2 Using poems and stories

The next case study shows how one teacher uses a special storyteller in her class. Read it and think how you could do something similar, perhaps more simply but with the same impact on your students.

Case Study 2: Singing a story

Miss Amita is a teacher at a government school at Jodhpur, Rajasthan. She belongs to the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan and is planning a lesson for her class on the conservation of trees. Here she describes how, after a visit to a local festival, she decides on an exciting way to introduce her students to the topic of conservation of trees.

I was at the Marwar Festival (held in the first week of October) when I met Mangilal Mistry, an artisan and folklore singer from Udaipur (another city of Rajasthan). Mangilal had a man-sized ‘Kaavad’ [portable wooden temple or shrine], which had colourful illustrations of the historic event in which the Bishnois laid down their lives to save the trees of their village.

I watched his performance and decided to ask if he could visit our school to sing the ballad and narrate the story about the Bishnoi act of valour to our students to introduce my new topic. He was very interested and I said I would arrange all the permissions needed to allow him to visit. [See Resource 3 about organising visits and visitors.] Next day I met the Principal and convinced her about the performance and how it would be beneficial for raising awareness among all the students.

On the day of his visit, Mangilal Mistry arrived early so he could fit in two performances with both the younger and older students. He had his beautiful Kaavad, a large red box with brightly painted pictures, to help him [Figure 1].

Figure 1 Mangilal Mistry with one of his Kaavad.

Mangilal started by asking students about their ideas about the importance of trees to their local community and, as the responses poured in, he started singing out the story of the Bishnois. As he told the story, Mangilal opened each door of the Kaavad with their dramatic scenes, helping the story to progress.

The story had the students engrossed and questions poured in from students as he spoke. As Mangilal continued, he interspersed his storytelling with questions about trees. He asked, ‘What would life be like without trees? Can you live without them? Should we try to save them? If so, how?’ The students responded and agreed the following statements.

The students’ responses were passionate as they said:

  • by hugging them
  • by stopping people from cutting them down
  • we must plant more trees
  • each one of us will take the responsibility of one tree in our village
  • not allow anyone to harm them.

I thanked Mangilal for his storytelling and invited him to join in the next part of the lesson. The ensuing discussion was lively as students explored their ideas further. Mangilal and I responded and asked more open-ended questions to encourage them to think about some of the problems we might have in protecting the trees.

I wrote their ideas on the board and, at the end of the lesson, after asking the students to give a vote of thanks to Mangilal for his wonderful storytelling, I asked them to think about how we can prioritise what we can do and tell them that we will talk next lesson. They left the classroom slowly for their break but many students went to look at the Kaavad more closely and talk with Mangilal.

Activity 2: Using a poem or story

This activity asks you to teach a lesson using a story or a poem about the environment. Use the story or poem to introduce a new topic or lesson to gain your students’ interest and to stimulate their ideas about an environmental issue. Read Resource 4 for possible ways to do this.

  • Decide what topic you are going to introduce, e.g. river pollution or the problem of litter, healthy drinking water, saving trees or the impact of traffic on local indigenous plants.
  • What do you want the students to learn? Brief any visitor or storyteller about this so they can support you.
  • Having chosen the topic, pick a suitable story or poem you could read from the resource you made in Activity 1. Is there a local tale you could tell to help set the scene for your topic? You may want to make up and tell your own story so that you can set the scene more specifically. Perhaps you could use a local storyteller whom you have briefed about the kind of story you want. Another approach you could use is to invite a local environmentalist to come in to talk about a local issue such as how the water has become so polluted.
  • As you write the lesson plan, list some key questions you want to ask the students.
  • Work out how you will sit the students to listen to the story or other input and where they will sit to work afterwards.
  • What task(s) could the students do? Perhaps they could work in groups so they can talk, as this would help deepen their learning.
  • Gather the resources you need for the lesson.

‘The Rat Snake and the Rats’ (see Resource 5) is one story you could use if you wish, but there are many others too. Now teach your lesson and, as it progresses, note how the students participate in the lesson. Take note of the comments and understanding the students show through their talk.

Pause for thought

After the lesson, reflect on what went well and why.

  • Were the students stimulated by your creative way of introducing the lesson?
  • How do you know this? Were those with special needs more active in the lesson and did they understand better?
  • What evidence do you have to say it did have a positive effect on their learning?
  • What didn’t go quite as you expected? Why?
  • What can you do to make it better next time?

Video: Storytelling, songs, role play and drama

Activity 3: Collecting more stories

During one lesson spend a few minutes asking your students about the stories they have heard in their families or seen on TV or read in newspapers that are related to the plants and animals in the area. Give them time to share their stories and then ask them to write a short outline of the story. Each group could produce one or more stories. Collect these in a folder or tie them together into a book so that everyone in the class can look at them when they have time, perhaps when they finish their work early. This is a way to build up a student resource that will stimulate their interest and help them to think about issues in the environment.

Activities like a story or a poetry reading will enliven a classroom environment and you can gain individual student interest and participation much more quickly if what you do captures their imagination. Other activities such as songs, drama and role play could also be used in similar ways to those suggested here. Resource 6, ‘Storytelling, songs, role play and drama’, gives more advice and ideas to help you as you plan and select what you do. Such activities play a significant factor in students remembering more and hopefully developing more empathy in the students for the environment. It also plays a significant role in helping students to remember more and hopefully develops more empathy in the students for the environment.

1 Finding stories to use