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A Literature-Based Lesson

Khalid Al Seghayer holds the PhD in Foreign Language Education/Applied Linguistics from the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests include computer-assisted language learning and second language reading. He has published in TESOL Quarterly, Language Learning and Technology, CALL Journal, Internet TESL Journal, CALICO Journal, CALL-EJ Online, and the APA News. He chaired the EFL Interest Section in TESOL from 2002 to 2003, and is currently the editor of TESOL’s NNEST Newsletter and CALL Media Software editor of the Reading Matrix Journal.


TopicYour Dad was just like you (a story by Dolores Johnson, 1993)

Target language: English as a Second/Foreign Language

Target Students Level:  Young Intermediate High ESL/EFL learners

Time: 150 minutes. (50 for each class)



A literature-based approach in the second language (L2) classroom offers a variety of benefits. It encourages sense-making or meaning-making of a whole text (story, poem, etc). Fountas and Hannigan (1989) contend that once students understand the general meaning of the whole text, they are better prepared to deal with the analysis of the parts. A literature-based approach also promotes active engagement and collaborative work so that learners contribute to class activities through direct interaction with either the instructor or with peers. They also participate through sharing information, asking questions, and reflecting on their understanding, as well as working together to make sense of the text under study. Another advantage of this instructional approach is its incorporation of a human component so that learners can identify with characters who face common human conflicts and problems, such as fear, hate, love, etc. Learners have the opportunity to reflect on the characters’ actions and choices and then discuss whether they agree or disagree with the characters’ decisions (Adair-Hauck, 1996). Furthermore, a literature-based approach supports integrated as opposed to segregated skills and, as a result, its associated activities usually target in one lesson all the skills involved in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

The purpose of this lesson is to put into practice some of these benefits. To carry out this intention, a short story entitled Your dad was just like you by Dolores Johnson (1993) was chosen. This story tells about a boy named Peter who has been battling with his father over school work and various aspects of his life. One day while Peter was playing, he broke a trophy showcase belonging to his father which had been given to him by his own father when he was a little boy. Peter, out of fear of his father’s anger, went to his grandfather seeking protection from his dad.

This story was selected based on five components suggested by McWiliams (1993):

1. Time and setting

2. Characters with personality

3. A major problem

4. Includes a problem and attempts to solve it

5. Has a quick resolution and ending.

The lesson will be organized around three phases: pre-storytelling, storytelling, and post-storytelling


A- Objectives


Students will be able to predict what might happen in the story, identify vocabulary related to some social practice in American culture, and compare and contrast similarities and differences between American social relationships among family members and their own. They will also demonstrate comprehension by describing characters and events, recounting part of the story, and discussing Peter’s behavior.


Students will practice top-down strategies: listening for global understanding and guessing meaning from context. They will listen to and comprehend a short story in English, entitled Your dad was just like you, and demonstrate understanding through signals and actions. They will describe orally the main events and characters of the story. Finally, each student will assume the role of one of the main characters and write what he would do if put in that character’s situation.


The grammatical feature suggested by the story is the past tense, especially simple past and past progressive. Instead of initially teaching these grammatical features, the emphasis will be placed on practicing and reinforcing their use. This will be done indirectly within the comprehension phase. Students will be directed to apply these skills when making oral presentations and when writing their compositions to discuss the characters and events in the story.


After listening to the story, students will compare and contrast the similarities and differences between American social relationships among family members and their own.

Some social practices in American culture will be highlighted, such as giving the child the chance to express his or her feelings, the importance of communication as the best means to solve family crises, child abuse, the phenomenon of running away from home, etc. This will enable students to engage in cross-cultural exchanges.


B- Equipment and Materials

- Over-sized depictions/drawings of important vocabulary

- Picture of the story episodes

- Transparencies

- Story map

- Discussion web

- Character chart


C- Procedures

Day One (Pre-Storytelling)

Anticipatory Set (5 Min.)

The teacher will start the class by talking briefly about the concept or the genera of the story, more precisely, its presentation of aspects of human life. Students will be asked to discuss the cultural values that can be derived from reading a story, as well as how, if at all, a story helps in improving one’s language learning skills.

Warm-Up activity (10 Min.)

The class will proceed with an activity that will lead students to relate a story they know from their own experience; therefore, two warm-up activities will be employed. In order to generate a general discussion and engage students’ anticipation about the content of the story, they will be shown the title and the main picture of the story (See Appendix A). Then students will be asked to recall a story they have read or known regarding relationships among family members.

Presentation (35 Min.)

At this stage, two activities will be undertaken. First, students will be told the name of the story and its setting. They also will be shown an illustration of the main picture. Students will then exercise “think bank” where they are asked to brainstorm about vocabulary or ideas which might be used to tell the story. After that, students will be encouraged to see if the vocabulary predicted does appear in the story. This brings us to the second activity. Students will examine their prediction by means of Total Physical Response[s] (TPR) activities. They will be engaged in signaling activities such as pointing, touching, drawing, acting, etc. The aim of so doing is to introduce key vocabulary words, namely grandfather, father, dresser, jump, break, smiles, yell, run, walk, park, race, wind, rain, and trophy (See Appendix B).


