- Getting pupils used to texts which combine language from lots of diffrerent topics and to dealing with a manageable amount of new words
- Coping with unfamiliar words
- Capturing pupils' interest
- Opening the world out to them
Letters can be an excellent way to get them to experience prose. I have a rather battered letter which describes Christmas and the pupils enjoy reading it - real person their age, and real experience. It doesn't need to be just such "normal" letters. There are other ideas which could prove a rich vein of material. There has been lots of work this year on WW1. I found this collection of soldier's letters. Seeing the WW1 from the "other side" could be very powerful. For the French teachers reading this, Liz Black recommended "Lulu et la Grande Guerre" by Fabian Grégoire. Some vivid writing which is accessible with some adaptations.
Other prose - stories, newspapers
We do a project week after the January exams and read a simplified version of "Aschenputtel" using the Grimm's rather bloodthirsty original. It has lots for beginners to get their teeth into, phrases such as "schwarz von Herzen" ("black of heart") - what's not to like? Vivid phrases but also well within the capability of pupils to work out with access to a glossary or dictionary. It also gives pupils lots to think about - why the difference between the now well-established Disney version and this? The boys enjoy reading it out loud and working with the text.
My searches so far haven't found any contemporary short stories yet that would fit the bill, although I remain hopeful that I might get some inspiration from the DaF (the German equivalent of EAL) community in Germany. It seems to me that letters and brief, adapted newspaper stories would be suitable at this stage of learning. Which brings me to...
Bild newspaper. This tabloid paper does a great line in punchy daft stories. Search for "dümmster Einbrecher" (most stupid burglar) or similar (bank robbers is another favourite) and you find what are, in effect, mini-stories. They will still need to be adapted. It is also good for human interest stories. I found an interview with a refugee who survived the hell of the Mediterranean. Great for helping pupils understand the world.
Now to share another great tip from the training by Liz Black: Der Spiegel does a monthly news magazine aimed at 8-14 yr olds called "Dein Spiegel". It has stories aimed at our age range, even if you will have to adapt them. And for my French teaching colleagues, there is Le petit quotidien for young people. These are going in my reading corner next year.
Breaking out of the box
One of the reasons I think we may be hesitant to use literature sources is the fact that there are inevitably words beyond what we usually teach, and certainly beyond just the topic we are trying to focus on at the minute. That has to be a good thing, but does need approaching carefully. It must be said, however, that if we don't want pupils to compartmentalise their language, then we need to model that in our lessons. Language (and life) is not neat and closed off into little boxes, and we need to reflect this. Still, look at this poem for Nikolaustag:
Nikolaus, du guter Mann,
hast einen schönen Mantel an.
Die Knöpfe sind so blank geputzt,
dein weißer Bart ist gut gestutzt,
die Stiefel sind so spiegelblank,
die Zipfelmütze fein und lang,
die Augenbrauen sind so dicht,
so lieb und gut ist dein Gesicht.
Du kamst den weiten Weg von fern,
und deine Hände geben gern.
Du weißt, wie alle Kinder sind:
Ich glaub, ich war ein braves Kind.
Sonst wärst du ja nicht hier
und kämest nicht zu mir.
Du musst dich sicher plagen,
den schweren Sack zu tragen.
By December, we have just done descriptions, and this fits in very well - lots lines with words on description and clothes, and that's where we concentrate our work. Liz Black made the point that it depends on what you want the pupils to do with it and the support you give. We shouldn't be afraid of tackling these texts with them.