A Clockwork Lesson

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Droogs by Paul Stevenson. License: CC BY 2.0

Since I mostly teach people whose mother tongue is Russian, one common thing they have is that they often read without really thinking about what they are reading. They may focus on each word so much that they would mispronounce them and often ask you the meaning of a word, not noticing that it collocates with something else giving them a context. I figured that by taking an extract or two from “A Clockwork Orange” written by Anthony Burgess where the heroes use a made up language that mixes English words with Russian ones I could help them think more about what they’re reading and the right way of pronouncing some words. 🙂

Here’s what I did and what you can also do with your students:

1) Ask your students if they like reading books. What was the last book they’ve read? Is it easy for them to understand books in English? Ask them what they do when they find words they don’t understand.

2) Write down Nadsat on the board. Ask your students what they think it means but don’t confirm any answers yet. Then, write A Clockwork Orange on the board and ask your students if they’ve seen the movie or read the book and what they think about it (Or what they think it’s about if they have no idea what this is). You can tell them that the book speaks about the relationship between a person and the government, morality and being good or bad. Show your students a trailer and ask them to think while watching what Nadsat means.

3) Divide your students to Student A and Student B. Regroup them if you want to. Do a jigsaw reading. Each student reads their own parts of the reading and underline the things that they’ve seen in the video. Find out what they’ve underlined.

4) Give the students 14 True or False statements and, since Students A & B have different texts, tell them to skip the questions they can’t answer. Then, put Students A & B in pairs and have them compare and explain their answers to each other before getting feedback.

5) Ask your students to look at their texts, make a short plan of them and tell their partner what they’ve read.

6) At this point I usually tell students that while there is a method of reading books which puts the translation and meaning after the words in the original language (It’s called Ilya Frank’s Reading Method), I believe reading should be done for fun and, in order to enjoy the books we read, sometimes it’s more useful to guess the meaning from the context instead of always looking at dictionaries and losing interest in the book itself. Anyway, give your students the next exercise where they have to work out the meaning of the words in Nadsat in pairs and then, after you get feedback from your students, have them find other words in this “language” in their texts and try to work out the meaning as well as the words they find hard to understand in pairs. Get their ideas and correct them if necessary.

7) Tell your students that the method they’ve read about was called The Ludovico Technique and write it down on the board. Ask them if they think this method is effective in curing young people from committing crimes and have them give reasons for their opinions.

8) Give your students 8 questions to discuss in pairs. When they’re done, have them share their ideas with the class.

9) In A Clockwork Orange the Government plays an important role and its aim is to suppress individuals and individual choice in favor of the stability of the State so that it can survive. The Government is ready to do everything in its power, including distributing propaganda and censorship, employing shady techniques to “reform” the criminals, and employing criminals as state patrol to threaten other citizens and achieve this stability.

So this can be used to start a debate. Write down on the board:

Should the government take action in fighting young criminals?

You can divide your class to two groups. One of which would speak for the idea and the other one – against it.

If you have enough time, you can also ask students to debate this question too:

Which is a more moral person: a kid who consistently but freely chooses to do evil deeds over good ones or a reformed criminal who has been brainwashed to choose only good deeds?

10) For a final activity, have your students work in groups of 3 people as a commission for juvenile criminals’ rehabilitation. Your students should make a program to prevent juvenile criminals from committing crimes.

They must think:

1) What will they do to help young people?
2) How will they promote their program?
3) What problems can their program have and what will they do to solve them?
4) Where will they get the money to implement this program?

When they’re done, have your students present their programs and you can have a class vote of the best program, the most useful one, the most realistic one and the shadiest one.

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