In this series we talk to inspiring teachers who use storytelling to set up creative projects, set up reading programmes, and use the arts and literature to develop their students’ language and literacy skills.
We would like to share real examples from real teachers to show how small ideas can make great learning projects. When they share their techniques and experiences, we realise that no matter how diverse our world is, our students are interested in similar questions and enjoy doing similar creative tasks.
This month we talk to Manolya Eker, a language teacher at the Adana Gundogdu College, Turkey. When we saw her project built around the Helbling Young Reader Lost on the Coast (written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni), we thought it was an excellent example of motivating creativity and reading in the language classroom. Manolya talks about her teaching practices and techniques, and shares great ideas on building projects based on the school curriculum.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): When did you start using readers in your English classes?
Manolya Eker: I have been working at Adana Gundogdu College for five years now, and we have been using readers since then throughout all grade levels from pre-school to high school. Readers are a part of the ICP (Intellectual Citizen Programme) which was set up by the school. In my opinion teachers should not limit themselves to teaching grammatical structures and preparing students for exams, they should also prepare them to be aware of the wider world and have a sense of their own role as a world citizen. Knowing their responsibilities and respecting the values of different cultures.
HRB: What are the advantages of story-based and project-based teaching?
Manolya: Using readers as a tool for teaching language and literacy in the ESL (English as a second language) class allows teachers lots of opportunities to use different teaching methods. It gives us a chance to use modern teaching styles. Project-based learning encourages students to develop a balanced, diverse approach to solving real-world problems. It also helps students develop personal and social responsibility, planning, critical thinking, time management, creativity and many more skills for living in a knowledge-based technological society. I believe that project-based learning promotes life-long learning.
HRB: How did you set up your environment project?
Manolya: The environment project was based on the Lost on the Coast reader written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni. The story is about a stranded whale which is related to the school curriculum unit on animals. As we read the book students learned new vocabulary related to the environment, and I noticed students were very interested when I explained the meaning of Greenpeace. Normally I try to plan a project for every book before the school year begins but sometimes the best projects come up when we are reading the story together with the students. This is what happened in this case when I overheard a student say “I wish we could do something for the whales too”. As we started to research about oil spills and whales, we realized that there were much more issues that we could learn about. Having 125 students, giving students a chance to choose an environmental issue in which they were interested in made my work easier. We watched videos related to most of these topics, discussing solutions. So we all decided to make posters and design T-shirts. While we were doing this we realized that this was not enough and that we had to write a letter to Greenpeace in order to allow the students’ voice be heard.
HRB: Did you start by reading the book?
Manolya: Before I started reading the book I thought of ways to arouse the students’ curiosity. The most basic way is to show the cover of the book and ask students to guess what the story may be about. With Lost On the Coast I started by having students listen to whale sounds and have students guess which animal it was.
HRB: How do you approach reading such a book in class?
Manolya: Reading books in class, in particular books such as Lost On the Coast, gives learners a chance to link with global issues and helps with critical thinking. Helbling Readers are great for young learners as they provide a context for the story, identify linguistic objectives and key vocabulary, contain rhymes and songs, arts and crafts all of which give a head start to teachers and easily encourage and motivate students.
HRB: What inspired the students to come up with the creative work?
Manolya: Students become more creative when they are interested in the story and the topic. It is up to the teacher to enable students to find out about their world for themselves and to support them as they learn, and to encourage children to develop and express their own values and opinions. When young learners are given this chance they feel more confident about expressing themselves and become creative naturally.
HRB: Have you used any other stories to set up such projects?
Manolya: I use a global project for every reader we use in our ICP programme, it is quite simple to relate a global issue to any story because of the variety of topics Helbling Young Readers offer. The key point is to enable students to work on real-world projects. For example with Fat Cat’s Busy Day story book which was related to our school curriculum unit on houses. While we were learning about rooms in the house, I reminded the students that not all people around the world live in similar houses. This way we had a chance to learn about houses around the world. While we were researching and watching videos about different housing, we decided to make model houses using similar material as the houses were made from. Students learned about the culture of these countries again they were given a chance to choose a country of their interest. When learners are interested in the topic they feel more confident and motivated to complete them.
HRB: How did your students feel about the project?
Manolya: In our school we encourage student-centered learning, this way students are given a chance to have a sense of control over their work which engages and motivates them. Students research and complete topics that interest them. We teachers function as facilitators throughout the process, giving tips and advice more often than giving answers. Students feel very enthusiastic about the projects, and because they are given a variety of topics to choose from eagerly listen to peer presentations, and observe peer projects. As soon as they are finished with a project they want to learn about the next project that is waiting for them.
Here are some images from the project:
Many thanks to Manolya and her students for the interview and sharing their ideas and pictures with us.