About this Lesson
In the previous lesson, students explored class and social hierarchy in Edwardian England by reading and discussing etiquette manuals and, in An Inspector Calls, by ordering the characters according to their social rank in the Victorian and Edwardian class system. This enquiry not only gave students the opportunity to engage with challenging non-fiction texts and apply contextual information to the content of the play, it also paved the way for reflection about modern social norms and their impact on opportunities, choices, and values. Whilst the value placed on class has diminished somewhat, it still exists. Acknowledging this sometimes invisible societal structure is important as it adds complexity to students’ examination of the relationship between the individual and society.
In this lesson, students will turn their focus back to the content of the play and to developing effective analytical skills. They will be introduced to the concept of inferencing and will begin making inferences about the characters and setting in the opening scene of the play, considering what messages Priestley sends to the audience through his use of language, characterisation and development of setting. This will not only prepare students to analyse the play, it will also enable them to think about how they make connections between what they read and hear and the world around them. Explicitly explaining the process of inferencing can be a very empowering process as it helps students reflect on how their minds work when they are reading a text or encountering new information.
The activities in this lesson refer to pages 1–5 of the Heinemann edition of An Inspector Calls.
- Application of Contextual Information (Lit-AO3)
- Evidence-Based Reasoning (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
- Knowledge of Subject Terminology (Lit-AO2, Lang-AO2)
- Reading Comprehension (Lit-AO1, Lang-AO1)
- Summarising and Synthesising Skills (Lang-AO1)
Students are introduced to and practise inferencing, which is a necessary foundation for analytical writing. Inferencing relies on prior knowledge, whilst developing student skills in reading comprehension, the application of contextual information, and evidence-based reasoning. It also encourages students to look beyond the explicit and access the implicit information and ideas contained within the text. In the creation of a found poem, students summarise and synthesise their learning by picking out key quotations relevant to the theme they are exploring. The use of discussion and writing throughout gives students the opportunity to develop and verbalise their thoughts and practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs.
What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?
What is the inferencing process and how can it help us better understand a character’s values, motivations, and choices?
- Students will be introduced to the concept of inferencing and will make character inferences using evidence from the play.
- Students will summarise their learning by creating a found poem using lines from the play to support their thinking.
This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:
- 3 activities
- 3 teaching strategies
- 1 PowerPoint
- 1 handout
Preparing to Teach
A Note to Teachers
Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.
In order to be able to interpret and analyse a text in a meaningful fashion, students need to be able to draw connections between what they are reading and their background knowledge. This background knowledge could be as small as understanding the definition of words, or something larger like personal expertise in a subject. In some ways, when students are inferring texts, they are looking for clues linked to what they know and understand about the world, which will help them unlock its meaning. Sometimes, however, students need assistance in moving beyond the literal meaning to make inferences about the significance of any language and/or content. It is, therefore, helpful to give them guided opportunities to practise their inferencing skills. Have a read of our Learning to Infer teaching strategy to find out more.
Developing Character Inferences
Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides.
The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson.
The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.
- Explain to students in this lesson that they will be thinking about what Priestley’s portrayal of characters in the opening pages of the play tells us about them and their values. To be able to do this work, students need to learn how to infer. When introducing this concept, it can help students if you start by giving them real-world examples, such as the ones suggested on the Learning to Infer teaching strategy page, that require them to infer, but do not immediately name inferencing as a concept.
- Follow the Procedure in the Learning to Infer teaching strategy to introduce inferencing to your students.
- Give students the opportunity to develop their understanding of the characters and setting in the opening pages of the play by asking them to fill in the Making Literary Inferences Grid handout with references to the text. Ask them to make at least one inference for each character they have met thus far. To differentiate this activity, you can provide students who need more assistance with a partially completed grid.
- First, project the PowerPoint slide with the ‘It Says/I Say/And So’ grid from the Making Literary Inferences Grid handout and model the first example by doing a ‘think aloud’ to guide students through the steps of the process. Your ‘think aloud’ might sound something like this:
- ‘I’m going to think about Mrs Birling first. A quotation from the text that I find interesting is at the bottom of page 2 when Mrs Birling says to Mr Birling: “(reproachfully) Arthur, you’re not supposed to say such things—”. Since this is what Mrs Birling literally says, I am going to write the quotation with its page number in the first column. I am including the page number because I might want to use this quotation later in an essay, and having the page number here will make it easier to find in my book.’
- ‘Next, I am going to consider how my background knowledge can help me understand Mrs Birling: I know that she is a married woman who is well off because of how the stage directions describe the suburban home and family. So in the next box, I will write “Mrs Birling is a married woman and the family is wealthy.” I also know from the stage directions that Mrs Birling is “her husband’s social superior” (p. 1). From what I have learnt about women in Edwardian England, I also know that she would have been considered socially inferior to the men in the room, so I will write: “Mrs Birling is a woman – she is viewed as socially inferior to men by society.” I also know that “social etiquette is important in Edwardian England”. The text says that she is speaking “reproachfully” to her husband. This means that she disapproves of what Mr Birling said and lets him know.’
- ‘Finally, I will put this information together to form an inference about Mrs Birling. I can infer that: Mrs Birling knows rules of etiquette that her husband doesn’t; otherwise she would not have to tell him off (or she values them more) and that Mrs Birling views social etiquette concerning manners as more important than social etiquette concerning gender: she tells Mr Birling off when his manners are not up to scratch, despite the fact that she is a woman and they have a guest.’
- Give students fifteen minutes to work through the sheet independently. Circulate to help any students who might be struggling to get started or who might need individualised attention and support.
- Then give students ten minutes to share their grids using the Think, Pair, Share strategy with a partner.
- Encourage students to reflect on and synthesise what they have learnt about the Birling household, its inhabitants and the world of the play in recent lessons by selecting key quotations that stand out to them.
- As a final activity or for homework, have students select 5–10 short phrases or words from the first five pages of the play and rearrange them into a found poem on one of the following themes:
- ‘Social Etiquette in An Inspector Calls’
- ‘Class in An Inspector Calls’
- ‘Gender in An Inspector Calls’
- If students finish their found poems in class, they can share them in pairs or small groups, or a few volunteers can read their poems aloud to the class. Alternatively, students can craft their poems at home and share them as a warm-up in the next lesson.
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Developing Character Inferences
Understanding Mr Birling
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