Development of Communication Skills among the First Generation Learners at Primary Level

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Under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, I got an opportunity to interact with Primary Teachers on Developing Communication Skills in English in primary school children. This experience turned out to be a challenging one, and then I decided to write up the ground realities of Delhi Govt/MCD run primary schools, along with my revised training module to make teaching and learning of English language an enjoyable and sustainable experience for both the teachers and the learners. I strongly felt that teaching of English was not the only issue in the so-called govt. schools but the general primary education needs to be handled with new perspective using different modalities.

The Training Design:

Purpose: To promote the idea that language (any language) is not a subject in the school curriculum to be studied for content only, but it is a tool of communication and a pool of skills to be acquired in different contexts and used in every aspect of life.

Methodology: Interactive; Brainstorming; Hands on learning; Demonstration; Group-discussion; Presentations; Group-work and Display (Materials).

Approach: Child-centric.

Special element: Flexibility – scope for modification of the activities introduced.

Strategy: After the presentation of each activity its purpose, scope of integration in day to day teaching and level were discussed followed by the modification of the contents of activity class wise i.e. 1-V in groups.

The training session unfolded with purposeful interactive introduction and then reflecting on its purpose and scope for integrating in

day–to–day teaching, the following constraints were posed:

  1. The teachers quipped that their children could not even speak in Hindi let alone converse in English. They took one year to learn upper and lower case letters.
    (It’s good for the teacher in the sense that they could introduce correct spoken English and save lots of efforts on account of de-learning where children come to school having learnt wrong pronunciation, accent and stress by attending sub standard preparatory schools).
  2. Irregularity- Most of the children came to school once a week, and some of them would turn up twice a week. Besides, there also existed a category of children who showed up in the school after a month for no rhyme and reason. Very few of them were regular.
  3. Parents’ non–cooperation: Parents seldom turned up except to collect money and dress etc There was never any feed back good/bad from them. For most of the children, schooling was walking between two points- home and school swaying the satchel having textbooks and lunch box.  It was surprising to learn that some of the children would carry more lunch boxes than the text books because parents hardly check the bags and every morning they would insert the new lunch box (may be until the stock was over). ( It’s obvious that the teachers need to inculcate in children the life long habits of becoming independent in doing their routine chores and jobs, being regular, being punctual, self-learner besides the life-skills of decision making, creativity, confidence, cooperation etc.)
  4. Inadequate infrastructure: Classrooms stuffed with desks; overcrowded classes: brimming with students (when all are present), no/poor quality blackboards, no chalks, no fans, electricity and water etc.
    The responses necessitated a brainstorming on the role of language in the development of young learners and role of teacher in the development of language.

Role of language:

After discussion, it was summarized that children need language and words to express their needs, feelings, gestures, experiences, emotions, ideas, observations, social interactions and encounters in speech.  Language is a natural gift and every normal child is equipped with it. As teachers, it is our duty to brush it, polish it and make them ready to use it. The most striking aspect of this stage of learning is that mental and language development go hand in hand. It was  brought home to everyone that the teaching learning process of any second language is no more different than that of one’s mother tongue. The process of learning any language begins with recognizing, producing and making meaning of the macro sounds from the immediate environment to micro sounds i.e. phonemes or alphabets and then the sound patterns in words, their independent and contextual meaning in verbal expression and written text etc.

Role of teacher:

The teacher is a facilitator in creating English language learning environment in the school. The organization of following activities can be useful in this direction:

Seating Arrangement: Arrange the desks in  (reverse L) shapes along the three walls and create empty space at the center for group activities-large and small. A dari can be spread permanently in the centre.  Buying a dari costs nothing, but returns are immense.

Warm-up:  Begin the day with simple warm-ups of 5-10 minutes daily sitting in a big circle on the dari. (Inner circle can be made, if required). Give one word command  such as sit, stand, swim, smile, sleep, laugh, clap, run, jog, jump, fly, eat, drink, wash, sweep, broom, write, blow, break, build, burn, catch, throw, dig, bat, bowl, drive, draw, cut, cry, crawl, hit, hold, kneel, tie, lift, open, pick, pour, read, ride, sing, push, skip, smell, touch, wave, yawn etc. It is a suggestive list, add more and more words once the interest is created in the learners.

