This week I challenged myself to plan lessons that would include all the 4 skills of Language learning: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.
This Term we have been learning about the Importance of sea and the conservation of marine reserves. During the study of the sea we researched about a number of sea animals, their habitats, interesting features and their protection. I wanted my students to do a comprehensive study on the animal of their choice. I wanted them to research about sea animals and so went on to look for a website that would be friendly for my Year 3 and 4 learners who predominantly are ESL ( English as Second Language) students. As I searched through the web it became very clear to me that my students would be easily put off by researching because they have limited language acquisition. The articles on the web were too hard for my students to understand. So to have meaning focused comprehensible input, I created my own text that would be challenging but at the same time would be comprehendible to the students. I wrote these in first person where a child became a penguin, a whale or an octopus and narrated their story to a group of students. All students in the group had an information grid which they had to fill in as they listened to the sea animal talk about themselves.
This was very interesting to watch as I over heard some children say “You tell us, how you live in such freezing cold ? Tell us, you are the penguin”.
There was lots of note taking, reading listening and talking. The sea animal on the hot seat had to repeate herself over and over again and in this process, students became familiar with the language structures that were written in the text. These structures were later on reflected in their writing too. Later all students had to write an information report about their sea animal. Their goals were to introduce paragraphs and elaborate on their ideas. This was successfully achieved. Van Lier has rightly said that interaction is more than a source of comprehensible input. Interaction also provides the learners with the opportunity to use the target language. I could hear students say “ Locomotion means movement, this means how the animals moves. Octopus has no legs, it had only arms so it uses it’s arms to move”. In another conversation I heard a group talk about mammals. “Whales are mammals because they don’t lay eggs, they have babies”
This lesson was very satisfying as an opportunity was provided not only for a lot input but students were also expected to produce Meaning focused output. I met my teaching goal of planning a language lesson that included all the 4 skills of Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Swain (1985) has argued that students also need to produce language, because only this would push the students to produce the correct grammatical structures and extend their use of vocabulary. It would force the learner to put words into order and 'glue' the meaning words together with functional words - to 'grammarize' the sentence. The Writing that was produced through this task design was definitely of a better quality. Sometimes in a fast paced classroom, it is difficult to achieve this, nonetheless it is a critical principle to develop an instructional program that meets the needs of all students in the class.