India Workshop

Ellwood Community Primary School, Gloucestershire


It was another early start and long day on Monday, but, this time, I was delivering and not just sitting back and listening. Sarah Shaw and I had our hands full … 60+ Key Stage 1 and lower Key Stage 2 pupils to engage and inspire via an India-themed, cross-curricular workshop.

The day was divided into four sessions. The introduction (from registration until break time) took place in the school hall altogether. I brought my big, blue box with me and encouraged the children to come up to the front and explore the various artefacts inside, e.g. typical Indian dress, jewellery, food and household items, in order to discover which country we would be ‘visiting’ for the remainder of the day. By doing this, I was able to broach key themes and launch ideas. We also touched upon their recent experience … a trip to a Hindu temple in Cardiff. Since Diwali celebrations have been held within the past couple of weeks and this is such an important festival within India (as well as many other countries), I shared images of Rangoli, diwa lights, incense sticks, henna hand designs and read the story of Lakshmi and the Clever Washerwomen to the children. They were intrigued, keen to volunteer and responded well to questions posed to them. This helped to build an instant rapport with pupils, in addition to determining what the youngsters already knew and understood about India.

Once the day’s learning objectives had been outlined, the children were split into groups named after key cities within India. Four ‘cities’ then moved into a classroom with me, whilst the other three settlements remained with Sarah in the school hall. She embarked upon creating a dance-drama using Bharata Natyam classical Indian dance and Hasta Mudras hand gestures. Her intention was for the morning ‘cities’ to explore a different section of the story of Rama and Sita to the afternoon ones. At the end of the day, it was hoped that the two groups would come together and perform the whole story to parents/carers, grandparents and younger siblings.

Meanwhile, my aims were to enhance pupil’s geographical knowledge and understanding of this fascinating country, as well as developing fundamental generic and subject-specific skills. I would have liked to have accessed Google Earth so that I could transport pupils from the UK to India. However, despite giving the school plenty of advance warning, they were, unfortunately, unable to install the application in time. Instead, I used Google maps and my inflatable globe to exemplify two different types of world map (the flat and round versions) and locate India. We identified the world’s seven continents together, before ‘zooming in’ on the country of India and finding our ‘cities’. We discussed the distance and direction of India from the UK (it was a long way; we would need to travel by aeroplane to get there; it would take about 14 hours, about the same time that we are active during a typical day) and re-visited the main points of the compass and acronyms, such as Never Eat Shredded Wheat and Naughty Elephants Squirt Water, in the process. Any confusion about those points that lie in-between was ironed out too, e.g. north east, south east, south west and north west. The children were then asked to use an online mapping tool, atlas or globe to helped them complete a number of sentences to pin-point India’s position. Some pupils had heard of a few of the countries mentioned, yet did not know where they were found within the world; others learnt the names of several, new ones. Finally, the children were asked if they would like to visit India or not. They were prompted to provide a reason/s to support their viewpoint. Many Year 3, and some of the more able Year 2, did this very well indeed, citing ‘it would be too far’; ‘the flight would be too long’; ‘I would miss my mum and dad too much’; ‘it would be interesting to see and experience things for yourself’; ‘because I enjoy learning about different countries and cultures’ to back up their opinion.

As time was at a premium and the children were so young, our next activity was steered from the front of the class. I shared a number of images taken from the village of Chembakolli, situated in the Nilgiri Hills in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India, and posed various, open-ended questions to the children in order to promote higher order thinking. They also developed their observational skills. Many quite complex concepts and issues were discussed and any similarities and differences between village life in Chembakolli and Ellwood noted. Here, pupils raised some very valid and thought-provoking points. It also clearly demonstrated to the children how we can learn from each other when we listen very carefully. Afterwards, pupils returned to their seats. They were asked to select one image from those distributed around the classroom and draw or write what the photograph revealed about life in Chembakolli.

By now, the children were in need of some brain food, so we broke for lunch. After a role reversal, e.g. the city groups swapped between Sarah and myself, we all convened in the school hall, so that pupils could perform their dance-dramas to their audience, I could conduct my plenary dice activity and review learning outcomes with students. The latter was compromised slightly due to the presence of parents/carers, grandparents and siblings. However, it is good to invite outsiders into school on such days, so they can witness some of their child/children’s achievements and the less routine aspects of school life.

A well done to all staff and pupils involved. We got there in the end!

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