The shortage of reading materials
in Nigerian schools has contributed in no small way to the poor standard of English in
schools. The lack of a reading culture among parents also compounds the problem, as most
children come from homes with little or no reading materials. This article describes a way
that learners can produce their own reading materials.
These materials, however, should
be seen only as by-products since the learning that takes place in the process of doing
the task is more valuable. The technique is not entirely new, as a programme based on
similar activities has been tried out in Thailand, Bangladesh, and India (Walker,
Rattanavich, and Oller, 1992).
The teacher divides the class into small groups of five or six, depending upon the size
of the class. The teacher should note, however, that the smaller the group, the more
effective the monitoring, since the activities the learners do require discussions that
can become disruptive if the groups are too large.
The learners tell each other folktales that they know. Teachers should ensure that the
folktales are being told in English and should circulate in the class to assist with
difficult vocabulary. It is not important if not all members of a group have a tale to
tell. Two or three stories in each group are enough.
At this stage, the learners in each group discuss the stories and decide which one they
would like to write. Then, with the help of the teacher, learners produce a written draft
of their folktales. Each group will write one story.
This stage requires the guidance of the teacher as the learners work to produce a clean
copy of their stories. The technicalities of story writing such as paragraphing, using
quotation marks for direct speech, and indenting for direct speech and songs are explained
in this stage. Teachers can avoid lengthy explanations if they show learners storybooks
that include direct speech, pictures, and other relevant layout styles that students can
incorporate in their "books." During this task learners can add illustrations.
Each group then produces a final copy with relevant drawings added. To make the
end-product more booklike, cardboard can be made into colorful covers for the stories.
Each group can then staple its story together. The teacher can display the stories and
encourage learners to borrow and read stories written by other groups.
The activities described here require that learners do more than just write. Learners
must interact and cooperate as they work toward completing the task. This is important in
language learning because the learners are involved in "comprehending, manipulating,
producing, and interacting in the target language (TL), while their attention is
principally focused on meaning rather than form" (Nunan 1989).
Apart from interacting in the TL, the learners also draw upon their resources from such
areas of language as grammar, vocabulary, speaking, and reading, and nonlinguistic
resources such as drawing and designing. Norman, Levihn, and Hedenquist (1986) stress the
importance of engaging as many senses as possible in learning activities because such
activities stimulate both hemispheres of the brain, thus resulting in better learning.
Another important factor in the teaching procedure described is the functional value of
the reader. The fact that the learners know that something tangible is being produced from
a learning task serves as a very strong motivating factor. This supports Pincass
(1982) belief that for all levels of learners, motivation is increased if writing is
placed in a realistic context. Teaching that quotation marks in direct speech are started
on a new line and that the sentence is indented would be boring and very technical when
presented in a grammar lesson. However, within the context of folktales, where the hare
speaks and the lion responds, learning becomes enjoyable. Finally, having learners work in
smalI groups, rather than having each learner write his/her own folktale, involves
students in communication, thereby enhancing the quality of language being used (Brumfit
Teachers wishing to use this technique in their classes should decide which stages to
include in a particular lesson. Breaking up the process into a two-day activity of about
one hour each day is quite effective with elementary school pupils. Stages 1 and 2 can be
done in a double English period of 30 minutes each, while stages 3 and 4 can be done the
following day in another double period.
Whatever type of lesson schedule, teachers can organize the activities so that learners
can easily resume the task.
The present economic hardship facing most developing nations has resulted in the lack
of basic teaching and learning materials; thus, there is a need for teachers to be more
innovative in their teaching and embrace techniques that will help them make the most of
their teaching circumstances. By doing this activity twice a term, teachers can build up a
considerable number of simple reading books for their classes. Fun and competition can be
added if teachers cooperate and exchange stories with those written in other classes.
Brumfit, C. J. 1984. Theoretical implications of inter-language studies for language
teaching. In Inter-languages: Proceedings of the Seminar in Honour of Pit Corder. eds.
Davies and Criper, Edinburgh University Press.
Norman, D., U. Levihn, and J. Hedenquist. 1986. Communicative ideas: An approach with
classroom activities. Language Teaching Publications.
Nunan, D. 1989. Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge
Pincas, A. 1982. Teaching English writing. London: Macmillan Press.
Walker, R., S. Rattanvich, and J. W. Oller. 1992. Teaching all the children to read.
Buckingham: Open University Press.