Keeping ‘Reading Habit Alive’

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* Article first published in Fortell, May 2011 issue.

For those who are avid readers, reading perhaps is the most interesting and pleasurable activity but the present day youth would perhaps defer. They have a plethora of interesting things to keep them engaged, where do they have the time to waste on the printed word found on paper! For these young people there is the electronic media- the TV with such a wide variety of programmes being aired 24*7, the computer abounding with websites. And so we all agree, all but the community of teachers, specially the language teachers.

Everyone who is connected to the teaching fraternity would agree whole-heartedly that reading is an important aspect of the process of acquiring knowledge. And thus the job of language teacher gets even more challenging. It is not to make the learner comfortable in using the language; it is to give the learner the ability to read with interest, to read with speed, to read with comprehension. This, according to me, is because of two major issues: first, one needs to read to gain knowledge of any subject and second; leisure reading is the most beautiful way to relax.

The onus of developing the interest of students towards reading falls on the language teachers who are forever trying to devise new strategies to achieve this (almost unachievable ) goal! One project which has proved to be very effective in this connection is the class library project. I take no credit of having designed it, but I have been in charge of it for several years and have the first hand knowledge of its implementation and results, and that I would like to share through this article.

The Project

The first step in this project is the selection of some titles which students would find interesting. The list should have books on general knowledge, current affairs, fiction- both short and long stories. Once the list of books is ready, multiple copies are procured and issued to the class teacher. The class teacher, with the help of a ‘class library monitor’, maintains a record of issuing the books. These books are available in the class to be read during substitution periods, zero periods and to be taken home. The students are encouraged to read all these books during the academic session.

Several activities are designed to ensure that students have really read the books. The activities depend upon the level of class we are dealing with. Some activities are- short quizzes, book cover designing, drawing the favorite character, writing the book review, work sheets and calling students from senior classes to tell a story (during the zero period). None of these activities takes a lot of time or energy of the teacher as detailed correction is not required. In fact teachers teaching subjects other than language can use some of these activities to keep the students occupied during their substitution periods.

As we all know a word of appreciation goes a long way to encourage students, so a few certificates of appreciation are given to the students. Every quarter the class teacher or the language teacher can suggest the name of one student per class for this certificate.

With the introduction of the CCE, some of these activities can also be used by the language teacher or the librarian.

An example

The following books are a part of class 7 library and there are five copies of each title available with the teacher:

  1. Tagore ki Sampoorn Kahanian-1Ravindra Nath Tagore
  2. Animal Fact FileTony Hare
  3. Eminent Indian EconomistsM.L. Ahuja
  4. Living JudaismCavan Wood
  5. Our Mutual FriendCharles Dickens
  6. Tales & Legends from IndiaRuskin Bond
  7. Jurassic ParkMichael Crichton
  8. Fifth Formers of St.Clare’sEnid Blyton
  9. Marry Poppins in the ParkP.L. Travers
  10. Long Walk for BinaRuskin Bond
  11. Gavial AvialKalpana Swaminathan
  12. Essential ScienceDilip M Salwi
  13. Time Stops at ShamliRuskin Bond
  14. Night Train at DeoliRuskin Bond
  15. The Hound of the BaskervillesSir Arthur Conan Doyle
  16. Summer Term at St. Clare’sEnid Blyton
  17. Malgudi DaysR.K. Narayan

Activities conducted

  1. Story telling to junior classes- Books selected: Tales & Legends from India, Malgudi Days
  2. Quiz: Eminent Indian Economist, Essential Science, Living Judaism, Animal Fact File and The Hound of the Baskervilles
  3. Book Review: Fifth Formers of St. Clare’s, Summer Term at St. Clare’s and Time Stops at Shamli
  4. Book jacket design: Jurassic Park, Malgudi Days and Mary Poppins in the Park
  5. Character sketch: Your favourite character from the following books- The Hound of the Baskervilles, Fifth Formers of St. Clare’s, Our Mutual Friend
  6. Work sheet ( of MCQs): The Hound of the Baskervilles, Mary Poppins in the Park

I am elaborating a couple of activities to explain the concept in detail.

Activity-1

WRITING ACTIVITY

Focus Point: Reading and Expressing Opinion.

Time: 30 minutes.

Task: Pair work

Any two students who have read the book can work together to attempt the character sketch ___________________________________

WORKSHEET

Our Mutual Friend

Time: 30 mins.

