Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
Combing content and language in the learning process
For a while now monsters of one kind or another have been a feature of the lessons that I give to my groups of twelve-year-old pupils. We’ve done various drawing assignments, made clay gargoyles, and dipped into art history by looking at the work of the likes of Hieronymus Bosch.
With these classes, being bilingual learners (Dutch children, being taught across their timetable in English in order to super-charge their acquisition of the English language), I am always looking for ways of enriching the practical lessons with elements of language beyond simply using it for instruction. For example, recently I have had the class writing haikus that were inspired by the clay heads that we made together.
This year though I decided to branch out in a slightly different direction and make use of Lewis Carroll’s poem The Jabberwocky. The monsters connection was obvious, but how to work with it with these children who are only eight months into their experience of bilingual education was the question. Would they be ready to deal with this curious piece of literature?
I needn’t have worried; they were up to it. When I asked them to read the poem for themselves and underline all the nonsense words, they were able to complete this first challenge without any problem at all, their vocabulary being sufficiently developed to spot the words in amongst the text.
Next, we spent time thinking of alternative words that could be used to replace the nonsense in the middle section of the poem. Again, no real problem. An occasional grammatical error or slip in the spelling perhaps, but they were definitely onto it, and understanding the intention completely.
The fun and laughter really started when I asked them to come up with their own nonsense words for the first and last verse. At this point I wondered if the imaginary words they created might end up having an English or a Dutch feel to them. It was of course all nonsense……but to me, the words that they were coming up with did have a distinctly English twang to it and they generally nestled perfectly well into the context of Carroll’s poem.
The link below allows you to download a step by step guide to the language part of the lesson.
With this language component of the lesson series complete, we moved on with enthusiasm to work on a more than five-meter-long group drawing of our own Jabberwocky. The result of the drawing project can be seen here, but how exactly we arrived at the composition and in what order we did things, are details I’ll save for another post.