Wuthering Heights - A Speaking Activity in the English Literary Classroom

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2007 22 Pages

Didactics - English - Pedagogy, Literature Studies


Table of Contents

0. Introduction

1. Speaking Activities in the classroom
1.1. The correction of errors

2. The teaching unit Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

3. The Speaking Activity: Students playing the characters Lesson Plan of the Speaking Activity
3.1. Getting started
3.2. The Task
3.3. During the Activity
3.4. After the activity
3.5. A Reflection about the Speaking Activity

4. Conclusion

5. Works cited

6. Attachments
6.1. The Task for the Group Work
6.2 The Guided Dialogue Wuthering Heights ( Emily Bronte, 1992, 68-70)
Scene: Heathcliff’s return

0. Introduction

If people want to learn a foreign language they have to deal with four basic communication situations involved: listening, speaking, reading and writing. This term paper will focus on the speaking part.

Today many students need activities in school to be well prepared for speaking English. Sometimes they are too shy to speak in front of others because they think they have a defective pronunciation or lack the appropriate vocabulary to be able to keep up a conversation. Mostly these fears are ungrounded but the use of a speaking activity like it will be shown in this term paper can create a comfortable atmosphere in class. The students also gain more self-confidence in speaking the foreign language because to learn a language, to know the grammar and vocabulary is not just everything. It is a need to speak it correctly and fluently otherwise people will loose ‘fun’ using it.

In the first chapter of this term paper speaking activities (in general) in the classroom will be explained in detail. In chapter two I am going to show a literary unit concerning Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, which gained her a major place in the context of Victorian novels and is still today a widely read and adapted book for theater and movies. Many famous novels of that time are still in the curriculum today but especially to children and teenagers it is complicated to achieve access to this specific time because of certain political or social situations unknown today and the involvement of difficult vocabulary. Although there are many famous movies adapting these novels it is not the teenager’s interest to watch them. When ‘there is no action involved’ so why not rather watch the new Harry Potter movie? Wuthering Heights offers interesting characters like Heathcliff, whom you can neither like nor dislike for his behavior towards Catherine. The story itself is full of tricky, distracting and ghostly elements which can raise the interest of the class and the story itself offers a basis for interesting discussions among the students. In chapter three, I am going to talk about the speaking activity the class will be doing during the approach of Wuthering Heights to get a better connection to its story and make the students speak about it. During the explanation of the activity in chapter three I will first talk about the aims of it explicitly, second describe the whole preparation phase, third the activity itself in its performance and fourth I will have a reflection on the activity and its possible application in class with its faults and potency. Finally, I will draw a conclusion about the standard of speaking activities in class and their further developments in the foreign language classroom.

1. Speaking Activities in the classroom

When people say ‚I know English’ first and foremost they mean they are able to

speak English. They may can read it and maybe have some writing skills but when people (including our learners) refer to ‘second language ability’, their primary goal seems to be speaking (compare Folse 2006: 3f). It must be of major importance to learn a foreign language not to be specially gifted in it but to be able to speak to, in this case, people with English as their mother tongue or in a foreign country and using English as the lingua franca. In the class room the students want to learn English to be able to speak in their holidays with foreign people or to understand their favorite bands. The percentage concerning the speaking part of the language is very high among students because therefore English is the first foreign language children would like to learn in school next to French, Spanish etc. ‘Aber in den Klassenräumen ist es nicht “der Äußerungsakt, auf den sich die Fremdsprachendidaktik in den letzten 30 Jahren fast ausschließlich konzentriert hat, den Lernprozess strukturiert, sondern daß es der – wesentlich umfassendere – Verstehensakt ist.” (Kappe 1991: 61). ‚Auch Vollmer (Timm 1998: 238) gibt an das in den meisten Schulen

bis zum Abitur hin die schriftliche Leistungsfeststellung dominiert, spielt Gesprächsfähigkeit als Ziel nicht die Rolle, […] Sie würde von Lehrern und Schülern nur Ernst genommen, wenn sie Jahr für Jahr mit einer eigenständigen Zensur in die Gesamtzensur für Englisch einginge.

