Better Ways to Teach Reading Literary Works in Form Three

Better Ways to Teach Reading Literary Works in Form Three

Welcome to UNIT 6:3!  

Review: Previously in Unit 6:2, we discussed about how to teach the sub topic, ‘Talking about visits’ in Form Two. In that sub topic, we discussed how the student can narrate what took place in a visit he/she made.

In this Unit 6:3, we will learn how to teach the sub topic, Identifying and analysing, setting, main plot and characters’ in Form Three. In this sub topic, we will focus on how to guide students to describe characters, setting, and plot in a literary works.

(Also: For Literature in English Subject, Check out my Literature in English Blog. Also check out My Diary for Diary Writing Inspiration and More! )

2. Sub Topic: Identifying and analysing setting, main plot, and characters.
3. Periods per sub topic: 20
4: Class: Form Three.

The aim of the sub topic is to make students able to describe characters, setting, and plot in literary works. This sub topic will always test Form Three students to apply the knowledge of analysing stories they acquired in Form Two in Class Readers. Of course, there are some other aspects to consider when it comes to literature such as Introduction to Literature and other aspects, but these aspects will be covered in sub topic 3 of this topic, that is, Identifying Main Features of Different Genres, where various aspects will be covered according to the particular genre (Novel, Play, and Poetry).


In this activity, a teacher brainstorms with the students on the terms: Characters, Setting, and Plot. A teacher should make sure students understand these terms well. Their understanding is a good foundation when they are introduced to the text so that they can identify these terms from the text read. Discuss with the students the most common elements of any literary work as explained below:

Common Elements of Any Literary Work
In literature, there are main important elements or features of narratives. These features are common to most literary narratives. They are important features because they used by many literary writers in creating literary works.
The following are these important elements/features of literary narratives:
(i)                 Plot. This refers to the series of events which form a story. To identify the plot, find the main events in the story, arrange them in chronological order, and then write them out as a brief paragraph.
(ii)               Conflict. This is a situation in the story where thoughts, ideas, actions, events, decisions, or characters disagree or cause misunderstanding or disagreement.
(iii)             Characterization. This is the writer’s process of creating characters in the story. This also involves identifying the characters in a story and analysing their physical, emotional, and psychological traits. A character is a person in a story. Or a character may be defined as the representation of persons. Characters have personalities which distinguish one fictional person from another. Even when the characters are animals, they almost invariably represent human beings or exhibit human attributes.
(iv)             Setting. This is the time, place and social conditions in which a story takes place.
(v)               Theme. This is the main idea or ideas in a story. This is also a statement or the basic idea expressed by a work of literature. The theme develops from interplay of characters and plots. A theme may be broken up into several themes of ideas.
(vi)             Language. This is the way a writer uses words to create literature. It stems from choice of words, how these words are structured or arranged, and writer’s point of view to the application of figurative language.
Almost every literary work includes six or more elements shown above.
As you read a story you need to remember these features to be able to analyse the story. Pay attention to the events as they are developing within the story. At the end of your reading, write brief notes on each of the features outlined above. For more click  Elements of Literary Work
The students should be reminded that the focus of the lesson is to know how to identify setting, characters and the plot of literary works. Other elements will be easily analysed when students have mastered these three important elements.

Tell the students that they are going to read a certain section of a literary work in which they will have to identify characters, setting and plot. This is expected to be easy to them because they have mastered the terms; characters, setting, and plot.

