Teaching English literature through webquests

Another active technique we can use in class is the webquest. A webquest is a sort of webpage we create to encourage our students to read or do projects in an active way. The teacher is the guide who provides students with the sources and links they have to visit in order to work on some tasks. The student is the one in charge of the learning process here so he/she has to become an active member in order to produce knowledge.

First, we create an introduction that catches our students’ attention, then, we set some activities for them but we have to recommend the sites they should visit in order to successfully complete the tasks, they have to work cooperatively in groups and then present a final project which will be evaluated. Through webquests, we evaluate the whole product and not only the final result and students develop lots of skills as: team work, creativity, autonomy, time management…etc. This is just a suggestion, you can use webquests with different purposes but I’ll show you an example of a webquest for teaching literature in English to Spanish secondary education students.

Here you can find a webquest I created on Lewis Carroll’s novels: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I hope you like it!

http://phpwebquest.org/newphp/webquest/soporte_mondrian_w.php?id_actividad=41933&id_pagina=1

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Session 4

Mount Everest (topgold)

Mount Everest (topgold) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this session we worked actively and it was really interesting!.

Our teacher brought several books to the classroom and everyone had to pick one. The class was arranged into different corners where we could find information on different methods: collaborative learning, games, cooperative learning, problem-based learning and task-based learning.

I have to say that, as we were about 30 people or so in the classroom and everybody stood up to pick their book at the same time, when I had the chance to choose mine, the best ones were already chosen and the same happened with the information in the corners. If we ever develop an activity like this in the classroom we need to plan and arrange everything perfectly because our students are not so well organised and this could lead to some conflict.

The book I chose is called Travel Stories and I found it too difficult for ESO students as it is intended for an advanced learner. It is a compilation of short stories that deal with travelling experiences through different places: climbing the Himalaya, travelling through Mexico… I think that the topic is quite appealing for teenagers as they love travelling and discovering new places but the level is too high for them so maybe I won’t use that book in my class or I would adapt the text for them. It is a pity because this book includes authentic texts in English so it can be a good point in order to introduce students in a “real” English atmosphere. The thing that aroused my attention is that every story contains a summary where the ending is not given so we can use it as a pre-teaching activity in order to ask them to work out the meaning and then compare it to the real one provided in the story.

We had to plan different activities using at least two of the methods proposed. Here is my proposal:

COOPERATIVE LEARNING

I would tell my students to get into groups of 4 or 5 people and work cooperatively. I like cooperative learning as every member of the group has a role: the leader, the language monitor, the advisor and the secretary. The teacher is a guide in their learning process and they are the ones who have to be creative and imaginative in order to produce good works. They make some effort and they “learn while doing”. I  will certainly tell my students to write their progress on Edmodo so the other classmates can comment on their work and the teacher can see the process and take it into account when assessing them.

PRE-TEACHING ACTIVITIES:

To present the book what I would do is to project a video on Youtube of the film 127 hours to see their reactions. I would use the video just to catch their attention and make them reflect upon some issues related to extreme experiences of travelling.

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlhLOWTnVoQ)

It is about an adventurous man who likes risky adventures and gets stuck under a rock while climbing a mountain. It is in fact based on real facts so we can ask them things as:

Have you seen this movie?

Do you know the story shown in the movie happened in real life?

What would you do if you were in his shoes?

After the discussion activity they have a general insight of what they can find in the book.

Then I will give them the titles of the stories which are: The lawless roads, Himalaya, The Land of the Camels, Hammerfest, The Amateur Inmigrant and Long Way Round written in small pieces of paper and they have to guess what are the stories about. Then they have to choose three stories of the six provided and read them. I would like them to read the whole book but maybe that’s too much if I want them to focus on what they are reading and creating nice projects.

2. ACTUAL TEACHING ACTIVITIES:

Once they have read at least 3 of the 6 short stories they have to choose one and create a glogster where they depict the setting of the story, what is happening and focus on the different parts of the story: introduction, plot and conclusion. I think that through Glogster they are working with several skills: they improve their writing and summarising abilities, they learn how to distribute information in a story and also how to be creative. Then they’ll upload their glogster on Edmodo.

Another activity consists on creating an individual blog where they speak about travelling experiences. They have to imagine that they could travel to any part of the world and they have to report their “fictional” adventures: where are they, which perils they have encountered and write a journey diary who will be posted on Edmodo. The design counts so they have to use their imagination and be very creative. They can post nice pics on their blogs using tools as kerpoof (http://www.kerpoof.com/) or add a Voki to present their blog (http://www.voki.com)

3. POST TEACHING ACTIVITIES:

They have to represent the ideas they have discovered through the reading of the different stories and create a wordcloud that depicts them (http://www.wordle.net/).

Using the wordcloud, they have to invent a story of their own and they can represent it and record themselves with their mobile phones and upload it on Edmodo.

ROLE PLAY & SIMULATION

Another way of teaching this book to students of ESO could be through role play. A role play is a technique in which the student has to perform a role, to act out an invented character or unreal situation. It is quite motivating for them but the teacher must create a friendly environment where the students feel comfortable otherwise they won’t talk. Through role-play students can practice lots of vocabulary and the speaking skill can be improved. I have decided to use the role play as I have used this technique with students of primary education and it works quite good but they have a limited amount of vocabulary so maybe with teenagers it’s easier.

The students will be divided into groups of 4 people. Each member of the group will have a card with the character that has to perform.

For example: Speaker A: You’re one of the mountaineers who climb the Mount Everest. You are tired and you want to convince the group of having a rest. Speaker B: You are the expedition guide and you think that you could continue your journey until you reach the top of the mount, you all need to hurry up as it is cold and soon it will get dark. Speaker C: You are a mountaineer and you don’t get on well with the other people in your team. You think you should overtake your partners and wait them on top of the mountain as your dream is to be the first one to reach the top.

This activity could be adapted to the different activities that appear in the book but as I didn’t have the chance to read it I couldn’t think of more ideas.

