Monday, November 4, 2013

Conflict... So easy, even a teenager can do it (in a second language!)

Yes, I know. I am a terrible blogger.

BUT I have an excuse for my lack of online presence these past few months. As a teacher, this time of year is always crazy busy. This year was even more insane than usual because I'm at a new school, teaching all new subjects!

I teach high school, specifically ESOL students (English for Speakers of Other Languages). It's exciting, fascinating, rewarding... but also unbelievably challenging, even when I'm teaching subjects I feel totally comfortable with.

It takes a lot of creativity and patience to teach high school ESOL. Intellectually my students are teenagers, but they're working with the language skills of an elementary student. Luckily, one of the classes I'm teaching this year is Literature so all the research I've done writing my first novel is definitely coming in handy!

Last month we were doing a lot around the theme of "survival" - natural disasters, extreme weather, etc. It seemed like a logical place to introduce types of conflict, which is one of the regular 9th grade English standards.

I admit, I sort of put the lesson together a few hours before class. That's just how it goes in teaching sometimes. (Okay, a lot of the time.) I hadn't really thought through all the challenges my students might have in terms of language.

Not surprisingly, about halfway through the lesson the kids were totally lost, and I was desperately trying to think of a way to get us back on track. Suddenly I remembered this blog post from the amazing Janice Hardy (who would make an incredible teacher, by the way!) over at the Other Side of the Story: The Best Advice on Plotting I've Ever Heard: Two Tips That Will Make Plotting Easier.

Basically, the idea is that story conflict can be reduced to this formula:
[goal] + but [problem] + therefore [solution/effect]
Providing "formulas" like this is actually a common ESOL strategy, except we call them "sentence frames." In other words, we provide students with the basic language they need to "frame" their ideas.

So, I scrapped whatever we were doing and told the kids to think about the last movie they saw and write down four things about the story:
(1) Character
(2) Goal
(3) Problem
(4) Solution
Once they had all that figured out, I wrote this on the board:
"_____________ wanted __________, but ____________, so ____________."
Plug in the character's name, goal, problem, solution - and, tada! A perfect summary of the story's conflict.