English picture books are excellent material to use in English classes for primary pupils and pre-schoolers for many reasons. Here are the main ones quoted in the academic literature: “Stories are motivating, challenging and fun and can help develop positive attitudes towards the foreign language, culture and language learning” and “[l]istening to stories in class is a shared social experience.”
For this reason, in January and March last year (2017), Teams III and IV offered two workshops on this topic to our tandem-teachers. As expected, the results were promising to take root, so Prof. Martin produced her bibliography of picture books and selected 20 more titles that seemed suitable also in a Lao cultural context. She then asked me (Lea) to edit and process the book order, which the Angels for Children foundation agreed to pay for.
So, before my departure for Laos, I checked which titles were available as “Big Books” (picture books in very large format so everybody in a class can see the pictures). The list was ordered by the foundation in August, and the books that were available through a German retailer arrived in time for us to take them with us in September. The others, which had to be ordered directly from England, will take a bit longer to make their way to Laos.
I met up with the three primary school English teachers in the library of Ban Sikeud Primary School for my Workshop “Micro-teaching with a picture book in the classroom – what, why, when, and how.”
I only did a short introduction and revision of the use of picture books as teaching material in the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) primary classroom. As the teachers had had an introduction in the two previous workshops on what picture books are and why teachers should use them, and also a short sample lesson on how to – and how not to – work with them, I put the focus on micro-teaching one particular picture book. I wanted to show in detail and exactly how to work with a picture book in the classroom in tried-and-tested pre-, while– and post activities, step by step.
Western readers may wonder why picture books need an introduction. Well – “Laos is an oral culture.” This means there are not many books written in Lao to start with. If there are no books to read, oral culture continues. If oral culture continues, no books are written.
However, literacy is a sine-qua-non in the modern world, and reading is therefore now promoted. The very first Lao organisation to focus on producing and publishing fun educational books and distributing them to children is “Big Brother Mouse”. In 2006, they started so-called “book parties” in their new bookshop and have since then visited many schools in the country, read to many children, showed them how to read and treat a book, and left their books behind to promote literacy.
I chose the following picture book because it deals with the daily work of a farmer and different farm animals. Since some of the parents of the Laotian pupils are farmers themselves and have chickens and cows in their own yards, the children would be able to relate to the topic. Also being told or read animal stories is always fun and motivating for young children of any culture.
This book has two protagonists: A lazy farmer who stays in bed all day eating chocolate and reading the newspaper, and his hard-working duck, who has to deal with all the farm work and chores in the house, for example sawing wood, collecting apples, or ironing clothes.
One evening the exhausted duck collapses in tears and is soon comforted by the chickens. The farm animals are very fond of the duck and outraged by the farmer’s behaviour, so they hatch a plan.1
As soon as the farmer falls asleep they sneak into his room and kick him out of bed. He is so afraid that he runs away and never comes back. From this day on the farm animals live in peace on the farm and work together on all chores.2
Pre-activities in teaching are used for activating schemata (getting pupils to recall what they already know about the subject), predicting, and developing student curiosity and interest.
I started by micro-teaching some pre-activities because they are essential for the introduction of the main characters and the topic of the book for inexperienced learners.
One way to present the topic of the book is to bring realia to the classroom. I brought eggs, rice, and potatoes.
I asked the children where they can buy these things and their answer was that you can get eggs, potatoes, and rice at the market.
A market situation lends itself to the following pre-activity to practise the following exchange: One pupil is the farmer and another one is the customer.
Three dialogues, at different levels of difficulty, for differentiation:
Customer: I would like to buy some eggs.
Farmer: Here you are! (hands over the eggs) Here are ten eggs for you.
For more advanced pupils:
Customer: How much are they?
Farmer: Ten thousand KIP.
Even more advanced:
Customer: That is too much. I will give you five thousand KIP.
Farmer: OK, I will give you a discount: eight thousand KIP
Customer: OK. Here you are. (hands over the money)
The dialogue cards can be handed to pairs of pupils or put on the blackboard for reference once the pronunciation of the sentences has been practised enough, and if writing is a regular feature of English lessons (which is the case in Lao primary classrooms). Three courageous pairs act out the dialogues in front of the class, with the help of the teacher. Then all pairs choose the level at which they want to practise themselves.
You can also create word webs for the
After this activity, I presented the picture book and asked my audience which animals they could see on the front cover and what they are doing. This activated some of the vocabulary waiting for us in the book.
While reading the book out loud it is very important to make sure that the pupils are paying attention in order to be able to follow the story. As with storytelling, for picture book work you need to establish the rule that it has to be quiet in the classroom. If this proves impossible, you make a sad face, close the book, and say: “It is too loud. I will try again tomorrow.”
The next day, to make sure that the children pay attention, you can stop and ask questions while you are reading. Another way is to distribute little picture cards of different characters from the book and ask the pupils to hold up the card (silent) or say the name of the character or make different animal sounds (if this does not lead to turmoil…) every time their character appears. This technique is called „chorusing“, or „chanting“.
A little impression of reading out loud and “doing” the voices:
After you read the book you practise and extend the vocabulary used in the book with different techniques, for example a song that goes well with the story:
“Old Mac Donald had a farm
And on his farm he had a cow
With a moo moo here
And a moo moo there
Here a moo, there a moo
Everywhere a moo moo
Old MacDonald had a farm E-I-E-I-O” …
To quieten the class down again, while maybe playing the song a few more times, you can now ask the pupils to draw a picture about the story or colour a colouring page. As Lao pupils do not usually have sharpeners, you can wind down yourself by going around sharpening their pencils and crayons.
Our tandem-teachers also came up with their own ideas, e.g. re-telling the story together and asking questions about the story.
In the end we read the story together once more for practice, and the teachers also imitated the different animal voices while reading, for more semanticization. The workshop was designed to enlarge the teachers’ methodological repertoire, of course, but apart from that it was great fun, too!
I hope they will use the material to try out a lesson with this book in their classrooms soon, because if the teacher enjoys her teaching material, her classes will, too!
And maybe, in the teachers’ kitchen during communal lunches, there might be new talk revolving around lazy farmers and hard-working ducks. Or newly lazy ducks and hard-working pigs. Or a happy hard-working community with a fair distribution of labour and income, like in this tale.
Text by L.Herrmann & I. Martin
Photos & videos by M. Kirsten
1 Experienced readers will smile at the intertextual reference. All of a sudden, a “simple” picture book is charged up with strong satirical political connotations. This is an old story, and we already know the lazy farmer and his animal-slaves from one very famous allegorical novella which was published in 1945 and went on to become a world classic. The text is still read in English classes at German secondary schools and at university, nowadays newly framed by more recent “dystopian fiction“, which is very popular with young Western readers. We also know how the story ends, of course…
2 The happy ending raises questions and could lead to interesting discussions in an advanced classroom, especially in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ).
Wadell, Martin & Oxenbury, Helen. (1995) Farmer Duck. Walker Books Ltd.
Illustrated version of the Picture Book: https://vimeo.com/56772821
Ellis & Brewster (2002) Tell it again! The Storytelling Handbook for Primary Teachers.Penguin English.