I found this simulation very useful as well and I think students could do it and learn a lot. (http://www.iei.illinois.edu/travelsim/) Simulations consist on a technique in which  students are given relevant problems which are solved in environments which closely and precisely emulate real-world situations. This simulation consists on planning a trip through the Internet so it is something they can experience through their lifes. Maybe they already know how to do it in Spanish but we can help them to manage that same situation in English.

In the same groups, students have to go through this site in which students will have to plan a trip to the Grand Canyon. They learn lots of vocabulary as they have to follow different questions and requests and also make some decisions: when do they want to make the trip, how to travel, what to see, which activities they would like to do once they are there…etc. They have a total amount of $4400 so they also practice real life problems as how to organise their budget and what is better for them. In the end they can print their planning and show it in class in front of their classmates and explain the choices they made and why.

These are just some tips or recommendations on how to teach English actively through literature, if you are imaginative and creative you can design a nice lesson which will thrill your students!

Last but not least…Station 3!

In the second session my group and I worked in this station together with Station number 1. We had a worksheet with some activities and we had to divide them into pre/actual and post-teaching activities. I think that dividing the activities into pre/actual and post-teaching activities is very helpful when planning a lesson as it can help you to create a dynamic and fluid lesson due to the fact that you’ve got different activities you want to discuss with your students in three different moments: to introduce the topic, to actually work with it and to finish the lesson. We also had to create a comic and a word cloud. It was fun! These tools are amazing!

station 3

The PRE-TEACHING ACTIVITIES could be considered the following ones:

d) Discussion:

This is a warming-up activity because we want our students to activate their previous knowledge of the topic, the author, etc.

f) Think pair-share:

Students have to predict the plot of a story taking into account headlines/titles. They also have to make comments on their reflections with the rest of the class.

Having students talking in pairs or small groups is something useful as they feel more comfortable than talking to the teacher in front of the whole class; however, we have to make sure they are talking in English and  be there if they have problems with vocabulary. If you create a friendly atmosphere in the classroom and let them know that making mistakes is ok because that’s the way in which someone learns they’ll feel better; the key is to mantain a positive attitude towards them and the language and so they’ll develop a positive attitude and their level of anxiety will decrease.

The ACTUAL TEACHING ACTIVITY is the:

c) Analysis:

It is a reading comprehension activity. Students have to find out and justify if the information in the statements is true or false.

We can also show the students some excerpts of the story in different pieces of papers, in groups, they have to arrange the story in order and justify why the order they chose is correct. With this type of exercise they are talking to each other, agreeing and disagreeing and they have to be very coordinated and share their ideas to come up with the correct order.

and regarding the POST-TEACHING ACTIVITIES:

a) Writing:

Once they have read the short story, students have to carry on writing a different ending for the story: in the end, Mrs. Bixby’s coat is still in the pawnshop and she is planning a strategy to get it back.

b) Discussion:

Students discuss the real ending of the story and what will happen next.

e) Role play:

Students work in pairs and they have to perform Mr and Mrs Bixby’s conversation by the end of the story.

I personally like all of the activities proposed but if I had to choose, I’d pick up the role play. I like using a little bit of drama in class as students can show their creativity and funny side of themselves. It is very  motivating for them if they can design the stage, the clothes or objects they want to use for the scene.

We could also suggest our students to create a Voki avatar (http://www.voki.com/) of either Mr or Mrs Bixby and tell the story from the point of view of each other in a very short way. Students will love this tool and they can practice their digital competence while learning how to summarise a whole text.

– In the next activity we had to represent a scene of the short story through either goanimate (http://goanimate.com/) or bitstrips (http://www.bitstrips.com/).

I used goanimate to create the scene, it was very easy to use. You just need to choose the avatars, the setting of the scene and typing what you want your characters to say or record your own voice!

Here is my goanimate contribution to my group: http://goanimate.com/videos/0I5g-Pp7MF8U?utm_source=linkshare

I would use goanimate with my students because you can review structures, lots of vocabulary, develop their creativity and create fantastic stories!

– The scene can be posted on Edmodo (http://www.edmodo.com/), Kidblog (http://kidblog.org/home/) or Fakebook (http://www.classtools.net/fb/home/page). Those are useful ICTs we can use in our class, they are in fact similar to famous social networks but they have educational purposes so we can use them for free and are more suitable for teenagers.
Our group thought that the scene can be a useful tool to make students write. Creating a writing activity based on a comic can be appealing for teenagers.
 
– In the last activity of the station we work with Word-cloud (http://www.wordle.net/) where you can create posters with words. “Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.”
We decided that we can use wordle to foster writing and stimulating students to flow their creativity.  The activity would consist n doing a writing using the words given in the word-cloud patchwork to build up a possible denouement for the story. Here is the tool they need to use to write their own ending for the story of Mr. & Mrs. Bixby:http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/6604013/UntitledWord-clouds are fantastic to work with words and they can be adapted to create multiple activities as: creative writing, summaries, posters, presentations…etc. We can adapt them into pre/actual and post-teaching activities.So, this is it, here’s the final station me and my group have been working with. The next post will be about two interesting short stories of my choice and soon I’ll come up with some active techniques to teach English trough them! I hope you find them useful!Sara

Session 1: Station 2!

postcard

We worked in Station number 2 in the first session. It was quite long so we had to finish it together with stations 1 and 3 on the second session. Station 2 was very interesting as it contained a “simulation” task on it. I think this is a nice topic to talk about with secondary education students; we all have imagined what would happen if we were lost in a deserted island: which things we would bring, how would we get food, who would succeed on surviving…etc. It is a nice idea to practice the second conditional form and lots of vocabulary.

We had to read a headline on a major environmental disaster that was going to cause the end of the human race and we had to imagine that situation to be real. The only place in the world that  the disaster won’t reach is an island in the Pacific but to go there, there is only one helicopter who can take 7 people of the 12 shown in the list. We have the power to decide who are the ones who will go to the island to start again the human race.

