English language comes alive

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SINGAPORE – Story-telling and role-playing makes learning English interesting and fun for primary school children, according to a study conducted the Ministry of Education (MOE). These are methods used in the Stellar programme. Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading, better known as Stellar, aims to make English more interactive and fun to learn. The program was first started in 2006, with Primary 1 pupils in 30 primary school, and eventually rolled out to all other schools in 2009.

According to The Straits Times, pupils in the Stellar program are able to speak and read better in English. MOE’s program director for literacy development, Dr Elizabeth Pang, who oversees the Stellar programme, explained that the results from the study indicated that the pupils from 10 Stellar pilot schools have consistently scored higher in writing, reading and speaking. Children were randomly selected to eliminate the inherent advantage of an exceptionally bright child or good teacher, so as to conduct a fair study.

Techniques like story telling, and role-playing were used to engage pupils during lessons. Masks, costumes and props are used during role-playing of characters in the story. They are also tasked with writing scripts for segments with reference to radio or television programme as part of the curriculum.

Stellar’s program is structured to increase pupils’ ability to express themselves confidently and clearly. These areas were identified as weaknesses among local pupils. As such, principals and teachers noticed the difference it has made to the pupils’ grasp of the language before the study findings were released. Dr Pang said that the study confirmed that the Education Ministry was on the right track to teaching English more interactively. With these results, existing methods of teaching English could be refined. While Stellar pupils outperform their peers in writing in the early years, they do not seem to do the same later. This is one question that has not been answered by the study.

Bukit View Primary’s Stellar programme teacher-in-charge for lower primary pupils Mrs Brenda Siew, 42 said that Primary 1 students these days are more vocal and would proactively ask questions. This is in contrast to non-Stellar students in the past.

According to Ms Rezia Rahumathllah, 33, an English teacher at Da Qiao Primary, for children from non-English speaking homes, Stellar increases their exposure to various reading material that has helped in cultivating a love for reading and also increased opportunities to speak.

The difference has not gone unnoticed by parents. Mrs Maggie Ng, 44, housewife, whose son Willard is a Primary 6 student in Bukit View, noted that her son writes with descriptive phrases and speaks with clarity. Willard said he and his classmates always look forward to English lessons. He adds that they learn a lot more due to effort spent on research to create props and write scripts.

St. Andrew’s Junior was one of the 30 schools involved in the pilot Stellar program. Its former principal, Mrs Wai Yin Pryke, who now heads the newly launched English Language Institute of Singapore, recalls how the pupils on the programme simply stood out. The institute aims to raise teachers’ proficiency level in English by running courses, and research in language-teaching strategies.

Would this approach pave the way for children to express themselves in a clearer and proper English? How do you teach your children English at home?

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