Last week was an especially fun and enjoyable one for all of us in the English department and I hope that all of the pupils, parents and staff members enjoyed English Week as much as I did. Our theme for English Week was: “The more you read, the more you know,” and I am proud to report that pupils from every grade genuinely took this message to heart and entered into the spirit of English Week, as they immersed themselves in the world of reading without holding anything back.
The pupils’ activities focused mainly on the works of gifted children’s writer and UK comedian David Walliams, whose books have been an instant hit with Huili pupils of all ages. I think the humour that is so cleverly woven into David Walliams’ books is what allows him to capture children’s imaginations so successfully. He is able to bring a great range of exciting characters to life, sometimes in silly situations and sometimes tackling serious issues, but always with the kind of humour that engages children but without ever talking down to them. This is what led us to introduce his books to the pupils during English Week, to inspire them to explore and use language that excites them, and hopefully makes them feel eager to keep reading more widely and frequently.
Gangsta Granny, one of Walliams’ most popular works, was the focus of activities for grades 1-5, as they compared both the book and the film with their teachers. The children even got to interview Gangsta Granny herself, as their teachers really got into the role by wearing costumes complete with masks and big wigs. Not only was this a lot of fun (not to mention hilarious to watch!) it was also a great way to bring the story to life, by letting the pupils generate and ask their own questions, and explore how the situations in the book compare to their own lives and emotional experiences. We also linked this idea to other subjects’ lessons as well. For example, pupils learned a ‘Granny Rap’ in music while grades 1-2 have created a display in the library of the characters from the story.
On Friday, parents of children from grades 1-3 joined us for story time in our pyjamas! It was very important for parents to see different ways of how we can bring a story to life and subsequently gain ideas that they can bring into their own reading sessions at home with their children. Parents diligently watched teachers engage their pupils, not simply reading aloud but getting the children to interact, to repeat key parts of the story, to ask questions and make predictions on what might happen next. These are all essential ways to help encourage a deep love of reading in any child, by allowing them to explore the world of the story much more deeply in their own mind.
Not only were teachers telling stories, several pupils from grades 4-6 were tasked with choosing a children’s book to read to their younger peers as part of the pyjama party in the library. It is fair to say that everyone was amazed at the level of effort these older pupils put into their performances; they were using props in their storytelling, asking rhetorical questions, reading with expression and actions to punctuate key moments in the story. Clearly, none of this effort was wasted, as their younger peers in the audience were absolutely memserised! This was a heart-warming and important part of English Week for both pupils and parents, as they realised that anyone can be a storyteller, it does not have to be a teacher or a professional writer.
Our read-a-thon throughout the week was another huge success! Each pupil kept a reading log and set their own reading targets along with their parents’ guidance. While the sponsorship of their efforts was optional, the response from parents and other family members has been phenomenal. All money raised will go towards equipping reading rooms and corners in local schools across China, through the charity The Library Project with whom Wellington College International Shanghai has long-standing ties. Finally, perhaps one of the funniest moments of the week was when the English teaching team took to the stage to lead morning exercises. Pupils were taught the song The Hokey Cokey. For days afterwards, pupils could be heard singing the catchy song all around school. I would like to extend a massive thank you to all the parents who have supported us in all our efforts since Huili opened several months ago and who continue to be so generous with their time, resources and understanding. I hope that this week allowed you to see just how creatively minded your children are, and how eager they are to explore new worlds, new ideas and new characters through reading.