“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder – Lesson Plan

Levels: pre-intermediate to upper intermediate.
Ages: teens; adults.
Type: conversation; song gapfill; first conditional practice/review.
Skills: listening; speaking; writing.
Language focus: vocab re superstitions and luck; first conditional practice.

Materials:
a recording of the song “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder (a great version on YouTube is here).
one copy of the song lyrics (for you), a gapfill sheet and “Call My Bluff” cards, ALL of which is here

Time needed: 50 minutes.

Procedure:

  1. Print some pictures or draw on the board: a black cat, a four-leaf clover, a horseshoe, etc. Elicit “superstition” and “superstitious”, “lucky/unlucky”, “good luck/bad luck”.
  2. Allow 5 minutes or so for students to think of as many superstitions as they know. This is always quite interesting, as each country will have their own superstitions that will not be known to the whole group. Some useful vocabulary will probably arise.
  3. Board their ideas. Make sure you have 13, ladders and broken mirrors on the board. Teach or elicit that an old fashioned word for mirror is looking glass.
  4. Play verse 1 and chorus of the song. Which does he mention? (ladder, looking glass and 13).
    You can listen to the song here:
  5. Play the whole song (twice if necessary) and students complete the gapfill.
  6. Ask the students what Stevie thinks about superstition. Does he think it is a good or a bad thing, and why? What do they think? Do they believe in any superstitions? Why do people believe in them? What could be the drawbacks in believing in superstitions? Students discuss in groups of three. This normally stimulates a good discussion or debate among students, and some good vocabulary (you may want to pre-teach phrases like “just in case”, “to be on the safe side”, “paranoid”, “all in the mind”).
  7. Board: If you break a mirror, you will have 7 years of bad luck.Elicit that this is a sentence in the first conditional, and that it is a real and not a hypothetical situation. Elicit form (If + infinitive, will/imperative).
  8. Tell students that they are going to invent some superstitions and see if their classmates can guess an invented superstition from a real one. Give each student a card with a real superstition on it, and tell them to create two new ones, using the first conditional. Monitor carefully at this stage.
  9. Students work in groups of three and take it in turns to read out their three superstitions. The others in their group must guess which is the real one.
  10. Feedback and error correct. Do they have any favourite ones?

Extension activity: writing (set this for homework). Do you believe in any superstitions? Do you think superstition is good or bad? Why?

“She’s Leaving Home” by the Beatles – Lesson Plan

Levels: intermediate to upper-intermediate.
Ages: teens; adults.
Type: song gapfill; letter writing based on responses to the song.
Skills: listening; speaking; reading; writing; pronunciation (rhymes).
Language focus: vocab as arises from the song and subsequent writing activity.

Materials:
You will need a recording of “She’s Leaving Home” by the Beatles (a YouTube version is here),
a copy of the lyrics,
several copies of the first verse printed out (widely spaced) for the running dictation, copies of the gapfill exercise and copies of the discussion questions (all here).
You will also need a large space for the running dictation – either a large classroom or the use of a corridor.

Time needed: 50 minutes.

Procedure:

  1. Set up a running dictation of the first verse of the song (page 2 of the attachment). Don’t say anything about it at this stage.
  2. When over half of the pairs have finished, sit students down in their pairs and get them to compare their writing with each other. Ask them what kind of text they think it is (a letter, an article, a poem?). They will probably guess it is a song.
  3. Give them the original text and play verse 1 at the same time, so they can check their running dictation against the real text while listening.
    You can listen to the song here:
  4. Vocab input: handkerchief (demonstrate with realia or use a tissue but make sure they know a handkerchief is made of fabric. Concept check: Is a handkerchief made of paper? Is it modern or old fashioned to have a handkerchief? Elicit part of speech, syllables, stress etc)clutching (demonstrate with a board pen, first holding, then clutching. Concept check: Do I feel relaxed when I clutch the pen?)
  5. Brief discussion in pairs or groups of three: Who is this person? Where is she going?
  6. Board guesses (real answer: a young girl, probably a teenager, is running away from her parents’ house. Don’t tell them yet!).
    Play the chorus. Were their guesses correct?
  7. Vocab input: pre-teach or elicit snores, dressing gown, denied, sacrificed
  8. Play song all the way through (twice if necessary). Students complete gapfill (page 1 of attachment). Double gaps are phrasal verbs.
  9. Ask students if it is a sad or a happy song. This may get them in the mood for speaking. Give them the discussion questions (page 3 of the attachment) and go through them in pairs or groups of three. Go through the answers as a class.

Extension activity:
You could set this up in class and set as homework, or do in pairs in class. Tell the students to imagine they are this girl, and that they are leaving home. They are going to write the note to their parents. Start the letter like this and make sure all the questions are covered:

Dear Mum and Dad,

  • Why am I leaving?
  • Where am I going?
  • How do I feel? (am I sorry?)
  • Do I plan to ever come back?

Using Poems to Practise Pronunciation

Levels: upper-intermediate to advanced.
Ages: older teens; adults.
Type: focussing on pronunciation through a recorded poem and work with the Sound Foundations phonetic chart.
Skills: listening; pronunciation (phonemes and sentence stress).
Language focus: vocabulary from the poem; metaphor.

Preparation: familiarise yourself with the YouTube lessons below before the lesson;
record a copy of this poem by Thom Gunn.

Note: This is a great way to practise pronunciation of individual phonemes (especially monophthongs) and sentence stress; it requires a bit of preparation before you first use it: however, this will more than pay off as you will have a valuable extra tool to your teaching repertoire. It owes a lot to Adrian Underhill – and, in this instance, Thom Gunn.

I combined this lesson with an introduction to the Sound Foundations phonetic chart, following the lesson given by Adrian Underhill below. You can find the very same lessons on YouTube, courtesy of macmillanELT.

The first video is here, and there are three more you should look at:

Procedure:

Once you have introduced the phonetic chart (see the YouTube videos above for ideas on this), and students have all had practise making the various sounds, it is time to introduce the poem. I use Considering the Snail, because it (a) is short; (b) has a surface simplicity; (c) contains many pure vowel sounds; and (d) is vivid, and therefore memorable.

The first time I play this recording of the poem, I ask students just to listen, then to write down the words they can remember from the poem and share their initial impressions of the poem in groups of three.

On a second listening, I ask students to write any more words they hear from the poem as they listen, and then in different groups of three, compare what they have written and see how much of the poem they can reconstruct.

I now ask students to recall the poet’s voice and ask them how it sounds: what qualities does this bring to the poem?

Next, I distribute complete copies of the poem to the students (see below) and invite feedback: are there any surprising words or collocations – anything the students didn’t expect to see there? What could this poem be “about”? What does the poet mean by “slow passion”? and so on.

Then, I play the poem one more time, this time asking students to mouth along silently with the poet as he reads aloud. We do this a couple more times, then voice the poem with the poet. What sounds did the students make? What sounds were they expecting to make? Did they hear any major differences between their voices and the voice of the poet?

Finally, I board the website where you can find the poem, and many others – http://www.poetryarchive.org/ – and invite students to practice their pronunciation on their own by visiting the site, experimenting with some other short poems, mouthing silently and then reading aloud with the poet.

The Poem:

Considering the Snail

The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth’s dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,

pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail’s fury? All
I think is that if later

I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.

Thom Gunn
From Collected Poems (Faber, 1994), copyrighted.