Soap Opera Unit of Work: KS4

by Graham Nash

The Soap Opera unit of work was used as a model to show how language activities, specifically the differences between speech and writing, can be made an integral part of our English planning and teaching.

  1. Watch an episode of Eastenders. Look at how the programme is structured in terms of individual scenes (some 45 in each episode, very short, no more than 2 mins in length); interconnecting devices (switches of storyline by character association, use of pub as a dynamic space, connection by theme), use of cliffhanger and "anticipation" devices, episode as a discreet structure.
  2. Look at the openings of soaps: the significance of theme music (Coronation Street's British jazz reflecting a sort of nostalgic working class history; Neighbours' cheerful kitsch jingle reflecting consensus and harmony). Graphics and credit shots (all soaps either show the area - Eastenders' aerial shot of the East end or show the characters - this highlights soap's main pre-occupations - character and community.
  3. Look at the characters - trace the family trees, analyse the function of characters. Look at whether soaps construct stereotypical characters (the 70's view of soaps as theorised by Brunsden etc) and shown to be clearly untrue: soap characters are unstable shifting identities.
  4. Language and Identity in Soaps:
    • Create a chart that matches the Soap/ Accent/ Region: chart the soaps on to a map.
    • Examine the differences in accent in "Brookside": identify the associations between accent and class/intelligence/gender in the "close".
    • Discuss the function of "outsiders" in Eastenders - people that stereotypically represent different cultures and accents/dialects, e.g. Connor and Mary; Sanje and Gita; Ruth and Joe.
    • Worksheet on "Cockney Rhyming Slang" used by Frank in Eastenders. Discuss this as a dated stereotype of the way London people speak.
    • Bristolian: "How to Speak Bristolian" - show pupils examples of "old" Bristolian, that are used to categorise and label the way that they speak. Discuss the offensive nature of the stereotyping, and how it does not represent their accent/dialect. Use anecdotes to discuss people's preconceptions associated with accent.
    • Read and analyse Janet Daly's article in "The Language of Reading", and the newspaper article about the soccer star's wife's accent.

  5. Scripts v Real Conversation
    • Give pupils a brief model of a transcript to introduce them to the codes/signs used when recording speech.
    • Pupils compare an extract of the Eastenders script - with a pupils transcript of an episode - with a transcript of a real conversation. Pupils compare the three versions of dialogue and draw some conclusions about the ways that dialogue is constructed in soap operas.

  6. In mixed groups the class creates the opening episode for a new soap, drawing on the conventions established, and present their ideas at a formal meeting with the Head of Channel 4 programming (guest).
  7. Class work out a series of rules and conventions for soaps, e.g. most British soaps are set in working class communities. Establish the idea that on one level soaps can be educational, socially astute and a positive viewer experience or that soaps are two-dimensional, superficial and unrealistic, potentially damaging. Carry out a survey to establish pupils' and parents' views.
  8. Write a magazine article, exploring the two different viewpoints based on the survey findings.

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