Saturday, 27 January 2018

Integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners

There has always been a debate about the functions of language:to communicate and to cultivate. Actually both the functions can seem to do the same but they have always been treated as two disconnected entities. Linguistics and Literature, as you know have always been considered two distinct branches of language studies. Many of us as young students have found that language studies was only about reading stories and poems and solving isolated 'Do as directed' questions on grammar. I remember every time my father looked at my English textbooks, he would tell how the complete novel 'Mayor of Casterbridge' was on his syllabus in school. He would always believe that no language could be taught through one-page stories and poems picked up from classics. He felt we needed to read the classics before we knew anything about the language. In short, he wanted the syllabus designers to think about integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners like us.

By the time I started my higher studies, I felt my dad's wish coming true as we did have loads of novels, classic collections of poems from different time periods for compulsory and suggested readings. My friends used to tease me as they found it more relaxing to read my  so-called new textbooks which were just like story books and verses to be copied on Valentine's Day greeting cards for them. I thought I mastered it until I started my research in Applied Linguistics where I realised I knew nothing about the language we were talking about! Who were these people: Chomsky, Bloomfield, Saussure, Jacobson?
We were supposed to talk about Keats, Eliot and Woolf! But there was no remote connection between any of them and we just kept talking about the sounds and symbols of the language.Finally I took refuge in using my knowledge of the literature to teach the language. I realised teaching any of them in isolation is not possible. In fact, my father's option of integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners could be worth trying.

 In many countries, English is taught as a second or a foreign language where the stress is on learning the rules of the grammar and the vocabulary. Once you know these two you put them together with some changes here and there and you get your connected speech. But what about literature? Do ESL learners need to study literature to acquire the language? Or is it just not required as they need to use the language for only communicative purposes and nothing else! Even if they miss out on some creativity in the language, the basic purpose of acquiring the language is fulfilled, isn't it so?Integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners could also result in the same: enhance their linguistic competencies and add on to their employ-ability.

In my opinion, using popular literature/classics in an ESL classroom with adult learners is more fruitful than just giving them exercises on basic structures like we do to young learners in a foreign language classroom. It is pertinent to realise that adult learners are more restless than the young learners. Their span of attention is less and reasons for distraction and inhibition are more. Hence, it is essential to keep them engaged, make them feel challenged and at the same time, let them loosen out a little. Because only then will they be as spontaneous in their use of the language as they are in case of their mother tongues/ preferred languages.

That's when I started experimenting with famous works of literature and linguistic/other competencies which could be developed through them. I picked up on one of my favourite narrative of a Swiss family which gets marooned on an unknown, deserted island after a shipwreck. Reasons for choosing this novel (Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss): it could be easily associated to. In today's world, where we all are so closely connected to the outside world through our phones, internet, T.V. and all kinds of means of transport; it can be possible that we may get isolated for sometime, if not whole life at some such deserted place. In such a situation, it will be our basic skills of survival, food production and living that will come handy. Also, the language used in such a situation would have to be mutually accepted and understood. Hence there will be less scope for ambiguity and more emphasis on accuracy as well as acceptability.

