Saturday, May 18, 2013

Loving Learning - English

Early in my time here I offered a Professional Development session in reading to the teachers at my school as I saw it as the greatest area of need, and perhaps the area of teaching I most enjoy and think is most valuable. Many teachers seemed interested and since that day I have had further opportunities to share ideas with some.

Immediately after the session though, one teacher approached me and said that while the ideas were interesting, they would never work in Bhutan with Bhutanese students. Even in those early days I could say emphatically that 'No! These ideas definitely work in Bhutan and my students are making great progress!' She wasn't to be convinced then, and probably never will be but below I have photographic evidence of Bhutanese students learning in an active, interactive and exciting way! It most certainly can be done!!!!!

I teach Class Two with students ranging in age from 6 to 9 and all are English as a third or fourth language, and in most cases it is not a language known by parents at home.
I work with the Bhutanese Curriculum Guide which was created in partnership with Canadian educators, and I find it is a great resource to use to begin planning my lessons.

For each two week block I have a set text - and they have been varied - stories, recounts, a play and a non-fiction text so far. They are Bhutanese texts with Bhutanese illustrations and so are easy to relate to for my students and I think it is a wonderful step in the right direction that I have enough of these texts for each child to have their own for the two weeks we are learning. At first when the majority of my class were non-readers it was ridiculously challenging (texts are about level 15 +), but only a couple of months later most are now able to attempt to read the text from the beginning and over two weeks become familiar with the words through a lot of repetition and focussed vocabulary work. Along with the texts come about ten suggested activities to develop reading, comprehension and writing skills. Many are ideas I have used before, and in the most part I am happy to give them a go. Sometimes I substitute another activity which has the same outcome and which I think will suit my students more. Sometimes the activities seem to be created with native English speaking students in mind and I adapt the activity to the abilities of my students.

I am left with approximately ten lessons a fortnight with which I can plan my own English lessons. I have been using the spelling program Words Their Way which I am familiar with from my Australian school - and we are having great success! I sometimes I run rotational literacy groups which allows me to work with a small group at a time on a particular skill while the others do an independent activity (my groups are called Koalas, Kangaroos and Tassie Devils!!). In this way I hope to encourage my students to become self-directed learners, to talk with each other, problem solve and peer tutor. I can see how proud they feel to be allowed to get on with an activity independently.

What I don't do very much of is 'chalk and talk' copying off the blackboard. I try to think of more creative and engaging ways for the students to learn. I do not have access to photocopying so there are no worksheets at all. I have been very fortunate to gradually put together an astonishing range of stationery that has been sent from all over the world by kind friends who read the wish list I posted earlier in the year and exceeded any expectations I had of what might actually arrive. It is with great excitement that I can now incorporate coloured paper, colouring, cutting and glueing into my lessons!

One of the first parcels I received from home - a treasure box full of of things that make learning fun!

A box full of books that I have given to the library or added to the collection of books I keep in my class for early finishers.

The sight of these two boys who not long ago couldn't read, now yelling out their favourite Dr Seuss books is what it is all about.

I wanted to share some of the activities that we do - none of which are ground-breaking to my Australian readers, but perhaps may inspire others working in the developing world or with ESL learners to see what can be done with very limited resources - and let me tell you, these kids are coming along in leaps and bounds, greet me with enormous smiles in the morning and farewell me with 'I love you' at the end of the day. We are having a great time and learning so much as well!

I purchased this collection of levelled readers in Thimphu and use them to assess and teach reading in my class. At the book fair I bought a box of 110 more of these type of readers which students can borrow from the library.

For some of the texts I made sentence jigsaws with sentences from the book. They find the sentence in the text,  put the words in the correct order and write it in their book. I made enough so there were plenty for each table group of three to work on, and then share around.

 A fun way to reuse the word cards: I taped them all over my blow up globe and then we threw the ball around the circle and kids chose a word to read and remove when they caught the ball.

Here the girls are using the same cards for a different activity - putting them in alphabetical order.

Sometimes we write about our weekend on Monday mornings and here they illustrated with some aquarelle pencils I brought from home - easy and not too messy to use in the classroom, but lots of fun!

Here students chose their own sentence from the text and wrote it on a strip of coloured paper (which made it even more engaging that plain old white paper!) and then chopped it up, mixed it around and glued it back in order.

