“And then we’d ask students to play the teacher,” I said. “At Mortal Kombat.” With my group I was presenting a lesson plan for reading “Any Day,” a short story by Christine Harris that deals with identity, migration and war. There was a pause. “And then we’d collect words about it,” I said.
We got the best feedback of any group, sparking the class into a kind of disequilibrium about year eight students and violence. “Watching the game I’d be bored,” said a non-gamer. “Maybe use a more G-rated game?” said someone else. “Interesting,” said the seminar leader, meaningfully.
Our idea grew from an object brought by a member of the group to illustrate the Harris text: one of her favourite video games, whose story shared many of its themes. Also in the group: me, a librarian, and a tutor of middle-school boys. We all agreed that Mortal Kombat would be a good text to open with, setting up a point of comparison with the differently-violent story. At least, that’s what we thought until we turned to face our colleagues, whose bewildered expressions were oddly reminiscent of a room full of year eights.
Anyway, here’s the draft lesson plan, devised in forty minutes by our gang of four. It’s the first plan I’ve worked on, and was sternly critiqued by the class. Still, I love it like a first-born child.
Engagement: game [10 mins] – teacher tells story about Mortal Kombat being her favourite childhood game, and invites students to challenge her to a game.
Reflection: word cloud [5 mins] – class brainstorms single words about their experience of playing or spectating the game, making a collective word cloud.
Building knowledge: parts of speech [5 mins] – volunteer students circle words in the cloud using coloured markers, based on their part of speech (noun, adjective, verb).
Close reading: violent language [5 mins] – in pairs, find and underline words in the Harris text that are connected to violence.
Building knowledge: word cloud [5 mins] – teacher collects Harris words into a new cloud, asking students about which marker to use based on their part of speech (noun, adjective, verb).
Transformation: proverb [5 mins] – read the proverb that opens the story: “water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.” Use this parable to analyse the two word clouds, noting how language changes depending on the type of violence being described, and its context.
Writing: a paragraph about violence [10 mins]: using language they’ve seen in this class, students write a three-sentence paragraph describing a violent scene, inspired by Mortal Kombat or “Any Day.” They should use some language from the clouds that’s appropriate to what they’re describing.
Feedback: debrief [5 mins]: as the teacher collects the written task, pairs of students discuss their feelings about the class, and what they’ve learned about language and context.