, an 18-year-old accused of murdering his father.  So within the next 90 minutes (or 110 minutes depending on which version you watch) you witness the discussion, debate, arguments and reasoning of twelve men as they try to come to a unanimous decision: guilty or not guilty.

Drawing upon Alan Tait’s idea for bringing some drama into the classroom, I was quickly drawn to this story for a number of reasons.  Having 12 characters, it is easy to give out roles.  The topic of crime and punishment is often in the syllabus somewhere and acting out roles and rehearsing dialogue is a great, creative way to work on pronunciation and intonation.  Nonetheless, what I’m laying out here is for B2/C1 students or above.  I doubt that any lower level students would have the necessary vocabulary or listening abilities for such an activity to flourish and thus remain fun.

So this is how I would start…

The end and the beginning.  No, I’m not being cryptic, but I fully agree with Pablo Ponce de Leon’s point about stories and storytelling being a good activity to complete a unit, chapter, coursebook, topic, etc (see previous post).  The topic wouldn’t necessarily need to be about crime and punishment although that is one option.  If you take a look at the transcript dialogue (here’s the handout) there are a lot of phrases, question tags, etc, that would all be useful for a “small talk” activity.  So I would definitely use this activity with a high level class at the end of a unit.

As for where in the movie?  I’d start at the beginning: the first two scenes.  These are the courtroom scene and what I would call the ‘character introduction’ scene.

The Courtroom Scene

This scene sets the context, explains what is at stake and visually introduces the characters as well as the focus of the whole story, the accused.

Activity 1

Go over vocabulary the students will need to understand the first scene.  The list will probably go something like this:

murder in the first degree

case

pre-meditated

serious charge

tried in the court

testimony

at stake

verdict

unanimous

the bench

mandatory

Best to put these, jumbled up, on the board before the activity starts.  In pairs or small groups, get the students to write a list putting each of these into one of three columns: understand/might understand/don’t know.  Leave enough space on your board to write these three columns as well.

After a couple of minutes, get the students to tell you what they put where.  The key is to put as many of these phrases into the first column as possible and if this does not reflect the lists of all the students then they can get the explanations from each other.  To accomplish this, it’s best to ask something like “What do you have in the understand column?” and exhaust that before you move on.  See where the students take you.

Activity 2

Watch the courtroom scene.  Give the students the following watching activity before you start.

Put all of the words and phrases from Activity 1 into order as you hear them in the dialogue.

Again, let them collaborate with partners and watch it a couple of times.  This does a number of things.  It gets the students ears ‘warmed up’ for the next activity.  It also gets the students familiar with the characters they will be working with in the following scene.

After having reviewed the dialogue with each other and as a class, give them the handout to check against.  However, before watching the scene one more time with the students now having the transcript to follow, give them a new watching task.

Thoughtful, bored, sleepy, impatient, distracted, indifferent, angry, worried, scared.  Which of these words would you use to describe the jurors?

There are a few red herrings in that list (remember this is supposed to be a B2/C1 class) as I wouldn’t say that any of the jurors looked sleepy or scared; all the others are up for debate.  After watching one more time, get the students’ ideas about what they think about the characters.  This leads nicely on to the next scene.

The Character Introduction Scene

This scene is a series of short conversations as the characters first get into jury room.  This is an opportunity for the students to see if their initial assumptions about the jurors were right or wrong.

Activity 3

The students can follow the scene reading the dialogue (on the same handout already given out).  In fact it is probably a good idea to give the students 30 seconds or a minute to skim through the transcript and get familiar with it before watching.

Give the students this question just before they start watching.

Judging from the dialogue as well as attitude and intonation, do you think this jury believes the accused is guilty or not guilty?

It might seem like an obvious question, but it gets the students actively watching during the scene for pieces of dialogue as well as intonation.

The transcript falls about 2 minutes short of the first vote amongst the jurors but the students will probably be anxious to see that part, or at least they should be.  An obvious thing to do is to let the film run for an extra two minutes while getting the students to predict who will vote in what way.  I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that not everyone agrees 15 minutes into the movie. 😉

Activity 4

After watching through once, you can start to give out roles and get the students to start practising the mini-conversations in groups.  The teacher in the role of ‘bailiff’ keeps you in the activity but away from the important roles.  There are actually 12 speaking parts including the bailiff as Juror #9 spends this scene in the bathroom.

