A chorus of voices greeted me when I entered the class on the first day of school after Pongal holidays. Going by their enthusiasm, the festival obviously lived up to my students’ expectations.
“Meeeees, my family celebrated Pongal in the village, meees!”
“I stayed back here in Chennai meeeees. My cousins came to visit us meeeeees.”
“We don’t celebrate Pongal miss, but we went to visit friends and celebrated with them.”
“On Kaanum Pongal, we went to the beach with my cousins.”
“I got new clothes miss.”
“In my family, we celebrate only Mattu Pongal. We washed the cows and put kungumam. I really like the cow miss. The cow’s eyes are beautiful miss.”
We cooked Pongal outside the house, and we all stood around and shouted “PongalOOOOO Pongal.”
The kids had so many experiences to share on that day, the last day of our class together. We decided to challenge them to write about their Pongal celebrations in English. But first we gave them a paper and asked them to draw about their holidays. Some students drew a picture of their celebrations on Pongal or Mattu Pongal while one student drew what she did on all three days.
All the students in the class were English Language Learners. The children first identified what they wanted to share in their mother tongue. With that information, we gave them a choice of writing prompts. The students completed their sentences (orally in English) to describe their drawings. This gave us the opportunity to work on sentence structure and tenses with each student.
Some of the students were able to write the sentences on their own without any support, but others needed more help to find the right vocabulary. As this was not part of their regular curriculum, I didn’t want any of them to feel left out because of incomplete work. For these students, we wrote the sentences in English, and they copied these down. You can see that many of them need help with punctuation—words are capitalized randomly, and full stops are missing.
The kids were disappointed that they were going to write only two or three sentences because they had so much to share about their holiday celebrations. THAT is the power of child-centered writing exercises!