Teaching Crime and Punishment Through Literature
Level: Intermediate to Upper-Intermediate
Time: 90 min.
Age of students: 16+
Aids: the copy of the text of Grahame Greene’s short story ‘The Case for the Defence’ cut into 5 parts, markers, pieces of paper
- to practice the vocabulary of crime and punishment
- to improve reading comprehension and literary competence
- to encourage speaking via personal involvement
- to initiate discussions on death penalty
- to motivate students to read English literary texts
Step 1 – Warm-up (3 min.)
Students brainstorm a number of crimes (burglary, theft, murder, arson, forgery, hijacking, vandalism, rape, etc.), which is written on the board. Then students are asked to divide these crimes into two categories, serious and less serious ones.
Step 2 – Guess the story (5 min.)
Students are put into groups of 4. These groups work together during the whole lesson. The teacher writes the title of the short story – The Case for the Defence – on the board together with some selected key words from the story. These can be: trial, hammer, old lady, witness, bus, evidence. In their groups, students try to find a link between the words above and guess what the story is going to be about. When each group has decided on a preferred storyline, they introduce it to the rest of the class. As a variation, instead of key words key sentences can be extracted from the text, which provides a more contextualized framework.
Step 3 – Passage 1 (7 min.)
Students are asked to read the first part of the story, up to the sentence “The clock had just struck two in the morning.”. It is highly recommended to cut up the story in advance and give the students the piece or slip of paper containing only the first part of the story to make sure that nobody goes ahead reading. After having read the first part, students are asked to complete a small chart in their groups about the basic information the first part of the story reveals. When discussing answers, students can make guesses about what is going to happen next. The type of narrator can be discussed at this point, the application of first person narration, and students can make guesses about the mysterious character of the story-teller.
|Name of the victim|
|Name of the case|
Step 4 – The Witnesses (7 min.)
Students read the second part of the story that finishes with the sentence: “… he might as well have committed the crime in broad daylight.”. They are asked to write down the names of all the witnesses of the crime and collect at least one piece of information about each of them. The witnesses are: Mrs Salmon, Henry MacDougall, Mr. Wheeler and another witness whose name and identity are unknown.
Step 5 – The Courtroom (10 min.)
Students read the third part of the story up to the sentence “Yes, she said, there he is.” This part of the story shows the characters at the trial and provides an unemotional record of the situation in the courtroom. After having read the passage, students are asked to create a still image or a frozen picture. Each student takes the role of one character: Mrs. Salmon (the witness), Mr. Adams (the suspect), the judge and a reporter, and becomes the participant of a ‘live’ photo. The rest of the class tries to predict the feelings and opinions of each character based on the frozen picture, their mimics, gestures and positions. The students are also asked to think about one sentence that each character in the photo would say. When checking each other’s still images, the students are encouraged to discuss and analyse the motives of the murderer, the emotions and reactions of the other characters as well as the possible ending of the story.
Step 6 – Jigsaw reading (10 min.)
The fourth part of the story finishes with the sentence “… and they walked bang out of the front entrance.” This part of the short story is cut up into about four or five passages and the task of the groups is to rearrange them into the correct order.
Step 7 – Gap filling (7 min.)
Students read the last part of the story with some words missing from it. They are asked to complete the gaps with one of the words listed in the box. Each word can be used only once. By doing so, the students find out the (surprising) end of the story.
bus, rabbit, dead, sleep, know, crying, innocent, Mrs Salmon, vengeance, were
Then it happened. I don’t (1)_______ how, though I was only six feet away. The crowd
moved and somehow one of the twins got pushed on to the road right in front of a (2)_______. He gave a squeal like a (3)_______ and that was all; he was (4)_______, his skull smashed just as Mrs Parker’s had been. Divine (5)_______? I wish I knew. There was the other Adams getting on his feet from beside the body and looking straight over at (6)_______. He was (7)_______, but whether he was the murderer or the (8)_______ man nobody will ever be able to tell. But if you (9)_______ Mrs Salmon, could you (10)_______ at night?
Key: (1) know (2) bus (3) rabbit (4) dead (5) vengeance (6) Mrs Salmon (7) crying (8) innocent (9) were (10) sleep
Step 8 – Role-play (7 min.)
After a class discussion on the ending of the short story, the groups of four are further divided into groups of two, i.e. pairs. Half of the pairs in the class are asked to take the role of Mrs Salmon and a reporter, and the other half the role of Adams and a reporter. They are asked to improvise a short role-play, an interview after the accident that happened at the end of the story.
Step 9 – Hot-seating (7 min.)
All the students playing the role of Mrs. Salmon are asked to sit in a line, next to each other, in front of the whole class. The rest of the class will become reporters interrogating Mrs. Salmon after the course of events asking questions about her feelings, plans, motives, background, etc.. The ‘Mrs. Salmons’ take turns answering the reporter’s questions, each Mrs. Salmon answers one question. The activity can be repeated by hot-seating the students playing the role of Adams, and doing the same interrogation once with the surviving guilty Adams and second, the surviving innocent Adams.
Step 10 – Death penalty debate (15-18 min.)
Students go back to their groups and are asked to discuss the issue of death penalty. Half of the groups is asked to collect arguments for, the other half is asked to collect arguments against capital punishment. After the given time for preparation is over, a debate is organised, where two groups are chosen, one for and one against capital punishment, where each group is provided certain time to present their arguments, then the rest of the class is asked to evaluate the quality and the way of the group’s argumentation, and finally to decide which group had the more convincing arguments. The debate can be followed by class discussion.
Step 11 – Calming down (7 min.)
Students are asked to write a brief summary of the short story for a book on ethical behaviour. They write two or three sentences about the message of the story, the lesson it communicates and its main idea.
Setting homework (2 min.)
Students are asked to write a short essay (150-200 words) about how the story continued, as if they were writing the second part of the story. They are allowed to choose either first person or third person narration.
Notes to the teacher
There has been a lot of debate on how or whether to use literature in the language classroom. Grahame Greene’s short story represents a wonderful example of how well literary works can be exploited and applied for teaching a foreign language. The murder trial and the vocabulary connected with it provides not only a great opportunity to practice the vocabulary of crime and punishment, but it also encourages discussion and debates on the rightness of capital punishment. Greene’s short story suggests that witnesses can be unreliable for reasons beyond their understanding, and looks can be deceptive – the usage of the twin brothers can suggest that one should never believe their eyes, or at least one should not decide about another person’s life and death based on what can be seen.
The above lesson plan relies mainly on reading techniques and speaking activities, with some writing tasks at the end. Its main organisational unit is working in a group, where each student is encouraged to express his or her individual opinion and interpretation, rather than asked to explain it in front of the whole class.
Students do not need to be literature experts in order to take part in this lesson, however, it may drive their attention to the nature of narration and its effect on the reader (first person narration is more personalised than third person), the fact that by changing perspective, opinions may change as well.
The goal of using a literary text in the foreign language classroom is to make students want to read and think, and to encourage their responses. The vary basic aim of this lesson plan is to convince students that reading the unabridged, ‘original’ text of an English literary work is not frightening, impossible or something that they can only dream of, but when the right text is chosen, it is something that they are able to do and can even enjoy.
PaedDr. Puskás Andrea, PhD.