‘Speaking activities sind von großer Bedeutung im Klassenraum, weil

(ein) übergeordnetes Lernziel […] des fremdsprachlichen Unterrichts […] ist in allen Didaktiken die Beherrschung der jeweiligen Sprache, die sogenannte ‘kommunikative Kompetenz’, die im Englischunterricht durch eine Förderung der Kommunikationsfähigkeit der Schüler erreicht werden soll” (Kappe 1991: 29)

Especially pronunciation should be practised on an early stage in English lessons:

Esling and Wong (1983), […], suggest that if students are given early instruction on how to set their articulatory organs to produce the typical voice quality of North American English speakers, then it will be easier for them to produce individual sounds. (Hedge 2003: 285)

According to Jani (2005: 62) the “attention to pronunciation will increase reading ability, and that structural items which are developed sequentially and systematically lead to more efficient and effective learning of communicating skills.” Also the “correct pronunciation, intonation and rhythm are of primary importance in developing comprehension in any of the other communication arts.” (Jani 2005: 187)

1.1. The correction of errors

A problem of just listening to English is to make students aware of their own mistakes. Tricia Hedge (2003: 288) is of the opinion that

[…] in acquiring a first language, a young child takes little notice of parental correction and that, since adults follow a similar process in acquiring a second or foreign language, correction by the teacher is of dubious value.

Although the students should know the right grammar the right usage of it during the speaking process must not be expected. The training of spoken English is necessary not only to advance the comfort of speaking a foreign language correctly and be able to hold a conversation but also to notice certain errors occurring and correcting them by the teacher. Like Tricia Hedge (2003:289) pointed it out, there are

[…] systematic errors, which are evidence of a learner’s current stage of interlanguage and which are to do with incomplete or faulty knowledge of English, and mistakes, which are caused through inability to perform that knowledge in production because of factors to do with carelessness, tiredness, distractions or difficult circumstances […]

The main problem for a teacher is which errors he should correct and which not. But without any speaking activities the teacher would not notice who of his students might have pronunciation, vocabulary etc. problems in speaking because just having listening activities or writing a test, which can be totally correct, does not mean that there might not be a speaking problem. Sometimes the students are nervous speaking in front of others and errors occur through nervousness because they are

unused to the demands for speaking in public, […], even if that ‘public’ is a relatively small number of their peers in groupwork, may be reluctant to speak up through lack of confidence or fear of ‘losing face’ by making mistake.” (Hedge 2003: 290).

Students may feel they are presenting themselves at a much lower level of cognitive ability than they really possess; they may have a natural anxiety about being incomprehensible; they may have cultural inhibitions about losing face, or they may simply be shy personalities […] (Hedge 2003: 292).

Another problem can be to react within seconds to give an answer, while during a written test it can take certain minutes to formulate an answer and rethink it. In communication situations there can be, according to Hedge (2003: 289) “global errors (which) cause misunderstanding by the listener while local errors tend not to as they relate only to part of what is said.”

To have certain speaking activities in class will make the students comfortable because the game-playing atmosphere will not have the feeling of a test but the teacher can check every time the (possible) progress of his students. Of course the class knows that every task is a test of their knowledge or an exercise for new material but their involvement in an activity will lead to more independence of creating an exercise on their own, also fun is involved in a group work.

During the activity the teacher must make certain decisions about how to indicate that an error has been made, how to indicate where the error is, whether to give the correct form or a prompt self-correction in some way, and whether to involve the whole class or not (compare Hedge 2003: 291). The teacher must come to his or her decision quickly during the activity concerning the student who made the mistake, his peer-group and their reaction to a correction of the student’s mistake and if he will take the given advice and use it. Another strategy would be to let the correction be done by the students themselves so even those who are afraid can improve their skills. ‘Basierend auf der “Aufhebung der Dominanz der Lehrkraft fühlen sich die Schüler besser in das Unterrichtsgeschehen integriert.” (Schelhaas 1997: 75).

During an activity the teacher should use, according to Hedge (2003: 290f) “a balance between accuracy and fluency, […] of not impeding or distracting learners’ attempts to communicate during fluency activities.” So he or she must decide whether to stop revealing mistakes during the activity by shortly interrupting it or to correct every error after the activity has stopped. Sometimes an on-going mistake can be taken up by other students as well so it might be better to correct such small mistakes during the activity while other grammar mistakes should be discussed afterwards to not distract the students. The decision must be either to let the class talk fluently with possible mistakes but with self-confidence or to stop them for every error which might distract the group and stops the fluency. According to Hedge (2003: 290) “trainee teachers are usually advised to be sensitive to how insistent they are in correcting an individual publicly in class as embarrassment or anxiety can eliminate any productive outcome.” Therefore the teacher needs to combine negative feedback on errors and positive feedback on the attempt to improve the student’s language, so he will not be afraid to speak in public the next time.

1.2. Managing classroom interaction

The teacher’s task is the creation of a comfortable environment in class so students are willing to speak either in small groups or in front of the whole class. But first there should be simple communication from the very first beginning in the foreign language classroom which can be everyday speaking activities like answering a question, giving an advice or complaining about something. It is important that all students in the class are proactive, willing to learn and gain words and strategies also on their own working account. (compare Timm 1998: 239).



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Wuthering Heights Speaking Activity English Literary Classroom



Title: Wuthering Heights - A Speaking Activity  in the English Literary Classroom