Magazine 2014
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Jayashree Palit  
The objective of the paper is to present two case studies of teaching and learning practices adopted, to  
inculcate good independent reading habits in young adults, in an affiliated college of SNDT Women’s  
University, Mumbai in the Indian context. The paper examines there practices in the context of curriculum  
demands in a globalized world. It examines how the demands of internationalization affect the overall  
approach to teaching reading and its daily practice especially in a multilingual classroom. The first case  
study is related to the use of comics (the term is used to include traditional comic books as well as  
graphic novels) as a tool to teach reading. The second focuses on different strategies to unleash the  
power of words and use them as a tool of self-expression. In this context, the paper will highlight an  
Advanced Learners’ publication of a monthly newsletter ‘Campus Express’.  
Keywords : Globalization, Comics, Power of Words, Vocabulary in Context  
David Block, in his article Globalization and Language Teaching, has pointed out that while there  
seems to be consensus that we are living in an increasingly globalised world, there is disagreement  
about the responses to globalization.  
Giddens has defined globalization as “the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant  
localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away vice  
versa.’ (Block 75)  
For language teachers in particular and educationists in general the question is how discussions about  
globalization taking placing in sociological circles relate to the education system and the overall approach  
to language teaching and to its daily practice.  
Tony Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap (2008) provides the right context for any discussion  
regarding the issues challenging language teachers and educationists.  
Wagner raises two important questions that are facing educationists all over the world. Are we teaching  
and testing the skills that matter most in the global knowledge economy? and what does it mean to be  
an educated person in the 21 Century?  
Wagner notes a profound disconnect between what potential employees are looking for in young  
people to day and what is actually being done in the classrooms. The course curricular and teaching  
practices have remained the same for a long time. He is of the view that the nature of teaching is such  
that it tends to isolate it from the larger world of rapid change.  
The need of the hour is a challenging and vigorous curriculum which addresses the needs of the  
present day students. This a especially true of English Language teaching. English is fast becoming a  
global language. This statement has been debated, challenged, opposed and accepted by many but  
the fact remains that it has become a truly global language. Today it is widely learnt as a second  
language and used as on official language in many Commonwealth countries. Today English has been  
labeled as “world language”, “lingua franca” and a symbol of “linguistic imperialism” but it is worth  
noticing that English is a very flexible language which has absorbed many aspects of various cultures  
and today we have many “English dialects”, English based “Creole” languages and “pidgins”. Some  
of the well known varieties of English language are Canadian English, Southern American English,  
Scottish English, Indian English and so on. These varieties also use different accents, vocabulary and  
grammar structures thus helping English language to evolve continuously.  
Since English has taken on a new importance in the globalized world it is imperative for all those  
involved in ELT to ask how, in today’s highly competitive global economy, ELT can prepare students for  
careers and citizenships.  
Wagner has identified what he calls the “Seven Survival Skills” needed by students in the globalized  
world. They are Critical Thinking and Problem solving, Collaboration and Networking and Leading by  
Influence, Ability and Adaptability, Initiative and Entrepreneurialism, Effective Oral and Written  
Communication, Accessing and Analyzing Information and finally, Curiosity and Imagination.  
Wagner xii)  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
It is no secret that concern about poor communication skills is widespread across the globe.  
Communication skills are a major factor highlighted in dozens of studies over the years that focus on  
students lack of preparation for both college and the workplace, and these skills are only going to  
become more important as workplace teams are increasingly going to be composed of individuals  
from diverse cultures.  
Developing the reading skills of students has always been a priority of teachers and educators. In  
order to develop this skill it is necessary for the student to read regularly. Motivating students to do so  
has been a challenge teachers have always faced. To convey to a student the importance and pleasure  
of reading or to keep them motivated has been a Herculean task. Technological advancement has  
further pushed reading to the backseat, and whether it is a young reader or an advanced one, reading  
is the last thing they would want to do.  
