Theme mats

Teaching within a fixed timetable, we inevitably have to deliver information in manageable chunks.  Given that this is the case, how do we help pupils to see the bigger picture?  Do we try to gradually build this up as we go, or do we wait until all the information is in place, then take a step back from it?  I am most acutely aware of this problem when teaching literature, and I have tried all sorts of different approaches.  The one I’m about to outline is a recent addition to the repertoire, and I was pleased with how well it got the students to start talking about the whole text, rather than just specific episodes within it …

We read the play Antigone fairly quickly, pausing only to confirm basic understanding or to clarify important background information.  Once we had finished, I asked the pupils to get into groups of three or four and discuss the images below.  Their aim was to discuss what ideas the image seemed to convey, and then think of a way of linking these ideas to the play.  I had chosen some of the images in the hope of eliciting certain points from the class, and others at random, just to see where they took the students.

As with all new ideas, I was worried this might be a total flop, and was reassured to see the students become quite animated in their discussions of the images, and of how they might relate to the play.  Before long, they were talking about key themes such as death, relationships, power, pride and pain and realising for themselves just how complex Sophocles’ exploration of these was.

I will certainly be repeating this idea.  Perhaps the next step will be to get the pupils creating “theme mats” of their own …

theme map

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Simple Starters # 8 – Mystery Guest

A little competition is always good for warming the class up.  In this activity pupils are given clues to help them identify a “mystery guest”.  The first clue should be deliberately vague or ambiguous, and each subsequent clue should be a little more precise, with the final clue being a dead giveaway. If pupils get the answer on the last clue, they should score one point, if they get it on the second to last clue then they score 2 points, and so on.

This starter could just be used as a quick recap activity, but it can also provide a good introduction to exploring key themes.  For example, in English literature the first clue for one guest could be “somebody who has fallen out with a close relative”, and then the same clue could be used for an entirely different guest, thereby highlighting just how often family strife is central to tragic events.

For those who don’t teach English literature or subjects where “mystery guests” are easy to come up with, it is worth bearing in mind that it doesn’t actually have to be a person – it could just as easily be an “item”, a “theme” or a “topic”, though these might require a little more imagination!