Posted 4/9/11
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
Lady of Shalott pdf [downloaded 5303 times]

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.

  1. On the board, write the following terms:
  2. Ask your students if they know anything about the characters and how they connect with each other.


    • 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.
  3. 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
    • Tapestries
  4. Put students into pairs and ask them to guess what the story is about.

  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.”

  8. 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.
  9. Let students compare the words and phrases that they wrote.
  10. Tell students that they are going to reconstruct the story in their own words.
  11. Note that this can be done collaboratively:

    • 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.
  12. Ask students to stick their texts on the wall. Invite students to browse the gallery and read each other’s texts.
  13. Give out copies of the Lady of Shalott text (included in the PDF download) and let students compare it with their own.

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:

Posted 4/9/11

34 Responses to The Lady of Shalott

  1. Valentina says:

    Very interesting and useful. Dictogloss are a great resource in class and it’s good to have new ideas on how to use it in class. I use your activity on the Zeppeling-Hidenburg from your book “Images” and it works like magic all the times.
    thanks for sharing your ideas and lesson plans with us

  2. Gabi Bajalan says:

    Intriguing stuff, Jamie, thanks!
    Maybe for a few auditory learners the start could be the song and they are asked to guess what kind of story it could be or just describe their feelings as they listen?
    I’ll have to use a shorter version for lack of lesson time or give them less time for text reconstruction, I’m afraid, but will use the technique for business English, too!
    Thanks again also for the super quality of yr classroom clips! And I love the paintings by the Pre-raphaelites!! – GabiB.

  3. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Valentina. Thanks for your comment. You’re right – dictogloss is a great technique. I like to start with an image to engage students with the story/strengthen comprehension of it. Did you ever try the bear story:
    Jamie :-)

  4. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Gabi
    Yes – it always surprises me how long this activity takes: 90 minutes + more. A shorter text might work. Good luck.
    Jamie :-)

  5. Valentina says:

    that’s brilliant! I’ll try it for sure!
    I’ll use “the lady of shallot” on Thursday with my class, I have a 2-hour class, so that would do. Plus I’m set in Belfast, I’m sure they’ll love it!

    thanks again


  6. Diana says:

    I just love your wonderfully enriched language activities! You always dream up so much more to offer students. (Great Story Art & Music …what more could they want!). I agree that dictogloss is a terrific technique-unfortunately I’m teaching a low pre-intermediate class & this particular heart-rending story would be definitely beyond them.

  7. Dina says:

    That’s a great story to tell sts as most are familiar with the Camelot legend.
    My personal favs: dictogloss and sts’ work displayed on classroom walls. I love having sts move around the class discussing their work.
    Also interesting to see some of them created little pieces of art out of the large worksheets you gave them. It’s usually the sort of thing young learners would do. Got me thinking…
    And since a picture is worth a thousand words, watching a lesson is so much better than reading about it in a lesson plan, so thanks for sharing the videos. Hope I’ll be brave enough to record some of mine.
    Have a rewarding academic year!

  8. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Diana
    Yes – the language would be difficult for pre-int.You could simplify it and use it in some other way.
    With lower levels, you could still use dictogloss with simpler texts like jokes. If you especially like using art, you could try this activity:
    You could use the basic idea (i.e. creating a number of true/false statements about an image) for the lady of Shalott painting.
    Thanks very much for your nice comment
    Jamie :-)

  9. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Dina
    If you film yourself at work, please send the results to me! It’s good to see other teachers at work as we can all learn things from each other.
    Good luck and thank you for the comment
    Jamie :-)

  10. Nathalie says:

    Waow !! Here is a thrilling lesson …I teach in a French high school and have had the same group of upper intermediate students for the third year now…So I ran out of ideas and am pleased to discover such an original idea…thnx ever so much for sharing internet goers

  11. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank for dropping by Nathalie.
    Very happy to help. Good luck with the activity.
    Jamie :-)

  12. Joelle says:

    Great website. Thanks for the lesson plans and inspirational ideas! :)

  13. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Joelle. Very happy you like it.
    Jamie :-)

  14. evaguti says:

    Excellent, Jamie. My upper-intermediate students loved it. Very pleased with the way it worked in the classroom. Thank you ;-)

  15. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank *you* Eva. Great to hear that it worked well.
    Jamie :-)

