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The Rabbit and the Turtle: ESL Lesson One: Similarities and Differences


Because a fable like the Rabbit and the Turtle deals with essential human truths everyone understands, it’s a good place for ESL students to start to work together. This lesson is geared toward High Beginners/Low Intermediates, but it can be ratcheted up or down to accommodate Beginners, Intermediates or English speaking students preparing for the GED exam.

When these lessons are over, students will have a better understanding of the parts of speech (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions); simple sentence structure (the positive statement, the negative statement, the Yes/No question, and the explanation question); compound sentences; the forms of the adjective; and phrasal verbs. They will also have better writing, punctuation and correction skills. And, hopefully, students will also have figured out better ways to learn English on their own.

One purpose of these lessons is for students to develop self-help skills. With that in mind, bi-lingual dictionaries and English dictionaries are used, as a bridge or a guide, to help students transition from their languages to English.

The activities are done in groups to give students support and strengthen their skills for understanding and figuring out English on their own. An activity may start with a student working alone, but students will confer, compare work, and work together as the activity goes along. There is an emphasis on the importance of personal confidence and persistence in achieving goals in these lessons. Students must think about the question: “Which is more important, confidence or persistence?” They will discuss this question, debate it, write an essay about it, and give a speech as well.

Teacher versus student talk:

What is the ratio of teacher talk to student work in these lessons? I’d estimate it to be 25% teacher and 75% student. Learning is a journey: the teacher points the way, but the students have to do the walking to get there on their own. If students ask me for answers during group work, I often tell them to get the answer by asking and working with their groups, speaking English of course.


In some activities there are handouts to download and print. Handouts cost money. Some like Handout One and Handout Four can be collected and used again. Some like Handout Two, the Venn diagram can be eliminated; students can draw their own.


Finding Similarities and Differences


By relying on what they already know in their first languages, conferring with classmates, using bi-lingual dictionaries, and working with a Venn diagram, students will name the characteristics, qualities, abilities and body parts of a rabbit and turtle, and organize them according to their similarities and differences. Students will increase their vocabulary and know how to organize their thoughts by using a Venn diagram. Students will become familiar with words they don’t normally know in English like paw, claw, fur, shell, lay eggs, and give birth. Students will get used to using a dictionary.


Teacher talk and direction
Groups of three or four


Handout One: Drawing of a Rabbit and Turtle

Handout Two: Venn diagram

Bi-lingual dictionaries
Newsprint and markers

PDF file: the drawing of the Rabbit and Turtle, and the Venn Diagram to download and print.

Rabbit and Turtle & Venn Diagram


1. Put the students into groups of three and have them look at Handout One. Briefly discuss the differences and similarities between the animals. Write a short sentence. Ask students for examples of other sentences until you have several.

The turtle has short legs.
The rabbit can jump.
They both have eyes.

2. Hand out one Venn diagram to a group: Handout Two. (If you give each student his or her own diagram, the tendency will be for students to work alone on their lists; one diagram to a group puts all their heads together.) Tell the groups that there is going to be a contest. Each group must make lists of similarities and differences between the animals. Which group can come up with the longest list? Let them know that they are to use their bi-lingual dictionaries to look up words they know in their languages but don’t know in English.

Before they begin, ask students: “What does the rabbit have that the turtle doesn’t? What can the turtle do that the rabbit can’t? What do they have in common?”

Make sure the class will be able to choose nouns, verbs and adjectives for the Venn diagrams. What can the rabbit do? The rabbit can jump (verb). What does the rabbit have? The rabbit has long ears (adjective and noun). What is the turtle? The turtle is short (adjective).

Model what they are to do. Tell them that a Venn diagram is a good way to organize their thoughts. Draw a Venn diagram on newsprint and instruct the class: “On the left I’m going to write rabbit and on the right I’m going to write turtle. The rabbit has long ears so I will write long ears for the rabbit and short legs for the turtle. The turtle can crawl so I will write crawl for the turtle and hop for the rabbit. What is something they share in common? Eyes. I’ll write eyes here in the middle.”

Include the words you already have from the several sentences that you’ve written with the class. Be sure the groups write these words on their Venn diagrams.

Make sure they know how to use a dictionary. For example, a Spanish speaker knows the word for claw is garra. Demonstrate how to use a dictionary, looking up garra in a bi-lingual one and finding the word for it: claw.

3. Groups work together filling in the Venn diagram. Give them about half an hour to complete it. Be available to answer questions about decisions on the meaning of words. For a little excitement, tell the students the time remaining. Do it every five or ten minutes: “You have ten minutes left. You have five minutes left.”

Because students will be transcribing their lists onto larger newsprint, while they’re working, I prepare the newsprint for them by drawing Venn Diagrams on all of the newsprint that’s going to be used.

4. When everyone’s finished, groups transcribe their lists to the newsprint. Groups hang up their newsprint.

5. Hand out one marker to each group (three heads are better than one; let groups continue to work together). Tell them to look at each newsprint and put a check by words they think are misspelled, in the wrong list or not appropriate.

After students have mingled, corrected and talked for awhile, the teacher goes over each newsprint with the class. Now words that don’t fit are discussed and crossed out, misspellings are corrected. If a word is misspelled, I still include it in the final tally.
Students may think that a word doesn’t apply. For example, if a group puts the word animal in the Rabbit category, some may argue that animal belongs in the In Common category. Students can argue for and against the inclusion of words. Arguing about what’s right or wrong can add to the fun. A vote is taken to decide if a certain word stays or is crossed out from the final tally.

Every group gets some applause.

If there are words not already written by the students like lays eggs or gives birth I define and include them now.

Remember: If you are doing Activity Two on a following day, be sure to save the newsprint for that activity.

To the Teacher: I find that having a contest between groups is always fun and a great motivator for groups to work together. Group One always wants to be faster and better than Group Two.



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