by Chris Elvin

Here I present one of four listening activities for Autumn that I'd like to share, the other three being available for download from my website (see later). The first print, which looks like a reading comprehension exercise, and could be used as such if so desired, is actually the teacher's copy. The other print is the student's worksheet.

Bonfire Night

There are many different ways in which a teacher could introduce a topic such as Bonfire Night in class. Here, I present one suggestion with supporting reasons.
What to teach, and why?

i) Useful to whom?

As teachers, we have a duty to teach language that will be useful to our students. I believe this should include not only material that will enable our students to pass tests and graduate school, but also topics that students find interesting. My students have expressed an interest in foreign culture and traditions, so I include it as a part of my curriculum.

ii) Authentic versus simplified

In order to preserve authenticity and naturalness, it may be unavoidable to occasionally have to burden students with uncommon words. For example, I chose to leave Jack-o-lantern and bonfire as they were, even though it would be easy to simplify them.
As far as possible, however, I like to use words that are common and which my students are likely to encounter again. Consequently, I chose to replace the relatively uncommon word Parliament with important government building, which I thought was more useful. Similarly, I chose to replace the British English word toffee with its American equivalent caramel, because most of my students are aware of caramel in their L1. Very few of them have heard of toffee.
I am prepared to concede that some of my decisions about vocabulary may be somewhat arbitrary, or even wrong, and I may well change my mind the next time I come to teach about this topic. What is more important, perhaps, is maintaining an awareness of students' language learning needs and wants, and being prepared to make changes whenever necessary.

The lesson

It is possible to use the worksheet just like any other traditional listening comprehension exercise; activate schema, read the script, then test them on their understanding.
I prefer not to test my students any more than I need t0, but task-based materials such as worksheets can certainly help some students to stay focused. I want my students to be active learners by volunteering information and answering questions. When can you see fireworks in Japan? Have you ever made a Jack-o-lantern? Been to England? Eaten a caramel apple? How about Japanese snacks?
I use the script to quote directly from, and also to paraphrase, as both are useful in helping students' listening comprehension. In a fifty-minute period, not everyone will get the chance to speak, but those who are willing and able usually make it interesting and worthwhile for all.
When we eventually finish, I go over the answers, allow them to check with each other, or perhaps hand out the script.
A color copy of this worksheet can be downloaded from the resource box "room" of my website, EFL Club, at If you browse a little, you can also find a more advanced version of this worksheet, and two additional worksheets about the origins of Halloween .
The exact address of the worksheet in this newsletter is; .

Chris Elvin teaches part-time at Caritas Gakuen in Kanagawa, and St. Dominic's Institute in Tokyo. He can be reached at .

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