This activity uses a short story from Arthurian Legend for the basis of a dictogloss. In a dictogloss, students reconstruct a short text in their own words. In this activity, the text reconstruction process is a collaborative one.
- Language level: Intermediate – Advanced (B1 – C1)
- Learner type: Teens; Adults
- Time: 90 minutes + follow up
- Activity: Dictogloss (Listening; Writing; Speaking)
- Topic: Art; Stories; Love
- Language: Narrative language
- Materials: Images; Text
Lesson plan outline
For this activity, you will need images of three paintings by John William Waterhouse. The paintings depict scenes from the Tennyson poem, The Lady of Shalott and can be downloaded from Wikipedia.
- On the board, write the following terms:
- King Arthur: A legendary British leader from the late 5th / early 6th centuries.
- Camelot: King Arthur’s legendary castle and court.
- Guinevere: King Arthur’s queen. She was said to have had a love affair with Sir Lancelot (see below).
- Merlin: A wizard who is often associated with King Arthur.
- Excalibur: King Arthur’s legendary sword.
- Sir Lancelot: King Arthur’s most trusted knight.
- Show students the Waterhouse painting, The Lady of Shalott (see below). Tell them that it depicts a scene from a story from Arthurian legend. Tell students that the story also involves the following:
- A grey tower
- An evil curse
- A knight in shining armour
- A mirror
- Invite students to share their ideas. Have a vote to see who thinks the story will have a happy ending and who thinks it will have a sad ending.
- Use the text in the PDF download to tell students the story of The Lady of Shalott. Refer to the three Waterhouse paintings as you do so.
- Tell students that they are going to hear the story again. This time they should make notes of words or phrases that are key to the story. Read the story a second time.
- Let students compare the words and phrases that they wrote.
- Tell students that they are going to reconstruct the story in their own words.
- Put students into small groups.
- Ask students to work together to reconstruct the story of the Lady of Shalott.
- Students should compare their understanding of the story, decide how they are going to organise ideas and events, and consider the most suitable grammar structures and discourse devices to link them.
- If possible, give out flip-chart paper and marker pens for students to write their final texts on.
- Ask students to stick their texts on the wall. Invite students to browse the gallery and read each other’s texts.
- Give out copies of the Lady of Shalott text (included in the PDF download) and let students compare it with their own.
Ask your students if they know anything about the characters and how they connect with each other.
Put students into pairs and ask them to guess what the story is about.
Once upon a time, in a grey tower, on an island, in the middle of a river which flowed to Camelot, there was a prisoner. Her name was Elaine. For years Elaine had been trapped in the tower by an evil curse. Not only was she unable to leave the tower, she couldn’t even look out of the window. In fact, her only connection with the outside world was through the reflections in a mirror which hung on her wall.
Elaine spent her days singing and weaving tapestries of the things she saw through the mirror: the moon above; the barley fields; the red cloaks of market girls; people in love.
No one knew she was there. No one even knew she existed. Those who heard her song thought that the castle was haunted. But of course, it wasn’t. Elaine was very much alive.
And then one day everything changed: Elaine caught an unexpected glimpse of a particular knight in shining armour. Captivated, and forgetting the curse, Elaine took three steps towards the window and looked out directly at the back of Sir Lancelot.
The mirror cracked from side to side. Elaine ran down the spiral staircase and left the tower. She got into a boat and went down the river towards Camelot. As she got closer, she sang her last song. The curse started to work its magic. The boat landed on the banks of Camelot. The people rushed to see the sight of this young woman – beautiful yet lifeless. Lancelot stepped forward and was struck by her beauty. He said: “God have mercy on her soul.”
Note that this can be done collaboratively:
Follow up 1
Give students any of the following tasks:
- Investigate the allegory in the story.
- Write a story which explains how Elaine came to be cursed.
- Find out about Waterhouse, the artist who painted the three images.
Follow up 2
Ask students to look over the Lady of Shalott text (included in the PDF download) and underline ten items (words, phrases, expressions, idioms, structures, etc.) that they like. Once they have done this, ask them to write their chosen items on the reverse side of the sheet in the same order that they appear in the story. Finally, put students into pairs and ask them to recount the Lady of Shalott story to each other, referring only to these ‘crib sheets’ that they have just created. Importantly, they should incorporate all ten of their chosen language items into their stories.
Follow up 3
Refer students to the Tennyson poem for their own reading. It is easy to fin online (here for example).
Canadian musician Loreena McKennit used excerpts from the poem for this song: