Prison rebellions

Shawshank guard captain (Byron Hadley) and Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins)

Ideas for a film and music based ESL-EFL class on jails and prison rebellions

One of my favourite music artists to work with in the ELT classroom is Johnny Cash. His lyrics are unfussy and well enunciated but tell vivid stories and address controversial issues. The Man in Black sang often about social justice and campaigned a great deal for a then-unfashionable cause, prison reform. Continue reading

Escaping the gridlock

Communicative English class about traffic and congestion, featuring cinema, rock videos, adverts and more

My last post about Michael Patterson’s work and portals to other dimensions put me in mind of one of cinema’s mindblowingly strange opening scenes, namely that of Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963). The sequence shares much of the urban claustrophobia and anxiety that characterizes Patterson’s Commuter, as well as its framing of that unease within the context of travel and transport. Continue reading

Pop portals and prepositions

Communicative English class about portals and prepositions of movement featuring an iconic pop video and the work of visual artist Michael Patterson

I’m a big fan of portals into other dimensions. Watching the David Lynch/Mark Frost television series Twin Peaks on BBC2 in my second year of secondary school was something of a gateway drug – if you’ll pardon the pun – to all manner of strange and surreal culture. Dale Cooper’s final disappearance into the Black Lodge, a kind of purgatorial antechamber peopled by backwards-speaking dwarves and taciturn giants, tapped into a long tradition of portals into other realms, notably in children’s literature, horror and science fiction. Continue reading

Protest songs and lords of war

ELT class about protest music based on Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth and its use in cinema

Following my last post about the exploitation of natural resources and Seth Boydon‘s animated short film An Object at Rest, I have been thinking of films and scenes which chart the progress of an object through time. The Hudsucker Proxy‘s key scene does something similar with the hula hoop, as I described here, while the canonical movie of this type might be said to be Albert Lamorisse’s classic 1954 short The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge). Setting aside these fine works for the moment, a scene that belongs to this tradition is the opening credits to Andrew Niccol’s 2005 movie Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage. Continue reading

Hopes and dreams and could have beens

Norman Rockwell, Breaking Home Ties, 1954

Ideas for a communicative English class about aspirations, regrets and changes in fortune

American painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell is a great source of inspiration for ESL and EFL classes. His works reflect many of the social concerns of his lifetime (1894–1978), notably the anxieties of a nation at war and racism, as this excellent class idea by Chrysa Papalazarou shows. Yet it is arguably for his vignettes of American family life that he is best known. As concerns lesson ideas, Rockwell’s works are particularly full of potential due to the stories they appear to suggest, and which the students can speculate upon and complete themselves. I was particularly struck by his 1954 piece Breaking Home Ties, above, which provided me with the final missing element for a class on hopes and dreams. The image and the class outline below would work nicely as a companion to my post on fatherhood, not to mention the themes of notalgia and regret explored in my posts on the stages of life and urbanization. Continue reading

Toxic masculinity in four songs

American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin, 1951

Some song ideas for teaching gender politics and “toxic masculinity” in the ESL/EFL classroom

Following my post touching on toxic masculinity – an expression I don’t care for particularly but a topical one – and this one on murder ballads, I have been thinking of a few songs that respond to one another around the theme of gender politics. Rather than a structured lesson plan, I have just sketched a few ideas about the songs’ potential in class, thematically and linguistically. It is also the right moment to introduce a photo of which I am particularly fond, Ruth Orkin’s American Girl in Italy (above), one of a series featuring Ninalee Allen Craig – who died at 90 in May last year – on her adventures in post-war Europe. Continue reading

Rebellion and rebel uniforms

Don McCullin, Northern Ireland, The Bogside, Londonderry, 1971

ESL/EFL lesson plan on the theme of rebellion and rebel uniforms including cinema, photography and music

There is an exhibition on at Tate Britain that I am currently missing. No doubt I will keep on missing it, regretfully, until the end of its run on May 6th, being unable to tear myself away from work and family life in France. My Dad did, however, get to go, and gives it a resounding thumbs up. It is a retrospective of the work of photojournalist Don McCullin, taking in a lifetime’s work on the frontline of many struggles, whether they be overseas wars or studies of homelessness back home in the UK. Many will be familiar, like perhaps the image above of unrest on the Bogside area of Londonderry, which is not alone among McCullin’s work in the way that it captures something absurd or even funny among the chaos and the fury.  Continue reading

John Lennon versus Steely Dan

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan

A lesson plan for comparing songs in the EFL/ESL classroom

As my last post showed, I’m a fan of working with songs which respond to each other in some way. I’ve not yet devised a much-needed Lynyrd Skynyrd vs. Neil Young face-off, but this should do in its place. I am going to lay my cards on the table and say I am not a fan of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. I have nothing against Lennon or his music; I adore Revolver and Abbey Road, not to mention “Jealous Guy”. “Imagine”, though, is rather vacuous ditty, with Lennon asking us to contemplate the disappearance of war and religion from what could easily be described as his ivory tower, the spacious white mansion where he and a curiously joyless Yoko Ono appear in the accompanying video (see below). Continue reading

Murder ballads

Lesson idea for the EFL/ESL classrom based around Johnny Cash’s Delia’s Gone and a contemporary riposte

One of my favourite bands of recent years is New Orleans’ improbably-named Hurray for the Riff Raff, centred around the singular talents of singer Alynda Segarra, who was brought up in the Bronx of Puerto Rican heritage. The band has expanded beyond its Americana roots but my favourite track of theirs is The Body Electric, a country-folk number that seems to tell the story of a woman’s murder, and the recovery of the body by a female friend, relative or same-sex lover. The timing of this post is also apposite as today is International Women’s Day. Continue reading

Fatherhood

Film, music & image-based EFL/ESL class on theme of fatherhood

There have been some great class ideas around the theme of toxic masculinity and the infamous Gillette advert. I want to steer away from the #MeToo debate for now although this post could certainly tie in with that theme, notably as the “Best a Man Can Be” advert hones in on notions of fatherhood, be they outmoded or even “toxic”. Continue reading