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Teaching Tips 65

Slaying Dragons

Slaying Dragons
English flag & george/dragon

It's St.George's Day on 23rd April, the patron saint of England, & unlike other countries' Saint Day, I would be surprised if a great many people in England actually know it is celebrated next week. Not a reason for not looking at this in class though & it could also be an interesting point of contrast with your students' attitude to their own Saint Day. (Why is there this difference - contrast with St.Patrick's Day).

So here is some material to use in class. The first is a general description about the day & the second is a reduced version of the George & the Dragon story. Later there are a couple of ideas for younger learner classes & a couple of links to dragon-related websites.

An appropriate way to use this first text might be to cut up every section & ask students in pairs/small groups to put it in a logical order. Beforehand briefly look at how a text has coherence through the cohesive devices & logical links. Or leave this till after, eliciting the things that helped them decide on the order, collating the class ideas on the board & adding in a few of your own if they are missed out. When completed, the students could compare ideas & then compare with the original version.

Then you could move to the content of the text by asking if there is any information in the text that they knew about beforehand etc...

St George's Day - April 23: History

As with most saints, myth and legend surrounds St George and of how a Roman soldier came to be regarded as the essence of England.

He is most famously known as the brave slayer of the dragon and saviour of the maiden but, although this story exists in a number of different medieval texts and art, it has no historical basis.

There is very little information about the life St George, but it is known that he was not English.

He is thought to have been an early Christian martyr from the area of modern day Turkey, who was executed in Palestine in the third century.

Legends about his valorous deeds as a soldier-saint began in the 6th century and by the 12th century the famous story about his rescuing a king's daughter and slaying a dragon had become widespread.

Some experts think the tale is based on the Greek myth of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from a sea monster.

St George was popularised in England by Crusaders, Christian knights returning from religious wars in the Middle East.

He was supposed to have appeared to the Knights dressed in white robes decorated with a red cross during the 11th century siege of Antioch.

He became the official patron saint of England in 1425 after Henry V's victory at the Battle of Agincourt.

The Red Cross of St George is England's national flag and it also forms part of Britain's Union Jack.

However, the English are not the only people to stake a claim in St George.

In the Middle East, Christians invoke his powers to help exorcise demons.

In many countries St George is associated with fertility and his day marks the very beginning of summer.

In Lithuania he is revered as the guardian of animals and in parts of Spain St George's day is celebrated with feasts and gift giving.

Tintoretti - George fighting the dragon - Tintorreti

This next short text is an excerpt from the Catholic Encyclopaedia & could be used as a basis for storytelling.
1. Elicit - know any stories about dragons?
2. Pre-teach vocab & give key words: dragon, appeased, sheep, failed, children, King's daughter, sacrifice, George, spear, girdle, town, beheaded.
3. Stds then try to work out a coherent story - in pairs?
4. Stds mingle telling each other their stories >> vote on the best.
5. Handout/put on OHP the excerpt - stds compare to see who had the most similar story.
6. The stds could then use their imagination to provide different endings for the story - pairs >> class discussion.
7. Discuss as a class - any similar stories to George & the Dragon in your country/ies?

Alternatively, you could use the text as the basis for a 'dictoglosss' activity. See the Teaching Tip High Speed Dictations.

"At the town of Silene, in Libya, there was a dragon, who was appeased by being fed two sheep a day; when these failed, the townsfolk offered by lot one of their young people. One day the lot fell on the King's daughter, who was led out to the sacrifice, dressed in her wedding gown. George appeared and transfixed the dragon with his spear and then using the Princess's girdle led the bemused dragon into the town, where it was beheaded."
Catholic Encyclopaedia

Dragons are a fun vehicle for younger learner lessons so here are a few ideas:

In 'Drama With Children' by Sarah Philips (OUP) there is a lovely activity about a Dragon Hunt (from the classic Bear Hunt story). As you tell the story the youngsters do the actions & repeat sections & lots of fun is had by all. A bit of space is needed. A very good younger learner book all round which you can buy through:


Then there is the Dragon with a cold story. A boiled down version is that the fearsome Dragon is miserable because his cold is spoiling his fun - he can't burn down houses, fight with knights or generally get up to mischief. So he goes to see a wizard who says he can cure him with a special potion (frogs legs, maggots - lots of horrible things) only if he promises to turn over a new leaf & put his fire-breathing to good use. He is so miserable he reluctantly agrees & now instead of people running away from him they smile & greet him, he helps with their fires, cooking & heating & with his huge weight, carries lots of things for them. And they live happily ever after.

The Monster vocabulary idea could be used with a dragon - the dragon can breath the words out. See Past Tips 44

A couple of dragon website links:
'This site is dedicated to Dragons; the ruler of the past and who know, ruler of the present even if they hide in shadow. Who has never felt a fascination for that most breathtaking of creatures, the dragon? It is hard to believe that these creatures have never existed when they are so present in the people mind, in the past of the human history, from the America to the Asia passing through Europe, all culture have someday describe a creature that can, today, be identified to a same living thing: a dragon. '
Your online dragon resource for everything you want to know about dragons: Dragon history, dragon tattoos, dragon art, pictures of dragons, as well as dragon links to find gifts, collectables and figurines for the dragon lover in your life.
Dragon webrings

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The other day I came over the website & a newspaper article about the site. DHMO stands for 'Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division' & the site warns of all the dangers that dihydrogen monoxide poses. The introduction states:
Welcome to the web site for the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division (DMRD), currently located in Newark, Delaware. The controversy surrounding dihydrogen monoxide has never been more widely debated, and the goal of this site is to provide an unbiased data clearinghouse and a forum for public discussion.