Day Two (Story telling)

Anticipatory Set (5 Min.)

The first five minutes of the class will be spent on:

- Asking  students to recall the title of the story;

- Telling the students that the story, Your dad was jus like you, will be told.  


Warm-Up activity (10 Min.)

After showing the students some pictures of the story that were used in the previous class, they will be asked to name the vocabulary associated with each of the displayed pictures. Whoever mentions the correct word will be asked to write it next to the displayed picture.  

Presentation (35 Min.)

Time to tell the story. To best convey the meaning of the story during the sense-making phase, the teacher will tell the story using large illustrations, voices for different characters, and facial expressions to convey meaning. To ensure that the students are following the story and to hold their attention while it is being told, the following activities will be undertaken.

- First, to engage the students in the storytelling process, they will be asked to raise their objects (which have been distributed in advance) whenever they are mentioned in the story, as well as say the word belonging to the picture or naming the character.


- Second, to help the students focus on its critical components and to reflect on the story they have just been introduced to, a cubing activity will be used. Students will be put into groups of two or three and asked to fill in who, where, when and what happens in each box. They will be given transparencies to fill out for the cubing activity (See Appendix C).


Day Three (Post-Story telling)

Anticipatory Set (2 Min.)

The instructor will start by announcing the agenda for the day’s class and sharing with the students the rationale for utilizing these activities.

Warm-Up activity (5 Min.)

Students will be asked to relate what they remember from the first telling of the story. The visual illustrations used in the previous classes to recall names or events will be available to the students if they wish to use them. In pairs, students will reconstruct the meaning of the story on a story map.

Presentation (43 Min.)

In this final phase, in order to encourage collaboration in a meaningful context, to help students organize their thoughts or ideas, and to move from comprehension activities to those that stimulate their critical thinking skills, several activities will be used, including Story Mapping and Discussion Webbing. In pairs, students will reconstruct the meaning of the story on a story map and the whole class will engage in a story mapping discussion where groups of students agree or disagree with each other (See Appendix D). Then the class will move to another activity, Discussion Webbing, in which they analyze the events of the story to reach a conclusion about why they took place. The web discussion will revolve around the question of whether or not Peter should run away from home. After having the chance to express their positive or negative answers, students will reach a consensual agreement on whether or not Peter should stay home and fix what he broke (See Appendix E).


During these activities, the instructor will circulate throughout the classroom and use a checklist to assess whether students are on task and actively participating.


This activity can be extended further by providing an opportunity for independent practice. Students may choose to take the role of one of the main characters and write what they would do if they were put in their situations; or they may write a reflective essay presenting what they have learned about American family relationships. Other possible activities would be asking students to individually create a different ending for the story or create their own stories.


The activities described can be used with any age group and proficiency level. They are, however, highly recommended for younger intermediate ESL learners who are assumed to enjoy being active during the storytelling phases; that is, signaling, moving around, completing sentences, etc.

Cited Works

Adair-Hauck, B. (1996). Practical whole language strategies for secondary and university level students. Foreign Language Annuals, 9 (2), 253-270.

Fountas, I. and Hannigan, I. (1989).  Making sense of whole language: the pursuit of informed teaching. Childhood Education, 65(3) 133-137.

McWilliams, Betsy. (1993). Storytelling Techniques. Unpublished handout. World Language Conference,  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.   


Appendix A: The Title and Main Picture of the Story


Appendix B: Key Vocabulary

Grandfather Father Dresser


Jump Smile Yell


Run Walk Park


Race Wind Rain


Trophy Break  


Appendix C: Cubing Activity


Appendix D: Story Mapping Activity


Title:  Your Dad Was Just Like You


The setting:


This story took place in America and talks about the conflict between a father and his son.






Peter (the son)


The Problem:


While Peter was playing around, he broke a trophy showcase belonging to his father

and then went to his grandfather to seek his protection from his Dad.



Event # 1   Peter broke the trophy showcase belonging to his father.

Event # 2   Peter ran away from his father’s house to his grandfather's.

Event # 3   Peter explained how badly his father has been treating him lately.

Event # 4   Both Peter and his grandpa took a walk where his grandpa told him about his father’s childhood life.


The Solution:


After talking with his grandpa, Peter went back home,

gathered the broken trophy, fixed it, and then gave it to his Dad.



Appendix E: Discussion Webbing


Peter should stay home and fix what he broke







1. His father was right when he got angry at him

1. Peter was right when decided to move out to his grandfather’s house.


2. Peter might join unwanted group when he ran away from home


2.  If he stayed home, his father would abuse him


3. His grandpa gave him a wise advice.


3.   Peter should seek help from somebody else other than his grandpa





Best Reason Why:



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