In short, it will be interesting to make the adult learners think about a situation similar to what the Swiss family finds itself in. Once the stage is set right, the learners can be introduced to certain basic linguistic structures and knowledge about life skills which they can acquire and use in their daily life too. So here I had a nice example of how classic literature could be used as course ware to imbibe linguistic competencies as well as life skills education. Integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners can turn out to be fun. Try these games in your class too and share your experiences.
Topic: Building the Cajack
Learning Objectives:
Life Skills Competencies: Decision making, Adaptation
Linguistic Competencies: How to discuss and /or debate in a group
1. One morning at breakfast, Fritz said “Our big ostrich is a splendid horse. We also have a sled to transport our provisions and a sailing ship and canoe anchored in Providence Bay. Now we need a boat that will glide over the water like an ostrich does over the land. I have something very unique in mind, but I can’t make it alone.”
2.  “First, you must tell us your idea, “I said, “and then we will vote whether or not to make it a family project.”  
3. “ I have read that the people of Greenland have a vessel that skims lightly over the water. They call it a cajack. I see no reason why we can’t make one ourselves. It is so light that you carry it on your shoulders once you have reached land.” 
4. “The idea has merit,” I said. “What materials would you use?” 
5. “The Greenlanders use walrus skins for the body of the boat, but we could substitute seal skins. Strips of whalebone, bamboo canes and rushes will make up the sides and give it form.” 
6.  “It sounds like a great idea!” I exclaimed. “I hereby vote that we begin construction on Fritz’s proposed cajack this very day.”
7. “I second the motion,” said Ernest. 
8. “Me too,” piped up Francis.

Task 01: Group Discussion
Method of Instruction: Learners can be told about the novel briefly and then given this passage to read. Once they have read it, their attention can be drawn to the fact that how politely the family just had a group discussion and agreed to start a new family project. So unlike what they see on many news channels in India, a group discussion doesn't necessarily mean raising your voices, talking over other people or not listening to other's point of view.

Task 02: Planning a Celebration
Instructions for learners: Inform the learners that they have to plan a Farewell Party for Classes 10th and 12th students. They need to discuss and arrive on a plan of action for doing the following tasks: 1. invitations
2. decorations
3. entertainment
4. seating arrangements
5. snacks
6. gifts/prizes
All of them need to divide themselves into small groups and take responsibility of each task. Tell them to discuss and write their plan of action on paper and submit it to you. Give them 20 minutes to discuss, chalk out a plan and write it neatly taking help from the passage they read from the Swiss Family's discussion.
Check their submitted plans of action. If you find that the plans of actions and their actual discussions were based on the Swiss Family's way of discussion, you can be satisfied that you succeeded in integrating literature with language to develop life skills in ESL learners.

Topic: Our home in the giant tree
Learning Objectives:
Life Skills Competencies:  Different types of Constructions
Linguistic Competencies: Sequential Writing markers

Task 01: Re-organise the paragraph

Instructions for Learners: Let the learners read the passage and discuss what is being talked about. Make this a time-bound activity and at the end of stipulated time, give them worksheets with the serially numbered sentences from the paragraph. Tell them that the first and last sentence remain in the same position while other sentences have been jumbled up. They need to discuss and number the sentences in the correct order. You can tell them that they can do this with the help of sequential markers which are words such as in the beginning, then, after that, so, because, once that was over, finally and so on.
1. Not long afterward, we entered the place of the tall trees which had so intrigued Elizabeth.

2. The house was beginning to look very impressive. We climbed the ladder to spend our first night in the tree-house. 
3. The tree trunk formed the third side, and the front was left open to admit the fresh sea breeze.
4. This is indeed the place we shall make our home! Why, there’s not an animal alive that could reach a house in those trees!”  
5. “What trees! What height! What trunks!” I exclaimed. I have never seen anything like them! 
6.Working quickly, we pulled the cloth down and nailed it firmly to the wooden wall on two sides.
7. On the first level we built a floor of wooden planks and around this platform we constructed a wall approximately four feet high, also made of planks.
8.Then, throwing the sailcloth over the higher branches that towered some 50 feet above the ground, we made a roof for our tree house. 
9. The tree we had chosen was ideal, for its branches grew close together in a horizontal direction. 
10. We then hung our hammocks in boughs six feet above the floor. 

11.After everyone was safely inside, I pulled the ladder up behind.

