3 Bringing a textbook lesson to life

Language learning is more effective, and memorable, when students can use the language they learn in real-life situations. In the next case study, the teacher goes outside the classroom to help students experience and practise English.

Case Study 4: Mrs Suresh brings a textbook lesson to life

Mrs Suresh teaches English in Class VI in a regional medium school in a deprived locality of Bangalore.

The lesson in the English textbook was on transport. I started by asking the students to list names of vehicles that they know in English. They did this without any problems. The board was filled with the names of a variety of vehicles, including brand names of cars and motorcycles.

I soon learned that only two students had ever travelled on a train, and that none of them had travelled in the recently commissioned Metro. I felt this was unfortunate, since the Metro tracks run right in front of the school building and students see it every day.

I proposed to the headmistress that the school should take the students for a ride in the Metro. The headmistress gained permission for the trip and funding for the tickets from the Block Education Officer.

The week before the journey, I prepared the students with a series of language activities:

  • reading bilingual pamphlets in Kannada and in English, listing ‘dos and don’ts’ while travelling on the Metro
  • teaching them how to ask for a ticket at the counter in Kannada and in English
  • having them practise in English what they might say to fellow passengers, such as ‘Good afternoon’ and ‘This is my class’.

I took 32 very excited students for their first ride on the Metro, accompanied by another teacher. The normally boisterous students were on their best behaviour. They tried hard to use what I had taught them in the English lessons:

  • to ask at the ticket counter for a ticket, and the price
  • to say ‘thank you’ to the ticket seller and the guard on duty
  • to read the billboards on the platform
  • to listen to the station announcements in Kannada and in English
  • to say ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ to other passengers.

The journey lasted less than an hour but it was a memorable experience.

I felt the trip was well worth the effort that went into organising it, and the amount of English that the students learned exceeded my expectations. The textbook lesson on transport became more relevant.

The journey changed the way that I teach English. Before I teach any lesson from the English textbook, I now look for ways to prepare students for the topic by giving them a personal experience where they can practise reading, speaking and listening to English.

Pause for thought

  • On this trip, the students learned English for different purposes. Can you name some of these purposes?
  • If you cannot take your class to a Metro station, how could you create these same language activities in the classroom?

Role play and drama are effective ways to practise language for specific purposes. In the example of the Metro, students can take on the roles of ticket sellers, conductors, passengers and shopkeepers. Metro posters, announcements, pamphlets and tickets can be made in English. The classroom can become a Metro station for a day, with students making imaginary journeys between lessons and practising their English for travelling as they go!

Video: Using questioning to promote thinking

Activity 3: Bring a textbook lesson to life − a planning activity

You can explore real-life connections for your students in every English textbook unit. For example, a unit in a Class IV language textbook is about ‘Going to Buy a Book’. This topic immediately prompts a number of questions and potential activities:

  • Who has been to a bookshop, or to a library? What did you see there?
  • Would you see other reading materials in English besides books?
  • What English words and sentences do we hear in a bookshop or library?
  • What English signs and labels would we read?
  • How would we speak politely to people in these places?
  • What questions would we ask?
  • What information would we find?
  • Can we make a library or bookshop in our classroom?
  • Can we invite someone from a local bookshop or library to talk to the class?

Now turn to the next lesson in your own language textbook.

With a colleague (if possible), think of questions and potential activities – even if you can’t do these activities right away.

List your ideas. Could you try out one of these ideas together? What would you need to do to make it a success?