Masaryk University Faculty of Arts



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Table of Contents


Table of Contents 4

1. Introduction 4

1.1. The Objective of the Present Study 4

1.2. Hypothesis 5

2. A Symbolic Frame – Theoretical Part 6

2.1. The Concept of A Symbolic Frame 7

2.1.1. The Origins of A Symbolic Frame 7

2.1.2. A Symbolic Frame in ELT 9

2.1.2.1 A Symbolic Frame and Task-based Teaching 10

2.1.2.2. Symbolic Frame and Classroom Dynamics 12

2.1.2.3. A Symbolic Frame and Role-playing 13

2.1.2.4. Symbolic Frame and Extensive Reading 13

2.1.3. Why Teach With A Symbolic Frame 16



2.2. How to Work With A Symbolic Frame 19

2.2.1. Suitable Literary “Frames” (Books) 20

2.2.2.Preparation of the Lessons 22

2.3. Motivation and Assessment 32



2.4. Symbolic Frame and Czech Curriculum 34

3. Practical Part 36

3.1. Practical Part Creation 38

3.1.2. Other Devices and Strategies 52



3.2. Evaluation of the practical part 53

4. Conclusion 57

5. Sources 60

Primary Sources (Cited) 60

Secondary Sources (Used) 61

Sources Used for the Practical Experiment 62

Appendix 1 64

Appendix 2 74

1. Introduction

1.1. The Objective of the Present Study


The thesis Literature in Teaching English: Use of Symbolic Frame is introducing a special supportive method for communicative language teaching that is not common in the English speaking countries. This method is commonly used by Czech volunteer organizations for various educational purposes. A symbolic frame in this method is described as an interactive background story that links together all the items that are taught in the classroom. For the purpose of this thesis the symbolic frame story is taken from literature. The thesis is an interdisciplinary work and it connects all the various aspects that come together in the symbolic frame, namely literature, pedagogy, psychology and methodology. The thesis, however, focuses mainly on methodology and shows how the use of symbolic frame method in combination with other methods of communicative language teaching can be used in an English classroom.

The thesis is divided into the theoretical and the practical part. In the theoretical part the probable origin of the symbolic frame is described. There are also described various ELT directions whose methods the symbolic frame exploits. These are mainly task-based teaching, extensive reading, role-playing and classroom dynamics. The theoretical part also suggests a procedure for creating a lesson plan which makes use of the symbolic frame. The procedure depicts the most important points that the teachers should not forget when working with symbolic frame. In the practical part the use of actual symbolic frame in an experimental classroom is described. The practical part links the procedure from the theoretical part to talk about the actual lesson plan creation and it also provides examples of activities from the individual lessons. It is also linked with appendixes which provide examples of detailed lesson plans and also condensed description of individual lessons with the focus on the symbolic frame.


1.2. Hypothesis


Personally, I had never tried before to use a symbolic frame for English teaching but I had a great experience with it while teaching children about a lot of various aspects. Since I find it a very communicative and interactive method that supports communication and cooperation among children, and it also motivates them to learn new things. I asked myself this question: would it be possible to add a symbolic frame to the language classroom, how difficult would it be and what would students’ response to it be?

At the high school level, especially in the lower grades, students usually have only a vague idea of why they are learning English. The response is typically that it is because it is required by the curriculum or because one day it might be useful for getting a better job or passing entrance exams to the university. Therefore, if the students are introduced to a completely new world which is not common for the school environment and within this world they are given an opportunity to purposefully use foreign language, their learning aims become much clearer and much more specific.

Thus the purpose of this thesis is to show that creative teaching through a symbolic frame is possible and it can be beneficial to both the teacher and the students. It can take a class out of the classroom and the lessons beyond the textbook exercises. Teaching with the symbolic frame also makes use of various methods of communicative language teaching and that is the reason I believe it could be used as and additional feature in any communicative language classroom.

2. A Symbolic Frame – Theoretical Part


The theoretical part of this essay describes what the symbolic frame is, its origins and the concepts that lay behind it. It also gives reasons for the use of a symbolic frame in the classroom. Because a literary text is often used as a basis of symbolic frame lessons, it is more closely compared to extensive reading and to the use of literature in English language teaching. There are many concepts that the symbolic frame makes use of but for the purpose of this essay the only the major ones are described. Describing all of the similar features would be too complicated, so this chapter only concentrates on the features that are necessary for the understanding the concept of a symbolic frame and for the successful preparation of lessons within the symbolic frame.

