Words from my world

Sheela Ramakrishnan

If a child can apply what he/she has learnt in daily life, then we can claim that teaching or educating has been effective. In that sense we can say that all learning is from life for life.

The backbone of all human interaction is language; language is also the link to comprehending and transferring knowledge from the abstract to the concrete. Take away language from our learning process and we are left with a big void. Be it math, science, social studies, physical education, craft, music or any branch of knowledge, the common thread that binds them together is language. To use an easy analogy, if each knowledge discipline is a pearl bead, then the string that keeps it together so that it can become a necklace is language. Without language, the bead cannot completely string itself .

No wonder then, that inadequate language development can affect comprehension of a word problem in math, dilute understanding of a scientific concept, and cause serious gaps in the learning of social studies. This may not be because the child is not capable of understanding the concepts, but because the child does not have adequate language skills to comprehend or express ideas.

The importance of language learning is therefore not just the responsibility of the language teacher, but of all teachers. Providing adequate opportunities to express ideas and using grade level appropriate vocabulary are vital aspects that are often ignored.

The level of language and vocabulary used in the subject course materials are sometimes vastly different and at variance. Textbooks do not take into account this difference in vocabulary. Therefore, the only solution is to build strong language skills in the children.

Since learning is from life for life, language learning ought to be natural and related to the child’s environment. The more contextualised the learning is to the child’s surroundings and related to the familiar, the more meaningful it becomes. An educator ideally ought to focus on ways to use the environment effectively as a stimulus for language learning.

Given below is a template of a tried out approach, “Language Around Me” using the environment as a stimulus leading to language development. The steps are based on accepted pedagogical rationales as follows:

  1. Known to unknown
  2. Simple to complex
  3. Listening, speaking, reading writing sequence in language learning.
  4. Multi sensorial approach
  5. Multiple Intelligence theory
  6. Varied learning styles of learners

The materials needed are simple and easily available:

  • Chart paper sheets or computers, if available
  • Thick marker pens in different colours
  • Flash cards – 6 x 4 size
  • Pastel or crayon colours for children
  • String, clip, or hook to hang the chart paper
  • Flash card holders

Steps:
Headstart: Take any object, event, newspaper clipping, or a picture of person that the child may be familiar with. This becomes the starting point to initiate a conversation and then go on to the next step.

Spin a yarn: Using the headstart object as stimulus, create the first sentence of the story if the children are young, or let the students build a story with each one contributing one sentence and adding to the story as they go along. If the class is large, then divide the children into groups, and let each group add a sentence or two. Explain that every story has a beginning, a body, a climax and an ending.

Word by word: Transfer each sentence of the story as it is being built on to a PowerPoint slide, the blackboard, or a chart paper making use of large font sizes. Let children repeat the sentence, then read, and move on to the next sentence. In case the story is being done as a PPT or is being written on the board, then ensure that it is transferred on to paper, so that the story becomes an addition to the class library.

Artist’s time: In groups, let the students picturise the story. The idea here is not to test their drawing skills, but to give them an opportunity to express themselves creatively, while at the same time, getting your story sequence flash cards ready! Let each group or pair picturise a sentence.

Let’s act: Since the children have composed the story themselves, it is easy for them to remember it and they will be able to enact it without much difficulty. Let groups of children enact the story so that all of them get a turn. This also ensures familiarity with the words and sentences in the story and aids comprehension.

We are authors: Now let the children copy the story into their books. They can do the illustrations as homework. You can opt to make one “book” of each story, or have a collection of stories in the same book. This also doubles up as a reading resource.

Let’s learn: Now give out another set of flash cards and let each child neatly copy single words of the story on to the flash cards. Use these word cards and illustrations developed by the children as teaching aids to move into learning more about the language using the following sample games. You can create more of your own depending on your class level.