Teachers have always struggled to find a tool to motivate learners to read. In a small survey conducted  
in Mumbai, learners have accepted that at some point of time they had been introduced to comics and  
found them very interesting and fulfilling. Teachers and parents too agreed that comics are capable of  
holding the attention span of young learners for a longer period of time. The question then arises ‘Can  
comics be used in the classroom as a tool to inculcate reading habits in students and to encourage  
independent reading?”  
Gone are the days when students sneaked comics past diligent parents and teachers who sneered at  
comics as sub – par literature. Today, the focus of education is on enhanced student learning, and all  
curriculum materials and teaching techniques are receiving careful review. Since capturing the attention  
of learners is an essential component of effective teaching practice, teachers are now turning to comics  
as a tool to reach struggling readers.  
The instant reaction to this process is that educators are lowering the educational standards and  
reinforcing lazy reading habits. However, advocates of comics feel strongly that if this can help young  
learners to become fluent readers then critics should put away their preconceived notions and give  
comics a try.  
The term ‘comics’ is used in this paper to cover both the traditional comic books as well as graphic  
novels. A look into the history of comics shows that the word ‘comics’ originated from the Greek word  
‘komikos’, pertaining to comedy and is a graphic medium in which images convey a sequential narrative.  
The sequential nature of the pictures over words, distinguishes comics from picture books, though  
there is some overlap between the two. As a sequential art, comics then, emphasize the pictorial  
representation of a narrative. This means, comics are not an illustrated version of standard literature,  
and while some critics argue that they are a hybrid form of art and literature, others contend comics are  
a new and separate art; an integral whole, of words and images both, where pictures do not just depict  
the story, but are part of the telling. In comics, creators transmit expression through arrangement and  
juxtaposition of either pictures alone, or word (s) and picture (s), to build a narrative.  
The ‘graphic novel’ may be seen as an extension of the traditional comic format. A graphic novel is a  
narrative work in which the story is conveyed to the reader using sequential art in either an experimental  
design or in traditional comics formats. The term is sometimes used to disassociate works from the  
juvenile or humorous connotations of the terms ‘comics’ and ‘comic book’, implying that the work is  
more serious, mature or literary than traditional comics.  
The distribution of comics in India is more recent that the European, American and Japanese industries,  
but is nevertheless 60 years old. Despite the publication of about 100 million copies a year, comics in  
India are still largely dominated by American characters, and local production remains marginal. In  
1967, Anant Pai, the editor of the India Bank House, launched the series Amar Chitra Katha, the objective  
of which was to transmit to children the great stories of historical figures and those in religious texts of  
Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and Christianity. The life of Krishna was the first in the series  
followed by the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The collection now has 426 volumes. Graphic novels  
have also flooded the Indian market. This success story confirms the fact that students do like reading  
The question is how suitable are comics as a tool in inculcating good and independent reading habits  
in young adults. In order to assess the educational value of comics, a survey was undertaken on young  
adults in Mumbai in which 15 parents, 15 teachers and 50 students participated. This survey was a  
small step in understanding whether reading habits can be inculcated through comics. The results  
were very encouraging.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
The survey was conducted at three levels: students, aged between (16 and 22 years), parents, (22% of  
whom were post graduates, 12% were graduates, 36% were undergraduates and 4% were technically  
qualified), teachers, (66% of whom were post graduates).  
All the students acknowledge that they had been introduced to comics at some point. They also said  
that comics have a special appeal for them. The best part was that 78% cited reading as their hobby  
and went on record saying that they read books regularly. Only 1% admitted that they did not read at  
Amongst parents, 40% mothers and 32% fathers read books, bought and borrowed books, and had  
introduced their children to comics early in life. The students who read regularly belonged to those  
The teachers were all concerned that reading as a habit was on the decline. 99% felt that picture story  
books or comics help in sustaining interest of students. Further, they felt that comics like Amar Chitra  
Katha inculcated good moral values in children.  