Suggestions for teachers:

  • Initially do four to five action words in one day and drill them for days/weeks together until children are fluent with the new vocabulary.
  • Keep on inserting new actions in your daily teaching plan as per the learning pace of the children.
  • Teacher must use body language and demonstrate the action of every new word to the whole class and then mingle with the children encouraging those who are shy and a little hesitant. Remember these children are too small to take group instructions. They understand the things either individually or in small groups.
  • Draw on the blackboard the pictures of action words with words beneath for sight-reading.
  • Encourage them sight read the words from the black board and do the action in order of sequence from top to bottom/ bottom to top. Keep on devising new strategy to sustain the interest of the children.
  • While teaching reading encourage children to find out familiar and unfamiliar action words in their textbooks.
  • Graduating from simple to complex the teacher should start using phrases and sentences in commands. For instance: right/left, hand up/down/ forward/backward etc. Raise both your hands, close both your eyes/ right eye/left eye etc. The teacher must use body language to visualize the meanings and should not rest until each child enjoys saying and performing the actions.
  • Accept the children’s reactions and expressions in mother tongue but the teacher must repeat English words loudly simultaneously.

Free Discussions: It’s a circle time activity. Select new topic every day for free discussion related to the child’ day to day life. For instance, what did you eat in the breakfast/midday meal? What is your favourite fruit/vegetable/ snack/drink etc? What is your favourite colour? Who all are there in your family?  How many brothers and sisters are you? Who cooks food at home? What is your father? What is your mother? Who visited your house yesterday? Where did you visit last month? What is your favorite TV serial?  What are your favorite sports?  What did you see on your way to school in the morning/ afternoon? How do you come to school? What do you do after reaching home in the afternoon? Add more topics.

Suggestions for teachers:

  • In the beginning accept even one word answer.
  • Mother tongue should not be a barrier. Allow them to use mixed language but the teacher must supply English version at once. This way slowly and gradually they will wean away from the use of mother tongue.
  • Don’t force the child to speak if he/she doesn’t want to participate.  Give them more time, wait and seize of the opportunity when they are even slightly excited.
  • When children start sharing more information then announce that ten/fifteen children will speak today and the next ten/fifteen tomorrow and so on.

Labelling the classroom objects for sight reading;

Label each thing in the classroom such as door, blackboard, duster, chalk box, window, panes, bars, wall, desk, bench, table, chair, fan, blade, almirah, cupboard, tube light, switch board,  floor, ceiling etc. Daily make them read these words using a pointer. Reinforce the vocabulary by doing several activities like dividing the class into small five groups and making 5 sets of slips of these words and then giving one set to each group, asking each group to pick the word (s) after the teacher  says it loudly. Another matching game with the same set of slips can be played. Ask children to hold one slip in hand and upon hearing the word pronounced read  the slip and  if it was the same word then run and match either with the same word or object.

Suggestions for teachers:

•    Encourage children to describe the objects in the class and then talk about their function, and also trigger their thinking process by asking the question such as What would happen if there was no blackboard in class etc.? Similarly, regarding fans, electricity, water etc.

Environmental Orchestra:  Divide the class into four groups and ask each group to name a different animal and make its sound. All the members in each group will rehearse the chosen sounds and produce that animal’s sound together at the signal of the teacher. If the teacher names the animal loudly that group will make a loud sound and if it’s slow, the animal’s response will also be slow. Then she will use other techniques of clapping and raising hands. Raising hands means all the groups will produce loud sound together and lowering the hands means the volume of voice will also be lowered. Clapping will also be done high/ low and in counts. If the teachers claps loudly and twice then all the groups together will produce loud sounds twice etc and when the command is reverse response will be accordingly. .

Suggestions for teachers: Discuss with the children their favourite animals/ pets etc. How to take care of pets, not to tease and stone the animals-stray/pet or domesticated. Let them share their experience good or bad about the animals and zoo. Build up a project on homes, young ones and food habits, uses/roles and sounds of animals. Begin role play initially with their favourite animals with a short speech about the animals.

Pooling Identity cards:

Ask the children to pool their identity cards in a basket/bowl/box.  Mix them up and call the children one by one to take one card from it. After every child has got one card she will tell them to meet the children whose cards they have and then introduce their friends to the class one by one. Children can share information about the home location, father’s name, telephone numbers etc. from the identity card. Name slips can be used in case identity card is not available.