Simulations can be really helpful when teaching language as students become participants and they make their own decisions. As the previous activities in the first station, this type of activities also increase motivations. Not only our students will feel engaged by the tasks they have to carry out but if they accept the reality of their functions in the simulation, they will try to do their best.

station 2

– In the first activity we had to debate and decide the ones who should be saved. These are the seven people we chose in our group.

  • William Patween. Although he is old and he has cancer, he is an indigenous tribe leader who knows the island pretty well. So, he is the only one who can teach and explain the rest of the group how to survive in the island in the Pacific.
  • Father Eugenio. Although he is a priest and he is not going to have descendants, he knows the South Pacific and is an expert on agriculture which is pretty useful in order to survive in a desert island. Being priest, he may also act as a sort of diplomat in the island.
  • Robert Sisulu. We take him because he is an experienced hunter and his hunting knowledge will be very helpful in order to feed people in the deserted island.
  • Kris McDonnell. The fact that she is a police officer and she carries a gun may be helpful in order to survive in the island, but we mainly take her because she is 3 months pregnant.
  • Mary Maloney. Although her story is quite impressing and we kind of understand her reaction, we basically take her because she is pregnant. As she is a housewife, she can be in charge of cooking and feeding the whole group.
  • Dr. Hammed Bedrouni. As we are taking pregnant women, we need a doctor to help them give birth. We don’t care if he is Muslim or not, but the role of the doctor is almost the most important when we think in terms of surviving.
  • John McDonnell. He is a firefighter. We need strong people in order to built shelters but we also need fertile men in order to reproduce the species.

– The second activity was creating a Glogster (a tool for creating digital posters: http://www.glogster.com/) depicting the ideal island. Our group created the following one: http://www.glogster.com/group2ucv/desert-island/g-6ks4b6irldlv11f9edk01a0.

We think that it is a good idea to make a glogster because you can catch your student’s attention on the topic you are going to be working with and as it is a visual tool, you can use funny videos or songs which are interesting and appealing to them so in the end they are learning without realising it.

– We think that the glogster should be used in pre-teaching as we can introduce a topic through videos, songs… They can get a general idea of what they are going to be working and then express their feelings, ideas and discuss the good and bad aspects of being trapped in a deserted island. It is perfect to use this glog as we can review the 2nd conditional form due to the fact that being trapped in an island is a hypothetical situation.

I think that we can integrate glogster in our lessons as it is quite easy to use, visual and dynamic and our students can be creative. Using ICT’s in education is innovative and our students will be delighted and they’ll develop autonomy. Glogster is the new PowerPoint, I believe that it is more attractive for students and they can create original projects.

– I created a postcard on Kerpoof (http://www.kerpoof.com/) for the next activity. In this site you can find lovely designs and it also contributes to develop the learners’ creativity while they can also put into practice some vocabulary and structures reviewed in class. You can see the postcard at the top of the post.

– In the next activity we had to visit the following web:        http://freerice.com/#/english-vocabulary/1526 . It is a website where students can practice vocabulary while helping others. For each word that you  guess you donate 10 grains of rice to countries which are in need.

I would use this webpage in class to review vocabulary and also to raise the students’ awareness to the fact that we have to help each other and that there’s people out there who are suffering.

Here is a nice questionnaire about how to survive on a deserted island. My students in the language academy where I work loved it! There’s some difficult vocabulary on it but it can be adapted to different levels. It is funny, entertaining and students can learn new vocabulary and also develop reading comprehension skills: 1206_sopafp_survivalskillstest (1)

I think we could also add a debate for this type of simulation. It is called the “balloon  debate”. We have to divide the classroom into groups and each group has to choose a character (the ones in the island for example). They are all travelling in a hot air balloon but there is a leak and there is not enough gas left to carry all of them, only for 7 people (the ones who will reach the island safely). Each member have to give reasons to the rest of the class in order to convince the audience as they decide who will be the seven who will survive by voting them. The characters who receive more points will be the elected. It is a nice activity as students can practice their communicative skills and they also practice argumentation, giving reasons, arguing…etc.

– This type of simulation activities can be useful to teach human prejudices and rights. In the first activity where students have to discuss who would they save, I think at first they will start making comments on stereotypes and prejudices but, as teachers, we must make the students value people by themselves, thinking how useful they can be in a deserted island because of their job/role and without thinking of their sexual inclination or their religious beliefs. We can adapt the “balloon debate” to the teaching of human rights so every student has to support their right to be elected from a “respectful” point of view. For example: I think I deserve to be elected as I’m a pregnant woman and there is another life inside of me.

I have never used simulation in class before and it is a challenge but I think students will love it and they’ll come up with brilliant ideas to discuss. Integrating such innovative and interactive activities in the class help having students working actively and cooperating and they can learn a lot of English as we “learn by doing”.

Session 2: Station 1!

 

station 1

My group and I worked on Station number 1  and Station  number 3 the same day which was in fact  the second session. The second part of Session one was devoted to Station number 2 which you will found on the next post.

 

We found some activities on “Lamb to the Slaughter” short story:

lamb - activity 4

– In the first activity we had to discuss the differences and similarities between Mrs Bixby (Mrs Bixby and the colonel’s coat) and Mary Maloney. Our group found that Mary Maloney is a scheming wife, totally devoted to her husband and she feels alone as he doesn’t pay attention to her when everything she wants to do is please him. Mrs Bixby has everything in life but she lacks passion.

They are similar in that both women suffer from unrequited love from their partners and they have everything in life except for happiness.

Regarding the differences, each of them behaves in a different way; Mary Maloney actually kills her husband in an outburst and Mrs. Bixby has to resign and continue with her dull life.

– Then, we had to discuss if we would use EDMODO (http://www.edmodo.com) in class with our students and if we would classify the previous activity into pre/actual/post-teaching. We agreed that it’s a fantastic tool where teacher and students can share different points of view and every activity can be adapted to fit into pre/actual/post-teaching. However, in this case, it could be used as a post-teaching  activity because students have to discuss the similarities and the difference between the female characters of both shortstories and this means that they must have already been working each shortstory individually.

