Children acquire their first language without the fear of making mistakes. On the other hand, second language learners are always conscious about learning a second language as they have already developed concepts related to their first language. In such situations I find that using literary text, in ESL classrooms, is a highly effective way to keep students engaged and motivated which results in making learning less painful and more fun.
Literary text can be used in an ESL classroom either in the form of a short story or even as song lyrics. Both of these forms can be explored in order to enhance students’ listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in the second language. Short stories provide students with an opportunity to gather information by reading fewer words. Short stories can be read in one go, so many short stories can be shared and explored during a taught course. Students can also find elements of interest in short stories which keep them motivated to read. Similarly, song lyrics have a beautiful rhythm which keeps the readers charmed and involved in the text. It is poetry with an edge. Exploring song lyrics provides teachers with wonderful opportunities to integrate pronunciation, rhythm, rhyme scheme and stress patterns through listening and speaking. In addition, they also help second language learners become familiar with slang words, English expressions and idioms in interesting and entertaining ways.
I get these recurring queries from teachers: “How do I improve English vocabulary?” and “How do I improve written expression?” and also “How do I help my students become more proficient in English?” Well, to be very honest, there is no sure-fire way to achieve these ambitions. However, I find that exposure to literature can definitely make this journey for both the student and the teacher relatively easier. How do I know this? I strongly believe that literature has an enormous impact on students’ lives and on their learning. Exploring children’s literature provides exposure to the target language in a natural context, which broadens students’ vision as they dive into the depths of reading. So, I always have my students begin with reading children’s literature. It not only leaves a positive impact on students’ attitudes, but also improves the writing ability of the learners. Literature arouses imagination, is a source of enjoyment and facilitates understanding of one’s ‘self’ and others (Raphael, 2000). Furthermore, literature has a variety of expressions set in contexts, which facilitates vocabulary development as well as exposing the reader to written expression.
Depending on students’ interest, various genres can be selected, though you need to start with what your students are interested in. For example, you can start with ‘The Famous Five’ or ‘Secret Seven’. What about the Harry Potter series, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and Ink Heart? My reason for choosing these in particular is that all of these are series. Once introduced to the students, I have found that the they become eager to read more, to ‘read the next book’, which generates an interest in reading and, as a consequence, the continued exposure eventually enriches their vocabulary and supports the development of their written expression. Classics like ‘Animal Farm’, ‘Charlotte’s Web’, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ should also be added to my list of ‘must reads’.
I believe presentations play a very important role for developing students’ communication skills.
In my opinion, presentations are an extraordinary approach to have learners achieve the linguistic competence (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, syntax) and sociolinguistic competence (when, where and how to use the target language) needed for effective communication.
Students’ presentations are helpful for them in the following ways:
• Presentations help the learners to communicate better in every field of life. I also observed that the students who are good ‘presenters’, are better communicators as well. They are capable of structuring and expressing their thoughts clearly.
• Presentations offer a channel for students to impart to others what they have comprehended. It is additionally an opportunity to test and develop their own understanding.
• Presentations provide learners with an opportunity to be independent.
Teaching Handwriting Skills to Young Learners
Throughout my teaching career, I never once considered that teaching handwriting skills to young learners would be difficult. The first time I realised how difficult it was to teach young learners to write was when I got my three year old son admitted into a school. He enjoyed his school but when it came to writing, he was not willing even to hold a pencil.
I searched the internet to find what I could do but nothing worked for him. Then I bought him a writing board and coloured chalks. He showed little interest and started scribbling but still that did not help much. One day while I was busy doing something else I saw him scribbling and doodling on his story book. That gave me an idea to use colouring sheets instead of making him trace letters or shapes.
At first, I gave him coloring sheets which had his favourite cartoon characters, which produced amazing results. He not only started holding coloured pencils and crayons properly but also ended up spending all his free time in colouring different sheets (at times 12 to 15 per day). Later he sat with me to search for the colouring sheets of his choice. Within no time he began to trace and write letters of the alphabet, numbers and now he can draw some of his favourite cartoon characters and animals as well.
A closer analysis of the sheets he coloured, helped me to identify why he could do it so quickly. Have a look at some of his colouring sheets; he uses various stokes (horizontal, vertical, round etc.) to colour. He rarely uses a single colour; he always prefers multiple colours, always of his own choice. A variety of strokes, while colouring, strengthened his grip and helped him to trace and write properly.