Shri Anant Pai, the editor of India Book House and the brain behind the Amar Chitra Katha series was  
interviewed. He agreed that reading was on the decline but felt that it was ‘coming back in a big way’.  
He also agreed with teachers that comics can be a stepping – stone to developing a good reading  
habit because according to him ‘a picture is equal to a thousand words’.  
It is necessary then, to analyze the advantage of comics. By far the most frequently mentioned asset of  
comics as a educational tool is the ability to motivate students. William Marston theorizes that the  
appeal of the comic medium is woven into the very fabric of its nature. This is because “pictures tell  
any store more effectively than words”. Comics, being a visual medium, increases learning. This happens  
because learners reach saturation level earlier with texts than with pictures. Further, educators cite  
comics “permanent, visual component” as one of the many reasons for using comic books in the ESL  
class. Film and animation, in contrast to comics, are visual but ‘time – bound’. Language and action in  
films and animation are ‘fleeting’. The medium, rather than the audience, dictates how quickly the  
viewing progresses. The text medium, on the other hand shares comic’ “permanent” component but  
not it’s visual”. “Visual permanence”, then, is unique to comics. Time within a comic book progresses  
only as quickly as the reader moves her eyes across the page. The pace at which information is  
transmitted is completely determined by the reader.  
Karl Koenke (1981) suggests that comics can lead students towards the discipline of reading especially  
to those who do not enjoy reading or have fear of failure. Since comic books are laid out in frames, it  
is very easy for readers to track the story. In fact, it is also easy for those readers to both jump ahead  
and back as the story develops. In addition, the fact that each frame contains some text and a picture  
makes it much easier for readers to grasp and contextualize a story. Ultimately, the limited text in each  
frame in beneficial to those for whom reading is a challenge. Therefore, comics are very appealing to  
readers who are intimidated by and / or frustrated with long text passages. The pictures in the frames  
of course add many visual cues to the story line, thus helping the learner to understand the critical  
literary points of the story better.  
Advocates of comic books in contrast to critics feel that the goal of any good teacher is to educate,  
even if the method is unconventional. To corroborate this, Michael Bitz, founder and director of the  
Comic Book Project, which began in 2001 says that they are reaching 850 schools and 12,000 children  
across the US this year. They also claim that the project has increased the desire of the learners to  
learn reading. Comics can not only be utilized to inculcate reading, it can also be a useful tool in the  
classroom to teach a number of language skills.  
For the pre – reader, a comic can be purely graphical in nature and help provide with sequencing as  
well as concrete to abstract transactions using illustrations instead of written words. The written  
component can be introduced when the learners are ready to connect words with images. Before a  
child is ready to read text, comics can give them practice in understanding the information on a  
printed page. They can learn the same basic skills; tracking left to right, top to bottom, interpreting  
symbols, and following the sequenc regular basis. The reasons for this are obvious. Students, who are  
learners of English as a second language, are often handicapped because of the lack of vocabulary.  
They fumble for words when they have to express an idea either in writing or in speech. Therefore, an  
important objective of English teachers is to develop vocabulary of the learners and help them to  
comprehend the meaning of words and sentences.  
In Mumbai, S.N.D.T. University teaches English as a second language at the graduation level.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
The FYBA (English Medium) is as follows Course value: B.A. (Compulsory Course) for English Medium  
students. It is divided into two papers for Semester I and II. (100 marks paper 75 External assessment  
and 25 Internal assessment).  
Semester I ‘An Elementary Course in Language and Communication Skills, Semester II ‘An Elementary  
Course in Reading, Writing and Comprehension’.  
For Semester I the objectives are as follows  
To enable students to communicate and express themselves in simple English  
To enable students acquire skills in comprehension, skimming and scanning of passages  
To enable students write descriptions and develop skills for argumentative writing  
For Semester II the objectives are as follows  
To enable students to read and understand literary text and discuss issues raised there in  
To enable students develop writing skills such as note taking letter writing etc.  