From this, you are on your own.  Switching up roles is a good idea to keep things fresh.  Moving around the groups and drilling short, important phrases to improve intonation and general fluency is also a good idea.  Phrases such as ‘give me a hand’, ‘what gets me is…’, ‘you know something…’ and ‘but if you ask me…’ are all short phrases that learners should acquire to improve their spoken English.  There are plenty of other phrases but it’s a good idea to know beforehand some specific phrases you want to draw their attention to.

Enjoy!

Notes

Where possible, I will usually put the English subtitles on in a movie or at least give my students that option, unless I have a specific reason not to.

For my activity plan, I’ve gone with the 1957 version.  There are a few benefits to this choice and one drawback.  Firstly, the drawback is that the 1957 movie is in black and white and unfortunately more and more people, especially young people, immediately disconnect when they see black and white.  This is an enormous shame as they miss out on amazing masterpieces like Ninotchka, Stalag 17, Arsenic and Old Lace, Some Like It Hot and a movie that will always make it into my Top 5, Beau Geste.  If you haven’t heard of or seen any of these movies then watch them and thank me later. 😉

However, I digress.  The benefits of working with Henry Fonda’s earlier version are as follows:

  1. In the 1997 version, the opening scene in the courtroom does not show close ups of each of the jurors.  Hence, my first prediction activity would go out of the window.
  2. The second scene in the 1957 version is slower (5m40s as opposed to 4m50s for the same scene in 1997).  The speaking itself isn’t much slower but there are more pauses, which your students will be grateful for.  The dialogue is also a little bit more precise with less elision and fewer contractions.  I’m not saying this last part is a good thing, but it leads me nicely to a follow-up activity.

Following up with the 1997 version

Having watched both versions of both of these scenes more than a couple of times now, I’d say that a brilliant way to follow up the activity, perhaps to finish off a long class or perhaps for another day, would be to show the 1997 scenes directly after showing the 1957 scenes (thus if done on another day you should show the 1957 scenes again first).  With this you could get the students to do a number of things:

  1. What differences in dialogue do you notice?
  2. What differences in character do you notice?
  3. Is it easy for the students to identify the characters again?
  4. Which version do you prefer?  Why?

You might even want to start off the whole thing, before Activity 1, by showing the 1997 courtroom scene first.  A newer, in-colour version might make the story more accessible and it would give your students a sense of achievement to recognize their improvement of comprehension between the beginning and the end of the activities (again, I recommend reading Alan Tait’s ‘zombie’ article).  Here is the handout for the 1997 transcript.

* A couple of other ‘one room’ dramas that are worth mentioning are Loring Mandel’s chilling Conspiracy and Frank Cottrell Boyce’s compelling God on Trial.  Both of these deal with the less-than-pleasant topic of the Nazi concentration camps during World War 2.  I’m not advocating using such heavy material with an English language class, but I think they are certainly worth watching.

AND

In doing a YouTube search for 12 Angry Men I managed to find the full movies.  I’m not sure how long they may stay on the site but here are the links.

12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men (1997)

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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Activities

 

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Photocopier or No-to-copier

Is a step away from photocopiers a step forward? (Photocopier photo from net_efekt on Flickr)

Yes, this title is taken from Luke Meddings.  I recently saw his British Council Lecture, 20 steps to teaching unplugged (see the video at the end of this post).  In it, he advocated that we should be using texts which are short enough to dictate.

There’s really no need for photocopiers.  They cause so much trouble.

This sentiment is reflected in Tom Walton’s comments on his blog;

I never use the photocopier, the learners create, not merely consume — and especially they don’t consume photocopies!

For the last six months I’ve been working at a school that doesn’t have a photocopier.  I knew this was the case before arriving and actually looked forward to the challenge.  However, after six months I’m screaming for a photocopier that is close to hand with five minutes to go until the class starts.   In spite of this, I still feel that Luke Meddings and Tom Walton are correct.  However, this leaves me with a question.

Why do I really want a photocopier?