In my opinion, I would use EDMODO with my students as it is a fantastic way of sharing information with them and you can also interact with each other. Nowadays, teenagers spend most of the time online, why not taking advantage of it and adapt it to education? The teacher can communicate with his/her pupils but they can also comment to each other, share info, like their classmates’ posts…etc. I think it is very easy for them to use and a very interesting active technique to provide significant learning. It is very motivating as the teacher can give “badges” to the students that are participating and our students need some kind of recognition when they make an effort. It is easy to use and it’s similar to Facebook or Tuenti so our students will know how to work with it perfectly. We can tell them to use Edmodo whenever they come up with an idea, or share videos, pages in English they like…etc. We can also tell them to post their reflections on the lessons and so have some feedback and organise better our time.

– Then, we talked about the ironic symbols on both shortstories:

In Lamb to the Slaughter, the lamb is actually an ironic symbol because it is the weapon that Mary uses to murder her husband.

In Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s coat shortstory the neckpiece is the ironic symbol because it represents unfaithfulness, disdain and greed.

We looked for pictures to represent both symbols: a leg lamb and a neckpiece.

– In the next activity we had to pretend to be Mrs. Maloney in a radio programme and convince the audience of her actions. I did the recording myself and it was a funny experience as I changed my voice to be the radio presenter, I added some background music and I pretended to be Mrs. Maloney who was felt sorry for what she did and tried to excuse herself. We were supposed to used either https://soundcloud.com/ or http://vocaroo.com/but those only work if you have a microphone so I used the recorder in my mobile phone and it worked perfectly.

-We agreed that we would use recorders in class as students can get to know their mistakes in pronunciation and they can improve by themselves. We can suggest our students to use their own mobile phones to record their voices so  they can see that technology can also be applied in class.

I would also use a recorder in my lessons, and I would also recommend my students to do recordings as it is really useful to hear how you pronounce in English. It is a good way in which students can get inmediate feedback and hear themselves speaking. You can do lots of activities in which students have to record their voices as: interviews, radio programmes…etc. They’ll love it for sure!

– In the last activity we had to discuss whether the recording could be classified into pre/actual/post-teaching and we think that depending on the content of the voice message we can adapt it into all types of teaching. In this case, we think that it is part of the actual teaching of the shortstory because while students are writing the reasons which justify her acts, they are reflecting on the plot of the story and they are also putting into practice their speaking skills.

I liked very much working through this station as I learnt more aspects of this shortstory and I discovered new ways of teaching reading comprehension I can actually apply in my lessons that can catch my students’ attention as working with EDMODO and doing voice recordings.

Session 1: Working with short stories

We are going to work actively through this subject so I’ll be posting here in my blog what we are doing throughout the sessions. In fact, blogging is a technique we can use with our students as they like new technologies and being online so they’ll enjoy writing and sharing their opinion.

 

SESSION 1

On Session 1 , our teacher explained us what was the subject about and introduced us to the wonderful world of active learning. She told us from the very beginning how we were going to be assessed and then what are active techniques and how can we use them to teach English to students of ESO.

Teaching English actively is a way in which students can learn by doing, in a practical form. By using active techniques in class, boredom or failure might be over as our students become active participants in their learning process and they are engaged. It consists on being a guide for them, you just give them the means and they have to follow their own motivations. In this way, students can be very creative and learn without realising they are in fact studying English! We have to change the way in which we teach if we are still “clung” to the traditional methods that don’t work anymore; society has changed and so our students have changed. When we work through active methodologies we are helping to develop our students skills and key competences but we are also providing them the keys for a “lifelong learning” which should be the goal for every teacher. It implies lots of planning from the teacher but in the end, if it works, it will be worthy.

We also talked about ICT’s, which are tools that we can use in the classroom that help us to make the content appealing for our students. The teacher explained us that we need to be updated in this field as society is in constant change and our students have grown in the era of technology. Using these techniques is very helpful as we can engage our students’ in the learning process and catch their attention, something that is really difficult if you are simply using a book. We can do this through games, for example, starting a competition at the beginning, or bringing a box with something inside and they have to guess. I work teaching kids from 3 to 12 years old and I see that through games they learn better than doing lots of worksheets that repeat the same content again and again. If you work in a funny way you can get the best from your students.

Then she explained us some differences between group work (that works better with students with determination) and team work (in which students have different roles and they must be coordinated).

Now I’ll tell you how we worked in class, my groups reflections and my own feelings on the work we did through the different stations.

The class was divided into different stations and we had to split into groups to go through them and work on the different activities proposed. Each member of the group had a different role: one was the leader, another one the secretary, we had to advisors and one language monitor. We were working in fact in a cooperative form.

The members of my group are:

– Mónica Obiols: the leader

– Cristina Maldonado: the secretary

– Ana Mª González: the advisor

– Mayte Boix: the language monitor or moderator

and I who was another advisor.

Cooperative learning is better for students than collaborative learning as in the latter the only people who produce something are the hardworkers and there are always “half-harted” people in the group who avoid working. We learnt how to design activities for teaching English to students of secondary education divided into pre-teaching, actual and post-teaching activities. It was very interesting and I learnt lots of techniques and ICT’s we can use in the classroom that are quite motivating and engaging. All what we did through the subject has been very useful for me as I’m doing my final project of the master’s on “Active learning techniques”.

 Using literature to teach English to ESO students is quite challenging as they don’t like reading that much but if we plan nice activities related to the stories it can be quite rewarding and exciting for them. Using short stories is a good idea due to the fact that they are very short, easy to remember and they usually have powerful endings. Through short stories we can improve our students’ reading habits and show them that reading in English can also be pleasant.

Here are the two short stories we’ve been discussing in class.I’ve never read them before  and I found them very original and funny:

 

MRS BIXBY AND THE COLONEL’S COAT

by Roald Dahl

Mr. and Mrs. Bixby lived in a small apartment in New York City.  Mr. Bixby was a dentist, who earned an average amount of money.  Mrs. Bixby was a woman who was full of life.  Once a month she would get on a train and travel to Baltimore to visit her old Aunt Maude. At least that was what she told her husband.  What she really did was see a gentleman known as the Colonel and spend all her time in Baltimore in his company.