Task 02: Building a tent

Instructions for Learners: Introduce the learners to the fact that different kinds of terrain lead to people using different kinds of habitats. While cemented houses are alright in plains, wooden houses are preferred in hills and earthquake prone areas. Similarly for temporary habitats, like while one
stays in a jungle or on a mountain-biking expedition, the preferred type of accommodation is a tent. Tents can be of various types, based on its capacity and material used. 
Show them the basic parts required for making a tent, such as poles, pegs, ropes, rain-cover cloth, cover cloth and so on. Demonstrate once how a tent is to be erected and then you can ask them to do it themselves. But before they do it, tell them to make a plan of action about who will do what and what will be done first. Ask them to jot it down on a piece of paper and follow the same steps.
Once they have done the task, ask them to check their notes for any similarity between their steps and the way the Swiss Family made their tree-house. If not anything else, they will find that some of the sequential markers do figure in their Plan of action. If they do, you succeeded in integrating Literature with Language to develop life skills in ESL Learners.

Thursday, 18 January 2018



Every time there was a birthday or any other special occasion at my mother's home, one of my nieces used to surprise her with a delicious cake. 
What made it further special was the fact that it was made by her totally on her own without the help of any elder in the house!
I thought this was the effect of her grandparents staying with her, her house full of foodies who loved to cook as well as taste different types of food. I knew her grandma was fond of watching cookery shows so I thought it would be one more reason for the kid's interest in cooking. I was wrong! The real reason behind the kid's interest in cooking was maybe the way her nursery school  curriculum had included activities revolving around food production and cooking. They had thought of teaching life skills through simple food activities to the tiny tots. 
They wanted children to know how food was grown, how it was supplied from farms to markets near their homes and finally how food was cooked and presented on their dining tables.

Rationale behind teaching life skills through simple food activities

     1.       Children need to become conscious of basic needs of human beings and how they are satisfied. Once they know how to grow their favourite fruit/ vegetable, they may recognise the effort needed for the whole process.
    2.       Once they recognize the effort, they may start to appreciate and contribute to the process of growing food and those who are involved in the process of food production.
     3.       This may lead to social bonhomie as these tiny tots may tomorrow take part in the process of food production.
    4.       In this way, they may become better citizens of future times and help in the race to save the planet.
5  5.    In some cultures, the entry to kitchen is generally restricted to a particular gender, so the excluded gender doesn't even know how much effort is put in making a simple meal.
6  6.     In some of the affluent households, a separate domestic staff cooks for the family due to which the elders in the family do not spend time with their children outside the bedrooms/TV halls. So practically no time is spend in the kitchen with the children.

Principles used for teaching life skills through simple food activities

    1.       Children like to imitate the actions of elders. They are always eager to behave like their parents, teachers and/or older siblings. One can make them aware of the behaviour of a responsible elder with the help of role-playing.
     2.       Children learn the most when they do things themselves. If they are allowed to touch, feel, taste and use any thing they start to understand that thing/skill much better than when they are taught indirectly.
     3.    Children love to explore and experience the real world themselves rather than just sit and read about it in textbooks.
   4.    Children learn through observation. They deduce simple conclusions through their own observations and experiments.

Ideas for teaching life skills through simple food activities

      1.      Visit to the Farm: Children are very excited to leave the classrooms and go to visit the outdoors. Take them to a small garden or if possible a nearby farm. Show them how plants are grown from small seedlings into fruit/vegetable bearing plants/ trees. Teach them to dig a pit, water a plant, mow the lawn and pluck the ripe fruits. Ask them if they can identify the fruits/veggies by looking at the plants/ trees.
     Let them have a feel of walking in the farm and plucking a few of the veggies/fruits in their own baskets.  Help them to clean their collected fruits/veggies. If the farm is far away, take them for a whole day. The day can start with a walk around the farm with the farmers, a ride on the bullock cart, a date with the farm animals and then a stop at one of the corners to plant or pluck some fruits/veggies.  You can ask them to have their lunch in the farm itself and follow it with a short nap under a banyan tree.
Life Skills acquired: Staying together in groups, following elders’ instructions, compassion and taking care of your surroundings.

