My Son the Fanatic – Various Tasks

A lot of teachers like to use fictional texts in their teaching. Sometimes, finding accessible texts for classes is difficult, especially as they are often long, and would take up too much lesson time. One option is to use abridged versions of the texts. Another idea I’d like to advocate is to work with the text over a number of lessons, using it to teach/revise a variety of langauge points and as a basis for all different kinds of activities.

As an example, this post is a treasure chest of tasks and activities you can do with your (B2-C2) learners based on the text “My Son the Fanatic” by Hanif Kureishi. The story centres on Parvez, a Pakistani-born taxi driver living in the UK, who is a tolerant, secular Muslim. The crux of the plot occurs when his son, Ali, converts to fundamentalist Islam, which leads to a family breakdown and social conflict.
The full text can be found here. The version I use is an excerpt  I have adapted from “Cross-Cultural Encounters: 20th Century English Short Stories” published by Reclam (1997). The book can bought from Amazon and my excerpt can be found here: Excerpt My Son the Fanatic. My excerpt from the story only goes up to the point where Parvez first notices his son’s conversion to a radical Muslim. The tasks below are based on this first part of the story; the web boasts a whole host of other activities which make more use of the rest of the plot.
For more background information on the story, the Wikipedia page is a good place to start! The screenplay has also been adapted into a film

Example Tasks

Grammar Focus

General Grammar Analysis

Advanced learners, or trainee teachers, can be asked to explain certain grammar points which appear in the text. This is a task that trainee secondary-school EFL teachers in Germany often face in their exams: Certain words or phrases are underlined, and students are required to explain the verb forms, word order, etc. The task aims to train them to explain grammar points in a concise manner, whilst still ensuring that the explanations distinguish this use of a word/verb form from other uses. The focus of the grammar analysis can be adapted to cover langauge points recently learnt/practised, or to include a variety of langauge points as a akind of revision test or endof-course task. Here is an example worksheet of this type that I have made (with answers):  Gram An My Son the Fanatic with answers

Logical Deductions (with modals)

1) Learners read the first three paragraphs of the excerpt (up to “Where had he gone wrong?”), which gives them a description of the problematic situation Parvez is facing regarding his son, Ali. They are then asked to suggest ideas as to what the problem might be. Learners can be encouraged to brainstorm ideas and then discuss how likely the suggestions are, i.e. how certain they are that this is the most logical explanation, and then formulate sentences to express their logical deductions using various modal verbs to show their level of certainty.
OR … 2) Learners read the first three paragraphs of the excerpt (up to “Where had he gone wrong?”), which gives them a description of the problematic situation Parvez is facing regarding his son, Ali. The next couple of sentences set  out the situation that Parvez is discussing the problem with his work-mates. Learners can be asked to write the dialogue, and/or act out the scene as Parvez’ colleagues suggest possible reasons for Ali’s behaviour. Again, learners should be guided to express the colleague’s logical deductions using various modal verbs to show their level of certainty.

Second Conditionals

1) Learners read the first five paragraphs of the excerpt, and discovering what Parvez’ colleagues think the problem is with his son, they can be asked to provide advice for Parvez, to answer the question ‘What could Parvez do now?’. If the focus is on using the second conditional to give advice, they could be guided to start their sentences with “If I were him/you,…”. Alternatively, groups could make up ‘chains’ of sentences, with each student providing a further sentence to develop the scenario, based on the preceding sentence – this can also involve using various alternatives to ‘would’ in the result clause, e.g. might, could, etc. For example: If I were Parvez, I would ask Ali if he is taking drugs. If Parvez asked Ali whether he was taking drugs, they might have an argument. If they had an argument, …
AND / OR … 2) After reading the whole excerpt, and finding out what exactly the ‘problem’ is with Ali, students can be asked ‘What would you do, if you were Parvez?’ which will lead them toproduce second conditional sentences. This task may also lead to some lively discussions about the role of religious fanaticism, but  – watch out! – it may be a rather sensitive (or even taboo) subject in some settings! 

Vocabulary Focus

Literary Studies Terms

Working with a text in class provides a good opportunity to teach / revise the vocabulary for discussing literature (e.g. narrative perspectives, literary devices, etc.). This may be particularly helpful if students are going to be working with more texts in future, or in settings where they are going on to English study literature, perhaps at university. A procedure I like, is to give the students some of the key literary studies terms, or the ones I think they’re still unsure of, and ask them to research and find their own definitions. They should then find examples from the text excerpt to demonstrate their understanding. As a slightly larger project, different groups of learners can be given different terms to work on, and can produce a way of presenting (teaching) these to the rest of the class, e.g. in poster form. Some terms that may be appropriate to study with regard to My Son the Fanatic: protagonist/antagonist, first-person narrator/omniescent narrator, tension/suspense.