The Colonel was wealthy and lived in a charming house just outside of town. He had no wife and no family, only a few loyal servants, and in Mrs. Bixby’s absence he amused himself by riding horses and hunting.  Year after year the pleasant friendship between Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel continued without a problem, and never once did Mrs. Bixby’s dentist husband suspect the truth.

Then, after one visit just before Christmas, Mrs. Bixby was standing at the station in Baltimore, waiting for the train to take her back to New York. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable visit and Mrs. Bixby was thinking how different it all was from her dull husband at home, when suddenly one of the Colonel’s servants appeared through the crowd and presented her with a large cardboard box.

Mrs. Bixby:  “Good heavens! What’s he brought?  What a big box! Was there a message?”

There had been no message, and as soon as she was on the train, Mrs. Bixby found a place where she could open the box in private.

Mrs. Bixby:  “How exciting!  A Christmas present from the Colonel…I think it’s a dress.  It might even be two dresses.  Or it might be a lot of beautiful underclothes.  I won’t look.  I’ll just feel around and try to guess what it is.  I’ll try to guess the color as well, and exactly what it looks like.  Also how much it cost — Good heavens!  It can’t be true.”

What the Colonel had given her was the most magnificent mink coat she had ever seen.  The fur was almost pure black, with a touch of blue in it, as well, as deep rich blue.  But what had it cost?  She hardly dared to think.  Then she saw there was a letter in the box, as well — a farewell note from the Colonel!  He had heard her say once how fond she was of mink and asked her to accept it as a farewell gift.  For his own personal reasons he would not be able to see her anymore.

Mrs. Bixby:  “Well! Imagine that! Well, I’ve lost one thing, but gained another.  Wait–there’s something written on the other side:  ‘Just tell them a nice generous aunt of yours gave it for Christmas’.”  “The man must be mad!  Aunt Maude doesn’t have that sort of money–she couldn’t possibly give me this…but if Aunt Maude didn’t, then who did?”

In the excitement of finding the coat and trying it on, she had completely forgotten the most important detail.  In a couple of hours she would be in New York, and even a man like her husband Cyril would start asking questions if his wife suddenly walked in from a weekend wearing a fabulous new mink coat.

Mrs. Bixby thought to herself:  “I think he’s done this on purpose just to annoy me.  He knew perfectly well I wouldn’t be able to keep it.  But I must have this coat!  I must!  Very well, my dear.  You shall have the coat, my dear.  But don’t be afraid. Sit still and keep calm and start thinking. You’ve fooled him before.  The man has never been able to understand very much apart from his business.  So sit absolutely still and think.”

Some time later Mrs. Bixby stepped off the train in New York and walked quickly to the exit.  She was wearing her old red coat again, and was carrying the box in her arms.  She signalled for a taxi

Mrs. Bixby: “Driver, do you know of a pawnbroker that is still open around here?  Stop at the first one you see, will you please?”

At the pawnbroker’s Mrs. Bixby told the driver to wait for her.  Inside she made up a story about losing her purse and all her money,  and left the fur coat with the pawnbroker in exchange for fifty dollars in cash and a pawn-ticket which she insisted have no name or address on it, but simply the word ‘ARTICLE.'”  The important thing was not to lose that ticket–anyone finding it could go there and claim the coat. But Mrs. Bixby was not about to let that happen.  She would tell her husband that she’d found the ticket in the back seat of the taxi and could hardly wait to claim whatever it was on the following Monday morning.  A most ingenious plan–if it hadn’t been for her husband.

Mrs. Bixby: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were a real treasure?”

Mr. Bixby: “We can’t know what it is yet, my dear.  We shall just have to wait and see.”

Mrs. Bixby: “I think it’s absolutely wonderful!  Give me the ticket and I’ll go over immediately on Monday morning and find out!”

Mr. Bixby: “I think I’d better do that.  I’ll pick it up on my way to work.”

Mrs. Bixby: “But it’s my ticket!  Please let me do it. Why should you have all that fun?”

Mr. Bixby: “I’d rather you didn’t handle it if you don’t mind.”

Mrs. Bixby: “But I found it.  It’s mine. Whatever it is, it’s mine, isn’t that right?”

Mr. Bixby: “I suppose you haven’t thought that it might be something for a man, a pocket watch, for example.”

Mrs. Bixby: “In that case, I’ll give it to you for Christmas. But if it’s a woman’s thing, I want it myself.  Is that agreed?”

Mr. Bixby:  “That sounds fair.  Why don’t you come with me when I pick it up?”

Mrs. Bixby: ” Uhh– no, I don’t think I will.  You see, it’ll be more exciting if I stay here and wait”

Monday morning came at last, and as Mr. Bixby was about to leave for the pawnbroker’s on his way to work, his wife made him promise to telephone her if it turned out to be something really nice.  About an hour later, when the phone rang, Mrs. Bixby rushed to answer it before the first ring had finished.

Mr. Bixby (on the telephone):  “I’ve got it!”

Mrs. Bixby: “You have? Oh, Cyril, what is it? Was it something good?”

Mr. Bixby: “Good?  It’s wonderful you wait till you see this. You’ll faint.

Mrs. Bixby:  “Darling, what is it?  Tell me quickly.”

Mr. Bixby:  “You’re a lucky girl, that’s what you are.”

Mrs. Bixby:  “It’s for me then?”

Mr. Bixby:  “Of course it’s for you, though I can’t understand how it was pawned for fifty dollars.  You’ll go crazy when you see it.”

Mrs. Bixby: “What is it?”

Mr. Bixby:  “Try to guess.”

But Mrs. Bixby couldn’t guess.  Instead she insisted on going down to her husband’s office herself to get it, even though it might disorganize his day.  Later when she rang his bell, her husband in his white dentist’s coat opened the door himself.

Mrs. Bixby:  “Oh, I’m so excited.”

