The Greek Myth Pygmalion
In this lesson, students will learn about the Greek myth the play Pygmalion is named after. Then they’ll begin reading and annotating the play, stopping periodically to discuss and write about it.
- Read the lesson and student content.
- Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
The Pygmalion Myth
- Describe the myth of Pygmalion for students:
- ✓ Pygmalion was an ancient Greek sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. According to legend, his statue was so fair and realistic that he fell in love with it. In some much later versions of the story, the statue was named Galatea.
- ✓ In time, Aphrodite’s (the goddess of love) festival day came, and Pygmalion made offerings at her altar. There he quietly wished that his ivory sculpture would be changed to a real woman. When he returned home, he kissed his ivory statue and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again and touched her skin with his hand and found that the ivory lost its hardness. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion’s wish.
- ✓ Pygmalion married the ivory sculpture changed to a woman under Aphrodite’s blessing.
- Listen to your teacher describe the Pygmalion myth.
Act 1 of Pygmalion (Beginning)
- Help students form into groups of three to begin reading act 1 of Pygmalion aloud (in library voices). Because of the dialect in the first act, you may need to place a strong reader in each triad.
- ELL: In forming groups, be aware of your students and ensure that they will have a learning environment where they can be productive. In this case, it might be advisable to mix up native with non-native speakers, since even native speakers may struggle with the dialect in the early scenes of the play. Encourage students to support one another at all times, but especially during group work.
- SWD: Consider allowing students whose reading level is below proficiency level to work with more advanced readers (with disabilities or mainstream). That way the more advanced students can support struggling students, especially with vocabulary, reading the dialects, and understanding ideas and concepts within the text.
- It is recommended that you not assign parts or do round-robin reading for a first read.
- Depending on your students’ abilities, you may need to read shorter chunks or read along with students until they understand the situations.
There are a number of film versions of Pygmalion available, including the musicalMy Fair Lady. If you have access to any of these movies, consider showing all or part of them as the class reading of the play progresses.
Form groups of three (triads) to read act 1 of Pygmalion aloud. You will read the text in short sections, taking turns reading each time a different character speaks.
As you read, take note of vocabulary, especially words that might be useful for academic work.
At the end of each section, you will either complete a Quick Write or discuss or both.
- Read up to the entrance of the Gentleman, which occurs after the Daughter says, “Really, mamma, you might have spared Freddy that” and retreats behind the pillar.
- Stop to discuss with your group where the play is taking place and what the problems are.
Characters in Pygmalion
- Make sure students understand the opening situation and have a sense of who the characters are.
- Help students create a Characters in Pygmalion chart of character names. Note that some characters will be given only descriptor names in act 1; for instance, the Flower Girl’s name will turn out to be Eliza Doolittle.
- SWD: Use visuals and graphic organizers that are simple for students to fill in independently. These may need to be modified from what you are using with the whole class. In this case, students may benefit from a more detailed character chart that helps them make connections between the general description names (e.g., Flower Girl), the character’s actual name (e.g., Eliza Doolittle), and specific details about them, such as gender or social class.
- Be prepared to share a translation of the Flower Girl’s speech. A suggested translation follows:
- ✓ Oh, he’s your son, is he? Well, if you had done your duty by him, as a mother should, he’d know better than to spoil a poor girl’s flowers and then run away without paying. Will you pay me for them?
- ELL: It is sometimes hard to understand when a person is reading in a language other than our own. Be sure your pace is adequate, and provide ample wait-time to allow for students to process the information and make connections between the original text and your translated version.
- Point out that after this one speech by the Flower Girl, Shaw abandons writing in dialect for some of the characters in the interest of clarity and understanding for his play’s audiences.
- Note that Shaw rejected some conventions for spelling and the use of apostrophes, eliminating them in most contractions.
To help keep the characters straight, work with your teacher to create a Characters in Pygmalion chart. Maintain a list of characters and information about them in your Notebook. As you read and discuss the play, you should periodically add information about the characters to your list.
Discuss the following with your classmates.
- What has happened in the play so far?
- What is the Flower Girl saying when she first speaks to the Mother: “Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? Wal, fewd dan y’ de-ooty bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl a pore gel’s flahrzn than ran awy athaht pyin. Will ye-oo py me f’them?”
Social Class in Pygmalion
- Give students about 3 minutes to gather their ideas and rehearse saying them for the whole group sharing.
- Facilitate a brief discussion about references to social class.