I’m going to take another nugget of wisdom out of Luke Meddings’s recent talk, referencing a business strategy called “The 5 Whys”.  The basic idea being to approach a problem with the question ‘Why?’ and keep asking that question until you have the underlying cause that needs a solution.

1. So, why do I feel uncomfortable without a photocopier?

Because I can’t make up worksheets or photocopy interesting articles that I read and want to share with my students.

2. Why do I think I need a photocopier for this?

Because it’s something I’ve always used, something I’m used to having and something that I’ve never really questioned the use of.

3. There are alternatives, why do I prefer a photocopier to these alternatives?

Picture from Giugiaro21 on Flickr

OHPs*, IWBs  and Projectors are useful if I have them but sometimes, even if I do have them, I just want to be able to get the text into the students’ hands quickly to get on with the activity.  In contrast to this, Luke Meddings talked about taking texts “at a slower pace” with learners and written resources.

Dictation** is a great activity which practises the learners’ listening, writing and spelling skills and gets them thinking faster if done regularly.  However, again, such work takes time away from other activities that I might want to cover with my students.  Again, a photocopier gets the text into the students’ hands quickly.

4.  Why is it important to give the text to the students quickly?

So that I can get on with the original activity.

5.  Do you think the students benefit from having this photocopy in their possession? (Yes, I know, I’m breaking the rule of it being a ‘why’ question.)

No.  I think a majority of the time texts are not exploited as much as they could be, learning opportunities are missed and photocopies are wasted on activities that would be of far more benefit to the learners if they had to make their own copies in their own writing.

I think this for a number of reasons:

a.  In today’s digital world, physical writing is getting less and less common yet I think that it is a skill we should be helping our learners keep or develop (depending on their age and schooling).  Especially among my teenage students at the moment, writing activities are not welcomed and writing of any kind is avoided wherever possible.  This being the case, it is important to make writing an integral part of as many activities as possible – they need the practice!

b.  I have seen too many photocopies left behind on the table at the end of class, stuffed carelessly into backpacks and pulled out as crumpled messes from backpacks to believe that those photocopies are getting any worthwhile attention outside of class.

c.  The action of writing something down is an action of memorization.  Giving out a photocopy is taking away this opportunity for processing and memorizing new language.

d.  A photocopy holds no worth to many students whereas a text written out in the students’ own hand provides at least some measure of ownership for the learner, regardless of the origin of the text.

Returning to the original question; why am I screaming for a photocopier?

Because it is an easy way out, I wouldn’t need to deal with resistance from my teenage students so often while I ‘force’ them to write.  It would be easier for me, but it deprives them.  By photocopying a whole text I’m also being a bit lazy as a teacher as it requires less thought from me as regards where the focus of my students’ reading is going to be.

So where do I think a photocopier is useful?

I disagree with Tom Walton’s ‘never ever’ stance in one area – longer texts for intensive reading or other academic reading skills necessary for EAP (English for Academic Purposes) or preparation for exams like IELTS or FCE.  It is impractical to dictate texts of up to 1000 words.  It is also unfair to simply display them via projectors, OHPs or IWBs – for various intensive reading activities the students need to have a physical copy, to underline or highlight and to read at their own pace without the pressure of having the majority of a class dictate when to move onto the next page.

Obviously the unplugged approach works from a communicative perspective but not all English language teaching/learning is focused on this skill and where communication is not the priority – a photocopier still comes in very useful.

* Regarding OHPs, click here to watch a great little video by Claire Spooner describing an activity for OHPs.

** For more information on dictation, click here to read Dave Dodgson’s explanation of a dictogloss activity.

Luke Medding’s 20 steps to teaching unplugged

 
 

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What have I learned from my students? My students can be more creative than me.

This is a follow up to my last post.  I tried to get a little bit of written dialogue from one of my favourite classes after working through the verbs in a way similar to @eltbakery‘s suggestion.  It was the end of the day, end of the class and I knew this particular class was creative and always up for a challenge.

So here’s one that I thought was pretty clever.

A.  Nine years ago I almost gave up playing tennis because I didn’t get on with my coach but I carried on with it at a different club.

