Introduction to Legends

This collection of 52 bio-sketches can be used by English language learners at high beginning to advanced levels. It can be used to work on all skills - speaking, listening, reading, and writing. At the same time it can be used to explore American history through the lives of some very interesting and impressive people.

There are 13 groups of bio-sketches, four people in each group. Within each group of four bio-sketches there are four different proficiency levels. The first bio-sketch is the easiest (Level A), at about 100 words in length. The second is at 150 (Level B), the third, 200 (Level C), and the fourth, 250 (Level D). In addition to the length of the text, the sentence length and the lexical and grammatical challenge increase along with the word count. Thus the material can be used with classes that have a mixture of proficiency levels, or if the learners are all at the same level, they can first do the 13 easy bio-sketches, then go on to the 13 longer, more challenging texts, and so on through the complete collection.

On the back side of each text there is a timeline. On the left side of the timeline are events in the person's life, and on the right side are national events and events from the lives of a few of the other people in this collection. The timeline helps establish the historical context within which the legends lived. Suggestions for using the timelines and CDs are on pages xiii-xiv.

The pages are perforated. They can be left intact as a book of 52 readings so that each student will have a complete text. Or, just one or just a few copies of the text can be used with the entire class. In this case, the learners work on selected pages handed out by the teacher. For example, one learner has "Johnny Appleseed," another has "Nat Love," a third one has "Annie Oakley," etc.

These bio-sketches can be used for a variety of purposes.
In addition to being a unique way to explore American history and culture and the Americans who helped make it, learners will be able to sharpen their linguistic skills in a variety of interesting and enjoyable ways. Some suggestions follow.

1. Read and Tell. Each learner is assigned a different legend. They read the text, looking up unfamiliar words or asking for help as the teacher circulates to offer it. When the learner thinks they can tell the story of the legend's life, they find another learner who has a different legend. The two learners then tell each other about their legend. (Optional: they can do this while looking at the timeline for guidance.) When they have finished, they can find new partners to tell and listen to. Note: the intention here is for the learners to read and understand the text, but then put it in their own words, incorporating words and phrases from the text.

2. Role Play. Each learner is given a different legend. They read the text for understanding (dictionaries and the teacher can be consulted). Then two learners pair up . They can simply introduce themselves and tell each other who they are. However, they can also carry on a question-answer conversation, for example: "Why are you a legend?" "When did you do that?" "How old were you when . . .?" "When you did that I was . . ." etc. This can also be done in groups of 3-5 learners.

3. Read and Write. The learners read their text (if everyone has a copy of the book, they can all read the same bio-sketch). Then when they are ready, they turn the page over and write the story using the timeline as a guide. Finally, they can compare their stories with a partner or simply compare with the original text.

4. Interview. This can be done in a variety of ways. Basically, one learner is the focus of the class, assuming the role of a legend. The teacher or one of the learners assumes the role of host and interviews the guest "legend" while the others listen. It can also be done as a kind of talk show with the listeners "calling in" with questions and comments.

5. Discussion. Assign 3-5 different learners different legends who lived at the same time (check the timelines on pages 105 through 108). One learner begins with a statement about their legend. A good opening line is "I was born in 1863. What were you doing at that time?" The learners consult their own timelines, and use their imaginations. "Well, in 1863 I was living in Baltimore, and there was a civil war. How did that affect you?"

6. Dictations. Select one of the legends. (Optional: each student should have a copy of the legend's timeline for guidance.) Read the text through once deliberately, but not stopping, as the learners follow along. Then read the passage phrase by phrase, allowing a reasonable amount of time for the learners to write each phrase. When the dictation is complete, have the learners compare their writing, and then hand out a copy of the text.

7. Note-Taking. Select a legend and tell one bio-sketch in lecture fashion with reference to the national events listed on the timeline. (Optional: give each learner a copy of the legend's timeline.) The learners take notes (not complete dictation). Then in pairs or small groups the learners share their notes. They can reconstruct the lecture on a piece of poster paper. Finally, they write a full text based on their collective notes. This activity may work better using one of the longer texts with more advanced learners.

8. Research. After the learners have read and worked with the information about their legend, they can go to the Internet to learn more and write an expanded bio-sketch, or write in greater detail about some aspect or event in the legend's life. A starting point for the research is the web address given at the bottom of the timeline page.

