1 Stimulating students’ interest in reading longer passages in English

Students at secondary level are expected to read many long passages in English, for example plays or passages in the supplementary reader. These are some of the plays and passages from NCERT textbooks for Classes IX and X:

  • The Happy Prince: This is a fairy tale written by the Irish writer Oscar Wilde and published in 1888. The ‘happy prince’ in the story is a statue decorated with gold leaves and precious stones. The prince looks out over a city where many people are suffering. He asks a swallow to take his gold and jewels to help the poor. The swallow agrees, but dies from the cold while doing so. This breaks the prince’s heart. An angel takes the swallow and the prince’s heart to paradise to meet God. (This fairy tale is available in the NCERT textbook Moments: Supplementary Reader in English for Class IX.)
  • The Accidental Tourist: This is an extract from a book by the contemporary American writer, Bill Bryson. The author describes his experiences as a traveller. He writes about humorous things that have happened to him on aeroplanes, such as knocking a drink over the person sitting next to him, or dropping the contents of his bag. (This extract is available in the NCERT textbookMoments: Supplementary Reader in English for Class IX.)
  • The Proposal: This is a play written by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov in 1888–9. Ivan Lomov, a wealthy neighbour of Stephan Chubukov, comes to propose to Stephan’s daughter, Natalya. At the meeting, Ivan and Natalya quarrel about everything and almost forget about the proposal. Natalya agrees to marry, and the quarrelling continues. (This play script is available in the NCERT textbook First Flight: Textbook in English for Class X.)
  • The Hack Driver: This is a short story written by the American writer Sinclair Lewis in 1923. It is about a young lawyer who is looking for a witness in a law case, a man named Oliver Lutkins. He hires a driver and they look all over the town for Lutkins, but can’t find him. In the end, the lawyer discovers that the driver is in fact Lutkins, the man he is looking for. (This story is available in the NCERT textbook Footprints without Feet: Supplementary Reader in English for Class X.)

Pause for thought

Here are some questions for you to think about after trying this activity. If possible, discuss these questions with a colleague.

  • Do you think your students would be interested in these texts? Are they relevant to their lives? Are they familiar with their contexts?
  • How might you make these stories and plays meaningful for students?

Some students will enjoy reading any kind of literary text, but some of these stories and plays may not initially appeal to some students. In some cases even the title (for example, The Hack Driver) may not be understood by students, so they may not feel motivated to read it. A table showing how the texts listed above relate to students’ lives is provided in Resource 1.

Read Case Study 1 to find out how one teacher created a meaningful activity to relate his students’ experiences to the theme of a play in the supplementary reader.

Case Study 1: Komala’s teacher helps Class X to feel more motivated to read a play

Komala is a Class X student. Her teacher recently helped the class to feel more motivated to read The Proposal, a play by the Russian writer, Anton Chekhov.

There was a play at the end of our English textbook. I have to say that I wasn’t looking forward to it very much – it looked very long, and I had no idea what it was about. Before we read the play in class, however, our teacher asked us to think about the last time we attended a wedding. I thought about my cousin’s wedding last December. The teacher asked us about the some of the traditions around how marriage proposals are usually made. A few students gave answers:

Our teacher then asked us if we had ever seen any marriage proposal scenes in films. I couldn’t think of any, but Sikta raised her hand and gave the name of a film: Vivah. Fulki thought of another: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Soon students were saying more, and then I thought of one: Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. That’s one of my favourite films.

After this, our teacher wrote the words ‘The Proposal’ on the blackboard, and asked us if we knew what it meant. We guessed what it meant after our previous discussion. Then our teacher organised us into groups of three. My group had my friend Deepa and another girl, Tanushri. The teacher asked us to imagine a traditional proposal scene in a film, and to think of the people who would be in the scene. He told us to invent names for the characters, and to describe them briefly in English. We wrote the following:

Vinod: The bridegroom. He is a 26-year-old electrical engineer working in a big company in Mumbai.

Raveena: The bride. She is 22 years old and has just finished her graduation in English.

Mr Ashok Nath: Vinod’s grandfather, and the head of the family.

Mr Alok Nath: Vinod’s father, who is a senior government officer.

Mrs Meera Nath: Vinod’s mother, who is a school teacher.

Dr Ramesh Kumar: Raveena’s father, who is a well-known heart specialist.

Mrs Shanti Kumar: Raveena’s mother, who is a housewife.

Then he told us to write a few lines for the scene in English, as if we were writing that part of the film. Deepa, Tanushri and I wrote a scene for two characters: the bride’s father, Dr Ramesh Kumar, and the bridegroom’s grandfather, Mr Ashok Nath. It was a little difficult to write their lines in English, but Tanushri was very good at English and she helped us. We didn’t know the English word for ‘horoscope’ so we raised our hands and asked the teacher, and he told us. This is what we wrote:

Ramesh Kumar:   Namaskar, Ashok Ji! How are you? We heard you have just recovered from viral fever. Are you all right now? You have to be – we need your blessings always!

Ashok Nath:           Namaskar, Dr Sahab. My blessings – may you live a long life! What brings you to our house?

Ramesh Kumar:   As you know, Ashok Ji, our Raveena has completed her graduation, and we would like to find her a groom.

Ashok Nath:           Of course! You have a very intelligent daughter – she will get a good boy!

Ramesh Kumar:   That is why we are here today. We would like to offer our Raveena as a bride for your grandson Vinod.

Ashok Nath:           Hmm … if the boy and the girl are willing, I have no objection! But we will have to match their horoscopes.

When we were ready, our teacher asked two groups to perform some of the proposal scenes. It was funny to watch them. Preeti played the role of the old man Ashok sahib and she made me laugh!

After that, the teacher told us that we were going to read a play called The Proposal. It was about another marriage proposal, but this one was set in Russia many years ago. He asked us what we thought that marriage proposal might be like back then – we had no idea. He told us to look quickly at the play in our textbook, and to see which characters were involved. There were three: a young woman, her father and a man who wanted to marry the woman. I wanted to see if they said anything like what we had written in our scene and if marriage traditions in Russia were different to those in India.

Pause for thought

How did Komala’s teacher create a motivating activity around the Russian play?

In Case Study 1, the teacher asked his students to think about scenes of marriage proposals that they had seen in films, and to write a simple scene in English. This prepared the students for reading The Proposal, and the kind of language that they might find in it. (See the unit Supporting reading for understanding for more about preparing students for a text.) It also helps to relate the play – which is set in Russia in the late nineteenth century – to the experiences and interests of the students.

This idea can be used with any kind of text that your students need to study. You may not be familiar with the writer or the passage. If not, try to find out as much as you can before you teach it (for example, by asking a colleague or finding information on the internet, if you can access it).

Activity 1: Preparing students for reading in English

Choose a text you are going to use in class in the next week. Think about how you will introduce it to your students.

These questions will help you think about how you might relate the text to your students’ lives:

  • Who wrote the passage? Are students familiar with the writer?
  • What is the passage about? Is it about topics that are familiar to your students? Is it set in another (unfamiliar) place?
  • When was the passage written? Are the ideas, values and words used different to those that your students know?

Now plan and teach an activity to introduce your students to the text. You might use drama, role play or a discussion, or relate it to a modern TV drama or song. See Resource 2, ‘Using role play and drama’, for more ideas on how to do this.

Pause for thought

Here are some questions for you to think about after trying this activity. If possible, discuss these questions with a colleague.

  • Do you think that your students were more motivated to read the passage after your introductory activity?
  • Were all students participating? What would you change next time?

What you can learn in this unit

2 Helping students to maintain interest in reading a longer text