Explore our many Special Reports, including the DHMO FAQ, a definitive primer on the subject, plus reports on the environment, cancer, current research, and an insider exposé about the use of DHMO in the dairy industry.

The success of this site depends on you, the citizen concerned about Dihydrogen Monoxide. We welcome your comments and suggestions.

Without actually saying much, the tone sounds a bit scary, no? An area that we should be concerned about, it seems. Check out the site & then read the article from the Guardian Online below:

Something in the dihydrogen monoxide

Health-obsessed California's latest environmental scare exposed dangerously high levels of gullibility, reports Dan Glaister

Wednesday March 24, 2004

The city councillors of Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California, are well-meaning, socially responsible people. And when they came across the huge threat posed to their constituents by dihydrogen monoxide they did what any elected official should do: they took steps to protect their community. A motion due to go before the city legislature proposed banning the potentially deadly substance from within the city boundaries.
Researchers found that the presence of dihydrogen monoxide in Aliso Viejo had reached startling levels: it was present in its crude form, often spilling unmonitored on to the city streets; it was found to be a crucial ingredient in many common chemical compounds; its presence was even detected in that most ubiquitous of civilised artifacts, the styrofoam cup.

And it got worse: dihydrogen monoxide is lethal if inhaled, causes severe burns in its gaseous state, and is the major component in acid rain. Prolonged exposure to solid dihydrogen monoxide can cause severe tissue damage. It can, said the city council report, "threaten human safety and health".

Fortunately for the concerned legislators, the rat was smelt before it got as far as the debating chamber. The perils of dihydrogen monoxide have been ignored until now largely because it is better known by its common name: water.

"It's embarrassing," said city manager David Norman in an inspired act of buck-passing. "We had a paralegal who did bad research."

The relieved styrofoam industry saw it as a sign of environmental correctness run wild. "The plastic industry has always been a favourite target of environmentalists," Robert Krebs of the American Plastics Council told the Los Angeles Times. "But we dream about instances like this when our opponents do something foolish."

So far, so amusing. But should this bout of crankiness be filed under Crazy Californians and their crazed correctness? Or is it another one to pin on that old bogeyman, the internet?

Certainly, California is a cranky place, cult centre of the universe, a self-made psychic at every corner. And correctness of all shades - political, environmental, whatever - can be exasperating and not a little hypocritical: in Los Angeles there is a surfeit of liquor stores yet the only thing anyone seems to drink is sparkling dihydrogen monoxide, and smokers are scared-looking furtive creatures, scurrying about from pavement to pavement, avoiding the disapproving stares of god-fearing, clean-living folk. LA is also a city where total strangers have no qualms about telling you just how you should be living your life, in the friendliest, most unassuming way possible.

The dihydrogen monoxide hoax is the result of a collaboration between the two prime suspects: a zealously concerned paralegal faced with an authoritative-looking spoof scientific website,, home to the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division. The Californian proactive social conscience - the social equivalent of current US foreign policy - combined with the influence of the internet was a recipe for confusion. The DHMO website professes to offer "an unbiased data clearing house and a forum for public discussion". "The success of this site depends on you the concerned citizen," says the introductory blurb.

It is, of course, absolute rubbish. But it is convincing rubbish, plausible because it feeds off and satisfies so many anxieties: about our environment, about science, about the unknown, about what we are doing to our bodies and ourselves. And in California, the environment, the unknown and, above all, the body - the, hairless, tummy-tucked body - are what count.

Although not designed for an April Fool's Day trick, it could fit nicely into a lesson this week as it is 1st April, when according to tradition you can play a trick on friends before 12.00 noon. In past years we have had the following Tips:

April Fool's Day Hoaxes - Lesson Plan

Stirring it up

Cognitive & Affective Confusion

So what to do with the DMHO material? Here's a procedure:

1. As above, introduce the title of the site & give out the introduction. Ask if anyone knows anything about this. You may get the odd student who knows a bit of chemistry - ask them to keep the secret!

2. Ask the students to draw up a list of questions that they would like answers for - pairwork/small groups.

3. Handout the questions from the FAQ page of the site - - the students check to see if they had any similar questions.

What is Dihydrogen Monoxide?
Should I be concerned about Dihydrogen Monoxide?
Why haven't I heard about Dihydrogen Monoxide before?
What are some of the dangers associated with DHMO?
What are some uses of Dihydrogen Monoxide?
What is the link between Dihydrogen Monoxide and school violence?
How does Dihydrogen Monoxide toxicity affect kidney dialysis patients?
Are there groups that oppose a ban on Dihydrogen Monoxide?
Has the press ignored this web site and the Dihydrogen Monoxide problem?
Is it true that using DHMO improves athletic performance?
Can using Dihydrogen Monoxide improve my sex life?
What are the symptoms of accidental Dihydrogen Monoxide overdose?
What is a chemical analysis of Dihydrogen Monoxide?
What can I do to minimize the risks?
How can I find out more about Dihydrogen Monoxide?

