Don’t always stick to your lesson plans

Varun Gupta

Lesson plans are extremely important for us teachers. However, we should also know that lesson plans are mere guidelines or outlines of what we would like to achieve in a certain class. Therefore, while it is necessary to have a lesson plan on hand, a teacher should never feel obliged to follow it to the last letter. A teacher should be able to adapt and change his/her lesson plan according to the classroom environment and engagement. Here, I would like to narrate two instances when my classes did not go as per my plan, but taking the lead from my students, I followed a different path and these classes turned out to be far more rewarding both for me and my students.

 When water changed course

I was teaching a combined group of students from classes 4 and 5 a lesson on water. I was talking to them about water as a resource and how it reaches their homes and surroundings. My plan was to ask them questions at the end of the chapter and draw out their thoughts about this important resource. Just then one student asked me a question, “Sir – Why do human beings pollute water in spite of being intelligent?” This was a sudden and unexpected moment, but I decided to use it as an anchor to steer the lesson to its ultimate objective. I asked the other students to respond to their classmate.

Student responses

Child 1: Human beings pollute water because humans are self-centered. Humans ignore the fact that if they pollute water, they themselves will become ill and suffer in the end.

Child 2: Human beings don’t know that the river is also a living thing. We shouldn’t throw waste in the river, for if we do the river will give us bad water.

Child 3: Humans pollute the river because they think that the water we use and drink comes from the rain and taps. They are not aware that water also comes from the river, so they pollute the river.

Child 4: People think that whatever has to happen will happen and that we can tackle it at the time we absolutely have to. That’s why they keep polluting the river water. Later they will realize that due to their irresponsible actions birds and animals are dying and they themselves are falling sick.

Their responses helped me realize that these students were conscious about the environment and knew what the consequences of such irresponsible actions would be. I took the discussion further and asked them if they thought the river was a living thing. Many students replied instantly – yes. They said, “We worship water/river in our festivals, like ‘Chhat’ and we also address rivers as mother. Ganga maiyaa, for instance.” I used this opportunity to discuss with the students, the Indian beliefs and philosophy of treating nature as mother and the deep respect we have for the building blocks of life – water, fire and air. Just then a child asked about the practice of scattering the ashes of a loved one after cremation into water. This lead to a discussion about different religious beliefs and practices. 

The students also spoke about what they have observed in their communities. People mindlessly argue, get into a scuffle while waiting in queues to fill their pots near the community water tap. And many times, busy in their quarrel, people forget that the pot has filled up, allowing water to spill out, wasting it and leaving many other people without water. A few students talked about how village ponds are used by buffaloes to bathe, by women to wash clothes, and by villagers as a place to dump waste. I was pleasantly surprised to see how my students were well aware of the impact of these activities not only on human beings but on animals and birds as well.

What animals can teach us

This next incident happened during a read aloud session. The story we were reading was happening in a jungle. Once up on a time, due to lack of rain there was scarcity of drinking water. There remained only one lake with water in the jungle. Not all animals were able to drink water from this lake due to the presence of a crocodile. The animals were in a quandary.

My plan for this class was to ask a few questions related to the story. And so I began. How could the animals solve this problem? 

Student responses

Child 1: All the animals could dig a tunnel from the lake and divert some water to a safer place.

Child 2: Use bamboo as a long straw to drink from.

Child 3: All the animals could jointly fight the crocodile and defeat him.

Child 4: Force the crocodile to go to another jungle.

Child 5: Small animals could go to any other place, where there was abundant water.

Child 6: The lion as the king could order the crocodile.

Child 7: In the night, when the crocodile was asleep, the animals could drink the water.

Child 8: The animals could form two teams to fool the crocodile; the teams could stand on either side of the lake and while one team lures the crocodile, the other could drink the water.

Just then a small girl suggested, “Why not talk to the crocodile? We can talk to him and make him our friend so that he does not kill other animals.”

I was delightfully surprised to see the beauty of the child’s innocence and her belief in the ability to solve any problem in harmony.

Other children recalled – “Last year during our visit to the zoo we learnt that animals and birds do not fight without a reason. They eat only as much as they need to and do not kill unnecessarily. They live with each other like a society in the jungle.” They also mentioned, “We humans, who keep fighting about even the smallest things, should learn this one thing from animals.”

Then one child asked – “So then why is this crocodile bothering and killing other animals if he is not so hungry?” “Is he always very hungry?”

Another child asked –“If the crocodile were not to kill other animals, what would he eat? He doesn’t eat grass or plants.”

Also, one commented – “But the crocodile can eat fish in lake, there would be a lot of fish.”

It was good to have this spontaneous discussion – there were facts being presented, arguments raised and reasoned out. This ultimately is the aim of reading a story, helping children connect with the real world, rationalize, analyze and think. Although this was not how I had envisaged my class that day, I think I managed to achieve the result I wanted to.

The author is an educator with four years of experience in a primary school. He did his Post Graduate diploma in Learning and Teaching with IAAT (I Am A Teacher, Gurgaon) in 2016-17. He received language mentoring by Sonika Kaushik (ex NCERT consultant) also in 2016-17. He can be reached at [email protected]

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