9. Guessing Game Review 1. After the class is familiar with several of the legends, give each one a different legend and an index card. The learners pair up and talk to each other without revealing the name of their legend. After a pair talks to each other for a minute or so (you can ring a bell to signal that it's time to change partners), they split and make a note on their index card: "Julio >> Thomas Edison?" After 10 or 15 minutes of meeting, talking, and writing down their guesses, the action stops and the teacher has the class identify each person, one by one:

T: OK, who is Julio?
S1: I think he is Thomas Edison.
S2: I'm not sure. Maybe he is George Washington Carver.
S3: Oh no, he is definitely Edison.
T: So, Julio, who are you?
J: I am the great inventor Thomas Edison.

10. Guessing Game Review 2. After the learners are familiar with several of the legends, tape a copy of the text of one of the legends to the back of each learner, being sure the learner doesn't know who they are. Then they mill around asking questions, trying to identify themselves. You might want to limit each exchange between pairs to two or three questions, just to promote mingling and to have the knowers review the information on more than one legend.

Ahmed: Rosa, when was I born?
Rosa: (Looking at the text taped to Ahmed's back) 1805.
Ahmed: Where was I born?
Rosa: Let's see . . . Kentucky.
Amed: Hmm, OK, thanks. Lee, when did I die?
Lee: You died in 1865.

The timelines give the collection an additional dimension.
As noted earlier, the left side of the timeline features events in the legend's life, echoing the information in the passage. The right side of the timeline notes national events and events from the lives of a few other legends. The names in boldface are other legends featured in this collection.

Note that the phrases on the left side are usually incomplete sentences, and the verbs are mostly in the active voice. On the right side the phrases can stand alone as sentences, and they are often in the passive voice. This allows the students to construct statements such as these (the phrase in bold is explicit on the time line):

Thomas Edison moved to New York City in 1869. (from the left side)
In 1871, Chicago was destroyed by a great fire. (from the right side)
Edison started a research lab in 1876, and also in 1876 the
telephone was developed by Alexander Graham Bell.
In 1879, Edison invented the electric light bulb.
In America, (in 1898) the Spanish-American War began (in 1898).

Throughout the right-side timelines, there are references to U.S. Presidents. To help place these references in the larger context of U.S. history, a list of the Presidents is included on page 109.

The timelines can be used in a variety of ways:

1. Learners use the left side only as a series of prompts as they retell the legend's life.

2. The learners can use both sides to retell a fuller account of the life and times of the legend. For example, if the learner is working on Edison, they will encounter (on the right side of the timeline), "inventor George Washington Carver was born." The boldface indicates that Carver is one of the legends in the collection. This could lead the learners to read about and study Carver's life next.

3. Many of the notations may not mean much to the learners. Making the phrase meaningful can be the next step. For example, the learners read "the Spanish-American War began." The next step could be to have the learners go to the library or encyclopedia or Internet to find out about the Spanish-American War and then report on it or discuss it in the next class.

4. As an alternative to the above suggestion, individuals or pairs can research different national events mentioned in the right-side timeline. For example (from the timeline for Edison):

Julio and Jorge, find out about Samuel Morse.
Maria and Lupita, research the Great Chicago Fire.
Luis and Felipe, find more information about Alexander Graham Bell.

Using the legends and the timelines can bring American history to life.
The 52 bio-sketches in this collection are available
as 52 separate tracks on a CD (see the table of contents for a listing).

The recordings can be used in a variety of ways. Some suggestions follow:

1. The collection can be used primarily for listening comprehension practice. If everyone is working on the same passage, play the CD track. Then have the students read the passage, and finally have them look at the timeline and play the passage again. Obviously, after the listening, the class can write the passage from memory, and then compare it with the original. They can discuss the passage and the timeline. They can also create a few comprehension questions and quiz each other. And in pairs they can reconstruct the passage orally, taking turns saying something about the legend.

2. Play the recording and have the students read along with the recording. This can be done just for the listening-reading practice, or it can be a preparation step before having the students reconstruct the passage orally from memory or by using the timeline prompts.

3. Play the recording and by using the pause button, have the students take dictation. After the dictation, they can refer to the original passage to check the accuracy of their writing.

4. If a listening lab is available, the students can use the text and the recording for self-study purposes.

- Graded Readings from American History

52 People Who Made A Difference
by: Michael Ryall
Bio-Sketches for Reading, Telling, Listening, Writing, and Research
Grade 4 to Adult.
E.S.L. : Beginning to Intermediate



Mark Twain

George Washington Carver


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