Give the character sketch of any one of the following characters in 80-100 words.

1.     Eugene Wrayburn

2.     Bradley Headstone

3.     Bella Wilfur

____________________________________________________________________________________

USP: Students enjoy writing the sketch when working in pairs. This gives them a chance to talk, not only about the character they select, but also about the book in question. This activity gives them a chance to discuss and thus is also helpful in developing oral skills. Moreover, it helps to develop the learners’ analyzing skills and makes them confident about their understanding of the text in question.

Activity-2

A QUIZ

Focus Point: Reading and Comprehension.

Time: 15 minutes.

Task: Individual

Students shall be given the work sheet, and they are expected to tick the correct answers on the basis of their understanding of the book they have read. ________________________________________

WORKSHEET

Quiz

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Time: 15 mins.

Read the given questions carefully and tick the most appropriate answer.

1.     How was Stapleton related to Sir Henry Baskerville?

a)     He was his neighbor and friend.

b)     He was brother-in-law.

c)     He was his long lost son.

d)     He was his cousin.

2.     Why does Stapleton pretend his wife is his sister?

a)     They are actually related.

b)     He needs to pretend he is single in order to inherit the Baskerville fortune.

c)     He needs to pretend he is single in order to convince Laura Lyons and Sir Henry that he and his wife are free agents.

d)     He is no longer in love with his wife.

3.     Who established the Baskerville curse?

a)     Sir Hugo Baskerville

b)     Sir Charles Baskerville

c)     Sir Henry Baskerville

d)     Stapleton

4.     Who took advantage of the Baskerville curse?

a)     Sir Hugo Baskerville

b)     Sir Charles Baskerville

c)     Sir Henry Baskerville

d)     Stapleton

5.     What substance does Stapleton use to make his hound look scary?

a)     Blood

b)     Glow sticks

c)     CO2 cartridges

d)     Phosphorous

6.     How did Sir Charles die?

a)     Eaten by the hound

b)     Attacked by the hound

c)     Scared by the hound

d)     Shot by the hound

7.     Who let dog out?

a)     Stapleton

b)     Sherlock Holmes

c)     Miss Stapleton

d)     Dr. Mortimer

8.     With whom does Stapleton share an evil resemblance?

a)     Sir Henry Baskerville

b)     The woman who is supposed to be his wife

c)     Sir Hugo Baskerville

d)     Sir Charles Baskerville

9.     Where does Holmes send Cartwright in search of cut-up copies of The Times?

a)     A newspaper stand

b)     The garbage

c)     The printers

d)     Devonshire

10.   Who is Frankland?

a)    The hound of Baskerville

b)    Laura’s father

c)    The true heir to the Baskerville fortune

d)    Stapleton’s accomplice

USP: This is a very simple activity which students enjoy. They don’t find it stressful as they feel that they are just to mark the correct answer, but as teachers we know that this is a simple yet a very comprehensive way of testing the comprehension of students.

Developing resource material

A question bank is prepared for all the books that have been included in various activities like quizzes and MCQ work sheets. This is done with the help of the entire teaching faculty of the institution. During the summer break each member is issued one book to read and prepare a question bank along with answers. This is of great importance as any teacher who wants to conduct a work sheet during the academic session simply needs to select a few questions and take a print out.

Result

Anything that deals with language development does not show short term results. There is a need to work diligently and patiently over long periods of time to reap the fruits of hard work put in. So, as project managers, we try not to look for short term results. We just keep on working persistently, ensuring that students are actively involved in the project.

It is after two to three years, from class sixth onwards that we can see the results. In class sixth, language teachers and the librarian notice that students are interested in leisure reading. They develop interest in some of the authors we had introduced them to. For example, in the list of books of class five, there are a couple of  titles by Enid Blyton such as The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, The Mystery of the Missing Man etc and students start getting other titles issued by the same author and even try to complete reading the entire series. Similarly, some students show interest in the authors whose texts are a part of their formal syllabus and do extended reading.

This trend of interest in reading continues to grow in the middle school. However, once the students reach the secondary section, the percentage of students doing leisure reading shows a sharp decline. This can be attributed to the fact the students are under pressure to procure high percentage of marks during their boards. Moreover, they need to prepare for various competitive entrance exams too. This need not worry us as the habit of reading is strong enough to help students achieve their targets. And old habits die hard—once they have some free time they are sure to get attracted to some interesting book!

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