Building contexts to learn English in classrooms - A unique approach
As teachers, we are more often concerned with completing the syllabus and the contents of the textbook. So much so that, we forget the ultimate purpose of teaching the language – to enable students become proficient users of it. So, how do we use textbook content to build on the proficiency of students?
Language learning happens best when relevant contexts to learn it are built and readily available.Moreover, when teachers can engage students meaningfully in learning activities, they are ableto pick up language more easily. This is possible as we all possess the innate capability to learn languages.
Dr K N Anandan’s workshop at the Azim Premji Foundation’s Teacher Resources Center at Mudaliarpet, from 2nd to 5th May, when he demonstrated his discourse - oriented approach with a group of twenty-eight students from classes four to six of Udavum Karangal Children’s home.
Picture Description Activities :
A picture is a strong medium to draw the attention of students, especially at the primary level. It can be used to involve students in all of the four skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing. In all of the four days of the workshop, Dr Anandan effectively used this medium to develop English language fluency.
Writing Short Poems
The first discourse demonstrated that it is possible, to engage students who barely know English, in writing short poems based on a picture. Surprisingly, all of the twentyeight students were able to come up with a poem of their own, by the end of the activity.Here’s a step-by-step approach to using this pedagogy in the classroom:
Whole Class Activity
1. A picture is shown to the class and students are encouraged to identify names of animals and objects in it.
2. After single-word responses are gathered, they are asked to add adjectives to describe the picture. Note that, the grammatical terms – ‘nouns’, ‘adjectives’ and ‘verbs’ are not used while doing so. These are mentioned as only ‘names of objects and animals’,‘describing words’ and ‘doing words’.
3. Students are also shown a response of how to do this. For instance, if the object identified by them is a ‘duck’, then they describe it by saying –‘a small duck’. It is also to be ensured that there is no repetition in the objects identified by the children .
This was the image used to engage students in writing a poem
|Discourse: A language (either spoken or written) beyond the sentence level; relationships and rules that govern the connection and inter-relationship of sentences within communicative texts. It can include conversations, narratives, poem, description, drama and so on.|
4. After responses are elicited from all of the students and they are written on the board,students are asked to come forward and read it aloud to the class.A simple activity like this can be conducted as a whole class activity.
5. Next, they are encouraged to write short,simple sentences using the responses they have already come up with. For this, they are asked to get into groups of 4 or 5. This is so that students will be able to gain assistance from their peers and also come up with individualized responses.
Different activities with children
6. The sentence that is being formed will be an answer to the question – where is the identified object in the picture / what is the object doing? An instance is demonstrated before they begin
" Here is a small duck
Swimming in the pond "
7. While students come up with responses of their own, it is to be made sure that teachers remain mere observers of the activity without offering any help with translating the word or forming the sentences. At the most, they can help by repeating the instructions a few times to students, if necessary. And this too, should not be overdone, as repeated instructions can make the brain lazy and slow down students’ participation in the activity.It is observed that, even students who are not using the language regularly, are able to come up with appropriate responses. They are asked to read these aloud in the class, once they have completed.While writing the sentences, in case the students do not know the English translation of a chosen word, they are encouraged to write the word in their mother tongue using English alphabets.Later, when they read their lines aloud in the class, help is offered to translate these words into English.
8. The above activity-method is repeated until students are able to add two more lines and then subsequently also add another 4-line stanza to form a short poem. This is one among the many approaches to enable students to participate effectively in a writing poems, using a picture.Here are few sample poems that the students had come up with during the workshop:
More Activities Using a Picture
Similar to the previous activity, some other pictures were used to engage students in: picture description, developing dialogues for building coherent conversations, enacting them in class,and in reading a given text.All of these activities, while being introduced in the class, begins as a classroom activity. After students have been able to understand the instructions well, they engage in the activity in groups of 4 or 5. It is ensured that, students are able to individually participate and come up with responses.Students also learn intonation, pronunciation,spelling, punctuation, vocabulary and coherent use of language, this way.
Tips to Teachers
Apart from classroom activities, Dr Anandan discussed in-depth about his pedagogical practices. Some of the common pointers are presented here to help teachers understand the pedagogy better:
- Dr K N Anandan discussing with the teachers.
- An interesting aspect of this pedagogy is that students do not have to respond to anything by memorization. This makes them participate in the activity completely. This pedagogy gives room to teach everything from alphabets to vocabulary to building coherent sentences.
- The contexts are built in the classroom before students engage in any type of activity. Teachers should be very clear while imparting instructions to students and can also translate them in the home language of students, once or twice.
- Students can even come up with responses in their home language, but should be able to find the English translation through peer discussions, and not with the help of the teacher.
- A lot if ideation should be encouraged through probing questions, by the teacher.
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