The Moth

Review writing, reimagined.

PRACTICE:

  • intensive listening and encouraging self-study
  • describing the emotional effect a story has
  • narrative tenses
  • writing a review
  • practice for Cambridge: Advanced (CAE) Reading and Use of English Pt. 2

WHO IS IT FOR?

  • Level (CEFR C1-C2)
  • Ages 15+

THE RUNTHROUGH:

I teach a lot of high-level EFL / ESL classes:  some older, some younger.  A lot of exams, such as Cambridge: Advanced (CAE) offer ‘the review’ as an option for a writing task.  Having asked students to write reviews of films and restaurants for years, I decided it was time for a change.  Happily, this decision coincided with The Moth podcast coming into my life.

If you haven’t heard of The Moth, it is a podcast with a simple aim: to tell stories.  Speakers from all over the world stand in front of a microphone and tell a story.  No script.  No autocue.   These are real people, telling real stories.  Some of these stories are about everyday things, whereas others are about unique, life-changing experiences.  I have been listening to The Moth for scarcely two months and already I have laughed and I have wept.  I have been moved.

I wanted my students to share this experience – to not just react to something on an intellectual level, but on an emotional one.  So when we came up to the part of our current unit where it was time to look at writing a review , I decided that I would do something a bit different.  Often students are asked to write reviews about films.  When I get these pieces of work, I find that sometimes they choose to write about big blockbusters, and sometimes they write about smaller, independent films.  Most of the time, I suspect, these films are not being watched in English.  In fact, I doubt very much if the students had even watched their chosen film recently.  In a bid to awaken my class, I chose to introduce them to The Moth, and introduce them I jolly well did.

You will need:

  • 90 minutes
  • 1 emotions handout per student (see downloads below)
  • 1 The Moth A and 1 The Moth B handout per pair (Reading and UoE handouts – also see downloads below))
  • a computer with internet access and speakers
  • ideally an IWB
  1. Start with a simple chat about stories and the kinds of stories that they like.  Do they prefer seeing stories (films / graphic novels / etc.), hearing them?  Reading?
  2. Elicit some kinds of emotions that stories can bring out in us.  How can we then describe the stories?
  3. Issue the vocabulary handout.  Students match the words to the correct group. Check in pairs.  Ideally if you have an IWB, pre-prepare the list on a slide and then invite the students to the board to move them to the correct catagory.  Don’t correct them, just encourage peer correction and simply “undo” (Ctrl+Z) if an answer is incorrect.  Check pronunciation of each word as it is correctly placed in the right group.
  4. Tell them you are going to share an example of a podcast with them.  When I heard it, I thought about some of these adjectives.  Tell them it is an example of a podcast called “The Moth”.  Ask them to listen and try to work out what the idea of the podcast is.  What kind of podcast is it?
  5. Play them this podcast.
  6. After they have listened, elicit some ideas about what they think The Moth is.  What’s the idea?
  7. Put them in pairs.  Tell them that you have a text with the answer.  Issue the reading and use of English handout, ensuring that pairs are given the same letter (i.e 1 pair both have As the next pair both Bs, etc.).
  8. Tell them to ignore the spaces for the moment, skim the text and check their ideas.
  9. Check answers with a partner and do feedback.  Clarify what The Moth is.
  10. Tell them to complete the spaces on their own.  Check answers with their partner.
  11. Then re-group students so there is one A and one B in each pair.  They may have noticed that some of their words were underlined.  These are their new partner’s answers.  Starting with A and taking it in turns, each student dictates the words they wrote(and the context it was in) to their partner (student B).  The partner (B) listens and checks if this is correct.  If not, they give their partner (A) another chance to guess.  If they are still wrong, then B gives A the correct answer.  After each answer, the roles change.  Students must be careful not to read out any of the underlined words, only their own answers.
  12. Give feedback and address any common issues. Tell them that for their homework, they are going to write a review about one particular story on The Moth.  They can choose the story themselves.
  13. At this point it is useful to use your textbook to supplement some planning and skills work about the review genre of writing.
  14. Issue the writing handout and elicit from the students what a good review will do.  The students will then write these points in the “success criteria” box.  Tell them the idea of this is so they can look at their work and decide if they have written a ‘good’ review or not.  They must be items that the students can assess themselves. For example, a student can’t really judge if they have “used advanced grammar”, but they can do a checklist of “1 x had + V3, 1 x had + been + Ving” etc.
  15. If your students are not particularly tech-savvy, it can be worth showing them the website and going through the long list of talks which are available.  They can choose any of them.  Maybe they’ll need to listen to a few before they find one they really like, but it’s all good listening practice.
  16. Writing and listening research to be done at home.  Who said homework was rubbish!?

BEAR IN MIND:

  • Some students will not like The Moth.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time, unfortunately.  Simply tell them that if they don’t like it, you expect to see lots of convincing adjectives and reasons explaining why – that’s what a review is for.  It needn’t be a good review if they don’t feel it deserves one.
  • Normally in a review, especially if it’s a film, the author writes about the plot in the present tense.  In this case, as they are real-life anecdotes, I personally feel it’s more appropriate for a reviewer to use narrative tenses as she or he would with their own experiences.  These are real events after all.  It is worth stressing though, that if it were a film or book they were writing about, then the convention would be to use present tenses.

SUMMARY:

I was delighted by the writing I got back from my students.  I could tell they had really put the work in and done the listening practice before writing.  Some had listened to half-a-dozen before finding one they thought was great.  One guy absolutely hated it, but his review was so full of annoyance that I was super impressed with his writing.  I must admit, I was particularly touched my the student who found and reviewed “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  Some of the ink on their paper was slightly smudged from what looked like teardrops.  Powerful stuff.

DOWNLOADS:

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