Teaching: ‘Want, Feel, Need’ and Collective Letters


I’m currently studying the Philip Pullman adaptation of ‘Frankenstein’ (you probably know it). Having read the play (with a level of energy that almost defeated me), we’re now doing some analytical stuff. This week saw a lesson on characterisation…

1. Want- Feel- Need

This is simple. Take a character, or set of characters and pose the question what do they want, feel and need. I split the class in two and focussed on Victor Frankenstein and the Monster. Students were given a few minutes to consider individually before grouping up to compare notes. Simple.

The benefit of this is that it is incredibly easy to set up and remarkably insightful. After this, we moved on to…

2. Collective letter

If you haven’t tried this before, do so ASAP. It’s simple – all you do is tell the class that they are going to write a letter to a given character. Anyone can speak, but whatever is said will be scribed. You then act as the scribe and type in real-time as the kids contribute. Do not interrupt. Do not modify. Just scribe. After writing, you can offer a chance to revise/ amend the letter, either collectively or as an individual task.

Below are examples of two collective letters from year 7 classes.

Dear Monster,
Since you need love I think that you should change your appearance. I think that you should put posters on the wall saying that you need friends man. I know that people have not been nice to you before but that doesn’t mean you have to ask for revenge. You should them another chance. I understand how Victor F has betrayed you and you must try to compromise with him and agree and try and make him your friend. You must try to agree to make another monster to be your companion.

You should try and be more calm when you talk to people and Frankenstein. And killing people is not the way to go. I think that you should go to some anger problem management thing to calm yourself down so you know how to act in front of people and they won’t hurt you.

Dear Victor,
I know you want to be like God, but you shouldn’t make that decision because it can backfire. You were selfish and ignorant when you abandoned your own creation and left it to survive in this harsh world. I think you want lots of stuff, like fame, which explains why you made the monster but you can’t always have everything your way. You need to think about the consequences that are coming your way. I know you’ve been having hard times, but I think you just have to calm and be even with everybody else. You shouldn’t have kept any secrets from your family because in the end they interfered and you lost someone dear to you.

Victor, I think you need more freedom because I know everybody has been pressuring you. I hope that you will make the correct decision in life.

(Note: It’s worth asking the kids why they think they are doing this before writing)

A variant on this is a collective essay. I tried this last term with year 7 (studying ‘My Name is Mina’) in a bid to encourage extended responses. It worked well:

It could be argued that Mina is very brave, because although her father is dead she doesn’t cry a lot about him and she thinks of him in a positive way as if he is happy where he is. Adding on to that, I think Mina thinks of him as a horse: proud, beautiful, fast and strong. Another reason I think Mina is brave is because she went to the PRU which is quite a scary thing to go to. Mina is very brave because in school, she is always standing up to the teachers and doing bad things that she’s not supposed to do and she went into the tunnel, like, underworld. On the other hand, Mina is able to cope with many different changes like her mother having a new boyfriend and attending the PRU.

Also, Mina is very brave because after her father’s death she didn’t cry and she coped well with her friends. Adding on to that, I agree that Mina coped very well with the death of her father. I also think that Mina is brave because she is trying to grow up but she really doesn’t want to and that’s one of the things she is afraid of.

On the contrary, Mina is actually quite a fool for going down into the cave located in the park from page 43 – 58.

So there you have it. Hope it helps. And as ever, feel free to let me know if you try any of these strategies.

All the best,

-Unseen Flirtations


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