Last Friday marked the first of Panigram’s weekly English sessions for the kids of the village. The plan was to teach and review the English alphabet, numbers, and basic greetings. As usual, we didn’t need to tell the kids to come to Panigram; at 3’oclock there was a group of twenty-four kids, aged four to twelve, hanging around the pavilion. With the lure of little notebooks (which the kids call guide books) and pens, Caio and I soon had a captivated audience. To my surprise, the children were excited to show off and recite the alphabet. You could see they were hungry to learn more and take notes in their “guide books”. The children did an excellent job reciting the alphabet until we came to the letter “Z”. My American pronunciation of “Zee” was heavily contested; the children insisted on using the Brittish “Zed” instead. Two of the children didn’t know any letters, so I initially worked with them on the pronouncing each letter, then I asked one of the elder boys to review the alphabet with the two boys in the coming week; he gladly accepted the role of tutor.
Next we went over the numbers. We began with recognizing each number and reciting it. Although reviewing numbers one through ten was a breeze, numbers ten through twenty proved to be a bit more difficult. Caio worked with the kids on recognizing the written English numbers, while I practiced with them by counting orally in English using sticks. I saw Caio sneak them some candies for a job well done. (As if he needed to increase his cool factor, being Brazilian in a World Cup-crazed country…) Unfortunately, the kids threw the candy wrappers on the ground; for them littering is completely normal. Caio saw an opportunity for another mini-lesson. He held out a bag (my linen bag, which I was using as my purse for the day) and asked all the kids to place the wrappers in the bag; he showed them that littering was bad. As annoyed as I was with Caio for my bag, his demonstration helped the children understand the importance of keeping their village clean.
To review the numbers, we played a fun game: water balloon toss! In pairs, they practiced counting aloud the number of tosses they had until the balloon broke. The winning team, Zahedand Rahman had 29 passes! The children loved playing with the water balloons- their faces lit up with excitement each time their balloon was “mid-flight”. And when someone was splashed by a breaking balloon, they roared with laughter.
Last, we tackled a few common English phrases, including: “How are you?”, “How old are you?”, “Please”, “Excuse me”, and “Thank you”. Unfortunately, the children kept confusing “How old are you?” with “How are you?”. Explaining when to use “please” and “excuse me” was also challenging. We wanted to explain the meaning of the words or statements instead of simply translating them. So, Caio and I acted certain words out with lots of enthusiasm. The children then paired up to practice their new greetings and questions with each other. Although retaining the new material will be difficult, our main goal of the first session was to familiarize the kids with listening and speaking English. Also, we wanted to establish a fun learning atmosphere for them. Overall, their smiling faces, eager attitude, and scribbled notes were all the feedback we needed to know the lesson was successfully delivered.