There is a 10 mark component on vocabulary. (Out of 75 marks)  
The traditional approach to the teaching of vocabulary has been incidental i.e. limited to presenting  
new items as they appeared in reading or sometimes listening texts. This indirect teaching of vocabulary  
assumes that vocabulary expansion will happen though the practice of other language skills. Such an  
approach is not enough and there are many aspects of lexis that need to taken into account when  
teaching vocabulary. The goals of vocabulary teaching must be more than simply covering a certain  
number of words on a word list.  
It must introduce the student to the fascinating world of words. The real challenge is how to make the  
students ‘fall in love with words’ In the words of Eddie Cantor, actor 1892 – 1964"Words Fascinate me.  
They always have. For me browsing in a dictionary is like being turned loose in a bank” (Pickover 75)  
In 1958, a fan asked Bertrand Russell to list his twenty favourite words in the English language. Russell  
replied “I had never before asked myself such a question.” and then proceeded to give his list as  
Isn’t this a lovely set of luminous words (Pickover 46)  
Another fascinating aspect of teaching vocabulary is the awareness that in many ways we are “prisoners  
of words” It is important to be aware of the limitations of language and how language, more specifically  
words, shape our perceptions of reality. The argument that language partially shapes the way we  
perceive reality is an old one that gained accelerating interest in the early 1900s when anthropologist  
and linguist Edward Sapir (1884 – 1939) proposed that language and thoughts are interconnected like  
threads in a complex braid and that humans are often restricted by their vocabularies and languages  
Sapir’s student Benjamin Whorf (1897 – 1941) extended this concept of linguistic reality – shaping and  
believed that different world views are shaped by different / languages. He also suggested that what  
we actually think is determined to a large extent by our language (Pickover 25)  
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language distinguishes between four related hypothesis. The first is  
that people have thoughts and put them into words. In this sense, language is like a skin for internal  
thoughts. The second is the Sapir – Whorf hypothesis which we have discussed: language shapes  
thought. The third is that language and thought are identical. Here thought is an internal form of speech.  
The fourth is that language and thought are interdependent. This is a widely held notion today. Neither  
language nor thought takes precedence over the other. (Pickover 33)  
There are several examples of how different languages compartmentalize the world. For e.g. English  
words for the following berries actually end with the word “berry”: “mulberry, blueberry, raspberry and  
strawberry. The French, on the other hand, have entirely different words for the same fruits: mure,  
myrtille, framboise and frame. The English speaker and a French speaker won’t be thinking of the  
group in quite the same way. In the one the thinking process involves a whole that is broken down; in  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
the other, they are separate elements that only come together in the presence of knowledge beyond  
the words themselves. The Japanese language doesn’t have a single word for Water but rather two  
words mizu (cold water) and oyu (hot water) To a Japanese the two concepts cannot easily be grouped  
under a single word as they are in English.  
Cultures certainly have many words for elements of their environment that are important to them. The  
Eskimos are supposed to have many more words signifying snow than does English Again, the Tatiana  
of Brazil have numerous compact terms for ants – edible ants, biting ants, stringing ants and so forth  
words for which a ‘regular’ speaker of English would probably not have. However unlike English the  
Tatiana do not distinguish linguistically between green and blue.  
There is also need to take cognizance of the fact that our students of Mumbai for e.g. speak and write  
Gujarati, English, Hindi and Marathi. They tend to borrow words form all the languages they know  
when they don’t have words in any one language. So a student who is struggling to speak or write in  
English may use words from Gujarati, Hindi or even Marathi.  
We now come to the specific challenge of teaching English. English has the world’s largest vocabulary,  
with over 800,000 words (including technical words), in part because English borrows words from  
many other languages. Consider for example the sentence:  
The evil thug loafed beside a crimson table, drinking tea, and eating chocolate, while watching the girl  
wearing the angora shawl.  
