1 Finding stories to use

As you plan your lessons you may often think how you might introduce a new topic. If your next topic is related to pollution in the local environment, you might want to look at the state of the water in the river or investigate what litter can be found there. But a traditional tale, or a specially written story or poem about a river, stream or ditch, could act as the initial stimulus for investigative work into contamination of the local water supply.

Starting with your students’ own experiences is important – especially with younger students, as they do not have as much experience of life in the wider world. Using experiences or strategies that your students cannot relate to their immediate environment will make it harder for them to make sense of the information. If, however, you use something that is local and relevant to them, you will have better success. Resource 1, ‘Using local resources’, suggests ways that you can use local resources; it also explores some issues you need to consider as you set up different experiences for students to stimulate their interest in a science topic. Most students are ready to share their experiences, which will not only give them confidence but will also tell you what they already know so that you can plan to extend their ideas rather than teach material they already know.

The skill of using a variety of stimuli in your lessons relates directly to your own disposition, personality and enthusiasm, and is strongly linked to your responsibility to do the best for your students to help them learn well. Your perception of your students plays a vital role in helping them focus, sustain and direct their attention towards the desired learning objectives. This makes teaching much more productive, efficient and interesting for you as you take into account the different interests, abilities and ways of learning for each student.

The following case study describes how one teacher uses poems in a dramatic and creative way to involve her students and to gain their full attention at the start of her lesson about trees.

Case Study 1: Introducing trees

Miss Singh, a new teacher to the school, is working in Mahdyar Pradesh with students in Class III. She has asked all the children to bring a picture of a tree or to make a drawing of a tree and bring it to class. She has made a model of a tree, using branches and leaves she has collected, and set it in a pot as her contribution. She also wears a salwaar kameez with a green tunic, and brown leggings to act as the trunk of the tree. Read how she explains what she did next and how her students responded.

At the start of the lesson I carried my model tree into the room and placed it on the table and stood by the table. The students were really interested and suggested it might be a mango tree because of the leaves I had used and the fruits I attached.

As I entered the classroom some students also commented on my outfit, with such statements as, ‘Oh you look good, Miss Singh’ and ‘You have tree colours on’. I was pleased that they recognised what I was trying to do. They also liked the tree model a lot and commented that it was like their pictures. I thanked them and then asked all those who had pictures to bring them out and place them on the wall around the model. Next I called them to sit and listen while I read them a poem about a tree. [See Resource 2 to see the poem and picture.]

After reading the poem, and having asked if they liked the poems, I began to question them about trees as we looked at the ‘wood’ we had created around my model tree.

We discussed what you could get from a tree, and here is some of the script of our talk to show how much the students wanted to be involved.

I asked: ‘What do you get from a tree?’

They replied: ‘Squash, mango, gerandel, fhal, kati ramro phul, chaya ho miss, kath deye miss wood wood …’

I said: ‘That’s great, indeed, but do you think squash grows on a tall tree? [I used actions as well for tall.] What is gerandel? Will you get it for me tomorrow?’

Some students responded together: ‘Yes, miss, mero gharma gerandel ko per ho?’

I asked: ‘Do you mean to say you have a gerandal tree at home?’

The student replied: ‘Yes, miss.’

I ask: ‘What does “kati ramrod phul” mean?’

A girl comes out and shows a flower on my dress saying how beautiful it is.

I repeat: ‘“Kati ramro phul”, “How beautiful are flowers”; “ramrod phul”, “beautiful flowers”, is that right?’

Another student (keeps repeating): ‘Kath, gur …’

I ask her: ‘What is “kath” and what is “gur”?’

The child points at the desk and says: ‘This is made of wood, kith is wood. I will bring gur tomorrow; it is very sweet to eat. At my grandfather’s house, there is a big, big bowl to make “gur”. So many people come in morning with “ras”. It is like sweet water, miss, from the khejur tree. They boil “ras” and make “gur”.’

I say: ‘So “gur” must be jaggery. Do bring some for us tomorrow.’

The child says she will.

After the lesson I reflected how delighted I was at their responses and I have learned as much about trees from them and how they use them, as they did. I looked at their ideas on the board and realised how difficult it was to stop them talking as they were so motivated and enthusiastic and wanted to talk about their own experiences.

I was very pleased with the range of ideas they proffered and their genuine interest in the topic. It was a fun lesson for them and for me, and they left the class busily talking about their trees.

My next lesson will use the objects they bring in to start looking closely at the structure of the different leaves and fruits so that we will be able to recognise them in the local area.

Pause for thought

  • How did the poem and picture stimulate the students? Were more students involved?
  • Have you tried such activities yourself? If so, how did your students react?
  • Have you continued to use such an approach? If so, why? If not, why not?

The poem and drawings here, as well as the teacher’s model, all stimulated many ideas in the students’ minds about trees and they were able to explore how trees can help people, from food to wood. The first activity is simple in some ways but needs you to read and select carefully so that it stimulates your students and matches their level of understanding.

Activity 1: Finding a poem or story

Think about some of your favourite stories, either written tales or fables told by experienced storytellers. Could you use any of these stories when exploring the environment with your students?

Look through any books you may have of stories for younger students and select any that might help you introduce a topic or issue about the environment.

List the stories that you know and could tell, and the books that you have access to and could use in science lessons. If you have access to the internet, you could look for stories and poems online that you could use as a stimulus to start off a lesson.

This will take time and is something that could be ongoing, as new books and stories are always being printed and told. This will build up a resource for you to help you plan interesting lessons for your class.

Pause for thought

Did you enjoy this task? If you enjoyed collecting stories you can imagine how much your students would like to listen to some of these stories and the impact this will have on their motivation.

How can you insert more stories into the curriculum that you teach?

Video: Using local resources

Your resource of stories and poems could stretch across other science topics as well and help you to stimulate interest in those topics too. There are some stories in the textbooks too. You could share the resource from Activity 1 with other teachers and if you find out their favourite stories you could add them to your resource file.

Why this approach is important

2 Using poems and stories