Activities on effective reading are effectively enabled by guided reading. The goal of guided reading for students is enable them to become fluent readers who can identify various literary techniques in a particular literary work.
The following steps help teacher and students in effective reading of literary works:
Before reading any literary work, students should be introduced to the items to consider before actually opening the pages of the book. A teacher should make them aware that they cannot directly start reading chapter one or act one of the book without knowing some important aspects of the book: these important items of the book are:
  •   Title: A teacher invites students to discuss and predict what the story is about by discussing the title of the story or the pictures on the front and back covers. Let them write a statement about what they feel will come later in the story. Before reading the particular part of the story, the teacher can guide students to predict what happens next. For example, in the story of Olabisi, a teacher can lead a discussion to the students on how the story could have been ended or what is the outcome of the issues raised in the story. The benefits of allowing students to predict are many. Some of them are:
·         Students may predict correctly what will happen hence help them understanding.
·         Some relevant topics may be raised that will be important when analysing the story.
·         Some students who have heard about the story can share with other students – this highlights that students may know something even before the lesson.
·         This may boost more understanding to the students because some students understand more when they hear from their colleagues.
  •   To brainstorm the cover of the story. This helps students to discuss what is the meaning or symbol of the cover of the story or book.
  •   The blurb of the book. The teacher can guide students to discuss the blurb of the story or book. This is the information of the writer that is written at the back of the story or book. This back cover contains even other information of the story or book.
  •   The author. It is also important to discuss the information of the author. Tell the students anything relevant about the writer of the story or book.
  •   Background/setting of the book to be studied. It is good for a teacher to discuss with the students on the background or setting of the story. Tell them to predict what might be the setting by just looking at the pictures or drawings if there are any.
  •   A teacher also can choose 8 or 15 words from the story and the students write a sentence describing what they think the story will be about. These are prediction statements or GISTS. For example, from the section in Chapter 2 of ‘Unanswered Cries’, a teacher can choose words like ‘circumcision, lappa, etc’. Also the teacher can choose 15 or less words from a story that depict the setting, characters, plot and climax, conflicts, and solutions.
  •   Discuss with the students about what might have happened before in the story, or what might have happened before the present situation.
The teacher and students to read aloud key passages. This will be the actual reading of the book selected. If there are enough copies a teacher may allow students to form groups. Each group can be assigned various chapters to read. As they read, a teacher should have his/her key passages as points of discussions.
During reading, encourage students to read attentively and think of the following things while reading:
  •   Encourage themselves to ask questions themselves questions that can help them predict what will happen in the next sentence, paragraph or chapter.
  •   Encourage students to note important details about who did what (characters), and what they wanted (plot), then examine why they weren’t able to get it (problem) and finally draw conclusions (so) about the conflict to resolve it.
  •   Demonstrate a talk show. The students can be hosts. In this aspect, a teacher poses a problem that characters had in the story or novel. Then one student can be called in and all students assume is the one who have the problem like the character in the story. They start asking him/her questions. In this way, they understand more.
  •   Forming Inside Outside Circles: In these circles, students take roles of characters in the story and offer advice to the person having a problem in the story. They form a circle around the character and she goes from person to person to get advice. The roles do not necessarily have to come from the book.
  •   Let the students; know the characters, share what they experience, feel and think like characters in the story. One person sits in the seat as one of the characters. Then invite students to ask questions of the character to the student. If other students in the audience who read the book have the answer and the chosen person doesn’t, they are allowed to go up and whisper the answer in their ear to help him/her out. Through this, students get to know the characters.
In this part, a teacher and students make a Reflection of what they have read. This strategy helps students highlight key points in a text and explore different points of view about what has happened.
  •  A teacher can also guide students to take on roles that address issues that have been raised, inquire into appropriate action, and propose what to do or how to deepen understanding of the issue. The key is they plan out each section and make suggestions as to what to do.
  •   Character Quotations: The teacher gives students different quotations and work together to figure out who the person is and what is the problem.
  •   Retelling: Have students retell parts of the story regarding setting, plot sequence, character motivations, conflicts and resolutions. Summarizing key points is an important skill.
From Unanswered Cries by Osman Conteh

