What's in my box? Ms Melwani's English lessons are fun and engaging.
"Please, spare my life, Giant. I'm so sorry for trespassing your garden, I will leave right now!" pleads a pupil as she assumes the role of a hapless child in Oscar Wilde's short story The Selfish Giant.
Listening with rapt attention, a class of Pri 3 pupils focus their eyes on their friends who recite lines from the book as part of an Oscar Wilde Appreciation Day organised by Ms Lajwani Thakurdas Melwani. Wilde's classic fable may not be a set text in the primary school English curriculum, but Ms Melwani's inclusion of this and other stories into her classes have turned her young charges into fans of quality fiction and won her an Inspiring Teacher in English Award from MOE.
A telling love for the language
At White Sands Primary School, Ms Melwani is known for her penchant for integrating storybooks and other literary materials with the established syllabus. Through these texts, she reveals how writers use language to craft characters, scenes and drama. She then engages her classes in spirited exchanges that shed light on the magic and meaning of the narratives, thereby nurturing in them skills that will place her pupils in good stead in both exams as well as their journey through life.
Pupils get a go at reading aloud.
"I believe firmly in Reading Aloud sessions," says Ms Melwani of her teaching method, which involves captivating her charges with animated readings that bring to life words that would otherwise remain silent and dry. The pupils are also given a chance to read aloud to their peers. "Capture your audience, read with expression and enthral them," she exhorts the class, and the pupils follow suit as they take turns to read aloud passages of the text.
When the reading is completed, Ms Melwani poses questions, prompting the pupils to think critically about how the story and its message were constructed. The pupils then explore the story's characters in depth through various activities that reinforce the lesson. Some re-enact sections of the text; others are placed in a 'hot seat' where they have to role-play certain characters and come up with their own lines that are true to their roles.
Ms Melwani explains that these exercises help them learn direct and indirect characterisation as well as hone their public speaking abilities. In fact, many of her pupils are now so at home with speaking in front of their classmates that many hands readily shoot up when Ms Melwani asks for volunteers to take the 'hot seat'. After each round, the pupils offer constructive comments on their peers' performance.
Instilling a love for reading
A STELLAR mentor at her school, Ms Melwani also taps into the National Library Board's services to deepen her pupils' interest in reading. Guest storytellers and visits by Dino the library mascot further enliven her sessions, while access to the DEAR@schools service allows White Sands Primary School to borrow books in bulk from the National Library for the pupils.
Believing that parents hold the other key to instilling a lifelong reading habit in their kids, Ms Melwani conducts workshops for parents of Pri 3 and Pri 4 pupils. During these sessions, she shares simple and sustainable strategies for helping children move away from supported reading to independent reading.
Dramatising a text from a storybook together.
Getting young children to love reading is not without its challenges. Teachers such as Ms Melwani faces many competing media such as computer games and portable digital devices that distract pupils from books and reading. But far from discouraging her, Ms Melwani is determined to raise the ante by holding reading activities designed to win her charges over to the power and companionship of a good book.
"I find it quite heartening, actually, when they refuse to put down their books when lessons start because they have reached the cliff hanger," she says. "'Give us one more minute!' they plead with me. I take that as a sign that I have overcome the obstacle of getting them to read books over playing computer games."
Ms Melwani is also motivated by the changes she sees in her pupils, who begin to show a visible appreciation of different forms of literature and display greater imagination in their thoughts and actions. "You know you're in the right place when you see the fruit of your nurturing," she states.
Lights, camera, action! The 'hot seat' requires pupils to enact a character when given a specific scene from the storybook.
Going by the pupils' enthusiasm to talk about their favourite authors, it would seem Ms Melwani has succeeded. "My parents read with me at night and I ask them to explain words I don't know," shares Annabel Twan, a monitor in her Pri 3 class. "My favourite books are by Enid Blyton and Oscar Wilde and I'm currently reading the Famous Five series."
"I like Geronimo Stilton books," chimes in Annabel's classmate Yogita A. "I find it mysterious that the character is credited as the author. I hope one day to find out who the author is." Adding her thoughts on Ms Melwani, Yogita says, "If she scolds us for our bad behaviour, we know that it's because she cares for us."
"She's very fun and encourages us to learn," reveals Linus Yuen of Ms Melwani's classes. "I enjoy English and it's my best subject!" he declares with a smile.