James and the Giant Peach with KS2 EAL/ESL learners

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This week is Banned Books Week and to mark the occasion, we published a post on the IATEFL YLTSIG Blog with lots of insights and useful resources. My contribution to that post included a section on James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and in this post, I’m now sharing some lesson ideas that I’ve used time and again with KS2 learners.


I have used James and the Giant Peach, or parts of it, with several groups of KS2 (upper primary) learners over the years. However, how we worked with the story varied based on the learners’ level. Read further for lesson ideas for upper-intermediate/advanced as well as pre-intermediate/intermediate learners.


Depending on the length of the course, I’ve sometimes used the entire book, while at other times we focused on certain parts only. One idea that works regardless is asking learners to impersonate the characters in the story. With some groups we only read the text out loud where each student was voicing one particular character. With another group we put on a puppet show.

I have to be honest; I hardly ever ask my students to read aloud in class. I never liked doing it as a learner because I have always felt that it drew my focus away from comprehension. However, I do find that it has undeniable benefits if it’s done right. For instance, it’s great for pronunciation practice and focusing on intelligibility and sentence stress. What’s important is that the context is set up and that the learners are familiar with the story overall, even if they haven’t read the full text yet. It’s also essential to carefully think about who should voice which character so that nobody feels overwhelmed. With lower levels I took on the role of the narrator, at least at first. Once the learners grew more confident, I usually had volunteers for the part.

When working with higher level EAL learners in an international school, I’ve made a lot of use of the Puffin resources for James and the Giant Peach. They helped me establish links between EAL and other subjects. It’s important to note that these lesson plans were not written with ELLs in mind so you will find that you have to adapt them quite a bit. Nevertheless, the basic ideas have helped me create intercurricular links, which helped my learners see the need for English in the wider context of the school.

One particular activity that worked well was the Minibeast Fact Detectives idea from the KS2 Resource Pack. By focusing on excerpts that describe the different minibeasts in the story, the students managed to build their Science vocabulary and learn useful facts about these animals. I’ve had to adapt the actual fact files in the resource pack because they are a bit too wordy and complex for EAL learners. I always included pictures to go along with the texts and asked learners to label the images as they were reading. I’ve also adapted the table to record their findings by adding more columns with keywords such as Physical features/Body, Colour, Diet/What they eat, Interesting facts. These extra headings helped them focus while reading about the animals.


With lower levels, I always use parts of James and the Giant Peach that are also supported by video. I start by showing them scenes from the movie before we engage with the text. I treat it as a listening comprehension task – we establish the context, work with vocabulary that is immediately needed and answer some comprehension questions to get the gist of what’s happening. This step is essential because otherwise learners get overwhelmed by the complexity of the language while still trying to figure out the story.

I especially like focusing on the parts of the text where the animals are described. The language here, albeit complex, is also rich in adjectives that can be exploited in so many ways. I like asking learners to do an Adjective Hunt where they read short excerpts to find adjectives that either describe appearance or personality. They write the words they find on pieces of paper and stick them under the correct heading on the board. This makes the learning fun, student-led and visual.

The characters from the story lend themselves to comparison and it creates a natural link to some grammar. Once we’ve established the meaning of the adjectives and learners are confident at pronouncing them too, we move on to learning or practicing the comparatives and superlatives. There are many directions this can be taken to:

  1. a grammar presentation with some of the adjectives from the Adjective Hunt
  2. students writing descriptions of the characters using comparatives and superlatives
  3. making Top Trumps cards with the characters from the story and utilising the adjectives learnt
  4. writing riddles with the adjectives and learners guessing which character is being described

How do you explore texts with your EAL or ESL learners? Do you have favourite texts to use or any favourite activities? I’d love to hear about them!

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