Introducing Phonemic Sounds:

Decide the sound you are going to introduce at one time. Then select the names of those students whose initial sound is the same. Let’s take the sound ‘a’ and names can be- Anita, Amar, Abhishek, Abhinav, Adnan, Anil, Abbas and many more. If these many names (even two will suffice) are available then call them out and ask the class to say their names loudly and tell what is common in their names. Then she will discuss that they all begin with ‘a’ sound and make them say a- Anita, a-Amar, a- Abhishek, a-Abhinav, a-Adnan, a-Anil, a-Abbas. Then ask the children to name parts of body and the object from the classrooms that begin with ‘a’ sound- ankle, abdomen (difficult), almirah etc. Then collect pictures of objects, places and famous personalities – men, women and children whose initial sound is ‘a ‘and tell children to prepare worksheets for each sound drawing pictures with their names beneath. Give them drill side by side as under:

•    ‘a’ as in    cat    hat   mat   pat   (draw their  pictures also)

•    ‘b’ as in    bag  cab   tab

Make a chart/sheet for each sound. It is not given for space constraint. For rhythm practice, recognition of phonemic script and sounds use the chart below. Modify and strengthen it further on the basis of your experiences.

Bold phonemic scripts are to be stressed and rest are normal.

t  d  t        d  t  d        ch  j  ch        j   ch   j

p  b  p        b  p  b        k g  k        g   k    g

m n m        n  m  n        f  v  f        v  f  v

r  l  r        l  r  l        h y h        y h y

v w v        w v w        s  z  s        z  s  z

u e u        e u e        x  k x        k  x  k

Likewise the word patterns:

tub dub tub    dub tub dub

chug jug chug    jug chug jug

pun bun pun    bun pun bun

keg gun keg    gun keg gun

mum nun mum    nun mum nun

fan van fan    van fan van

run lull run    lull run lull

hum yum hum    yum hum yum

van won van    won vim won

sip zip sip    zip sip zip

um en um    en um en

xen ken xen    ken xen ken

Create more charts of this pattern for giving practice of phrases, sentences and grammar structures.

* Inder Mani Jain is a Course Counsellor with Directorate of Project Planning and In-service, DAV College Managing Committee, New Delhi, and has been looking after the training areas of pre-primary and primary teachers.

