The invisible route to language

Vatsala Hegde

Teaching for me has always been a passion. I started my career in Hiranandani Foundation School, Powai and now for the last 20 years I have been teaching at J H Ambani School, now known as Reliance Foundation School (EM), Lodhivali in Raigad district.

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The school is located in a rural area where we cater to children from varied backgrounds. So teaching them English has always been a challenge and a wonderful experience.

I would like to share some of my best practices which have helped the children learn not just the language but also values for life.

In class 1 when I was the class teacher, the children were hesitant to speak in English. I decided then to follow the invisible curriculum, i.e., not based on lesson plans, but everyday teaching practices which blend with the curriculum. The practice has been to teach them poems and rhymes not found in the syllabus. These rhymes were taught with actions. The actions invariably helped in developing their vocabulary without me having to teach them the meanings, for example words such as heavy, little, pick, carry, etc., are learnt in their own fun way proving right Howard Gardner’s kinaesthetic intelligence.

Skits are another way to improve spoken skills. I prepare short dialogues where children enact roles highlighting concepts like cleanliness, use of magic words and so on. Vocabulary development that takes place with songs, rhymes and skits in the early years (i.e., till seven years) is much more than what can be learnt from textbooks. When children come across these words in their books they are able to relate to them easily.

Another practice I have been using is to give instructions in English without translating to their mother tongue or Hindi, for example, if they need to form a line to go for the physical education period, I ask them to come out and form a line. At the same time I use words like ‘short boy’, ‘shortest girl’,’tallest boy’, ‘stand here’ come behind’,’come between’, ‘go infront’ by physically holding their hands and making them stand. After a few weeks, the children themselves start using these words.

Teaching can go beyond textbooks. There are various such practices I use, such as asking children to distribute the workbooks of their friends and while doing so, make them use phonics and blended words which at times they guess but later at the end of the session they are able to read the names of their friends on the label.

Another thing which is close to my heart is to initiate a love for reading books other than their textbooks. I have motivated children by getting books like Amar Chitra Katha to class to take them on a journey through mythology, history, and other regional stories of India. Mind you, it’s a tough task nowadays in this digital age but there a few students who come back to me to show their collection of books. STAR PERIOD (Stop Take A book and Read) has been started in our school once a month with the initiative of our school librarian and me, where children, teachers and the non-teaching staff bring reading material from home. When a bell rings, they stop their work and start reading. It’s a small step to bring back the reading habit.

I was the pre-primary coordinator for seven years. During this time I introduced the concept of integrated learning. In integrating subjects in preschool, learning becomes easier. If we are teaching shapes, for instance, a rectangle, we integrate it with the number four by highlighting the four sides. With the alphabet, instead of teaching D for Dog, we relate it to ‘D’ for door revising the shapes with craft activity. All these activities take place with lot of conversation and even concepts such as open – close (door), big sides – small sides (rectangle), are taught. A lot of learning and concept building can be done in informal ways in the classroom which children enjoy.

I have always believed that children learn using their head, hand and heart and it is for us teachers to provide them the opportunities.

The author is an educator who firmly believes that education is not bounded within the four walls of the classroom. She is now the primary coordinator at Reliance Foundation School, Lodhivali. She can be reached at

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