Thug is a Hindustani word. Loafed is Danish. Crimson is from Sanskrit. Tea is Chinese. Chocolate is  
Nahuatl. Angora is Turkish, Shawl is Persian. (Pickover 74)  
Jeanne McCarten in Teaching Vocabulary points out the almost impossibility of saying exactly how  
many words there are in English. Studies have identified the most frequent 2,000 to 5,000 vocabulary  
items to be given priority in teaching. It is apparent that teachers cannot cover such a large number in  
class. So students have to become self – sufficient learners. Therefore it is important to help students  
with how to learn vocabulary as well as what to learn.  
The ‘Corpus approach’ could be useful in identifying what to learn. Our choice may affect which words  
we will include in our materials and which meaning of those words we will teach. Most of the syllabus  
can be based on a ‘spoken corpus’ as for students of compulsory English the priority is speaking. For  
written English it is important to include the kinds of texts students will have to write. The corpus  
teaches us a lot about vocabulary. Essentially it tells us about frequency, difference in speaking and  
writing, contexts of use, collocation, grammatical patterns, strategic uses of vocabulary.  
Another issue to consider is which vocabulary we want students to be able to use when they speak and  
write (their active or productive vocabulary) and which we want them to be able to recognize and  
understand but not necessarily produce (their passive and receptive vocabulary). Students should be  
made aware of these distinctions. Another interesting advice is not to focus on single words but on  
larger “chunks” such as collocations, phrases, even whole sentences as well as strategic vocabulary.  
Students can build up a stock of expressions as well as individual words which will help them  
communicate more fluently  
We would like to draw specific attention to how we have approached the teaching of vocabulary.  
Vocabulary is linked with reading comprehension Francoise Grellet’s definition of reading  
comprehension “understanding a written text means extracting the required information from it as  
efficiently as possible” (Grellet 3) is relevant to our objectives. It is also important to note that students  
read different kinds of texts beyond the prescribed textbooks or subjects. Most of them read novels,  
newspapers, magazines, advertisements, instructions, directions, menus, posters, internet etc. Their  
reasons for reading could be for pleasure or for more information. Reading involves a variety of skills  
and the one that we are specifically concerned with is the meaning and use of unfamiliar lexical items.  
The biggest problem of all for our student is that her vocabulary is not good enough for the reading she  
has to do. Most teachers give the obvious advice – she must read a great deal more. The readers  
cannot be taught words directly they learn more by meeting the words in context and assimilating the  
meaning. An extensive reading programme is the single most effective way of improving both vocabulary  
and reading skills in general.  
Texts loaded with unfamiliar words quite obviously impede reading skills. Can the student know every  
word of the text? How should they deal with the unknown ones? They can be told to skip some but not  
knowing the meaning of words blocks comprehension. The term ‘words’ is used for convenience it is  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
lexical items we are referring to, a lexical item can be loosely defined as any word or group of words  
with a meaning that needs to be learnt as a whole.  
How does a student go about finding the meaning of an unknown or unfamiliar word that she comes  
across in her reading? The usual recourse is to go to a dictionary but as evident this is laborious and  
slows down the reading process. While there are several useful strategies, the one that we have found  
useful is to encourage students to figure out the meaning of the word by reference to context.  
What exactly do we mean by ‘context of a word’. We mean the words that are near to or modify that  
word. By studying the context, we may find clues that lead us to its meaning clues may be found in the  
immediate sentence or phrase in which the word appears as well as in the adjoining sentences or  
phrases too clues may also be found in the topic or subject matter of the passage in which the word  
appears. Sometimes even features like photographs, illustrations, charts, graphs, captions and headings  
may be useful as clues.  
Reading is a constant process of guessing, and what one brings to the text is often more important  
than what one finds in it. This is why, from the very beginning, the students should be taught to use  
what they know to understand unknown elements, whether these are ideas or simple words. This is  
best achieved through a global approach to the text.  
