Last year, I planned a semester focused on fairy tales, especially Cinderella. I had students watch and compare/contrast several movie versions of the Cinderella story and analyze how men and women were portrayed in these various versions.
Last semester, I was so proud when I was out with two of my former students and they made a joke referencing Cinderella being late to the ball. As a native English teacher, I'm happy that I can help familiarize my students with some of the nuanced parts of English-speaking culture that most native speakers have grown up with and don't think twice about. I think it helps my students gain a deeper appreciation and more of an insider's perspective into their English studying. And it's certainly more fun for them to learn English through children's stories than through dry adult literature from the 1800s, which is what they usually do in their Chinese English classes. (Don't get me wrong - I love 1800s lit, but that was after I learned to love reading Dr. Seuss! There's definitely a need for both.)
Since the most recent Lorax movie came out, I had been thinking about planning a semester around the theme of The Lorax. My resolve to do so was strengthened this summer when I found out that a lot of my Chinese friends had never heard of Dr. Seuss before and the new Lorax movie was their first introduction to him. What a shame, to be unfamiliar with Dr. Seuss' name! I knew what just what I'd do, I'd plan a lesson or two!
In the end, I planned more than a lesson or two. I decided to design this entire semester around The Lorax and use it to teach students narrative, descriptive, and compare/contrast writing, "all in one whacker!"
As with all of my new lesson plan ideas, I wasn't sure how students would like it. Would they really get the story? Would they be able to apply it to their own lives? Would they think the movies were interesting, cute, and funny? Or would it be too difficult for them? Would they find it too "forced" or boring?
I'm happy to report that so far, my students have definitely been challenged by analyzing the story, but they also seem to be enjoying it and think the movie versions are quite funny. (The marshmallow scene from the new Lorax movie has gotten the biggest laughs.)
To begin our Lorax studies, we read an abridged version of The Lorax in class. I gave students a four-page handout to fill in for analysis of new vocabulary and narrative story elements. This helped them to more deeply understand the basic Lorax story. They had to determine whether new words were nonsense words made up by Dr. Seuss and whether words were onomatopoeia words. (This was the first time they had ever studied onomatopoeia in English, so that was a great experience for them.) They had to answer questions about the characters, the setting, the narrative voice, the dialogue rules used, the conflict, and the plot.
Then in groups, they had to write their own story outside of class which would show what happened after the boy got the last Truffula seed. I haven't read and graded those stories yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing how the students applied narrative writing elements in their own story.
Next, we began watching the Lorax movies and working on compare/contrast. As students watched the 1972 movie version, they had to write a list of similarities and differences between the abridged book version and the 1972 movie version. We discussed them as a class and made a master list on the board.
Then the following week (this week), students watched the 2012 Lorax movie version in class and worked on another list of similarities and differences between the 1972 movie version and the 2012 movie version. That homework is due next week, so I'll be able to get a better idea of their understanding of the movie then, but from what I observed as we watched together, they were tracking with everything and really interested in it.
Starting next week, students will begin the process of writing a compare/contrast essay on their own. It needs to be related somehow to The Lorax, but the specific items they want to compare/contrast are up to them. I'm really excited to see how they analyze and apply ideas from the story in a deeper reflective essay.
Although the semester isn't finished yet, and I haven't looked at their writing yet, I can already tell that I love this Lorax theme and am planning to use it again with future classes. It's reminding me of all my deeply rooted environmentalist tendencies that were, in part, brought on by watching and reading The Lorax hundreds of times as a kid. I hope by the end of this semester, students will have brainstormed some ideas they can apply in their own lives to taking care of the resources we've been given.
As for me, I've finally started vermicomposting again, and we've started labeling our recyclables and separating them from the regular trash to make it easier for the recycling people to find and pick up. It's a challenge learning to live more "greenly" in China, but the Lorax is inspiring me to do what I can.