        2.  Basket full of veggies: Now that children have come to know how their favourite fruits and veggies are grown, arrange for a farm fresh market in the classroom. Ask the children to dress up as their
      favourite farmers/ vegetable sellers and get some veggies and fruits in a basket. Tell them they will not buy anything especially for this market but get it from whatever is available in their mother’s kitchen. Invite the parents to come and attend the market. Tell the children that they are supposed to sell all the things available in their baskets. They are free to charge whatever they want as far as their prices are affordable. Tell them they can take tips from their parents. Also, once they sell their basket, they can go around and buy whatever they like from others. Make some Fake paper money and give it to all the veggie sellers before the market is open for parents. At the end of the class, ask all of them to come one by one and show you whatever they managed to sell and buy.
 Life Skills acquired: talking to strangers/unknown elders, decision-making, presentation skills, bargaining and denying

   3.     Sunshine sandwich: Now it’s time to turn a lazy Monday classroom to a bright and colourful
    kitchen. Tell the children to get along their favourite raw vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots or tomatoes. Provide them with a pair of bread slice/ Monaco biscuits or any other form of bread; some butter, jam or ketchup and/or nuts/raisins/dry fruits (consult their parents/ according to their preferences). Tell them to cut the edges of the bread slices and cut them into shapes of their choices such as triangles or circles. Help them to make their own sandwiches with sunshine smiles or any other design of their choice. Ask them to clear their tables, wash their hands and then share their sandwiches with their best friends.
 Life Skills acquired: cleanliness, decision-making and sharing

4.       Reuse the leftovers: Many times we find that when we bring some dry groceries from the market, they are totally crushed and can’t be eaten as a whole, for instance biscuits, cake slices, choco-chips, corn flakes and so on. Inform parents to save such items instead of consuming them. Decide and tell children to bring all such items to classroom on one of the Saturdays. Tell children to take out their dry crushed items. Give them a wet cake/ jam or chocolate syrup and mix these ingredients. Then ask them to roll the mixture into small balls. Then give them some dry fruits and desecrated coconut powder to decorate their balls with it. Then ask them to clear their tables and wash hands. Once they have cleared everything you can ask them to taste their own balls and take some of them back home for their loved ones.
Life Skills acquired: cleanliness, decision-making, sharing work and food

     5.       Empty your plate: Ask children whether they go out to eat sometimes with their parents? Most of the children will answer in affirmative. Ask them what do they think happens to the food they
order but leave on their plates? Introduce them to the concept of giving extra/ unwanted food to those who can’t afford to buy it. Keep telling them about the importance of food for some days before asking them to get their favourite food, be it junk food or any other traditional dish they like on a Saturday. Tell them that they need to eat their lunch and finish everything that is put in their plate/lunch box. Before they start eating, tell them that they need to be sure about whether they will be able to eat everything that is available in their plate/lunch box. If not then they need to keep aside that portion so that it can be eaten by other children who are poor or unable to buy food for them.
Life Skills acquired: respect for food, sharing work and food, respect for the less privileged

Not all children learn new knowledge and skills in the same manner. While some learn by seeing things, some others learn through doing things while some others learn through listening or writing things. Activities revolving around food items can seem to be interesting to all kinds of learners as food items are tempting for all of us. As someone has rightly said some of us eat to live while most of us live to eat! Whatever way we live we all love to eat when we are kids. 
Sadly, in many modern families, mothers complain about children being least interested in eating food. We can create interest in them about food by engaging them in simple activities revolving around food, its production, supply and consumption. And while we do so we can also inculcate some essential life skills through simple food activities.  Many times parents are little hesitant to let their kids enter kitchen at home. They feel children will litter the place and the output will lead to nothing but wastage of food items and space. But little do they realise that children learn the best when they do things themselves. 
So let them loosen up and learn some life skills through simple food activities.