4. As the FAQ page is quite long I should limit the sections you use. Ask the students to match up the questions to the excerpts.

1. Good question. Historically, the dangers of DHMO, for the most part, have been considered minor and manageable. While the more significant dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide are currently addressed by a number of agencies including FDA, FEMA and CDC, public awareness of the real and daily dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide is lower than some think it should be.
Critics of government often cite the fact that many politicians and others in public office do not consider Dihydrogen Monoxide to be a "politically beneficial" cause to get behind, and so the public suffers from a lack of reliable information on just what DHMO is and why they should be concerned.
Part of the blame lies with the public and society at large. Many do not take the time to understand Dihydrogen Monoxide, and what it means to their lives and the lives of their families.
Unfortunately, the dangers of DHMO have increased as world population has increased, a fact that the raw numbers and careful research both bear out. Now more than ever, it is important to be aware of just what the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide are and how we can all reduce the risks faced by ourselves and our families.

2. Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is a colorless and odorless chemical compound, also referred to by some as Dihydrogen Oxide, Hydrogen Hydroxide, Hydronium Hydroxide, or simply Hydric acid. Its basis is the unstable radical Hydroxide, the components of which are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol.

3. Each year, Dihydrogen Monoxide is a known causative component in many thousands of deaths and is a major contributor to millions upon millions of dollars in damage to property and the environment. Some of the known perils of Dihydrogen Monoxide are: Death due to accidental inhalation of DHMO, even in small quantities.

  • Prolonged exposure to solid DHMO causes severe tissue damage.
  • Excessive ingestion produces a number of unpleasant though not typically life-threatening side-effects.
  • DHMO is a major component of acid rain.
  • Gaseous DHMO can cause severe burns.
  • Contributes to soil erosion.
  • Leads to corrosion and oxidation of many metals.
  • Contamination of electrical systems often causes short-circuits.
  • Exposure decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • Found in biopsies of pre-cancerous tumors and lesions.
  • Often associated with killer cyclones in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere.
  • Thermal variations in DHMO are a suspected contributor to the El Nino weather effect.
4. Yes, you should be concerned about DHMO! Although the U.S. Government and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) do not classify Dihydrogen Monoxide as a toxic or carcinogenic substance (as it does with better known chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and saccharine), DHMO is a constituent of many known toxic substances, diseases and disease-causing agents, environmental hazards and can even be lethal to humans in quantities as small as a thimbleful.
Research conducted by award-winning U.S. scientist Nathan Zohner concluded that roughly 86 percent of the population supports a ban on dihydrogen monoxide. Although his results are preliminary, Zohner believes people need to pay closer attention to the information presented to them regarding Dihydrogen Monoxide. He adds that if more people knew the truth about DHMO then studies like the one he conducted would not be necessary.


1. Why haven't I heard about Dihydrogen Monoxide before?
2. What is Dihydrogen Monoxide?
3. What are some of the dangers associated with DHMO?
4.Should I be concerned about Dihydrogen Monoxide?

5. You could then go on to analyse the genre of the text - a citizen's awareness campaign. Ask the students to look for clues to the genre.

6. Listening - read aloud the article from the Guardian to the students - with the students listening to see if any of the questions are being answered. Students compare >> feedback - by now they should realise it is a joke.

7. Second listening - this time the students take notes on main points. Students compare >> feedback.

8. Follow up work - students design their own scare campaign about an everyday substance or object. Refer back to features discovered in stage 5.

9. Students put up their work on the walls for all to view. All decide on the most convincing.

The above is clearly for the more advanced learner but it all could be easily graded for lower levels.

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It used to be thought that the difference between teaching advanced students & other lower levels is the sprinkling of idioms into the lesson. Nowadays a more sophisticated view might include some of the following:

  • More of an emphasis on accuracy in all skills. Advanced students are quite fluent , orally they can have a conversation with ease but there are still lots of inaccuracies which need sorting out. The same applies to the other skills.
  • Advanced students need to be helped to see their weak areas through the taping of activities & playing back for analysis, & through their written work with individualised comments.
  • They need more sophisticated ways of saying the things that they can already express. Rather than relying on their stock language & strategies they need to be motivated to incorporate new language. Areas such as intonation, figurative language, coping in a wider range of genres & the more obscure grammar area all need attending to.
  • Lessons need to be more individualised, focussed on helping individuals as advanced students are going to have more disparate individual needs. This can be more time-consuming but taking in different work for different individuals in the group is very much welcomed as the students appreciate your efforts to really help them develop.

Advanced teaching is a challenge but can be very rewarding for all if efforts are directed towards helping the learner progressing rather than simply maintaining their level.

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