Lesson Plan – Burns Night

It’s been a long time since I’ve shared much about my job as a lectrice beyond complaining a little! I think you have to go back to February last year when I published a couple of posts on it so I thought it was about time to share a little more. I’ve had some really successful lessons this year that I’ve been really pleased with so I’ll be sharing a few of them over the next month or two while I still can as I wrap up my time as a lectrice. Starting us off today, we have the first lesson from this semester. A little reminder about what my classes are and how I usually plan them – I teach the anglais oral classes (oral English) for all the students studying their licence (bachelors) in English. This degree is over three years in France and I have 14 groups, six for L1, four for L2 and four for L3, comprising about 170 students in total. I usually choose a topic that I will use for all the classes and then differentiate the content for the different levels. L2 and L3 often get very similar classes but the discussion goes a bit deeper with the L3 students and I expect a little more from them. I try to have a range of activities and mix in comprehension and listening activities with the speaking but my main aim is to get them to talk as much as possible! The less I talk in the hour the better as this is one of the only classes they have that is not only fully in English (most of my classes have never heard me speak more than a few words of French) but where the students get to speak in English.

This lesson plan was the one I used in the first week back after the Christmas holidays. I had just been home in Scotland for a whole month and it must have inspired me because I decided to do some classes on Burns Night. The classes actually took place the week before Burns Night but I had other things planned to be getting on with after that. In truth, I’ve wanted to look at Burns poems with my older students for a while and bring in a discussion about Scots as a language. So whether you are a current or potential lecteur/lectrice or are just interested in seeing what one of my classes looks like, read on!

Burns’ Night celebrations last year!

Because this was the first lesson of the semester, there was a little bit of admin to get out of the way at the beginning. I filled them in on what their assessments would look like for the rest of the year. This is my fourth semester teaching oral English classes and some parts of my assessments have stayed the same and some changed, as much for my sake as for theirs! Throughout my time as a lectrice, I have always had 50% of their grade come from participation. In something like an oral class where the whole point is practising and speaking rather than any particular knowledge, I wanted to encourage them to take part as much as possible and what is better encouragement than your grade being reliant on it! I also didn’t want people to be able to pass the class just by turning up to the assessments or exams. With 50% participation, you need not just to come to class but to put effort in and speak or you will fail. This semester I’m also reusing an assessment that we did last semester, the peer led discussion which is basically an observed discussion. Finally, my L1 students would be doing group presentations spread over a few weeks in the semester and L2 and L3 would be doing debates. I did debates with my L3 students last year but they have all moved on and in general I like doing debate activities with my classes because it gets them speaking a lot and often quite passionate about the subject. I thought for our final assessment together we would develop on those smaller activities and formalise it into a full length debate.


When it came to starting the actual lesson, I wanted to find out what they knew already about Robert Burns and Burn Night. I wasn’t expecting much but it’s a good way to get the gears turning in their minds and lets me know what baseline we’re starting from. I asked the questions below and if they didn’t know anything, led them to the idea that Burns was a man that is celebrated in Scotland but I left it at that. It wasn’t a problem if they had no prior knowledge because the first thing I had planned was a short comprehension activity using a video that introduced Burns.

  • What is Burns’ Night?
  • Have you heard of Robert Burns?
  • When is Burns’ Night?


Up until this point, I had the same lesson for all the year groups but after this they diverted a little. At this point, they were all still doing a comprehension activity but I had one video for L1 and a different one for L2 and L3. Below is the video that I used with L1, giving a brief introduction to Robert Burns’ life.

  1. Where was Robert Burns born?
  2. What jobs did Rabbie have throughout his life?
  3. What happened when Rabbie was 25?
  4. How was Rabbie’s first book of poems received?
  5. What kinds of things did Rabbie write about in his poems?
  6. What is Robert Burns’ legacy?

During the video a few lines from some of his more famous poems were mentioned and I wanted to look at these a little closer. I first showed them the lines from ‘A Red, Red Rose’ and asked them if they noticed anything different about the spelling. I wanted to lead them towards the fact that ‘luve’ is spelt differently than in English and ask them why. Most of them said it was probably because it was an old poem. I didn’t push them any further on that at this point.

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;

Next I showed them a few lines from ‘To A Mouse’. I asked them if they understood what any of it means and most of the time they just laughed! Honestly, I didn’t actually know what all of this meant before I sat down to actually think about it. For anyone interested, the translation is ‘Sleek, tiny, timorous, cowering beast, / why’s such panic in your breast?’

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

Last but not least we looked at ‘Auld Lang Syne’, famously sung around the world in the first few moments of the new year. Some of them recognised the music, if not the words and we had some interesting discussions about the meaning (more on that below).

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For L2 and L3, I had a different video that focused more on Burns’ life and how we celebrate Burns’ night because the second half of their lesson was going to focus on his poems. When I use a video in class, I sometimes include a short vocabulary list of any words the students might not be familiar with, particularly if they are relevant to the questions they need to answer. There were a few in this video:

  • Guises – an external form, appearance, or manner of presentation, typically concealing the true nature of something
    • Guising = trick or treating in Scotland
  • Neeps – turnips
  • Tatties – potatoes
  • Drams – a small drink of whiskey
  • Bard – a storyteller, musician, oral historian
  1. When was Burns born?
  2. How old was he when he died?
  3. Which of his poems depict Scottish life?
  4. What happens at a Burns Night celebration?

After the comprehension videos, my two different lesson plans diverged more significantly.