Friday, 5 January 2018


Every housewife’s worst nightmare would be living in a house infested with rats. Oh! It is such a tedious task to overcome the damages done by the little monster to your precious clothes in the wardrobe, your classic paperbacks in the bookshelf and that favourite rug you bought from Srinagar. But the same little monster becomes a darling when you are trying to put your little ones to sleep. You show them the pictures and videos of the little mouse and your bundle of joy forgets all his/her worries and starts smiling back. It’s a mystery how that filthy little monster becomes the most beloved cartoon character for kids all over the world. The bond of love of mice and kids knows no boundaries such as languages, countries, cultures or age-groups. All the kids love the Walt Disney created Mickey-Minnie Mouse and would have danced to the tunes of Mickey Mouse Club House at some point of time in their childhood.

But this is not the only creation based on Mice which has attracted the attention of kids all over the world. In modern times, there are some more mice characters which have caught the attention of kids. Let’s take a look at some of them:

1.     Geronimo Stilton: The author of fa-mouse-ly funny adventure tales, Geronimo is the editor of the most popular daily newspaper: The Rodent’s Gazette in the New Mouse City. He is one meticulous, learned and brainy mouse who enjoys playing golf and telling stories to his nephew Benjamin. His name Stilton is based on the name of a famous English cheese and definitely tells us mouse readers/friends about the mutual love of mice and kids for all kinds of cheese. As suggested all the tales of this fa-mouse-ly mouse are whisker-licking-good tales.

Why kids will love reading Geronimo’s adventures: The print type used in the book is interestingly unique as it mixes up all kinds of font types from a running cursive to bold comic sans. Words come to life with the font and meanings become so very clear and fixed in the kids’ minds. So sometimes you find the snow freezing and the volcanoes erupting when Geronimo is telling about his experiments at Benjamin’s school.
Geronimo doesn’t just tell us adventure stories; he also gives us information about interesting facts in life ranging from manners to methods of making cheese cakes to mummies. The book has everything that the mouse readers need to know about the New Mouse City, Geronimo’s office/colleagues and his family. The Rodent Emeritus is definitely a fab-mouse kids would love.
2.     Stuart Little. How often kids would have longed to have a white mouse as their pet and even better for them is a white mouse as their own little brother! Here we have a real white mouse joining the real Little family as one of them. It is fun watching them all go for a Sunday picnic, try and make a boat and do some fishing. And of course, the jealous little kitty trying to shun away the little mouse bro! The Little family looks like any other normal family with two boys and their concerns.
Why kids will love watching Stuart’s adventures: This story has both animated as
well as real life actors so it is not a monotonous cartoon film. Instead all of them: the human and animal characters look real and in fact, are real when they talk, sing or dance! This tale of mice and kids is worth seeing because of all the melodrama and human emotions displayed by the cats, birds and the little boys.

Read my blog on 06 Best Sports movies children love on

3.     Christmas Carols: Mickey and Minnie Mouse. There are so many animated stories of the most popular and beloved Walt Disney’s mouse creation: Mickey Mouse. With his obedient pup, Pluto; his girlfriend Minnie; his duck friends Donald and Daisy and others; Mickey is definitely the best mouse representation of a social animal called Man. All his tales describe his simple lifestyle and concerns. One of the best tales of the mouse couple is the one broadly based on the story of “The Gift of Magi” and that too, in the backdrop of Christmas. Both Mickey and Minnie try hard to earn some extra nickel so that they can buy some expensive things as Christmas gift for each other. Unfortunately, both end up buying gifts which are not useful anymore to them. But still the way they enjoy life and each other’s company is what makes the whole episode enjoyable.
Why kids will love watching Mickey: In this tale, Mickey is shown to be a pauper who has nearly no money to get a Christmas gift for his beloved Minnie. But he is not unhappy with life. Even when he doesn’t have time, he manages to perform and collect some things for destitute people.

