Tag: fiction

Practising English through Reading Fiction

Those of you who’ve been following my recent posts, will notice that I’m going through a phase of thinking about how I can help students make their free-time English activities more effective for their learning. My general addage has always been: Whatever you like to do in your free-time, just do it in English! But the realisation that relaxing in front of ‘How I met your mother’ with a beer and a bag of crisps might not actually be helping improve students’ English as much as it could, has lead to me think up ideas for tasks that could further the learning that occurs through these free-time activities. Recently, I posted some ideas for practising English with news items (see here: https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/practising-english-with-news-items/ )  And then I asked some students what it is they do in their free time. The number one answer: Reading (fiction) books.

So here’s the next list: This time, activities that learners can do once they’ve read a book, in order to practise their productive skills in English (since reading is a passive skill). I’m sure teachers also use fiction as part of their courses and have a whole host of comprehension and discussion questions etc. These ideas could also complement those. But my main aim is to give students who are reading fiction for fun some ideas on how they can make this even more helpful for improving their English.

  • Write a short summary of the plot of the novel. You could also start a blog where you post summaries of novels you have read – other people may comment on your summaries and start a discussion.


  • Write a review of the novel. You could also discuss your review with a friend who has read the same book – or set up your own book club with friends to read and discuss novels together. Or again, post your reviews to a blog for discussion with other. Alternatively, you can slso post your reviews on sites like Amazon for others to read when they’re looking for something to read.


  • Pretend you work for the publisher, and write a blurb for the novel. You can look at blurbs for books on websites such as Amazon to see what kind of language they use and the techniques used to entice the potential reader to read the book.


  • Take on the part of a character and a) act out a scene , b) re-write a scene from that character’s perspective (using a first-person narrator).


  • Write a letter to one character explaining why you find their behavior unacceptable.


  • Watch the film adaptation of a novel, and write a review of the film comparing it to the original book version, or discuss your comparison with a friend who has also read the book and watched the film.


  • Pretend you are a teacher and  going to work on this novel with your students. Compose comprehension and/or discussion questions (and answers) based on the text. 


  • Pretend you are recording an audio version of the book and read some parts aloud. Record yourself, making sure to check the pronunciations and word-stress of any unknown vocabulary (e.g. using the online OALD). You can then listen to the recording (or play it to a friend) and check that your pronunciation and intonation are fluent and accurate. An official audio-book may be available – then you can compare your recording to that!

For more ideas on using literature to teach & learn English, please see the following websites:



George Orwell’s “1984″: Discussion Topics ANSWERS

It’s taken a while … but for those who’ve been hoping for suggestions of possible points to be covered in the various discussion tasks, here they are!

I’m not calling them ‘answers’, since I think any teacher teaching the book should have read it and know the ‘answers’ that they are aiming for their class to reach, but here are some ideas anyway!


George Orwell’s 1984

Task 1


  • The novel uses technology-based surveillance in both public and private spaces, they also have a greater impact on the individual.
  • The person-based measures of surveillance make the existence of private space impossible (family/neighbors have an impact on the behaviour of the individual), while in our world family and neighbours don’t play such an important role
  • The novel doesn’t use technology such as means of personal communication, it also does not include the media as a public mean to watch and control people



Task 2

  • Orwell’s concept of surveillance is all encompassing and supports a specific ideology
  • Technical surveillance is accompanied by personal surveillance through individuals.
  • Surveillance is omnipresent and sometimes invisible
  • Lack of laws, mistrust of people and threat of becoming an unperson increase insecurity
  • Allusion to the possibility of reading people’s minds (O’Brien) è telescreens etc. not just used to control behavior but more importantly to control thoughts
  • But: Relative freedom from surveillance for proles
  • Orwell’s predictions are not entirely applicable to today’s situation
  • Surveillance technology exists (CCTV etc.) but no threat to people’s lives should something deviating be thought or said
  • No connection to the stabilization of a Party/Government ideology, rather prevention of terrorism etc.
  • Yet, it some instances surveillance has led to people being publically denounced as in the case of the American diplomat Victoria Nuland
  • In the next 20-30 years the technological possibilities of surveillance will increase but radical government shifts, increase of terrorism or shifts in public opinion of issues like privacy must accompany mass surveillance


Task 3

In both cases the checks and balances must be considered.

Government Corporation
o   In democratic systems it must be enabled by the public and have a basic order based on freedom and democracy (Totalitarian systems may employ surveillance in an Orwellian fashion)

o   Monitoring by transnational organizations (EU, NATO, UN)

o   Need to be able to account for what the material is used

o   May be able to enforce access to private homes

o   Control of public spaces

o   Not subject of public scrutiny

o   Question of what the material us used for (e.g. is it sold to governments, other people, corporations etc.)

o   In transnational environment, it is hard to appeal to a court

o   Economy orientation makes complete deviation from public demands difficult

o   No legal possibility to access homes or public spaces without permit


Task 4

The media is always a positive as well as a negative medium.

Positive Negative
o   Maintaining order through public scrutiny

o   Draws attention to problem areas and can rectify problems

o   False accusations and subsequent repercussions for individuals

o   Can be (mis)used to promote a certain political/social ideology


o   Depending on the readership, the media can influence public opinion.

o   Turn to a greater defense of privacy issues possible if false reports are known

o   Relieve and feeling of security when information about fellow workers, citizens etc. are broadcasted


Task 5

Fighting for Peace (War is Peace):

o   Contradiction in terms: How can war, a state of strive, violence and pain, simultaneously be peace, a state characterized by the absence of the former?

o   War means a stability of social/economic order and thus creates peace within society

o   In the novel, this is the background for the events and a defining principle of society

o   In real life, war is often followed by a period of uncertainty (post-WWII) in which war with its clear cut lines is still remembered è background for Orwell’s writing


o   People does usually not go with the prefix “un”: How can a person not be a person?

o   People who committed thoughtcrime are vaporized and effectively erased from memory, yet, they the fact that they are named unpeople hints at the fact that exactly this does not happen

o   In the novel, Winston becomes an unperson but still exists; Goldstein is an unperson that functions as the greatest symbol for hate

o   In real life, the Soviet Union used the term to describe people who were erased from history, yet, most of them are still known

Thought Crime:

o   How can something happening in somebody’s head be a crime?

o   It is not the actual act that makes a person a criminal but actually thinking deviating thoughts that warrant vaporization

o   In the novel, thoughtcrime is committed by mostly everyone but some people like O’Brien still go free; actual crimes such as murder go unpunished


Task 6

o   Mass data transfer from cellphones to servers in the US using Whatsapp and Facebook services. è contact lists and pictures are saved somewhere and can potentially be used against individuals.

o   CCTV as for example in Britain è makes it virtually impossible to go anywhere without being on camera (“Smile, you’re on CCTV)

o   Possibility of not using services such as FB/Whatsapp

o   Hard to escape surveillance in public spaces



For original post with task questions etc, please see here: https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/george-orwells-1984-discussion-topics/