Burns’ Night

For L1, the second half of the lesson focused on the Burns’ Night celebration. We started by looking at the traditional meal that is eaten on Burns’ Night, the Burns’ supper. I had a table with the name of the dish, a description and a photo but not matched up correctly. In groups of three or four, they had to figure out how they should all be matched.

Starter – Cock-a-leekie soup (A soup with leeks and peppered chicken stock, often thickened with rice, or sometimes barley and garnished with prunes). This is not necessarily a typical Burns’ supper starter as it isn’t as set in stone as the main course, rather just an example of a Scottish dish that could be served. It could equally have been smoked salmon and oatcakes or cullen skink, a creamy fish soup.

Main course – Haggis, neeps and tatties. For those that don’t know, haggis is Scotland’s national dish and though it might not be to everyone’s taste, I think it’s delicious! If you’re squeamish, it tastes better when you don’t know what’s in it so if that’s you, skip on a few lines. Haggis is made from minced sheep heart, lungs and liver mixed with onion, oatmeal and spices and traditionally cooked in an animal’s stomach. Again, I promise it tastes much better than it sounds! My students were quite shocked and sometimes disgusted at the description, despite some of the weird dishes in French cuisine! On the side are usually the neeps and tatties, or turnips and potatoes, mashed to be exact.

Dessert – Cranachan. Like cock-a-leekie soup, this is not a set requirement of a Burns’ supper, like haggis is, but again just a suggestion of a Scottish dessert that could be served. It is made of oats, cream, raspberries and whisky layered together.

Then we discussed the ceremony of the dinner. Guests at a Burns’ supper are usually piped in, meaning the bagpipes are played to accompany their entrance. Once everyone is at the table, the Selkirk Grace is said – ‘Some hae meat and canna eat,/ And some wad eat that want it,/ But we hae meat and we can eat,/ And sae the Lord be thankit.’ After this, the guest of honour is also piped in but it’s not who you might expect. Someone walks in with a haggis on a tray! This is in preparation for the first and most important reading of Burns’ work, although more usually follow after the dinner. ‘Address to a Haggis’ was written in 1786 and is a celebration of the dish. The whole poem is quite long so we only looked at the extract below. Initially I only put the original version on the board and had the students take a look at it in their groups to see if they could figure out what it was saying. They did so with varying degrees of success but we looked at the translation afterwards so they could better understand.

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang ‘s my arm.  

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.      

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then,
O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!      
The Translation

Fair is your honest happy face
Great chieftain of the pudding race
Above them all you take your place
Stomach, tripe or guts
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm  

The groaning platter there you fill
Your buttocks like a distant hill
Your skewer would help to repair a mill
In time of need
While through your pores the juices emerge
Like amber beads  

His knife having seen hard labour wipes
And cuts you up with great skill
Digging into your gushing insides bright
Like any ditch
And then oh what a glorious sight
Warm steaming, rich  

To finish the class with L1, we watched a short clip from this video of ‘Address to a Haggis’ being performed. It really is more of a performance than a reading of the poem. You’ll see how the person reciting the poem enacts certain lines and interacts with the haggis that has been piped in. Obviously everyone who performs it makes it their own but many of these movements are standard and recognisable across performances.


Going back to the L2 and L3 version of this lesson, after watching the initial comprehension video we had another short video. I asked them if they had understood the few lines of poetry that were in the first video and mostly got a response of ‘not really!’. I explained that this was because Burns didn’t actually write in English but in Scots, one of Scotland’s three official languages alongside English and Scottish Gaelic. I asked the students to listen out for as many Scots words as they could and their meanings. For the words whose meanings weren’t given in the video I asked them to try and figure out or guess what the word meant.

Burns’ Poems

At this point, I put the L2 and L3 classes into three groups and gave each group a copy of one of Burns’ poems, the same selection that I had looked at with L1. I asked them not just to read the poems but to take turns reading them out loud. I wanted them to hear and feel how the words are different to what they are used to with English. I asked them to look at the words that they didn’t recognise but also to look at what they thought the poem was about, the story and the themes.

A Red, Red Rose
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune  

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.  

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
To a Mouse
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!
I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne! 

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet,
For auld lang syne. For auld, &c. …

‘A Red Red Rose’ was probably the easiest poem that I gave them as it is so clearly a love poem. ‘To a Mouse’ is definiteley the most difficult poem of the three because the Scots is so dissimilar from English. The poem comes from Burns’ time as a farmer and the full title of the poem is ‘To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough’. My favourite line is ‘I’m truly sorry man’s dominion, / Has broken nature’s social union’. In class we talked about how this line could be applied to today’s environmental situation. Finally, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was an interesting discussion because there was a wider variety of opinions on what the meaning was. In general, it was agreed that it was a goodbye but differed over what was being said goodbye to. Some people said it was to the past, to times gone by which is why we sing it to bring in the new year but others thought that it was about saying goodbye to a particular person.

To finish off, I wanted to show them ‘Auld Lang Syne’ being sung and I love this version by Dougie MacLean. (He sings one of my favourite songs ‘Caledonia’ that I always listen to when I’m missing Scotland!)

And that’s it! I finish each class by telling them what the topic for next week is so they know what to expect as well as giving them any homework for the next week. I don’t usually give out a lot of homework, at most I ask them to prepare a few things for the starter activity the next week and I usually pull back on homework as the semester goes on and exams and assessments start to ramp up in all the classes.

I hope this was an interesting look at what goes on in my classes! I have a few more lesson plans that I want to share so keep an eye out for those.

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