B.  Now that you bring up your coach, I bumped into him on the street.

A.  Oh?  How is he?

B.  Not good.  A car was driving towards him.  I shouted, “Watch out!” but he couldn’t make out what I was saying.  There was an accident and I had to look after him until the ambulance turned up.

A.  Hold on!  The coach was hit by a car?

That’s as far as the students got before the class finished unfortunately.  There are a lot of directions this story could go and I think it is certainly better, more coherent and more interesting than anything I was coming up with.  Just thought I would share.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2011 in Activities, Reflections

 

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What have I learned from a recent dry run? Creativity on demand is hard!

Recently I found a really interesting blog post about the 20 most commonly used phrasal verbs in English.*  Phrasal verbs are notorious among English learners and when I saw this I thought, ‘Cool!  How can I use this?’

I wanted to try something creative and that is where I have hit a, so far, insurmountable obstacle.  I’m going to go through what I have tried so far, not in class, just by myself.  I wanted to place myself in the role of my students.  Before I ask something creative of them, I wanted to see how I would cope with it:

1. Craft a discussion amongst 3 or 4 people that use all 20 of these phrasal verbs.

The idea being to get the students to act out this scene, switch roles, act it out again, etc.**  This was almost a non-starter as keeping 3 or 4 characters going in a story very quickly became too much of a challenge.  I’m not a professional wordwright.

2. Simplify it.  Craft a conversation between only 2 people that use all 20 of these phrasal verbs.

I thought, this should be relatively easy and it is certainly doable but the phrasal verbs seem to steer the conversation into a relatively negative story (at least they do whenever I am behind the creative wheel it seems).  Negative stories don’t help us to remember as well as feel-good or funny stories… so back to the drawing board.

3. Seek creative inspiration.  Storybird.

I haven’t used Storybird with any of my classes yet but I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to try it out and make a story which could educate and whet my students’ appetites for trying to use this wonderful website for themselves.   Unfortunately, being stuck to these 20 phrasal verbs, which is the task I had set myself, meant that the pictures produced more restrictions than provided creative inspiration.

4. Change the objective.  Craft a story that works with only 5 or 10 of the phrasal verbs.

This works and really, it was unrealistic to believe that an activity that immediately included all 20 phrasal verbs would be of much use to learners.  I do want to find a way to make sure that the lesson provides a decent opportunity for all students to use, practise and learn all 20 of these phrasal verbs, but this has to be built up in steps.

At the moment I’m still thinking.  I’m still wondering if I can go back to an earlier story I wrote and improve it, make it funny or heart-warming or something.  The problem there is that comedy is incredibly subjective and when trying to cross a cultural divide (and an age gap of about a decade and a half), literal comedy is one of the most difficult forms to make work.

So what have I learned from this?

  • Even if I can put a decent story together, I will have spent FAR more time than I could allow my students in class.
  • The failure to produce a happy, funny or simply a well-written story with these restrictions has disappointed me.  Such disappointment for my learners would probably equate to a drop in motivation and self-esteem.
  • Working in a group might help me to produce a good story but what I’m really missing is sufficient structure and guidance.

So how has it gone?

With a couple of additions (I think ‘come on’ and ‘go well’ are just a couple of essential phrasal verbs to add to this list) I’ve covered this list with half of my classes so far but there still hasn’t been a spark.  I’m not happy with any of the stories I’ve made up and so I’m not using any of them and therefore I’m still presenting the list as just a list basically.

Well that’s not completely true, I’m actually presenting this as a memory/guessing game, a bit more interactive but my approach here has been less than inspiring for my students so far, I think.  I might throw this one over to Sandy Millin’s excellent brainstorm site, (Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas.

So that’s where things are at the moment.  Any ideas?

Notes

* Just in case you are wondering, the 20 most common phrasal verbs are apparently as follows: bring up, carry on, chase up, come across, come up with, fall apart, get along, get away with, get over, give up, go on, hold on, look after, look up, make out, pull over, put down, put off, turn up, watch out. (Click here for the original article with explanations)

**  This comes from Alan Tait’s recent idea about taking a movie scene and getting the students to act it out and, in doing so, providing plenty of repetition as well as taking some ownership of the text and playing with it.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Activities, Reflections

 

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