Why these are the best mice characters?
These are the best mice characters in my opinion as they display the most important human characteristic of innocence and vitality due to which they appeal the most to kids. Also, these three mice are available to kids in three different forms that is: in books, in movies as a cartoon and as a real life image. This variety in their forms makes them more interesting and appealing to the kids. And, that’s why I am sure these tales will further continue the bond of love of mice and kids in future times.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Good Homes of Game of Thrones

While we await the last season of Game of Thrones, days and nights are going to be engaged in discussing next moves of the surviving honourable members of the Stark family. While some spoilers are already speculating the mother of the dragons to play a definite role in Sansa Stark and Jon Snow’s life; Cersei and Arya’s moves will also be worth watching.  

While I watched this series from day one, as a homemaker what intrigued me the most was the way the idea of spaces has been visualized whenever all these characters switch homes. While the story begins at the laid back country side castle of the Starks, Winterfell; we find the Lannister brothers and sister being cozy and comfortable in the towers of the castle while Joffrey Barathian is the only one complaining. 

Once back in the capital, even Lord Eddard Stark looks comfortable as the King’s Hand. He does miss his home as his wife and sons are there but he adjusts well to his new workplace and home. Same is the case with his daughters, Sansa and Arya, who also seem to fit in the royal chambers of King’s Landing. Arya is a little restless but finds the butcher boy and her dancing master to pass her time learning new tricks with her sword.

On the other hand, the bastard son of Lord Stark goes to join the Night’s Watch at the Castle Black and guards the Wall in complete cold. The complete void in his life and the lack of solid warmth of family is signified through the long patches of snow and cold winds blowing hard in the face. Till he finds the other brothers, especially Sam with whom he shares the indoor fire.
Far in the desert, the last dragon and his sister, D Targerien, the new Khalisi is struggling to adjust to her wild tribal husband and his equally wild bunch of slaves. Her home is more like a small earthen tent which is lightened with the fire at night. She struggles hard with her dying tribesmen and baby dragons till she reaches the city of Kaath.

As she gathers a big army of slaves freed by her, her home space is shown to be a high rise building and a higher throne in it with nearly no decorated chambers still. Her home space and powerful throne are still examples of the sublimity of a peace-loving yet courageous person.

 In the consecutive seasons, as the deceit and spying enhances, the play of spaces becomes more interesting as all conversations between key players take place in their bed chambers or in their tents at the battlefields. Little Finger’s lively, brightly decorated plush establishment being the most chosen place for all of them to reveal their secrets.  Such as the conversations between Cersi and Sansa, Sansa and Joffrey, Tammy and his whore and so on.

 Extreme emotions of hatred and cruelty of Joffrey towards the Stark family and others are usually shot at the court and larger spaces showing how easily he displays his true character in public. That makes us believe how naturally cruelty comes to him and we start hating him immediately.

Another example of using crowded, brightly lit public spaces for showing turning points in the story are the venues of the red and velvet Weddings. Oh how marvelously, the merry-making is turned to deaths and dare devilry by them. Look at the use of spaces at the High tables at the weddings and how they play a special role at killing the bridegrooms and showing the never to happen bedding scenes.

I am appalled at how cautiously the makers lead the characters to find solace in love-making at unusual places, ranging from the shocking scene between Cersi and Jamie next to their father’s dead body to the prison chambers of various characters. 

I was too shocked myself as a believer about the place they chose to show these scenes but after second thoughts, it all seemed right with the way the characters were thinking. My personal best use of space chosen for such a turning point remains to be the cave where Jon Snow loses his control and virginity and lets his soul melt into the mouth of his beloved Wildling! 

Another of my personal best example of showing the struggle and conviction of a character through the space around her is Lady Stark’s journey from Winterfell to the death she meets at Red Wedding. From her ailing son’s bedside to the elder son’s march to take revenge of his father’s death, how courageously her environs change. And as a true lady, she remains as large-hearted as her locale till the last minute.

There is so much that one’s mind catches about spaces and their interplay with the character of the game. But for now, this is just a small way to celebrate the big homes of the game!

Waiting to be appalled again by the Good Homes and spaces of the Thronies in this season!