Mr. Bixby:  “So you should be.  You’re a lucky girl, did you know that?  We’re through for now.  Go and have your lunch, Miss Pulteney.  You can finish that when you get back.”

This last was directed to his assistant, who was busy putting his instruments away.  He waited until the girl had gone, then walked over to the cupboard where the coats were hung.

Mr. Bixby:  “It’s in there.  Now shut your eyes for a moment…all right now.  You can look!”

Mrs. Bixby:  “I don’t dare to.”

Mr. Bixby:  “Go on, have a look–mink! Real mink!”

At the sound of the word she opened her eyes quickly, and at the same time started forward to grab the coat in her arms.  But there was no coat.  There was only a stupid little neckpiece in her husband’s hand.  Mrs. Bixby put a hand up to her mouth and started to back away.  She was sure she was going to scream.

Mr. Bixby:  “What’s the matter, my dear” Don’t you like it?”

Mrs. Bixby:  Why, yes…I…I think it’s very nice…beautiful…”

Mr. Bixby:  “It quite took your breath away for a moment, didn’t it?”

Mrs. Bixby:  “Yes, it did.”

Mr. Bixby:  Very good quality.  Fine color, too.  Here.  Try it on…it’s perfect.  It really suits you.  It isn’t everyone who has a mink, my dear.”

Mrs. Bixby:  “No, it isn’t.”

Mr. Bixby:  “I’m afraid you mustn’t expect anything else for Christmas.  Fifty dollars was rather more than I was going to spend, anyway.  Go and buy yourself a nice lunch, my dear.”

Mrs. Bixby moved towards the door.  She was going to go over to that pawnbroker’s and throw that miserable neckpiece right into his face and if he refused to give her back her coat, she would kill him.

Mr. Bixby:  “Did I tell you that I was going to be late tonight?  It’ll probably be at least 8:30, it may even be 9:00”

Mrs. Bixby:  “Yes, all right.  Good-bye.”

Mrs. Bixby went out closing the door loudly behind her.  At that exact moment, Miss Pulteney, her husband’s assistant, came past her on her way to lunch and greeted Mrs. Bixby, smiling brightly.  She walked in a very confident way, and she looked like a queen, exactly like a queen in the beautiful black mink coat that the Colonel had given to Mrs. Bixby.

“LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER” ROALD DAHL

The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight-hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whiskey. Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos bucket.
Mary Maloney was waiting for her husband to come him from work.
Now and again she would glance up at the clock, but without anxiety, merely to please herself with the thought that each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would come.  There was a slow smiling air about her, and about everything she did.  The drop of a head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tranquil.  Her skin -for this was her sixth month with child-had acquired a wonderful translucent quality, the mouth was soft, and the eyes, with their new placid look, seemed larger darker than before. When the clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen, and a few moments later, punctually as always, she heard the tires on the gravel outside, and the car door slamming, the footsteps passing the window, the key turning in the lock.  She laid aside her sewing, stood up, and went forward to kiss him as he came in.
“Hullo darling,” she said.
“Hullo darling,” he answered.
She took his coat and hung it in the closer. Then she walked over and made the drinks, a strongish one for him, a weak one for herself; and soon she was back again in her chair with the sewing, and he in the other, opposite, holding the tall glass with both hands, rocking it so the ice cubes tinkled against the side.
For her, this was always a blissful time of day. She knew he didn’t want to speak much until the first drink was finished, and she, on her side, was content to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house.  She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel-almost as a sunbather feels the sun-that warm male glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together.  She loved him for the way he sat loosely in a chair, for the way he came in a door, or moved slowly across the room with long strides.  She loved intent, far look in his eyes when they rested in her, the funny shape of the mouth, and especially the way he remained silent about his tiredness, sitting still with himself until the whiskey had taken some of it away.
“Tired darling?”
“Yes,” he said.  “I’m tired,”  And as he spoke, he did an unusual thing.  He lifted his glass and drained it in one swallow although there was still half of it, at least half of it left.. She wasn’t really watching him, but she knew what he had done because she heard the ice cubes falling back against the bottom of the empty glass when he lowered his arm.  He paused a moment, leaning forward in the chair, then he got up and went slowly over to fetch himself another.
“I’ll get it!” she cried, jumping up.
“Sit down,” he said.
When he came back, she noticed that the new drink was dark amber with the quantity of whiskey in it.
“Darling, shall I get your slippers?”
“No.”
She watched him as he began to sip the dark yellow drink, and she could see little oily swirls in the liquid because it was so strong.
“I think it’s a shame,” she said, “that when a policeman gets to be as senior as you, they keep him walking about on his feet all day long.”
He didn’t answer, so she bent her head again and went on with her sewing; bet each time he lifted the drink to his lips, she heard the ice cubes clinking against the side of the glass.
“Darling,” she said.  “Would you like me to get you some cheese?  I haven’t made any supper because it’s Thursday.”
“No,” he said.
“If you’re too tired to eat out,” she went on, “it’s still not too late.  There’s plenty of meat and stuff in the freezer, and you can have it right here and not even move out of the chair.”
Her eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a little nod, but he made no sign.
“Anyway,” she went on, “I’ll get you some cheese and crackers first.”
“I don’t want it,” he said.
She moved uneasily in her chair, the large eyes still watching his face.  “But you must eat!  I’ll fix it anyway, and then you can have it or not, as you like.”
She stood up and placed her sewing on the table by the lamp.
“Sit down,” he said.  “Just for a minute, sit down.”
It wasn’t till then that she began to get frightened.
“Go on,” he said.  “Sit down.”