Adjectives – For Feelings

If you read the full text with your class, students  can be asked to create a flow chart / time-line of Parvez’ & Ali’s feelings towards each other. Either individually or in groups, they can be given a certain part of the text to work on. You can use the task to train their dictionary skills: They can brainstorm adjectives they think describe the feelings and relationship (they could also do this in their L1), find synonyms in a thesaurus, and check the meanings and usage in a mono-lingual dictionary (e.g. OALD, aimed at learners), and perhaps a collocations dictionary, before agreeing on the most appropriate and fitting adjectives. Then, people who have worked on different sections of the text can put their adjectives into the whole diagram depicting the devlopment of the whole story.

Adjective vs Adverb – For Feelings vs Behaviour

 Work can be done on distinguishing and using adjectives and adverbs, using any part of the story (or my excerpt). Students are asked to make a time-line to show the development of Parvez’ feelings and behaviour. I like to encourage them to write adjectives above the time-line to show “Parvez is / feels…”, and use adverbs (they can be the adverbs of the adjectives) to show “Parvez acts/behaves…” below the line. The procedure for finding the most appropriate adjectives/adverbs and training dictionary skills can run the same as that described above (Adjectvies For Feelings) 
Within the excerpt, there are very few adjectives and adverbs describing Parvez and his behaviour; students could be asked to add them in to the appropriate places in sentences, to explicitly describe feelings and behaviour in cases where this is only implied by the text.

Freer Production

After reading the whole excerpt, learners can be asked to write or tell an anecdote from their own life, where they thought something was the case but it turned out to be different and had a surprise ending. These can be as long or short as suits your class, and will also depend on whether you set this as a homework task or do it (perhaps orally) within a lesson. For example: My boyfriend was being very distant and quiet, and kept taking phone calls in a different room. I thought he was no longer happy in the relationship and maybe he was cheating on me. But it turned out that he was planning a surprise birthday party for me!
Other creative tasks might be asking students to write a diary entry from Ali’s perspective, so show how he sees things, or to create ‘info boxes’ which could be added into or around the text to give the reader certain information more explicitly which is only implied in the text.
Students on EAP programmes can use this text to write an essay or a literary analysis. This will train them in the skills of citing secondary sources, and interpreting and using examples from a primary text. Below are some example essay topics I’ve come across (Note that some of them are based on the full text, not simply my excerpt).

– Analyse how Hanif Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic” represents and explores conflicting notions of modern British identity.

– Analyse the role of religion in the conflict-ridden relationship between Parvez and Ali.

– Compare and contrast Parvez’ and Ali’s philosophies of life.

– Argue that Parvez is more of a ‘fanatic’ than Ali.

– How likely are Parvez and Ali to resolve their differences in the future?

Research / Projects

I feel that the themes in this short story lend themselves to some larger research projects, which students can do in groups. They should be given / choose a format in which to present the information which they find out, for example posters, presentations, booklets, videos, wikis, etc. and other members of the class should be encouraged to engage with the new information in some way, so that the effort of the research project really pays off. One idea would be to divide research topics up among groups, but the make the final product a whole-class effort; this would probably require a format such as a booklet or wiki, which each group can contribute to. Some of the smaller products could also be created individually, such as posters or oral presentations. Below are some topics I have used previously when working with this text, some of them are also appropriate as pre-reading projects, which would provide learners with some more background information to help them understand the themes in the text.

 – Muslims in the UK/your own country (e.g. history of Islam in the UK/your country, links to immigration [in the UK esepcially the British Empire/Commonwealth], status of Islam, realistic view on how Muslims integrate into British society, etc.)

 – The image of Islam in the media (e.g. how are Muslims presented in national/international media, how this has changed over time [maybe post 9/11?], how accurate this image might be, etc.)

 – Islam the religion (e.g. basic tenets, beliefs and customs; holy texts; role of prayer; role of Mosques; comparison to other religions [in the UK e.g. Christianity]; etc.)

 – Drug Addiction (e.g. data about the problem in the UK/your own country, how governments/health services attempt to tackle the problem, ‘symptoms’ of drug abuse, consequences of drug abuse, how to help some you know who is affected, etc.)

 – Immigration & Culture-Clash (e.g. lives/challenges of young people whose parents immigrated, problems of culture clash – maybe examples in the news, generational conflict, etc.)

 – Stereotyping (e.g. stereotypes of Pakistani immigrants in the text, how true are they, what steretypes do you hae of other nations, where do they stem from, how accurate are they, etc.)


If your students read the full text, not only my excerpt, they could also research into topics of prostitution, parenting methods, fanaticism (e.g. Parvez vs Ali)

Online, there are lots of other tasks and activities, as well as interpretation guides for the full story, for example:

– Korff, H. & Ringel-Eichinger, A. (eds), One Language, Many Voices: Inhaltsangaben und Interpretationen, Themen und Wortschatz, Musterklausuren (Cornelsen, 2011). [Written in English, don’t worry!]

Also, please see another of my blog posts for more general ideas on working with fictional texts:


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