Structure of Good texts and Repetitive Language Boost the Learners Creative Thinking and Scaffold their language
Babita Sharma Chaplain* (firstname.lastname@example.org )
Several studies have been done globally in the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) regarding the importance of the use of children’s literature across the primary curriculum. However, in the context of Nepal’s public primary schools, teachers have yet to practice using literature with the purpose of developing language skills of the students. This article gives some insights into the importance of integrating good books into their curriculum. It illustrates some features of good texts for children and explains how the texts can be used to scaffold children’s language skills as well as creative thinking.
Literature is an inseparable aspect of human lives. It brings powerful effects on people of all ages including children. Good stories can work as a powerful device to show children right direction, help them make decisions, learn to empathize and become good humans. It can change their perception and attitude towards certain things. For instance, from the story ‘The Grouchy Ladybug’ written by Eric Carle, children learn the importance of being friendly and interacting politely with others in the community. Literature equally serves as the springboard for discussions. For instance, after reading ‘The Giving Tree’ children can discuss for hours regarding human development, their behavior, selfishness and so many other issues. Thus, using literature is a natural medium of teaching children a second language, developing a love for literature in the learners and motivating them to read and grow as a ‘human’.
Good texts are generally “mentor text” (Ray, 1999; Dorfman and Cappelli, 2007; Fletcher, 2011) that can be used to teach the learners various aspects of writer’s writing process as well as crafts “such as effective repetition, predictable patterns, use of imagery or rhythm and rhyme” (Dorfman and Cappelli, 2007:4). Mentors are essential part of our lives as they always guide us to do something we are unable to do on our own; therefore, it is obvious that children who are learning language need mentors, such as good authors and their literature, which teachers can always bring “into the classroom community to serve as mentors” (Dorfman and Cappelli, 2007:2). Children learn about language when they encounter language structure and pattern that come repeatedly in the text. For instance, in the story ‘Tiki Tiki Tembo…’ the sentences like ‘he pushed the air into him and he pumped the water out of him’ are repeated every time the old man tries to save one of the boys after they drown into the well and the phrase like ‘I painted a…’ is repeated in almost every sentence of the story, ‘I’m an Artist who Painted a Blue Horse’ by Eric Carle. Similarly, Campbell (1992) gives an example of the repetition and rhyme of ‘But he was still hungry’ in the ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and argues that children gain “an enjoyment of reading and learning about story structure and language because of the power of stories” (pp. 52). Moreover, children develop their overall knowledge about language spoken by the real people in real situation as a natural process when they are actively engaged in listening to the story over and over again, reading themselves, reading between the lines and digging deep to study author’s craft. During the interaction time, teachers can encourage the learners to think critically to make predictions about the rest of the story and they “might also try to make text-to-life connections with the children so that they are able to contextualize the story within their own view of the world” (Campbell, 1992:53). Through discussion of their response to the stories they have read, “children can make connections, interrogate their views about the world and learn about themselves in the process” (Cremin, 2009:104) and learn about their relationship with the social environment. Thus, A good piece of children’s literature is very important to assist the young writers think critically “through reading and writing” (Fisher, 1990:196) and develop their creativity. And also they learn to think critically by answering open ended questions which invite “children to discuss and explain what was going on rather than expecting them to recall or retrieve specific words from the text” (Leland, C, et.al, 2013:19). Thus, I suggest that language teachers need to consider Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking processes that “encourage and develop thinking beyond simple recall of event (Ellison, M. (2010: 21).
The children can think critically making the connections and can also get stimulated to pay careful attention to the form of the written language in the mentor texts and imitate the writer’s structure and pattern to create their own stories. They can even work collaboratively in group and make big books for shared reading (Brown & Williams, 1995). This procedure of writing stories imitating certain features and crafts of the mentor texts is also called as ‘pattern writing’ that the learners generally practice in the beginning stage of their creative writing. Thus, stories help children become creative thinkers and writers.
Stories outside textbooks are considered as authentic reading materials and can be gathered from various sources. They should be carefully selected to ensure that the books are attractive enough to draw children’s attention and serve as a powerful vehicle to inspire children to read and learn language as well as understand themes. They typically “involve stories that address universally significant topics and lay the foundation for rich conversation” (Leland, C, et.al, 2013: 27). They can be drawn “from a wide variety of oral and written literature including stories written by students in the classroom and professional authors” (Leland, C, et.al, 2013: 27). Also teachers can write the stories themselves. In the words of Day & Bamford (1997: 99) “if you lack a published language learner literature, consider making your own”. Teachers can also use the stories which they had written themselves. Further down this article discusses the criteria teachers can follow to select stories for their children.