  16. Debbie says:

    Dear Jamie
    Thank you so much for sharing this great story with us. We followed your plan, it took us a little over two hours, I teach one-to-one, and the did some research on the painter and discussed about some symbols (mirror, tapestries, the need to leave) and discussed about the curse, who could have (put, gave, made … not sure of the right verb sorry, need help with the collocation!) the curse and why … We finished the lesson reading the poem while listening to the song. My student told me “Debbie, this has been celestial” and I agree. I had planned to ask her to give it a happier ending as homework, but decided not to, after the feelings that the story had awaken on us both
    Chapó Jamie!!!!!!!!! ( me saco el sombrero from French) We use this expression in Spanish when somebody does something great!
    Hugs from Buenos Aires

  17. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Debbie and ¡chapó! to you for giving such a ‘celestial’ class :-)
    Great to hear your feedback. Thank you for your comment.
    Jamie :-)
    PS A quick Google search would suggest that to “Put a curse on” someone is the highest frequency collocation on the Internet.
    PPS Did you discover any of the interpretations of the story? The most common one is that the imprisonment is an allegory for the life of an artist – capturing the world in his/her work but often in isolation.

  18. Debbie says:

    Yes Jamie, I quote: “Reality’s perception through art (in Lady Shalott’s case, her making of tapestry), I think, all artists can relate; Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, and Ralph Waldo Emerson all claimed that “art is an imitation of nature,” and the idealistic beauty represented through an artist’s work certainly projects his/her perception of the world”
    The poem triggers so many questions: “Is death the punishment for her disobeying the rules?” Her longing for romance and her awakening to womanhood led her to death?. Did Genevere put the curse on Eleine? Anyway, I enjoyed every single line of the poem, so full of magic, yet so sad! (beautiful yet lifeless, as in your story) .

  19. Jamie Keddie says:

    I always thought that her death symbolizes the futility of any artist’s attempted escape from his or her nature. Who knows? I think the origin of the curse in the story remains a mystery.
    Jamie :-)

  20. mimi says:

    thanks for this lesson.. love from turkey <3

  21. Jamie Keddie says:


  22. Gabriella says:

    Hey Jamie,
    I came across some pictures other teachers might find useful, too. I copied them into a PDF document:
    They from this film:
    One can ask the students to put them in the right order or – if you deal with the original poem – to find the matching lines.
    I hope students will have fun with them :)

  23. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you very much Gabriella
    This is excellent material. Thanks for sharing.
    Jamie :-)

  24. Gabriella says:

    Thank YOU for the great lesson plan! :)

  25. Maria says:

    Hello Jamie, I adore your classes, this one is great!!. I was at your presentation in Montevideo , Uruguay in February. Thanks for being so generous sharing your classes with all of us. I have learnt so much from you and my classes are more fun!!
    Thanks again

  26. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Maria!
    I had a great time in Uruguay. You were an excellent group to work with. Really glad you liked the session and glad you are making good use of the site. I hope to come back again one day soon.
    J :-)

  27. Olga says:

    Thanks very much for the lessons of yours,
    They are so useful and helpful of course,
    You give the ideas to work at then,
    I want to read you once again.
    I like such people for creativity,,
    For the contribution and their activity.
    You teach our students to think and discuss,
    To tell their point of view in the class.
    You are a creative personality
    And have a sense of humour in reality.
    I want you prosper, be OK
    With every new and happy day!

  28. Jamie Keddie says:

    He he
    Thank you for your poem Olga
    And sorry I took so long to reply
    I had a problem with my comments
    By the way
    This is a poem too
    But not the kind that rhymes
    I hope you like it!
    Jamie :)

  29. Mehmet Muçu says:

    Thank you for great lesson. Actually dictagloss is excellent technique (writing activity) and you made it gorgeous with some of your own edition to this technique.


  30. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you very much Mehmet!
    Jamie :)

  31. Gordana Mladenovic says:

    Wonderful. I sometimes use dictoglos myself and I think it is a great tool. You really did a great job with this story. Extremely successful! Great! By this you have really proved that teaching could be a great pleasure for both the students and the teacher, as actually it should be. Thanx!

  32. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Gordana
    Nice to hear from another dictogloss fan!
    Jamie :)

  33. Callie says:

    Thanks, Jamie! I’ve used this a few times now – always a success. I actually get you to tell the story the first time, by playing the video from the right place. That is because it’s good for the students to be exposed to a Scottish accent (and not have to listen to me all the time) and also because I am a bit lazy. Also, I think the subtitles help them on the first listening :) Callie x

  34. Jamie Keddie says:

    I love this idea Callie. It would let you pop out for a coffee as well!
    Jamie :)