The Bun

We have another guest post this week – this time from not just one teacher but two! Alexandra Guzik, teaches English at the Follow me to English school in Krasnodar, Russia and Sahar Salha teaches at the Elementary co-ed “A” UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. This post is about a really nice cross cultural learning experience that they set up through the Hands Up Project. Alex’s class reworked a traditional Russian folk tale into English and then sent it to Sahar’s class for them to rehearse it and perform it. At the bottom of this post you can see a video of this perfomance, but first read their reflections on the experience.

Alex – Making the Bun


I teach in a private school where children get extra English classes. They come twice a week for a one-hour-and-a half lesson. Most of the children arrive 5-15 minutes before their lesson starts and leave immediately after the lesson is over. Most of them rush to other classes or school depending on the shift at school. At our school we give learners homework to do as two lessons a week is not enough for work on the language to progress in learning it. Therefore there is little opportunity for us to do work beyond our course.

Choosing the story

There are quite a few Russian folktales and most of them deserve to be shared with children from other countries. So before having our hands full with translation, we had to choose one folktale to begin with. The Bun (Kolobok – a type of a round bread or a round loaf) has a repetitive pattern, which means less work for translators and a good number of characters – eight. One more advantage of repetitive nature of the story is that it is easier to learn the script.

Approach to translation

I didn’t want to spend a lot of lesson time on working on the translation. So I asked my students to have a go at translating the fairytale at home as an addition to their homework. Unfortunately, it was in June and only four children attended the following lesson.  But we had a good discussion comparing each other’s translations, arguing when choosing more suitable words. E.g. negotiating on words ‘pantry’ and ‘scrape up’ caused a lively discussion because learners had three different versions for them. We used online translator, monolingual dictionaries and Google Image to reach a consensus. At last we read through the final version which everyone was happy with.

Teacher’s work

What I had to do after the lesson was to type the story in a form of a play and edit the chant for it to keep a steady rhythm.

Interesting observations:

1 Whereas in English words Grandpa and Grandma mean relatives, in Russian any elderly person might be called Grandma and Grandpa. That is why we had to add this line ‘There was once a poor old man, Grandpa, and his wife, Grandma’, instead of just ‘There was once a Grandpa and Grandma. They were poor.’

2 Some old-fashioned Russian words are used in the story, which exact meaning some learners did not know. So at first they had to find out the meaning of these words before translating into English.

3 Some learners tried to find ready-made translations on the Internet, but most of them turned out to be of too high level for borrowing them as they were. Thus learners’ effort was still necessary.


Sahar – Performing the Bun

Being in touch with Alex to do online sessions means a lot to me and my students at school. As a result of this interaction , Alex sent me a Russian story and I trained my students to perform it. I’m very happy that they liked the story.

Here are a few of the things they said about the experience .

Malak “the bun”: I’m very happy that we act this story although it’s easier than stories we performed for Mr Nick before, but I’m happier because it is from Alex ;this means we have new audience for our performance. Also I feel as I’m flying while rolling.

Ahed “the narrator”:This story is Russian ,this means that we can perform other stories in the future like French or Spanish stories.

Zeinab “the animal”: I like this story because it is like a song with its repeated lines, my brothers at home started to sing it and they don’t know what it means but they hear me. I won’t forget it forever.

3 thoughts on “The Bun

  1. There are so many useful things going on in this activity, I really don’t know where to start! I will just comment on the roles of the teachers in upgrading language in both countries; Alex in supporting the learners to rework their initial translations into the best script they could come up with, and then Sahar helping them with their pronunication to produce their best possible performance of that script. And not a native speaker in sight. Who says we need native speaker models?


  2. I say that, Nick Bilbrough! Native speakers use the language in dynamic and playful way which makes the process of learning much more authentic and fun.
    Anyway, that’s a small part of the story. The two teachers and their students did a great job. That’s what we call cultural exchange at its best! One important point to raise here, is how Alex and her students translated the text and made it easier to understand and act out. It’s always interesting to get things from the students themselves.
    Grandma and grandpa thing is onefof my favourite parts as it shows how much teachers can see what’s beyond teaching a language. Alex expected that Sahar’s students wouldn’t understand the cultural meaning if the two words, so she made things clearer. She could sense where students might get confused. That’s one of the advantages of being a non- native teacher, we teach through the eyes of one’s culture 🙂


    1. I thought that might stir you up Amal :-). I’ve missed your challenging comments on here. It’s great to have you back! I don’t agree that being dynamic and playful is just something native speakers can do. In fact, I think you don’t even need to be that proficient in a language to be playful in it. I’m sure for example that someone like you was playful in English even before you became a highly profient user. I totally do agree however, that ‘we teach through the eyes of one’s culture’ and that this is a very good thing. There’s no way that i would be able to upgrade the language of the learners in either Russia or Gaza in the same way that Alex and Sahar do, because I don’t share the L1 and the cultural knowledge of the learners, in the same way that they do.


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