There are some features to be taken into account while selecting stories for this reading program:
Picture Books: Children love colorful big and small picture books with more pictures and less written contents because they cannot read heavy texts but can learn a lot from the pictures. Books are responsible for the children’s socio-emotional as well as intellectual development (Jalongo, 2004). Picture book has the power to stimulate children’s imagination and “because the picture book is both illustrated and written, it simultaneously supports aesthetic development and growth in literacy” (Jalongo, 2004:8).
Predictable books with Pattern and Repetitions: Repetition and patterns make the story book predictable because similar words, phrases, sentences or even scenes and actions of the characters in the story are repeated and therefore, the readers generally predict the up-coming spoken discourse or events. For instance, in the story, ‘The Giving Tree’ the tree speaks the same dialogues every time the boy visits the tree: “Come boy. Come and climb up my trunk and swing on my branches, eat apples and be happy.” and even the similar words are used to describe the tree’s action and feelings. Predictable books are considered to be the best medium to ease the emergent L2 readers and such “books contain language which is controlled and are an excellent way to introduce authentic literature into the ELT young learners’ classroom.” (Linse, 2007: 48). Young learners often enjoy listening to such stories and at the same time, they become aware of the grammatical structure available in the text and thus predictable books are suitable for the children to acquire a second or foreign language (Linse, 2007).
Variety of sentence structure: Some of the stories I had used were very easy to read stories with few simple sentences while some had complex sentence structure. For instance, ‘The Artist who Painted a Blue Horse’ is a simple picture book with a few text and a lot of illustrations; whereas, ‘The Relatives Came’ has more written text than illustrations. The purpose of the variety of selection is that I want the children get exposure to various level of language; however, I don’t expect them to master everything that I introduce. In this regard, Ghosn (2013) writes:
Young L2 learners can be exposed to richer, more advanced language, however; exposure should not imply expectation of acquisition until later. After all, parents do not control their infants’ and toddlers’ exposure to their first language (L1), although children are not expected to produce syntactically accurate output at age 5 or 6 (pp. 47).
Finally, in order to learn what the children are experiencing and to assess our own instructions, it is always important to give children to an opportunity to reflect on the lessons and it is always “possible to get children to reflect on their learning processes in both speaking and writing, in both L1 and L2 (Pinter, 2006: 48). We can learn what the children are thinking about our reading sessions and if some learning was going on, we can always allow children to reflect orally or ask them to write a response journal.
To sum up, children’s literature can be used across the primary curriculum and it has several benefits such as stimulating children’s power of imagination as well as inquiry and providing them with an authentic learning environment. Also the children can use their literacy skill across the subjects (Waugh and et. al., 2013) so that they can express better in English and perform well in other subjects. Children begin to love literature and show interest towards books as a result of having an exposure to good books that represent the world around them.
Such good books can always guide as mentors. They can learn to read through listening to teachers reading aloud and participating in readers’ theatre. Children can be asked to read aloud themselves under teachers’ guidance, and gradually making them to move to silent independent reading should be the ultimate goal of the language teachers.
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Fletcher, R. (2011). Mentor author, mentor texts: Short texts, craft notes, and practical classroom uses. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
Campbell, R. Story reading. Reading Real Books. Buckingham. Open University Press.
Cremin, Teresa. (2009). Teaching English creatively (Vol. Learning to teach in the primary school series). London: Routledge
Leland, C., Lewison, M &Harste, J. (2013). Why reading aloud is crucial. Teaching Children’s Literature it is Critical. Routledge: New York.
Ellison, M. (2010). Make them think! Using literature in the primary English language classroom to develop critical thinking skills. E-F@ BULACOES, 7, 21-31.
Brown, M. and Williams, A. ( 1995). Eager readers: A whole lanaguage approach to literacy in primary Schools through using big books. Giant Steps.
Day, R.R., & Bamford, J. (1997). Extensive reading in the second language classroom. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Jalongo, M. R. (2004). Young children and picture books (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Linse, C. (2007). Predictable books in the children’s EFL classroom. ELT Journal, 61(1), 46-54.
Ghosn, I. (2013). Humanizing teaching English to young learners with children’s literature. CLELE journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, 39-57
Pinter, A. (2006) ‘Linking ‘learning to learn’ and writing in young learners’ English classrooms’, in Literacy in ELT: The role of the YL professional in developing reading and writing, 45- 49, Editors: Joseph, M and Powell (1 901095134) Canterbury: IATEFL YL SIG Publication
(*Babita Sharma Chapagain is working as a teacher trainer at Rato Bangala Foundation, Nepal. She earned her Master’s degree in English Language Teaching (ELT) from Kathmandu University. She also completed an MA in ELT (with specialization in Young Learners) at the University of Warwick, UK as a Hornby scholar 2014/2015.)