- Use the following probing questions to call to the attention of students evidence of differences in the characters’ social classes so far:
- ✓ What is the initial problem faced by the Daughter, Mother, and Freddy?
- ✓ What differences in speech between the family members and the bystanders and Flower Girl do you notice?
- ✓ At your stopping place, the Daughter says, “Sixpence thrown away! Really, mamma, you might have spared Freddy that.” Explain her comment.
- SWD: Be sure that students feel encouraged and welcomed to share even though they may work at a slower pace or need more wait time than other students. As you’re facilitating the discussions, be aware of how much students are sharing. If you consider it necessary, speak to the students about the importance of allowing enough time for everybody to participate.
- Begin building a Social Class Terms class chart.
- References to Social Class in Pygmalion is provided for you and gives examples of lines and phrases having to do with social class in the play. Some vocabulary words and British terms are defined in Vocabulary and British Terms inPygmalion .
Complete a Quick Write.
- What does any of this have to do with social class or social status?
Then share your response with your triad before sharing with the whole class.
Look over the play again to find actual evidence of references to social class, and share those examples with the whole group as you find them. Use those examples to generate a Social Class Terms list in your Notebook. Update this list of terms as you read the play.
Act 1 of Pygmalion (Middle)
- Circulate through the room to see where students are experiencing difficulties with reading the text. You may need to have shorter chunks of text in order to keep everyone up.
- Update your class Characters in Pygmalion chart and clarify any confusion.
- Use the written responses to help students who have misunderstandings or confusion.
Read the next section with your group, from the entrance of The Gentleman (“An elderly gentleman of the amiable military type rushes into shelter”) to the exit of the Mother and Daughter (“Oh, how tiresome!”).
When you reach the stopping place, write brief answers to the following questions.
- Why is the Note Taker taking notes?
- What skill does he reveal that he has after listening to each of the characters speak?
- Why is the Flower Girl so upset?
Speech and Social Class
- Allow about 3 minutes for the Quick Write.
- Check to see if you can add any terms to the class Social Class Terms chart or whether anyone needs clarification about the characters so far.
- Facilitate a discussion of the play so far, reminding students about the issue of social class and encouraging them to support their ideas with specific references to the text.
- ELL: Different cultures may have different views about a topic like this. Issues of class structure and speech can be unique to specific countries or cultures. If students have different or controversial insights, be sure to allow for extra time so that they can explain further. It is much easier to understand views when we understand the culture a little better.
Complete a Quick Write.
- How does a person’s speech reveal information about her or his social standing or class? Are those speech differences as important in America nowadays as they clearly were in early 20th-century London?
Then share your response to the Quick Write and the previous questions with your triad before sharing with the whole class.
Act 1 of Pygmalion (End)
- Students will read most, if not all, of the play during class time, so it’s important to keep things moving.
- Make additions or corrections to the Characters in Pygmalion and Social Class Terms charts.
- Save at least 5 minutes for the Closing activity.
Return to act 1 with your triad group.
- Finish reading act 1. If you don’t finish, you can complete it for homework.
- Make additions or corrections to the Characters in Pygmalion chart and Social Class Terms chart.
Reflection on Reading the Play
- Use this time to clarify misunderstandings and to talk with students about the challenges of reading this play.
- Be sure to attend to students’ responses to the two following questions:
- ✓ Were there places where you got lost or no longer followed with understanding?
- ✓ What did you do about it?
Answer the following questions in writing and submit your answers to your teacher.
- What was easy about reading the play so far?
- What challenges did you face?
- If there were places where you got lost or no longer followed with understanding, what did you do about it?
TV Show Analysis
- Try to get your class thinking about how TV writers and directors use dialogue to depict particular types of characters. Ask the class if they can think of a TV show that gives an example of a person’s speech revealing information about her or his social standing or class. Have an example ready in case the class can’t come up with a good example.
- For the homework, encourage students to jot down specific words that clued them in to important information about the characters. You want them to think about how language use reveals character.
- Remind students to continue reading their Independent Reading Group Novel and to turn in journal entries.
If you have not already done so, finish reading act 1 of Pygmalion .
Write a paragraph.
- Think about TV shows that you watch. Can you find any examples of a character’s speech revealing information about her or his social standing or class? Which show? Who is the character? What exactly does the character’s speech tell the audience?
Continue your ongoing homework assignment.
- Read your Independent Reading Group Novel.
- Remember to submit two journal entries a week to your teacher and publish some of your journal entries so others can read your work.