* Article first published in FORTELL newsletter, September 2007

Under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, I got an opportunity to interact with Primary Teachers on Developing Communication Skills in English in primary school children. This experience turned out to be a challenging one, and then I decided to write up the ground realities of Delhi Govt/MCD run primary schools, along with my revised training module to make teaching and learning of English language an enjoyable and sustainable experience for both the teachers and the learners. I strongly felt that teaching of English was not the only issue in the so-called govt. schools but the general primary education needs to be handled with new perspective using different modalities.
The Training Design:
Purpose: To promote the idea that language (any language) is not a subject in the school curriculum to be studied for content only, but it is a tool of communication and a pool of skills to be acquired in different contexts and used in every aspect of life.
Methodology: Interactive; Brainstorming; Hands on learning; Demonstration; Group-discussion; Presentations; Group-work and Display (Materials).   
Approach: Child-centric.
Special element: Flexibility – scope for modification of the activities introduced.
Strategy: After the presentation of each activity its purpose, scope of integration in day to day teaching and level were discussed followed by the modification of the contents of activity class wise i.e. 1-V in groups.
The training session unfolded with purposeful interactive introduction and then reflecting on its purpose and scope for integrating in
day–to–day teaching, the following constraints were posed:    
a)    The teachers quipped that their children could not even speak in Hindi let alone converse in English. They took one year to learn upper and lower case letters.  
(It’s good for the teacher in the sense that they could introduce correct spoken English and save lots of efforts on account of de-learning where children come to school having learnt wrong pronunciation, accent and stress by attending sub standard preparatory schools).   
b)    Irregularity- Most of the children came to school once a week, and some of them would turn up twice a week. Besides, there also existed a category of children who showed up in the school after a month for no rhyme and reason. Very few of them were regular.  
c)    Parents’ non–cooperation: Parents seldom turned up except to collect money and dress etc There was never any feed back good/bad from them. For most of the children, schooling was walking between two points- home and school swaying the satchel having textbooks and lunch box.  It was surprising to learn that some of the children would carry more lunch boxes than the text books because parents hardly check the bags and every morning they would insert the new lunch box (may be until the stock was over). ( It’s obvious that the teachers need to inculcate in children the life long habits of becoming independent in doing their routine chores and jobs, being regular, being punctual, self-learner besides the life-skills of decision making, creativity, confidence, cooperation etc.)   
d)    Inadequate infrastructure: Classrooms stuffed with desks; overcrowded classes: brimming with students (when all are present), no/poor quality blackboards, no chalks, no fans, electricity and water etc.       
The responses necessitated a brainstorming on the role of language in the development of young learners and role of teacher in the development of language.
Role of language:
After discussion, it was summarized that children need language and words to express their needs, feelings, gestures, experiences, emotions, ideas, observations, social interactions and encounters in speech.  Language is a natural gift and every normal child is equipped with it. As teachers, it is our duty to brush it, polish it and make them ready to use it. The most striking aspect of this stage of learning is that mental and language development go hand in hand. It was  brought home to everyone that the teaching learning process of any second language is no more different than that of one’s mother tongue. The process of learning any language begins with recognizing, producing and making meaning of the macro sounds from the immediate environment to micro sounds i.e. phonemes or alphabets and then the sound patterns in words, their independent and contextual meaning in verbal expression and written text etc.
Role of teacher:
The teacher is a facilitator in creating English language learning environment in the school. The organization of following activities can be useful in this direction:
Seating Arrangement: Arrange the desks in       (reverse L) shapes along the three walls and create empty space at the center for group activities-large and small. A dari can be spread permanently in the centre.  Buying a dari costs nothing, but returns are immense.
Warm-up:  Begin the day with simple warm-ups of 5-10 minutes daily sitting in a big circle on the dari. (Inner circle can be made, if required). Give one word command  such as sit, stand, swim, smile, sleep, laugh, clap, run, jog, jump, fly, eat, drink, wash, sweep, broom, write, blow, break, build, burn, catch, throw, dig, bat, bowl, drive, draw, cut, cry, crawl, hit, hold, kneel, tie, lift, open, pick, pour, read, ride, sing, push, skip, smell, touch, wave, yawn etc. It is a suggestive list, add more and more words once the interest is created in the learners.    
Suggestions for teachers:
•    Initially do four to five action words in one day and drill them for days/weeks together until children are fluent with the new vocabulary.
•    Keep on inserting new actions in your daily teaching plan as per the learning pace of the children.
•    Teacher must use body language and demonstrate the action of every new word to the whole class and then mingle with the children encouraging those who are shy and a little hesitant. Remember these children are too small to take group instructions. They understand the things either individually or in small groups.   
•    Draw on the blackboard the pictures of action words with words beneath for sight-reading.
•    Encourage them sight read the words from the black board and do the action in order of sequence from top to bottom/ bottom to top. Keep on devising new strategy to sustain the interest of the children.
•    While teaching reading encourage children to find out familiar and unfamiliar action words in their textbooks.
•    Graduating from simple to complex the teacher should start using phrases and sentences in commands. For instance: right/left, hand up/down/ forward/backward etc. Raise both your hands, close both your eyes/ right eye/left eye etc. The teacher must use body language to visualize the meanings and should not rest until each child enjoys saying and performing the actions.
