Word Orchestra

There are many, many excellent ways to do some “pre-reading” activities to better prepare EL students for text. Here are two that I used for a story that I wanted to tell for Halloween called “Stingy Jack”. I decide to do an oral telling of the tale, rather than seeking out printed versions, simply because my class is focused on listening and speaking (they take another class that focuses a bit more on reading and writing, although as you can well imagine there is a lot of overlap).

I learned these two techniques at a week-long workshop in NYC with Project LEAD (learning english and drama) which is part of Lincoln Center’s educational programs. https://www.lct.org/explore/education/lead-project/

  1. Word Orchestra

  2. Story images

  3. Retelling through scene creation

I realized as I am writing this I totally forgot to do one of my favorite pre-reading or pre-listening activities “Walk as if….” I’ll add that in a future post with another story.

This posting will focus on word orchestra

Here is the way I do it:

• Divide the text into chunks, either words, phrases or complete sentences. Have as many “chunks” as there are students in your class. See my example below for “Stingy Jack” In another post I will show you examples of using this same technique with a a more advanced text which I used with my Long Term ELs.

• Number each chunk.

• Cut each part into a strip.

• Distribute the strips to the students. This is where you can individualize, giving longer “chunks” to students who are more advanced and shorter ones to students newer to English.

• Have each student read to themselves (I have them walk around while doing this simply to avoid too much sitting). Students can ask you, or other students if you have a class with mixed abilities, what words mean, or how to pronounce them.

• Then have students sit back down and at the same time whisper their phrases (I demonstrate this in video 2). “1, 2, 3 Whisper”. The have them say their phrases in a normal voice (again all at once: “1, 2, 3 go….”. Then I have them shout it out “1, 2, 3, shout” —I cover my ears here.

• Next, you have two choices. In the first video example I had the students sit in order, to make things easier for my newcomers. In the other video example we are in random order. For both work as a “conductor” of an orchestra, pointing to different students randomly, who then say their phrases.

• You can ask here many questions—what do you think the story or article will be about? What do you remember from the word orchestra? What words did you hear that repeat themselves? What was one challenging word you heard?, etc. Many possibilities here depending on your students needs and your own style.

• Then, have them read it in order (that’s why we need numbers), either from where they sit or have them re-arrange themselves so they are sitting in order. (I once had the great idea of seeing if they could figure out the order from the text—as you would imagine it was chaos. Fun, but not the point of the exercise.)

I find this a good pre-reading activity and have used it with mainstream, non-EL students as well. Everyone practices reading and speaking a portion of the text. No one is passive. Everyone interacts with text. In the Stingy Jack example I broke the text into 3 parts—each part was it’s own word orchestra, and after we did each word orchestra I told that part of the story.

Word Orchestra for Stingy Jack

21 student version


Part I


1.                 A long time ago



2.                 there lived a man



3.                 named Jack.



4.                 He was known as a mean man



5.                 who played tricks on friends



6.                 And family,



7.                 and everyone in the village.



8.                 He also was a bit of a drunk.



9.                 One day he was in the local bar



10.           playing tricks on people.



11.           He called out: “Who will buy me a drink?’



12.           Jack was stingy,

13.           which means he didn’t like to spend



14.           money,



15.           to buy his own drink.



16.           No one spoke, until a man in the corner



17.           with a green coat and a cloven hoof, who was sitting alone



18.           said:



19.           “I will.”



20.           But it will cost you your soul.



21.            Well, if it will cost me my soul, then you’d better make it two drinks,



Everyone:  said jack


Part II

1.                 The devil



2.                 turned himself into a coin.



3.                 Jack grabbed it



4.                 and put it in his



5.                 pocket.



6.                 In his pocket was a crucifix, a cross,



7.                 which left the devil without his power.



8.                 Jack said:



9.                 “Devil



10.           I won’t let you out unless you agree not to come for my soul


11.           For 10 years.”




12.           10 years went by.



13.           Jack was walking on a road.



14.           The devil was waiting



15.           Jack said:

16.           I’ll go with you, but first could you get me an apple from that tree?”



17.            The devil agreed.



18.           And then jack put 10 crucifixes on the ground under the tree.



19.           And the devil was trapped.



20.           He agreed to never take Jack’s



21.           Soul.



Part III


1.                 The years went by,



2.                 and at last Jack died.



3.                 His soul went to the gates of Heaven.



4.                 Heaven wouldn’t let him in.



5.                 “You were too bad in life Jack, to be here”.



6.                 To hell with you, then.”

7.                 He went to Hell.



8.                 Satan stopped him at the gates.



9.                 “You can’t come in here



10.           Jack,



11.           You’re not welcome.”



12.           Jack saidL



13.           “I’m not welcome in heaven,



14.           And I’m not welcome in hell.



15.           Where should I go then?”



16.           “You’re doomed to wander in the darkness



17.           between heaven and hell



18.           forever.”



19.           But the devil felt pity for Jack and tossed him an ember from the fires of hell

20.           and jack put it in a turnip which he found on the ground.



21.           He carved some holes in it so the ember would light his way in the darkness.



Everyone:  forever


Teacher:  And the Irish would say, when they saw him on Halloween night: “There goes Jack with the lantern”, which we now say as:  Jack o’ lantern.