Olabisi was returning home from a stream later that day, trying to balance a bucket of water on her head, just like Salay and Rugiatu, the two girls ahead of her. Salay was short and stocky, like a well-fed pig, while Rugiatu was tall, skinny and hungry-looking, like a shave bird.
They were expert bucket-carriers. Since they had left the stream about five minutes ago, chattering like birds, their hands had not even touched the buckets on their heads. Each time Olabisi tried doing the same, her bucket began to slide down her head, slopping water all over her body. It happened several times. Now the bucket was half empty.
The girls walked barefoot confidently, while Olabisi hobbled along in slippers. Each girl had her lappa tied under her armpit, while Olabisi was wearing a short skirt and a T-shirt with the words BEACH BUM splashed across the front.
Why are they so different? Olabisi asked herself. Are they so confident and relaxed because they are circumscised?
‘Hey!’ She called out, hurrying after them and spilling more water from her bucket. She did not care. She was trying to investigate a very important matter here. If Mama would not supply the answers, maybe these girls would. They looked like nice girls, about her own age, chatting and laughing without a care in the world.
‘Hey, Rugiatu’, she called out, ‘are you a gborka, or have you been…’ The words died in her throat as the girls ….froze! They stood rigidly beneath a cluster of mango trees.
Then they turned to facer Olabisi, mouths hanging slack in shock, as if she had snatched their brains. Slowly the look of shock from their faces and was replaced by one of anger. Olabisi stepped back, away from the reach of their hate.
‘It was just a question,’ she said, ‘not an insult. You don’t have to answer.’
Rugiatu swung down her bucket to the road, then marched up to Olabisi. She looked as if she had swallowed a fly by mistake. She pushed Olabisi hard in the chest. ‘What did  you call me?’
‘Hey!’ Olabisi stumbled and fell heavily. The bucket rolled out of her grip and into the bushes. The remaining water ran out. She did not want a fight, but these girls were acting as if she had stolen their chickens and slaughtered them. The short one, Salay, was also putting down her bucket.
Olabisi scrambled back to her feet. ‘Look, I don’t want a …’
Rugiatu pushed her again. “Did you call me a gborka?’
‘It’s just a word, okay? A label. I apologise. I take it back. I didn’t mean to be rude.’
‘No, it’s not okay.’ Salay joined in. ‘You think because you are from the city you are superior to the village girls.’
‘That’s why you walk around with your chin stuck up in the air like you are somebody special,’ Rugiatu continued. ‘You are wrong. You are nothing.’
‘Come on, girls. It was a joke.’
‘Then why aren’t we laughing?’ Salay asked, edging closer.
‘Did you call me a girl?’ Rugiatu gathered the hem of her lappa and tied it firmly around her waist, like a belt.
‘You need a lesson in manners.’
‘Look, we don’t have to fight over this.’ Olabisi switched on a quick smile, like a politician. ‘Gborba is just a word like …’ She searched her brain for ideas.’ … mango, banana, Chinua Achebe, Shakespeare, things fall apart …’
Then things really fell apart.
Rugiatu spat in her face, a thick wad of mucus. Olabisi’s breath stopped in her throat. Without stopping to think she kicked Rugiatu in the stomach, unexpectedly, the way Eddy had taught her to protect herself. Rugiatu double over with pain and Olabisi punched her jaw. Hard! Rugiatu fell like cut wood.
Salay rushed forward with fingers ready to scratch Olabisi’s face to ribbons. Olabisi stepped aside, gripped Salay’s lappa and ripped it off her body. The effect was electrifying! Salay’s eyes flew wide open with shock. She was standing naked, except for a pair of cotton pants. Around her waist were several layers of coloured beads.
Olabisi started to laugh.
Rugiatu immediately attacked Olabisi like a mad dog. Olabisi felt her face burn as Rugiatu’s fingers scraped some skin off the back of her neck. She screamed and lashed out blindly with her fists. The first blow missed. The second one caught the slighter Rugiatu on the side of the head and she fell like a sack of rotten potatoes.
Olabisi had not planned it, but a feeling of madness had filled her head. She pounced, sat on the chest of the fallen girl and began to rip off her lappa. Nothing in the world could stop her now. She tore the lappa to shreds, then went for the pants and beads around Rugiatu’s waist. She gave them a sharp jerk.  ‘Now, I am going to see what you have between your legs that was circumcised,’ she shouted.
She was aware of a shadow rushing at her, then something blunt and heavy hit her on the head like a falling coconut. She saw stars, plenty of them, before a dark cloud came and blotted them out.