A whole class introduction to comprehension activities. I wrote statements from the text that were either true or false, and then we sorted them on the board.
I find varied ways for kids to work with their vocabulary words - using stencils to write them, writing them in bubble-writing, rainbow writing using a different colour for each letter, or alphabet stamps.
I bring my class twos to the library so we have the space to work in groups - it wouldn't be possible in our tiny classroom. But here the kids are engaged and working on small group tasks.
Students using coloured pens to write their vocabulary words.
I have been making chatterboxes with all my classes (thanks to receiving origami paper in the mail) - writing questions to ask friends which makes it fun and interactive, not to mention some good listening to all the instructions on how to make them. So lovely to see kids out in the playground with them afterwards.
I made sets of onset and rime cards for children to work with word families.
I also made a few word endings dice - roll the dice around the circle and try to think of a word with that ending.

I made a heap of these missing medial sound cards. We sat outside in a circle and sorted them into groups of vowel sounds and then the kids wrote them in their books.

Following this I made it into a game for small groups to play - I made a dice with a vowel on each side and a lucky 'wild' star. Kids took turns to roll the dice and find a word card that needed that vowel.

I have made many sets of word concentration games to build and reinforce vocabulary. Topics for each set include: transport, nature, colours, vegetables, fruit, days of week, months, shapes, family names, sightwords. At first the kids couldn't read them, but now they can!!! I use them as an early finishers activity that kids can access independently.
Colourful displays outside our classroom of their first attempts at writing. How far we have come!
Thanks to a friend, I have some very fancy laminated sheets and whiteboard markers to use for practicing our spelling!
I write the frequent words and new vocabulary on a poster for each text we use, and often in the morning use them for a quick warm up activity such as cloze where we also learn about writing sentences/questions/speech.
I brought a set of laminated fish and magnetic fishing rods from home and we use these to practise our sightwords and even maths too.
The class 5s saw me outside with the fishing game and begged me to play it with them. Easy! I wrote words at their level and they had so much fun!
The older students enjoy playing bingo games in the library. I have made many sets for different reading levels and a contraction set and plurals set. They can play independently and I can differentiate for different abilities within one class.
Playing an oral-language game - cards have categories on them such as 'something that you find in the kitchen' and then all the children in the group need to say a suitable word.
I have made a number of these 'loop games' - each child gets a card (and any literacy, maths or other skill can be the topic - this set is 'verbs') and they stand to read their card, then the child who has the next card in the loop reads theirs and so on til everyone has had their turn. Encourages interaction, reading, pronunciation and fun!
Here we are playing the 'Bang' game - have made this at many different levels. Sightwords are written on strips of card and placed in a container with four cards that say 'BANG!'. Students take turns to pick a card - if they can read it they can keep it otherwise put it back in. When someone takes a BANG! card they must return all the cards they have collected. The winner has the most cards at the end of the game.
I made some verb cards to build vocab and look at spelling patterns of verbs. Rather than copy words from the board the kids shared the words around until they had written a sentence and drawn a picture for them all. Later I turned these cards into a BANG! game to reinforce reading skills.
I have three pen-pal projects going - these ones from Class 6 went to Canada, and I have my UNESCO Club girls writing to two different groups in Australia - one at my school and another a group of girl guides in Bellingen.
And of course I use lots of songs - simple songs with actions are loved by all classes, even up to class 6.

And stay tuned, I will follow this post in a little while with the fun and interactive ways I am teaching maths.
I'd love to know if anyone is inspired by these ideas.


  1. Andrea, thanks for this post! I taught in Lhuentse last year to Standard 8 and, as a first year teacher, wished I would have had more activities such as these in my "teaching toolbox." Although I'm no longer in Bhutan, these activities are great and I'll surely be referencing this post in the future!

  2. Thanks Reidi! I used to read your blog last year, it is nice to think you are reading mine! These are just simple ideas that work well in early childhood at home but surprisingly kids of all ages (right up to class 10) here enjoy these learning games. Hope you are having a good year :)

  3. What a wonderful array of interactive teaching strategies that focuses on the learners and their fun and engagement. Appreciate your sharing of these activities and experiences.

    1. Thank you Susanne! I will follow this post up soon with maths ideas and perhaps another english post.