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Seven: The Lesson Plan

February 5, 2011
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You guys can’t even begin to know how amazed I was in class today when I learned that there is an ESL graded reader version of Seven.

For those whose brains didn’t immediately start screaming upon seeing the last word in that sentence, Seven was originally a movie starring Brad Pitt I think, Morgan Freeman almost for sure, and probably some other people. The basic premise is, there’s a guy going around committing murders in accordance with the main characteristics of each of the seven deadly sins, known among annoying people as “the seven deadlies.” The killer is as disturbed as he is creative. The Brad Pitt character is a detective trying to find the murderer, and he has a sweet young wife, played by somebody. She is pregnant (this becomes important down the road). You, the viewer, are led on a horrifying voyage of discovery until finally the most awful thing ever to happen in a movie happens to the Brad Pitt character. You aren’t the kind of person who ever watches psychologically terrifying movies, but you’re at the cabin up north with your dad and brother and for whatever reason there’s a VHS tape of Seven up there (this happens in the olden times when VHS tapes still occasionally exist), so your dad pops it in and most of the lights are off and the wind is whistling through the boreal forest and the Brad Pitt character keeps coming upon cleverly designed gruesome crime scenes, e.g. this one body is totally decayed and Brad gets closer and closer to it and stares at it and you’re staring along because the camera is pointing right at it, and then all of a sudden it flings itself upward into the detective’s face (–> also yours) because guess what, it’s not dead after all (HINDSIGHT SPOILER ALERT)! Rather, it is alive and very disgusting, and if you ever sleep again, well, friend, it certainly won’t be tonight. Even if you miraculously manage to calm down after the “sloth” scene, you will never ever forget how you felt an hour later as you begged and pleaded with the character on the other side of the TV screen not to look in the box. Please Brad please please don’t look in the box. Brad you don’t know this but the scriptwriter has been putting a terribly suspicious amount of emphasis on the extent to which you love your wife and unborn child. No no no no no don’t look in it…

Inexplicably, some enterprising author of ESL materials has turned Seven into an easy reading novel for low-intermediate students. Dear lord. But okay, if I have to teach this novel, I’d better start working on my lesson plan.

CLASS: 25 adult immigrants, low intermediate

AIM: To teach the construction “How long has s/he / have you been…,” practice reading aloud and responding to written text, work on new vocabulary (see below).

TARGET VOCABULARY: anxious, traumatized, investigate, sin, lust, sloth, envy, gluttony, mystery box, prostitute, S&M, strap-on (n.b. differentiate between this & phrasal verb to strap on), protruding, decapitate.

WARM-UP (10 min.): In groups of 3-4, Ss discuss topic: the worst day of my life. After 5 min. Ss return to seats; class brainstorms for five minutes on “bad feelings.” T asks leading questions (What feelings are bad? When do you feel bad? etc.), writes responses on board.

REVIEW (5 min.): T reviews material from last class (ch. 4). What happened to the prostitute? How many more murders do you think there will be in the novel? Why is the detective’s wife continually being mentioned during “innocuous” conversations? etc. T also reviews grammar point from last class (present perfect continuous): How many murders has the killer committed? How often have you cried or hyperventilated (define if nec.) as you read the novel?

GRAMMAR POINT (15 min.): Use context from novel. Is the murderer killing lots of people? (Yes.) Was he killing people last week? (Yes.) Last month? (Yes.) Is he planning or executing a murder now? (Yes.) So the killer has been killing for many months? (Yes.) And right now he’s working on killing more people? (Yes.)

What if I wanted to ask about the amount of time the killer has been spending on killing? How would I do that?

Listen: How long has the murderer been killing people? (Choral repetition: How long has the murderer been killing people?)

And do you know how do I answer that question? Listen: He’s been killing people for several months. (Mild stress on “killing”; major stress on “months.” Weak forms of “been,” “for.”)

Further practice questions: How long has the Brad Pitt character been married? How long has the probably Morgan Freeman character known the Brad Pitt character? How long has the sloth guy been strapped to the bed?

RESTRICTED USE ACTIVITY (5 min.): T splits class into two groups and distributes a card to each S. Each S receives either a question card or an answer card. Ss come to middle of classroom and find their “partner” by asking/answering their questions (e.g. How long has the Brad Pitt character’s wife been pregnant? She’s been pregnant for six months.” etc.).

FLUENCY ACTIVITY (15 min.): Ss work in groups of four to come up with a list of creative, “fun” questions (in the target form) that they would ask the murderer if they were interviewing him. For example, “How long have you been obsessed with the Bible?”, “How long have you had that eerie red light in your bedroom?” Each group is then paired with a second group and Ss take turns asking and answering their respective questions.

CLOSING (10 min.): Class discussion on topic of SERIAL KILLERS. Good opportunity for Ss to bring in examples from their own countries of origin. Serial killing is a worldwide phenomenon that everyone can relate to. If discussion veers into contemplation of e.g. genocide, emotional damage in a more broad/general sense, personal experiences involving corpses, etc., great! Just keep ’em talking!

HOMEWORK: This week, Ss should keep a journal on their reactions to the story as they read, being sure to evaluate their “horror level” out of 10 each day. Journals will be graded next week based on use of target vocabulary, descriptive language, and proper punctuation.

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