Students to answer comprehension questions on setting, plot and characters. Here, the teacher has to prepare the comprehension questions about the setting, plot, and characters. For example:
  1.   Where is the story set? (The story is set in…………………….)
  2.   What words writer uses to show the setting of the story? (The writer uses ………….)
  3.  What issues have been portrayed by the writer? (The writer portrays …………….)
  4.  What does the title of the book suggest?
  5. What is the main conflict in the book?
  6. What are the most interesting events of the story?
  7.  Where in the book there are some African traditions?
  8.  Who is the main character?
  9. What are minor characters? (Mention other 3 minor characters).
  10. Who is the main antagonist in the story?
The students are invited now how to analyse setting, plot and characters. From ‘Unanswered Cries’ by Osman Conteh, these can be analysing as follows:
Setting of the story.
The story is set in the country area. This is seen when Olabisi and two girls go to fetch water to the stream.
Plot of the story. (It is written in simple present tense)
The story starts with Olabisi coming from the stream. She has fetched water in her bucket and she is going home. She hurries to meet two village girls. They are Rugiatu and Salay. Olabisi wonders how these girls balance their buckets without any problem. She quickly approaches them and asks if Rugiatu is ‘gborka’. Rugiatu and Salay become furious. They start fighting. In the end, Olabisi is hit by something very heavy and becomes unconscious.
Characters of the story.
In this story there are several characters. They are:

A teacher may have chosen this section of the story as a model or a starting point to the analysis of the rest of the book. This is the effective way or model of analysing literary works. In the remaining sections of the story, and literary works, a teacher can employ these techniques and other literary techniques and students will be massively involved in reading literary works.
Having seen how the literary work can be analysed in terms of plot, setting, and characters, students under teacher’s guidance, can analyse the rest of the book by considering the following:
1.      The style: (Literary Techniques/Styles like Dances, Songs, etc.)
2.      Narrative technique (Old/Traditional style, Straightforward, flashback, foreshadowing)
3.      Point of Views.
4.      Language. (Simple, mixed, or complex).
5.      Figurative Language/ Figures of Speech.
6.      Theme (Main theme-the dominant idea or sub-themes/issues- issues stemming from the dominant idea)
7.      Conflict.
8.      Message. Message is the big idea of a story. It is the most important idea in a book that a writer wants to tell his/her people.
9.      Lessons (Morals/teachings). Lesson is what an author wants the reader to learn from a story. It is the author's message or moral lesson to the readers.
10.  Philosophy.
11.  Relevance of the literary work
In this activity, students are required to role-play a certain part of the book. For example, a story about Olabisi, Salay, and Rugiatu can be role-played. Or a story about Makalay and Olabisi can also be role-played. A teacher should consider the theme of such dramatization. He/she can also make some changes to fit the purpose, but it is necessary to keep the original message of the passage. Students to role-play some parts of the text and the class can discuss on what they have presented. For example:
OLABISI: You girls how, how do you balance your buckets?
RUGIATU AND SALAY: The city girl like you, know nothing about village life.
OLABISI: But may be it is because you are circumcised, heh?
RUGIATU AND SALAY: Hey! What did you just say?
OLABISI: I just wanted to know (Rugiatu and Salay confronts Olabisi furiously).
RUGIATU: Let me show you how to respect people you city girl.
SALAY: I swear, today you will know how to respect people. (Olabisi apologises, but the conflict breaks out anyway).
(Describe the main characters.)
After such dramatization, students can now hold a class discussion on the issues that have been raised by the students who have role-played the particular part. For example, they can discuss the following questions/areas:
·         Why circumcision is seen as a great respect in such society?
·         What could have been done by Olabisi to avoid the conflict?
·         What could you advise Rugiata and Salay?

6: CONNECTION: Beyond the Sub Topic. In this sub topic, the teacher guides students to identify characters, setting, and plot. There are other literary aspects that should be considered when analysing any literary work. These other elements will be covered as students study and read more literary works.

7: NOTE: In this sub topic, a teacher should make students concentrate on identifying characters, setting, and plot of the story. After reading a part of the story as a starting point, students should now be guided to

Check out how to Study & Teach other Form Three Sub Topics in this Blog!


Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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