The second part of this chapter describes in detail the process of preparing a lesson with the use of a symbolic frame. It starts from the very first moment, with the process of choosing the symbolic frame and continues with other features that need to be considered while preparing symbolic frame lessons.


2.1. The Concept of A Symbolic Frame


It is hard to determine what the exact origins of the concept of a symbolic frame are. The research suggests there is more than one origin. In this chapter, the possibility of the symbolic frame being derived from the business environment is discussed. There are also other possibilities of symbolic frame being just a compound of other directions in ELT. Some of these directions, such as task-based teaching, role playing, extensive reading and others are compared to the symbolic frame and their similar features. This comparison is useful for symbolic frame teaching as it will be mentioned. The knowledge of these concepts is important for the creation of the lessons with a symbolic frame, because in these lessons the methodology of these differing ELT directions is frequently used.

2.1.1. The Origins of A Symbolic Frame


The concept of a symbolic frame as used in this thesis derives from many different concepts which are iterating with symbols. Therefore, to understand the concept of symbolic frame, it is crucial to define the term “symbol”. According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary the term “symbol” comes from Latin word symbolum, which means token or sign, or from the Greek word symbolon, which means a token of identity verified by comparing its other half. The same dictionary then defines a symbol as “an act, sound, or object having cultural significance and the capacity to excite or objectify a response” (Webster). Another definition from The Cambridge Dictionary claims that “an object can be described as a symbol of something else if it seems to represent it, because it is connected with it in a lot of people's minds” (Cambridge). From the definitions mentioned, it is clear that a symbol must stand for something and has some cultural significance because it is connected to a larger group of people. According to the definition of Bolman and Deal, in their book Reframing Organizations “the symbolic frame seeks to interpret and illuminate the basic issues of meaning and faith that make symbols so powerful in every aspect of the human experience, including life in organizations” (Bolman and Deal 1991: 244). Even though Bolman and Deal wrote their book aimed at business organizations, according to them are symbols crucial for every aspect of human life and it is the symbolic frame that explains why.

Also according to Bolman and Deal, a symbolic frame is built on certain assumptions about human behavior: “(i) What is important about any event is not what happened, but what it means. […] (iii) Many of the most significant events and processes in organizations are ambiguous or uncertain – it is often difficult or impossible to know what happened, why it happened or what will happen next. […] (v) Faced with uncertainty and ambiguity, human beings create symbols to resolve confusion, increase predictability and provide direction” (Bolman and Deal 1991: 244). This could be interpreted that the interest of people lies not in the direct product of various events and processes, but in the experiences which they provide to others and which thus become the most memorable part of these events. To apply this statement to classroom environment, children will remember the fun they had while doing a particular task more than the actual outcome of this task. What they learned during this task will therefore be mediated to them through their experience. Also during difficult tasks, symbols, as the most memorable part of the event, can be used for teaching and explanation in case of any ambiguity. In this way, symbols can contextualize education and they can also be used in ELT.


2.1.2. A Symbolic Frame in ELT


A symbolic frame in ELT is therefore best described as an adventure which can add another dimension to an English lesson, and in this way, make lessons more memorable and enjoyable. As Petr Klápště and Kateřina Hořavová say, “A symbolic frame is an attractive wrap for education, which motivates children to do activities, in which they would not be interested without this attractive wrap” (Klápště, Hořavová 2006: 6)1. Considering this quotation, a symbolic frame is understood as the driver that stands behind the lesson and which frames the lesson into a certain memorable coat, “wrapping” it into an attractive story. Through the story all of the elements of the lesson are connected together and in this way they are easier to comprehend and remember.

However, a symbolic frame is not typically used in a regular English lesson. In the Czech Republic, this concept is mainly used by Czech volunteer organizations working with youth and children. The use of a symbolic frame enables them to teach children various subjects, e.g. first aid, ecology, arts and crafts, biology etc. without children actually noticing that they are undergoing the process of learning. These organizations draw from the advantage of being leisure time organizations which are not dependent on the classroom environment. Obviously, in the English lesson, it is impossible for children not to notice that they are learning. It is especially evident when they are actually present in the classroom. With their textbooks and then are expected to learn something. But as I found out, and as the experience from other alternative types of schools show, it is only a matter of adaption to new things. Once the children get absorbed by the story, the symbolic frame starts to work and the process of learning becomes more enjoyable and effective. Helen Parkhust, the author of the book Education on Dalton Plan and a great protagonist of the Dalton Laboratory Method says about children that “they naturally like to learn. They possess great curiosity, but they must be interested in the subject. Our educational methods fail to do this. Change these methods and many more ‘freaks’ will be produced” (Parkhust 1922: 2). This still relevant comment was made almost ninety years ago during a period of emerging alternative tendencies in education of which Dalton education, Waldorf education or the Montessori Method are examples. All of these methods approach learning from a different perspective yet they all have something in common: it is the effort to make the learning process less institutionalized and more student-centered. The focus is on learning by experience and learning through cooperation.


2.1.2.1 A Symbolic Frame and Task-based Teaching


These characteristics are still true today, not only for many methods in ELT learning such as task-based approach or extensive reading classes to which learning through a symbolic frame could be compared, but also for many other different directions in education both in the Czech Republic and abroad. In The Czech Republic, the teaching methods using symbolic frame could most possibly be closely related to Integrated Thematic Instruction Teaching, which was originally described by Susan Kovalik. Veronika Šulcová in her Diploma Thesis describes the advantages of Integrated Thematic Teaching that it “enables students to communicate more, it teaches them how to give arguments and how to use materials. Students really learn for life. They learn to use materials such as books, newspapers, the Internet etc. Important is that they work on the same problem and they learn together about exchanging different opinions and experiences” (Šulcová 2007: 10)2. Learning with the symbolic frame, as well as the integrated thematic teaching approach, is task-based.

The central characteristic of any task-based teaching is that it integrates various curricular subjects into one task. Because of the claim that “The symbolic frame forms a conceptual umbrella for ideas from variety of disciplines” (Bolman and Deal 1991: 253), it can be assumed that teaching with the use of a symbolic frame is particularly effective with the combination of task-based teaching. Task-based teaching, according to the definition of a key concept article in The ELT Journal, gives “learners tasks to transact, rather than items to learn, provides an environment which best promotes the natural language learning process. By engaging in meaningful activities, such as problem-solving, discussions, or narratives, the learner's interlanguage system is stretched and encouraged to develop” (Foster, The ELT Journal). Task-based teaching makes an extensive use of pair and group work and therefore it motivates students to function as a group. Symbolic frame activities are often based on group activities that lead to personal development. Indeed, it is cooperation that motivates students to purposefully use the language. As Aleksandra Golebiowska says, “Group work is an inherent part of any effective lesson because it generates more student talking time than any other technique” (Golebiowska 1994: 6). Within the fictional world of a symbolic frame, students function as a group of inhabitants of that world. Through the activities that are connected to their lives in this new environment, they are encouraged to speak to each other, to solve problems and to cooperate.



Since task-based teaching, based on this description is quite similar to the previously-mentioned alternative methods of teaching, when composing a symbolic frame curriculum, all of these methods could be considered and used for the ELT purposes. A symbolic frame concept draws inspiration from many methods and devices used not only in language teaching. It is therefore unsurprising that the original idea was used for better management of human resources, as one of the important inspirations comes from classroom dynamics theory.3

2.1.2.2. Symbolic Frame and Classroom Dynamics


While designing a lesson which is supported by a symbolic frame it is important to pay attention to the correct placement of peaks. Peaks can shortly be described as the most memorable parts of the lesson. (for more about peaks see chapter 2.2.2. on the lesson preparation) This concept copies the process of forming, maintaining and ending groups and it is closely linked with classroom dynamics. It is because both, a symbolic frame concept and classroom dynamics are trying to make the process of learning more effective through establishing a positive classroom atmosphere and improving relations within the group. Moreover, they pay attention to the natural process of forming, maintaining and ending groups. The author of the book on classroom dynamics, Jill Hadfield, claims that “whereas a lot of attention has been paid to the way we form groups and the initial stage of group life, very little attention has been paid to the process of maintaining groups after they have been formed” (Hadfield 2011: 10). She claims that this often results in a malfunction of a classroom as a group. Just as in classroom dynamics concept, a symbolic frame also pays attention to the peaks that represents challenge for the group during the time when it is necessary to maintain the good atmosphere in the group and students are therefore forced to work towards a collective goal.

2.1.2.3. A Symbolic Frame and Role-playing


A symbolic frame also often draws its features from role-playing games. Children can take up the role of a character from the story of the symbolic frame, they can role-play how they would live in the world of a symbolic frame, or even try to interact with the characters of the symbolic frame. Helping them in certain situations, just to cite one example. “Drama involves children at many levels, through their bodies, minds, emotions, language and social interaction” (Phillips 1999: 6). It positively influences the process of language learning in many areas such as motivation, confidence, and group dynamics. Dramatization is also suitable for various learners, since it connects different learning styles. “We receive and process information in different ways, the main once are through sight, hearing, and our physical bodies. […] When children dramatize they use all the channels, and each child will draw on the one that suits them best” (Phillips 1999: 7). Furthermore, role-playing personalizes language and puts it into context.

2.1.2.4. Symbolic Frame and Extensive Reading


One of other concepts in ELT that a symbolic frame derives benefit from is extensive reading. Extensive reading uses literature, both authentic and graded readers, to cultivate good reading habits of students which increases their exposure to the target language. Before starting an extensive reading program, it is crucial to know what reading is and what is the students’ purpose for reading an authentic text in a second language. While answering these questions some similarities with the use of a symbolic frame may be found. This is not only the result of the fact that the symbolic frame is based on literary text, but also because symbolic frame classes and reading classes share some similarities in the procedure of tasks as well.

The question, “what is reading?” should be answered prior to the use of any kind of text in the classroom. Students read different types of texts for many different purposes. From all of these various pieces of reading, the symbolic frame is mainly concerned with those, whose purpose could be summed up as a piece of text which is read mainly for pleasure and which belongs to category of fiction prose. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, a symbolic frame serves as a background story or a plot line, that connects the lessons and gives them purpose. That is why the choice of a piece of reading that has some kind of story is quite important. The story could be either fiction or non-fiction. However a fiction story allows the teacher more space for creativity.

Readers also have their own purposes for reading. Following Christine Nuttall’s ideas, they all have “authentic reasons for reading” (Nuttall 1982: 3). This means that they do not read in order to learn some new grammatical structures or increase their knowledge of vocabulary, but they simply read to “get something from the writing: facts, ideas, enjoyment…” (Nuttall 1982: 3). Nuttall is also concerned with the purpose of students reading in a foreign language and she claims that if students have a problem reading in foreign language for authentic reasons, it is mainly motivational problem. Linking an extensive reading program with a symbolic frame, the motivation of students can be increased, because a symbolic frame goes beyond the reading tasks. It gives the an atmosphere to the lessons and contextualizes everything that is taught in the lesson into one story. It also encourages students to use their imagination, to be creative and arouses interest, since students want to know how the story will continue.

As it was stated before and also following Nuttalls view, reading for language improvement purposes “is not an authentic use of a text. It is perfectly true that reading widely is an effective means of extending our command of a language, whether the first language (L1) or the FL: but outside of the classroom most of our reading is not done with this purpose, and it is certainly not the purpose for which most writers are writing” (Nuttall 1982: 19). Even the graded readers with language exercises at the back of the book are not specifically designed to teach the language. They only make various books more accessible and comprehensible to the students with a lower level of language. This might be applicable as well to the whole process of a classroom language learning. As much as teachers try, a classroom for students is not an authentic environment and they have to use their imagination to make it authentic, e.g. while doing role plays, exercises, practicing dialogues etc.

“For the FL student, the authentic purposes of reading are often submerged by the purpose of language improvement” (Nuttall 1982: 19). While this is certainly true for adults, for high school students it is even more true. Of 80% of students who were questioned about their purpose for reading in English answered that they read to improve their command of the language. Here with the help of a symbolic frame teachers can help students to return to a more authentic purpose of reading which is getting the message from the text, for pleasure, or acquiring information.

Just as the extensive reading makes use of non-verbal information such as pictures or graphs, a symbolic frame is also not only based on the story that carries the frame. Following Nuttall’s statement about non-verbal information that it “is often of great assistance in interpreting the text. Used together, verbal and non-verbal information support each other” (Nuttall 1982: 52), it can be said, that a symbolic frame in combination with literary text does the same. It supports the lesson and leads to better comprehension and remembrance. Moreover, symbolic frame itself makes use of non-verbal, or not textual information, even though it is based on a literary text. It uses the setting, characters and events from the text for further exploitation and a better understanding of the main topics of the English lesson.

Another similarity that a symbolic frame and an extensive reading program share is the purpose with which the tasks are completed. The learning takes place during the work on the task, thus the primary goal should not be the result, or the outcome, but the process itself. Considering Nuttall’s statement about the reading task; “Their principal function is to make the student concentrate on the text and to give him a clear purpose for reading.” (Nuttall 1982: 137) It might be said that the basic function of both, symbolic frame tasks and reading tasks is to give students purpose, motivation and support to continue in their work and while the students are working on the task a learning process is taking place.

2.1.3. Why Teach With A Symbolic Frame


According to Petr Klápště and Kateřina Hořavová, a symbolic frame serves mainly two purposes. Firstly, it is a factor of motivation, and secondly, it can be used as an organization principle of the lesson.

An organization principle is how a symbolic frame connects all the activities in the lesson. And not just in one lesson, it “can help to connect many games and activities under one topic into bigger chunks” (Klápště, Hořavová 2006: 8)4. By this the authors meant more than just one lesson, perhaps an entire month, semester or even a school year. Depending on the frame that the teacher chooses and the topics that are meant to be covered, the frame can last for as long as the teacher wishes and as long as it works for students. However, careful planning in this case is necessary. The planning of the lesson requires a lot of creativity and imagination from the teacher. But once the teacher masters the procedure, it might be said that the planning is in fact made easier. It is because the frame adds to the lessons lots of additional material, topics for conversation and projects in a way that it creates a huge material support. The claim that “many organizational events and processes are important more for what they express than for what they produce: they are secular myths, rituals, ceremonies, and sagas that help people find meaning and order in their experience” (Bolman and Deal 1991: 244) also supports the organization factor of a symbolic frame. It is true not only for organizational events but for any events, even an English lesson. For instance, the symbolic frame can help children to organize their grammar rules better if the rules are framed in some familiar story. For children it is easier to remember a more or less linear story than grammar rules which are cut out of any context. Thus it is the function of a symbolic frame to contextualize things that would otherwise be difficult to learn. When these things become comprehensible and easier to deal with, children have more motivation to continue in learning, because they do not feel frustrated by difficult things, which is closely connected to the motivation faction factor of the symbolic frame.

A symbolic frame as an organization principle and motivation factor serves not only teachers but also the students. It is “the tool which helps children to organize new things, which the program brings and to learn from them more easily.” In other words it “is a guide for structuring the personal development and self-reflection” (Klápště, Hořavová 2006: 8)5. This can be imagined as an inner motivation of students to complete tasks given to them by the teacher, not because they have to learn something, but because it is a part of the story. As an example, by completing the task they might help the hero to escape from a dangerous situation. As the story continues, the development of characters should motivate students in their own personal development themselves. Within the symbolic frame it is also easier for students to formulate their personal learning goals. Learning language is quite a complex thing and for young learners it is often difficult to imagine some learning goals. With the use of a symbolic frame, students can in some way become part of a concise literary world where the main hero functions as a role-model for them. To give an example: If the hero needs their help to get from one city to another, suddenly the students’ learning goal is the ability to give directions. Students are not learning how to give directions because it is a part of the textbook, because they will be tested on it or because it might be useful one day. They are learning it because they need it now and it becomes their personal learning goal.

Another reason for the choice of a symbolic frame is the change from unsuitable artificial English classes, in which the things that students learn are often course book based and often out of the context. The artificiality of the foreign language lessons in classrooms is not just a problem of the lack of students or teachers’ imaginations, but very often it is a problem of course books which deal with over-familiar topics which are the basis of many classes now. In fact, research shows that from five different high schools in Brno, all the students questioned have their classes based on one or two course books. Analyzing these course books, it becomes obvious that the topics often repeat themselves and they, as Nuttall says, “recount the facts that have long been part of the reader’s general knowledge” (Nuttall 1982: 20). She also claims that textbooks are often over-explicit and the articles often have nothing to say. By being over explicit she means that especially at lower levels when the article is accompanied by a picture, the text itself often does not say much more than is shown in the picture. Also the texts in course books often do not contain any fresh ideas, or even thrilling stories. In addition, they are filled with vocabulary and grammar items that need to be learned or studied.

This leads to the question of why course books should be used at all. There are various good reasons why teachers choose to follow course books. Course books often consist of a student’s book, a teacher’s book and some additional materials such as a workbook, CDs with listening or even software with additional exercises, a resource book for teachers, lists of vocabulary and other additional material. The articles and exercises are chosen and proofread by experts, so the teachers do not have to worry about correctness of the used material. Also the choice of grammatical items, vocabulary and exercises that practice various skills in a good contemporary textbook are balanced, to the extent that not even very experienced teacher does not have to be concerned about forgetting to teach something very important. However, the textbook can never satisfy all the needs of the students, because every student is different. That is why teachers who use textbooks must be selective and adapt their lessons to suit the needs of their students.


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