•    Accept the children’s reactions and expressions in mother tongue but the teacher must repeat English words loudly simultaneously.
Free Discussions: It’s a circle time activity. Select new topic every day for free discussion related to the child’ day to day life. For instance, what did you eat in the breakfast/midday meal? What is your favourite fruit/vegetable/ snack/drink etc? What is your favourite colour? Who all are there in your family?  How many brothers and sisters are you? Who cooks food at home? What is your father? What is your mother? Who visited your house yesterday? Where did you visit last month? What is your favorite TV serial?  What are your favorite sports?  What did you see on your way to school in the morning/ afternoon? How do you come to school? What do you do after reaching home in the afternoon? Add more topics.
Suggestions for teachers:
•    In the beginning accept even one word answer.
•    Mother tongue should not be a barrier. Allow them to use mixed language but the teacher must supply English version at once. This way slowly and gradually they will wean away from the use of mother tongue.
•    Don’t force the child to speak if he/she doesn’t want to participate.  Give them more time, wait and seize of the opportunity when they are even slightly excited.  
•    When children start sharing more information then announce that ten/fifteen children will speak today and the next ten/fifteen tomorrow and so on.    
Labelling the classroom objects for sight reading;  
Label each thing in the classroom such as door, blackboard, duster, chalk box, window, panes, bars, wall, desk, bench, table, chair, fan, blade, almirah, cupboard, tube light, switch board,  floor, ceiling etc. Daily make them read these words using a pointer. Reinforce the vocabulary by doing several activities like dividing the class into small five groups and making 5 sets of slips of these words and then giving one set to each group, asking each group to pick the word (s) after the teacher  says it loudly. Another matching game with the same set of slips can be played. Ask children to hold one slip in hand and upon hearing the word pronounced read  the slip and  if it was the same word then run and match either with the same word or object.
Suggestions for teachers:
•    Encourage children to describe the objects in the class and then talk about their function, and also trigger their thinking process by asking the question such as What would happen if there was no blackboard in class etc.? Similarly, regarding fans, electricity, water etc.
Environmental Orchestra:  Divide the class into four groups and ask each group to name a different animal and make its sound. All the members in each group will rehearse the chosen sounds and produce that animal’s sound together at the signal of the teacher. If the teacher names the animal loudly that group will make a loud sound and if it’s slow, the animal’s response will also be slow. Then she will use other techniques of clapping and raising hands. Raising hands means all the groups will produce loud sound together and lowering the hands means the volume of voice will also be lowered. Clapping will also be done high/ low and in counts. If the teachers claps loudly and twice then all the groups together will produce loud sounds twice etc and when the command is reverse response will be accordingly. .   
Suggestions for teachers: Discuss with the children their favourite animals/ pets etc. How to take care of pets, not to tease and stone the animals-stray/pet or domesticated. Let them share their experience good or bad about the animals and zoo. Build up a project on homes, young ones and food habits, uses/roles and sounds of animals. Begin role play initially with their favourite animals with a short speech about the animals.  
Pooling Identity cards:
Ask the children to pool their identity cards in a basket/bowl/box.  Mix them up and call the children one by one to take one card from it. After every child has got one card she will tell them to meet the children whose cards they have and then introduce their friends to the class one by one. Children can share information about the home location, father’s name, telephone numbers etc. from the identity card. Name slips can be used in case identity card is not available.
Introducing Phonemic Sounds:
Decide the sound you are going to introduce at one time. Then select the names of those students whose initial sound is the same. Let’s take the sound ‘a’ and names can be- Anita, Amar, Abhishek, Abhinav, Adnan, Anil, Abbas and many more. If these many names (even two will suffice) are available then call them out and ask the class to say their names loudly and tell what is common in their names. Then she will discuss that they all begin with ‘a’ sound and make them say a- Anita, a-Amar, a- Abhishek, a-Abhinav, a-Adnan, a-Anil, a-Abbas. Then ask the children to name parts of body and the object from the classrooms that begin with ‘a’ sound- ankle, abdomen (difficult), almirah etc. Then collect pictures of objects, places and famous personalities – men, women and children whose initial sound is ‘a ‘and tell children to prepare worksheets for each sound drawing pictures with their names beneath. Give them drill side by side as under:
•    ‘a’ as in    cat    hat   mat   pat   (draw their  pictures also)
•    ‘b’ as in    bag  cab   tab
Make a chart/sheet for each sound. It is not given for space constraint. For rhythm practice, recognition of phonemic script and sounds use the chart below. Modify and strengthen it further on the basis of your experiences.
Bold phonemic scripts are to be stressed and rest are normal.
t  d  t    d  t  d    ch  j  ch    j   ch   j
p  b  p    b  p  b    k g  k    g   k    g
m n m    n  m  n    f  v  f    v  f  v
r  l  r    l  r  l    h y h    y h y
v w v    w v w    s  z  s    z  s  z
u e u    e u e    x  k x    k  x  k
Likewise the word patterns:
tub dub tub    dub tub dub
chug jug chug    jug chug jug
pun bun pun    bun pun bun
keg gun keg    gun keg gun
mum nun mum    nun mum nun
fan van fan    van fan van
run lull run    lull run lull
hum yum hum    yum hum yum
van won van    won vim won
sip zip sip    zip sip zip
um en um    en um en
xen ken xen    ken xen ken
Create more charts of this pattern for giving practice of phrases, sentences and grammar structures.   
Inder Mani Jain is a Course Counsellor with Directorate of Project Planning and
In-service, DAV College Managing Committee, New Delhi, and has been looking after the training areas of pre-primary and primary teachers.

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