She lowered herself back slowly into the chair, watching him all the time with those large, bewildered eyes.  He had finished the second drink and was staring down into the glass, frowning.
“Listen,” he said.  “I’ve got something to tell you.”
“What is it, darling?  What’s the matter?”
He had now become absolutely motionless, and he kept his head down so that the light from the lamp beside him fell across the upper part of his face, leaving the chin and mouth in shadow.  She noticed there was a little muscle moving near the corner of his left eye.
“This is going to be a bit of a shock to you, I’m afraid,” he said.  “But I’ve thought about it a good deal and I’ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away.  I hope you won’t blame me too much.”
And he told her.  It didn’t take long, four or five minutes at most, and she say very still through it all, watching him with a kind of dazed horror as he went further and further away from her with each word.
“So there it is,” he added.  “And I know it’s kind of a bad time to be telling you, bet there simply wasn’t any other way.  Of course I’ll give you money and see you’re looked after.  But there needn’t really be any fuss.  I hope not anyway.  It wouldn’t be very good for my job.”
Her first instinct was not to believe any of it, to reject it all.  It occurred to her that perhaps he hadn’t even spoken, that she herself had imagined the whole thing.  Maybe, if she went about her business and acted as though she hadn’t been listening, then later, when she sort of woke up again, she might find none of it had ever happened.
“I’ll get the supper,” she managed to whisper, and this time he didn’t stop her.
When she walked across the room she couldn’t feel her feet touching the floor.  She couldn’t feel anything at all- except a slight nausea and a desire to vomit.  Everything was automatic now-down the steps to the cellar, the light switch, the deep freeze, the hand inside the cabinet taking hold of the first object it met.  She lifted it out, and looked at it.  It was wrapped in paper, so she took off the paper and looked at it again.
A leg of lamb.
All right then, they would have lamb for supper.  She carried it upstairs, holding the thin bone-end of it with both her hands, and as she went through the living-room, she saw him standing over by the window with his back to her, and she stopped.
“For God’s sake,” he said, hearing her, but not turning round.  “Don’t make supper for me.  I’m going out.”
At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without any pause she swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head.
She might just as well have hit him with a steel club.
She stepped back a pace, waiting, and the funny thing was that he remained standing there for at least four or five seconds, gently swaying.  Then he crashed to the carpet.
The violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning, helped bring her out of he shock.  She came out slowly, feeling cold and surprised, and she stood for a while blinking at the body, still holding the ridiculous piece of meat tight with both hands.
All right, she told herself.  So I’ve killed him.
It was extraordinary, now, how clear her mind became all of a sudden.  She began thinking very fast.  As the wife of a detective, she knew quite well what the penalty would be.  That was fine.  It made no difference to her.  In fact, it would be a relief.  On the other hand, what about the child?  What were the laws about murderers with unborn children?  Did they kill then both-mother and child?  Or did they wait until the tenth month?  What did they do?
Mary Maloney didn’t know.  And she certainly wasn’t prepared to take a chance.
She carried the meat into the kitchen, placed it in a pan, turned the oven on high, and shoved t inside.  Then she washed her hands and ran upstairs to the bedroom.  She sat down before the mirror, tidied her hair, touched up her lops and face.  She tried a smile.  It came out rather peculiar.  She tried again.
“Hullo Sam,” she said brightly, aloud.
The voice sounded peculiar too.
“I want some potatoes please, Sam.  Yes, and I think a can of peas.”
That was better.  Both the smile and the voice were coming out better now.  She rehearsed it several times more.  Then she ran downstairs, took her coat, went out the back door, down the garden, into the street.
It wasn’t six o’clock yet and the lights were still on in the grocery shop.
“Hullo Sam,” she said brightly, smiling at the man behind the counter.
“Why, good evening, Mrs. Maloney.  How’re you?”

“I want some potatoes please, Sam.  Yes, and I think a can of peas.”
The man turned and reached up behind him on the shelf for the peas.
“Patrick’s decided he’s tired and doesn’t want to eat out tonight,” she told him.  “We usually go out Thursdays, you know, and now he’s caught me without any vegetables in the house.”
“Then how about meat, Mrs. Maloney?”
“No, I’ve got meat, thanks.  I got a nice leg of lamb from the freezer.”
“Oh.”
“I don’t know much like cooking it frozen, Sam, but I’m taking a chance on it this time.  You think it’ll be all right?”
“Personally,” the grocer said, “I don’t believe it makes any difference.  You want these Idaho potatoes?”
“Oh yes, that’ll be fine.  Two of those.”
“Anything else?” The grocer cocked his head on one side, looking at her pleasantly.  “How about afterwards?  What you going to give him for afterwards?”
“Well-what would you suggest, Sam?”
The man glanced around his shop.  “How about a nice big slice of cheesecake?  I know he likes that.”
“Perfect,” she said.  “He loves it.”
And when it was all wrapped and she had paid, she put on her brightest smile and said, “Thank you, Sam.  Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. Maloney.  And thank you.”
And now, she told herself as she hurried back, all she was doing now, she was returning home to her husband and he was waiting for his supper; and she must cook it good, and make it as tasty as possible because the poor man was tired; and if, when she entered the house, she happened to find anything unusual, or tragic, or terrible, then naturally it would be a shock and she’d become frantic with grief and horror.  Mind you, she wasn’t expecting to find anything.  She was just going home with the vegetables. Mrs. Patrick Maloney going home with the vegetables on Thursday evening to cook supper for her husband.
That’s the way, she told herself.  Do everything right and natural.  Keep things absolutely natural and there’ll be no need for any acting at all.
Therefore, when she entered the kitchen by the back door, she was humming a little tune to herself and smiling.
“Patrick!” she called.  “How are you, darling?”
She put the parcel down on the table and went through into the living room; and when she saw him lying there on the floor with his legs doubled up and one arm twisted back underneath his body, it really was rather a shock.  All the old love and longing for him welled up inside her, and she ran over to him, knelt down beside him, and began to cry her heart out.  It was easy.  No acting was necessary.
A few minutes later she got up and went to the phone.  She know the number of the police station, and when the man at the other end answered, she cried to him, “Quick!  Come quick!  Patrick’s dead!”
“Who’s speaking?”
“Mrs. Maloney.  Mrs. Patrick Maloney.”
“You mean Patrick Maloney’s dead?”
“I think so,” she sobbed.  “He’s lying on the floor and I think he’s dead.”
“Be right over,” the man said.
The car came very quickly, and when she opened the front door, two policeman walked in.  She know them both-she know nearly all the man at that precinct-and she fell right into a chair, then went over to join the other one, who was called O’Malley, kneeling by the body.
“Is he dead?” she cried.
“I’m afraid he is.  What happened?”
Briefly, she told her story about going out to the grocer and coming back to find him on the floor.  While she was talking, crying and talking, Noonan discovered a small patch of congealed blood on the dead man’s head.  He showed it to O’Malley who got up at once and hurried to the phone.
Soon, other men began to come into the house.  First a doctor, then two detectives, one of whom she know by name.  Later, a police photographer arrived and took pictures, and a man who know about fingerprints.  There was a great deal of whispering and muttering beside the corpse, and the detectives kept asking her a lot of questions.  But they always treated her kindly.  She told her story again, this time right from the beginning, when Patrick had come in, and she was sewing, and he was tired, so tired he hadn’t wanted to go out for supper.  She told how she’d put the meat in the oven-”it’s there now, cooking”- and how she’d slopped out to the grocer for vegetables, and come back to find him lying on the floor.

