Teacher Anna Tan turns a literature lesson into a fun activity for students.
THEME, character, setting, values. Students studying the English Literature component for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia English paper need to know these words through and through for a novel, as well as be able to analyse the two poems that they learn.
But the stories may not come alive for them. They go home, having memorised a bunch of facts, but never appreciate the magic of what a story can be.
They don’t understand why it is important to know the theme or to understand the characters.
However, this is not the case for the students taught by English teacher Anna Tan in SMK Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam.
Now in Form Five, the students are still excited about the assignment Tan gave them last year when teaching them John Townsend’s Gulp and Gasp.
The students were divided into groups and given three months to put on a play in their respective classes.
Done competition style, there were no winners; only a forfeit for the losing team — they would have to redo their performance.
According to Tan, the Form Four English Literature syllabus includes two poems, two short stories and one drama.
“Only the two poems will be included in the SPM. The short stories and drama are only to get them started,” she said.
“So, it is not necessary for students to understand the short stories in Form Four but this is where boredom will set in, thus paving the way for disinterest by the time they reach Form Five. It is crucial to understand the novel chosen,” she said.
Tan had conducted the activity so that the students would have room for “creativity, imagination, innovation, adaptation and fun learning” while gaining a better grasp of the plot, characters and setting of the story.
Lung Sze Liz who led one of the groups in her class, said that they were able to learn the plot, themes and characters easily because it was “very hands-on”.
“We had to know the whole storyline before acting so we read the story first and created our own script,” she said, adding that in order to portray the characters, they had to understand the characteristics of the characters first.
“We were able to understand the characters because we were already playing them,” she said.
“As it was hands-on, it was easier to remember as compared to just reading from a book.”
All the groups showed up after the preparation period with elaborate props and costumes.
They stayed back after school and even met each other over the holidays in order to ensure a good performance.
“I learnt that I must be brave and courageous,” said Yap Venn Hsien, who detailed the ordeal of being in costume and performing in front of the class as a character that he was not accustomed to playing.
He said that he normally played small roles in dramas but was playing a main character this time around.
Of values learnt
In relating her other objectives for the activity, Tan said she wanted to leave a lasting impression on each individual when it came to learning English.
And these objectives seem to have been achieved. All the students who took part felt like they had taken home a new experience and learnt even more than just the syllabus.
Friendship, tolerance and teamwork were some of the common words used when describing what they had learnt.
“We had to share ideas while working on the script or when making our props and costumes,” said Christine Lim.
Her teammate Hazel Ng said that she had learnt new English words as well.
“We had to memorise lines and some of the words were new. We had to understand what those words meant in order to say our lines,” said Hazel, who admitted that she was shy and normally did not like to perform.
“This wasn’t something that I would usually do but once I was out there, I realised that this was not something to be afraid about,” she said.
Those who led groups also had the opportunity to learn what it took to be a leader.
“As a group leader, I had to make many decisions and schedule rehearsals. Sometimes during rehearsals, my group members might slack and do other things so I had to get them to continue rehearsing,” said Rennie Woon.
“It’s a good thing my group members knew how to improvise and were very confident.”
Sze Liz said that being a leader was not easy. “I had to distribute tasks and whenever any problems arose, I had to solve them.”
“I also learnt that you can’t do everything by yourself. You need friends and support in certain situations,” she said.
Even groups who had not put on a good performance in the first round had lessons to learn.
Hilman Hakimi, whose group was the worst during the first round, said that one should learn from mistakes.
“In the first round, I was playing Crouch the henchman (one of the villains). I was really stiff and my group only met once to practise.
“We had to redo our performance and in the second round, I played Percy (the male protagonist), a role I was more suited for. We did very well because we worked on rectifying our mistakes,” he said.