Language activities:

  • Ask the children to frame new sentences with the words they have learnt.
  • Make crossword puzzles with pictures.
  • Let the children generate new words using the words in the book. These could be rhyming words, new words with the same beginning and ending sounds, opposites, number and gender.
  • Skimming and scanning is an important reading skill, so ask the children to locate words with a particular sound or find sentences for a particular meaning. This will encourage them to use the reader (the book that the children created) with a clear task in mind.
  • Make ribbons about 2 inches wide, long enough to fit one sentence each from the reader. The words must be written in large font, in bright colours. Make at least 3 sets depending on the class size. Ask some of the senior children in the school to help. This could be part of their SUPW activity. Divide the children into as many groups as there are sentences. Shuffle the ribbons. Give each group a set. Play a game to see which group finishes sequencing the story together first. The game can also be played with individual word cards of the sentences in the story.

During reading activities
These are activities not directly connected with reading, but make reading more enjoyable.
Book covers: Divide the class into groups. Give each group a chart paper. Let them make a book cover for their story. Put up the children’s work.

Bookmarks: Cut the chart paper into strips of 2 inches x 8 inches long. Let the children draw and colour their favourite character or picture or write a line from the story on the strip. Show them how to use these as bookmarks to preserve their storybooks and prevent them from getting dog eared.

New titles: Ask the children to give their story a new title. Let the children use the theme of the story to create a new ending.

Scrambled story: Pick out all the key words from the story. Using the key words, ask the children to make up a new story. Use one or two key words in one sentence. Let the children use them to enact the story using their own sentences as dialogues.

Role play: This is a good opportunity to make masks and puppets with the children’s drawings. If your children are very young, then ask the senior children to help as part of their art class. If you are in a multigrade classroom, let the older ones help.

After reading activities:
A new tale: Put up the pictures that the children have drawn in the class. Ask the children to reconstruct the story. Write each sentence in big font on the chart paper. Each sentence should be in a new line and in a different colour. Use this chart for group reading.

A new story: Ask the children to make up a new story with the same set of pictures. Write down the story using a large size font. Display both the stories and ask children to spot the differences in words and sentences.

Learning is fun: Pick up threads from the story that link naturally with other subjects in the curriculum. For e.g., stories on animals can easily generate a discussion on their eating habits, homes and young ones, thereby covering topics in EVS. Stories about the rain or trees can be linked with science.

Box the Twins!: This activity is meant for the advanced reader. Ask the children to look for words with a particular pattern of letters. In English, this can be done for words with double letters. The teacher can look for patterns based on the language being taught. Children learn how to do selective reading during this process. The teacher can then dictate the words while the children not only write down the words but also draw a “box” around the double letters in the words.

Variations of the above activity can be done by asking children to look for specific letters and their combinations in the readers. For e.g., words with ph or gh, tion, etc.

Understanding blends!
Gaining adequate mastery over the use of the matras is a challenging task. Children need plenty of activities to gain proficiency.

Material needed: flash cards of letters, the root vowel and the appropriate “matra”. Ask the children to match the letter with the appropriate matra and the root vowel.

  • They can also be asked to identify words with a particular matra in the reader.
  • The children could be asked to make rhyming words. Now let them write down the word and observe the formation of the letter and its matra. Also let them draw a picture of the new word.

The above activities and sequences are only suggestive, and are not exhaustive or prescriptive. They are only guidelines. It is certain that you will come up with a lot more as you start implementing the ‘Language Around Me’ approach. It is left to the discretion of the teacher to decide the appropriate activity for requirements in multigrade and multilevel classrooms. The benefits of this approach are not difficult to see. There is a direct link to the use of the language and the child’s environment, thereby making learning a meaningful activity. There is ample scope for the engagement of the teacher and the taught and also among the student’s peers. The material for language learning is created by the students and used for them. Therefore there is a huge sense of ownership. It promotes cooperative learning. There is ample scope for evaluation of not only content, but also skills. It also stimulates creative thinking and imagination along with developing logical thinking skills. It is easy to build a class library resource using the stories made by the children. They can be put together and the books can be exchanged amongst classes to create your own readers with authors amongst your own students! Can one ask for anything more?!

Enjoy implementing! And perhaps Teacher Plus can publish some of the stories produced by your children!

The author is a partner at Edcraft, Hyderabad, a firm engaged in making teaching-learning materials, conducting workshops and providing consultancy services. She can be reached at edcraft94@gmail.com.