Monday, October 06, 2008

The Headless Horseman Rides Again

English Language Learning in October

Every year during the month of October and at times into early November, I show my English as a Foreign Language learners the Disney animated version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. The video serves several purposes both didactic and non-didactic. It continues to be popular with the students regardless of their age, major or occupation.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Most of you are probably familiar with Washington Irving’s classic American short story, originally penned in 1819-1820, based on a German folktale. A transient schoolmaster, Icabod Crane, arrives in the tiny colonial burg of Sleepy Hollow situated near Tarrytown, in Westchester County of New York state. As he integrates into the local society, he falls for a wealthy farmer’s daughter, Katrina Van Tassel. The superstitious pedagogue battles a local rival for the fair maid’s favors. On the night of October 31st during festivities at the Van Tassel estate ghost stories told by the guests bring out the worst of Icabod’s fears. One story in particular, that of a Headless Horseman who rides one night each year in search of a new head, terrifies the schoolmaster beyond all else. The hapless schoolteacher later encounters the legendary Headless Horseman and … Well, if you don’t know the rest of the story it’s worth a read.

Setting the stage

The full-color, animated feature runs about 30 minutes, so it is short enough to fit well into a 90-minute class session. I prepare a two-page worksheet to help the students follow the story and extract key information as they watch. To set the stage overall we talk about legends in Colombia which may include:

The Three Crosses (Las Tres Cruces)
Chupacabra (like a “Boogeyman”)
El Duende (similar to a Leprechaun)
Pata Sola (like a one-legged “Bigfoot”)

Are You Superstitious?

After watching the story and working through the task sheet, we check answers and responses. We talk about their likes and dislikes which may be similar to those seen in the story. I also ask about their superstitions and reactions to situations like:

Breaking a mirror
• A black cat or black butterfly approaching them
• Using a broom to ward off bad luck
• Walking under a ladder

The activity, in general, is useful for English language levels from beginner to upper intermediate and beyond. It serves to illustrate some aspects of history, culture and customs in the USA associated with the fall of the year.

The Worksheet is Also Available

If you have access to this particular video and would like to have a copy of the worksheet I use, e-mail your request to me at: and Ill be glad to send you one right away.

Although I’m not a great proponent of using whole movies for their own sake in the EFL classroom, I do favor using short, 5 - 8 minute or so short video clips on occasion. Audio visuals like videos do aid in lowering the affective filter of the students and can greatly promote learning when used judiciously. This 30-minute animated film is one of but a rare few of the exceptions that I use.

By the way, are YOU superstitious?

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 125 countries worldwide. Get your FREE, pdf format report on CD or via e-mail, "Can You REALLY Learn a Foreign Language While You Sleep?" by requesting the title at:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is really a legend