Which grocer?” one of the detectives asked.
She told him, and he turned and whispered something to the other detective who immediately went outside into the street.
In fifteen minutes he was back with a page of notes, and there was more whispering, and through her sobbing she heard a few of the whispered phrases-”…acted quite normal…very cheerful…wanted to give him a good supper… peas…cheesecake…impossible that she…”
After a while, the photographer and the doctor departed and two other men came in and took the corpse away on a stretcher.  Then the fingerprint man went away.  The two detectives remained, and so did the two policeman.  They were exceptionally nice to her, and Jack Noonan asked if she wouldn’t rather go somewhere else, to her sister’s house perhaps, or to his own wife who would take care of her and put her up for the night.
No, she said.  She didn’t feel she could move even a yard at the moment.  Would they mind awfully of she stayed just where she was until she felt better.  She didn’t feel too good at the moment, she really didn’t.
Then hadn’t she better lie down on the bed?  Jack Noonan asked.
No, she said.  She’d like to stay right where she was, in this chair.  A little later, perhaps, when she felt better, she would move.
So they left her there while they went about their business, searching the house.  Occasionally on of the detectives asked her another question.  Sometimes Jack Noonan spoke at her gently as he passed by.  Her husband, he told her, had been killed by a blow on the back of the head administered with a heavy blunt instrument, almost certainly a large piece of metal.  They were looking for the weapon.  The murderer may have taken it with him, but on the other hand he may have thrown it away or hidden it somewhere on the premises.
“It’s the old story,” he said.  “Get the weapon, and you’ve got the man.”
Later, one of the detectives came up and sat beside her.  Did she know, he asked, of anything in the house that could’ve been used as the weapon?  Would she mind having a look around to see if anything was missing-a very big spanner, for example, or a heavy metal vase.
They didn’t have any heavy metal vases, she said.
“Or a big spanner?”
She didn’t think they had a big spanner.  But there might be some things like that in the garage.
The search went on.  She knew that there were other policemen in the garden all around the house.  She could hear their footsteps on the gravel outside, and sometimes she saw a flash of a torch through a chink in the curtains.  It began to get late, nearly nine she noticed by the clock on the mantle.  The four men searching the rooms seemed to be growing weary, a trifle exasperated.
“Jack,” she said, the next tome Sergeant Noonan went by.  “Would you mind giving me a drink?”
“Sure I’ll give you a drink.  You mean this whiskey?”
“Yes please.  But just a small one.  It might make me feel better.”
He handed her the glass.
“Why don’t you have one yourself,” she said.  “You must be awfully tired.  Please do.  You’ve been very good to me.”
“Well,” he answered.  “It’s not strictly allowed, but I might take just a drop to keep me going.”
One by one the others came in and were persuaded to take a little nip of whiskey.  They stood around rather awkwardly with the drinks in their hands, uncomfortable in her presence, trying to say consoling things to her.  Sergeant Noonan wandered into the kitchen, come out quickly and said, “Look, Mrs. Maloney.  You know that oven of yours is still on, and the meat still inside.”
“Oh dear me!” she cried.  “So it is!”
“I better turn it off for you, hadn’t I?”
“Will you do that, Jack.  Thank you so much.”
When the sergeant returned the second time, she looked at him with her large, dark tearful eyes.  “Jack Noonan,” she said.
“Yes?”
“Would you do me a small favor-you and these others?”
“We can try, Mrs. Maloney.”
“Well,” she said.  “Here you all are, and good friends of dear Patrick’s too, and helping to catch the man who killed him.  You must be terrible hungry by now because it’s long past your suppertime, and I know Patrick would never forgive me, God bless his soul, if I allowed you to remain in his house without offering you decent hospitality.  Why don’t you eat up that lamb that’s in the oven.  It’ll be cooked just right by now.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Sergeant Noonan said.
“Please,” she begged.  “Please eat it.  Personally I couldn’t tough a thing, certainly not what’s been in the house when he was here.  But it’s all right for you.  It’d be a favor to me if you’d eat it up.  Then you can go on with your work again afterwards.”
There was a good deal of hesitating among the four policemen, but they were clearly hungry, and in the end they were persuaded to go into the kitchen and help themselves.  The woman stayed where she was, listening to them speaking among themselves, their voices thick and sloppy because their mouths were full of meat.
“Have some more, Charlie?”
“No.  Better not finish it.”
“She wants us to finish it. She said so.  Be doing her a favor.”
“Okay then.  Give me some more.”

“That’s the hell of a big club the gut must’ve used to hit poor Patrick,” one of them was saying.  “The doc says his skull was smashed all to pieces just like from a sledgehammer.”

“That’s why it ought to be easy to find.”

“Exactly what I say.”

“Whoever done it, they’re not going to be carrying a thing like that around with them longer than they need.”

One of them belched.

“Personally, I think it’s right here on the premises.”

“Probably right under our very noses.  What you think, Jack?”

And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle.