'The Road Less Travelled': Disaster Relief: Key Stage 4: A Multimodal Project for English with a Global Dimension, with Cross-Curricular Links to Citizenship, Geography, Environmental Science, Humanities, Math and Media Studies

By Blake, Julie | NATE Classroom, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview
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'The Road Less Travelled': Disaster Relief: Key Stage 4: A Multimodal Project for English with a Global Dimension, with Cross-Curricular Links to Citizenship, Geography, Environmental Science, Humanities, Math and Media Studies


Blake, Julie, NATE Classroom


English teaching has always covered a wide range of topics, many of which could be labelled 'global' or 'cross-curricular'. Pile up any random sample of English text books, exam papers and anthologies and what do you have? An excerpt of Martin Luther King Jr on American civil rights? A pair of contrasting newspaper articles about global warming? Some poems from other cultures? We deal in this matter every day, but the pressure in recent years to teach to the assessment objectives may mean we have less often looked up at the bigger picture. The new curriculum orders encourage us to do that, to re-focus, but it is not a simple matter of back to the future. The world has moved on apace: the word 'global' has accrued different connotations, less big blue planet and a world of fascinating diversity, more 'globalised' with a Starbucks on every corner. And 'cross-curricular' is more subtle too: it is about actually doing something with your colleagues in other departments, getting away from subject boundaries and into activities that require a multidisciplinary approach. Scary? Exciting? Whichever way we take it, it makes a lot more sense for the world young people will get to inherit.

A quick overview

Presented here is a sequence of activities that includes the global dimension, opportunities for cross curricular activity, and multimodality. Its focus is disaster--earthquake, bushfire, famine and hurricane--and fundraising for its relief. It is a stand-alone project which could simply happen in English lessons. It begins with a language brain-teaser followed by discussion of images of relatively recent disasters. Students make and justify choices about charitable giving. More detailed analytical work examines how image, text, music and words are combined in one or more multimodal disaster relief appeals. Then they research and create their own multimodal appeals.

Alternatively, this project outline could be used a starting point for discussion with colleagues in Citizenship, Geography, Environmental Science, Humanities, Maths and Media Studies to develop a whole curriculum day on this topic. What is a citizen's responsibility for global disaster? How do earthquakes happen? What are the environmental consequences of a bushfire? Are the causes of famine human or environmental? How do we make sense of the statistics? How are disasters presented in the media? These are all possibilities for collaboration and innovation.

A brief coda

You will need to think about which images you use: if you have Somalian refugees in your class, for example, images of the famine in Somalia might be too distressing, or relatives of children of Pakistani origin may have been affected by the earthquake. However, children see this kind of material routinely on news programmes and sensitive handling may help everyone to talk about it and arrive at a more developed understanding of the way global 'elsewhere' events impact on our lives here.

Getting started

This is a hypernym puzzle. Accidents is the hypernym in the first example, the word which subsumes within its meaning all the words in the row below it. Using logical analogy, students should be able to figure out that the missing word in the second example is disasters. To help guide them to this answer, it will probably be helpful to tell them they can only have one word. You could use simple Q&A to invite discussion of the differences between accidents and disasters, leading students towards the definition of disasters used by the Red Cross: 'a sudden, one-off event that the normal services cannot cope with'.

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Further investigation

You will then need a selection of images of different kinds of disaster: this project focuses on earthquake, hurricane, bushfire, famine, but you could choose whatever else is topical at the time. In developing this project, I used images from the 'Disasters' section of the Education Image Gallery (a small number reproduced here, with permission).

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'The Road Less Travelled': Disaster Relief: Key Stage 4: A Multimodal Project for English with a Global Dimension, with Cross-Curricular Links to Citizenship, Geography, Environmental Science, Humanities, Math and Media Studies
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