Windows to the world

Manaswini Sridhar

I teach both geography and English to class 4 and class 5 students. Our school is a part of the Newspaper in Education (NIE) initiative. I am a bit puzzled about how to make these classes of 45 minutes stimulating and thought-provoking.Our school subscribes to The Hindu most of the time. Sometimes we also get The Times of India. All class teachers handle at least one NIE class per week. My experience is that most students don’t even have a fleeting look at the headlines because they think it is boring to gaze at the small print or stare blankly at pictures that they cannot relate to. I have witnessed teachers compelling students to read an article and then wring it dry by asking as many wh-questions as possible. Students make no attempts to stifle their yawns while the teacher valiantly continues to beat the article to death! Could you suggest some attention-holding and rewarding activities where I feel I have not wasted an entire class?

pencil-stand Most children think that newspapers offer only drab pieces of information that are of significance exclusively to adults. They find it wearisome to read because they are not able to assimilate so much information about something or someone they seem to have no connection with. As teachers, we can hope that by involving them in various activities, they will appreciate the fact that newspapers are windows to the world and will help broaden their knowledge of this world. In order to give a concrete idea of how to link activities to an article, I am basing the activities mentioned here on the Nelson Mandela article from The Hinduhttp://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world/nelson-mandela-the-liberator-of-south-africa/article5428793.ece?ref=relatedNews

Materials and aids
Whiteboard, The Hindu, a dictionary for each student, paper, and pencil.

Many singers have been inspired by Mandela and have paid musical tributes to him even during his lifetime. It would be a value addition if it were possible to play some of these songs softly in the background as the students read about this great personality. Many of the songs can be found on YouTube.

Setting
Students sit in groups of four or five around a table; the groups are heterogeneous in nature. This kind of group work helps them learn from one another. (2 minutes)

Procedure
Teacher asks if anyone knows any details about Mandela’s life; writes the information given by the students on the board (3-4 minutes). At the end of the lesson, teacher compares the (limited) knowledge they had earlier with what they now know about the person and his country.

Students read the article together as a group and assist one another, underlying words that they do not know the meanings of. Students then look up these words with the help of the dictionary. Each student looks up different words so that they can exchange the information and make the exercise quicker. This would also ensure that everyone in the group participates.

Students re-read the article to have a better understanding of the content. Teacher circulates around the groups, answering questions.

Teacher distributes the following worksheet to each group. Each group gets one worksheet so that they all learn to work together. Teacher monitors to see that all the students are contributing towards the exercise. (20 minutes)

square-boxex A. Write what you think are the important dates in Mandela’s life in the small squares in chronological order. Write the event it refers to in the big square next to it.

Each group can attribute reasons as to why they chose these dates against the all the others given in the article. This will enable them to do some critical analysis.

B. Definition of apartheid

C. Examples of apartheid in South Africa
i)
ii)
iii)
iv)

These three questions will sum up the article for students of this age. (15 minutes)

It is important that students continue to think about their reading over a period of time. In order to warrant that this happens, the teacher could have the students do the activities below in the next class.

For the next class
Each group makes a presentation about the article answering the questions: a) Who is being talked about? b) Why is he being talked about? c) What happened? d) Where did it happen? e) When did it happen? f) What was the result? For purposes of variety and in order to use integrated skills, the presentation could be varied.

Group A could write and sing a song about Mandela based on the facts given in the article.
Group B could make a formal oral presentation or a Power Point Presentation.
Group C could role play a dialogue between a newspaper/TV reporter and Mandela. The questions could relate to the information given in the article or something else that happened in Mandela’s life.
Group D could make illustrations of Mandela’s life in the form of cartoons/pictures/photos.

These different activities will ensure that students have a varied experience of the same information and there is no monotony.

As an extension of the activity, students could work together as a class and take a print out of the map of South Africa and compare the number of states it has to that of India, compare the population, the languages spoken there, the currency, etc. A tabular column such as this could be put up on the notice board:

Country Capital Population Language Currency Flag Well-known political figures Actors/Artists
South Africa
India

The columns could be even more extended. Students could also find out what the national sport is, the national bird or animal, a well-known tourist attraction of the country, the national airlines, famous sports personalities, the national sport, people who may have won international prizes, the country’s prized industry or mineral… the list is endless. Students should be encouraged to have pictorial representations of their information (drawing or picture of the flag, artists, etc.) since this is what will help them retain information. Students could play the national anthem of South Africa on their guitar or on their keyboard even if they can’t sing it. A plethora of activities will help students immerse themselves in the information.

paper-reading Teachers could also organize a rapid fire quiz after dividing the class into teams; the quiz could be related to the different sections of the newspaper. Questions could be: 1. I am looking for a job. Which section do I turn to? 2. I want to entertain someone for dinner. Which section do I turn to and which restaurant would I choose if I was looking at reasonably priced vegetarian food? 3. What is the temperature today? 4. What are some of the advertisements your parents wouldn’t have come across when they were young? 5. Who is the famous star that got into trouble? 6. Which company is in the news today? What kind of company is it? 7. What scientific discovery was made? Who made it and in which country? 8. It’s going to be a long weekend. What are some of the films I could watch or places I could visit? Such quizzes will sustain the interest level of students for longer stretches of time.

Conversely, each group could pose similar questions to the other groups. This would be a test of their reading skills and their questioning ability. The options are numerous… as an educator we only have to ensure that we are offering our students a combination of activities so that they develop different kinds of skills while getting used to reading the newspaper! What we must not do is to use the newspaper for rote learning once again; we should use it as an aid to give them education, which is what NIE is all about.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Hyderabad. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.