This is the first in a series of lesson plans for proficiency level students based around short stories from the book:
The Oxford Book of English Short Stories edited by A. S. Byatt.
Short stories are perfect for the ESL classroom because as the name suggests they are short. They are also an excellent way to introduce students to a wide range of authors and literature. This particular collection contains works from some of the greatest English writers. Including Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf and the author with which I’m going to start this series Graham Greene.
The hope is that by introducing students to these authors in this short format (some of the stories run to only 4 or 5 pages) their interest will be piqued and they will go on to attempt the longer, more well-know works. Even if they don’t these stories are a fantastic way to introduce vocabulary and stir discussion.
This series works, as the title suggests, like a typical book club: Each week you set a different story for homework to discuss the following week. The majority of the stories can easily be read in under half an hour
If you haven’t bought the book don’t worry because somebody has helpfully posted a pdf of the story:
I chose to start with Graham Greene’s “The Destructors” for the simple reason that he is one of my favourite authors. It is also a story which stirs a lot of opinions. The main theme is the mental scars left on the survivors of the the London blitz during the second world war.
A good analytical essay of the story can be found here:
The essay: “The effects of war in The Destructors, by Graham Greene” by Holly Huffstutler gives a good analysis of the socio-political background of the story. Here is a link to a copy with some key parts underlined:
The students will have read the story for homework so start the class by asking for any queries on vocabulary. Some examples of things that might come up are listed below:
- (pg 311) Ignoble
- (pg312) crippled, lav – toilet, to pinch – to steal, to be in a bleeding funk – to be stressed or angry)
- (pg 313) bribe, to draw lots.
Then put the students into groups and give out the following discussion questions:
- What was your initial reaction to the story?
- What’s the story about? What happens?
- Describe the different characters.
- Where and when does the story take place?
- What are your feelings about the boys at the end of the story?
- What good qualities do the delinquents have?
- Explain Blackie’s motivations for re-joining the gang after losing the leadership.
- What does Mr. Thomas (Old Misery) represent in the story?
- Why are the boys suspicious of Mr. Thomas’ generosity with the smarties?
- What are Trevor’s reasons for wanting to destroy Mr. Thomas’ house?
- How do you explain the burning of the money and the way they treat Mr. Thomas?
- What is the importance in the ending of “The Destructors”?
- Does “The Destructors” portray a world without hope?
- In what ways are the boys in “The Destructors” by Graham Greene isolated?
- Is destruction a form of creation?
After the discussion have a feedback session so students can share their opinions. You may want to explain a little about the London Blitz:
You might like to point out that the story features in the film “Donnie Darko” in one of the first English class scenes. You could show a clip of the scene to the students and see if they agree with the main character’s assessment of the story.
Next week: Solid Objects by Virginia Woolf