One could sum up this kind of approach in the following way: (Grellet 7)  
Study of the layout;  
title, length, picture,  
typeface, of the text  
Making hypothesis about  
the contents and function  
anticipation of where  
to look for confirmation  
of these hypoth eses  
according to what one  
knows of such text types  
Second reading  
for more de tail  
throu gh the  
of revision of  
one’s guesses  
The approach has been to start with a global understanding and more towards detailed understanding.  
The overall meaning of the text, its function and aim, comes first only then do we move to vocabulary.  
Our focus has been on vocabulary in context method. Here vocabulary and reading are integrated.  
The passages used by us are taken from the prescribed text (Bellare Vo1. 2). For example for the  
passage Good Morning Delhi (Bellare 8-9) the students are first made aware of the visual clues like  
heading, title, subtitle, authors name etc. Idiomatic expression like “tongue – in –cheek” need detailed  
discussion. The questions given at the end of the passage and the guidelines for reading encourage  
the approach of skimming and scanning and getting a global view of the passage. (Bellare 10-11)  
Sometimes students are encouraged to use the dictionary and to look up all new words and to make  
vocabulary lists.  
The text has many passages and students are able to develop skills of guessing from the cues and  
inferring meanings from the context. This proves to be a valuable foundation for developing and  
reinforcing the vocabulary-in-context approach.  
Other passages that lend themselves to this method were selected from available resources. The book  
we find most useful is Vocabulary Workshop Level A to D (Stostak 2005).  
The methodology adopted is as follows. A self diagnostic test helps to identify the students present  
vocabulary (Stostak 19 -20) Most students were found in the range of 50-60%.  
The passages used are short and of general interest and students are encouraged to read and guess  
the meanings of the words from the context. The passages that we have used successfully from this  
series are: An Olympic Star, Birth of a Puzzle, Exaggerated Kings. (Stostak Vol. A Unit 5 p 64, Unit 6,  
7, Unit 9, 104).  
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The passages have to be carefully selected as many of them relate to the experience of those living in  
U.S.A. This led to the idea of Campus Express. The purpose was to create reading material more  
relevant to the students experience by integrating skills of writing, vocabulary development and reading.  
Campus Express is a college newsletter of the students, by the students and for the students. Campus  
Express is a special feature of the college as it is an Advanced Learners initiative in the truest sense of  
the term. It is a spontaneous overflow of a creative need of a group of students and has helped to hone  
reading and writing skills as well as values like team work, responsibility, interviewing skills and work  
ethics, positive communication etc.  
In 2012, a group of six students of B.A. I (English) took the initiative of approaching the English teacher  
with the request they be given permission and support to support a student’s news letter. This group  
had already demonstrated that they were a cut above the rest in writing and speaking skills. They had  
extensive exposure to language through books, films etc. and they took up the challenge of producing  
a news letter every month. They had freedom to choose their own content. They had complete autonomy  
in the production process, but a few guidelines were given by the teacher, no harm to be done to the  
colleges image or any offence given to any individual, language used could be ‘student friendly’ but  
correctness of spellings etc should be maintained. Six issues have been brought out and the response  
has been very positive. An analysis of the Campus Express issue shows a blend of slang, Hindi and  
English. Campus Express can be read in the blog [email protected] password: sndtnanavati.  
Thus, the use of comics and the vocabulary in-context approach have helped to facilitate the  
development of the reading skills of the students. The paper has highlighted the simple but effective  
methods used in the classrooms of two colleges affiliated to SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.  
Bellare Nirmala. Reading & Study Strategies, Vol.2: New Delhi: Oxford University Press.1998. Print  
Bitz Micheal: Web.  
Block, David: ‘Globalization and Language Teaching’ ELT Journal Volume 58/1 January 2004 ©Oxford  
University Press. Print  
Grellet, Francoise. Developing Reading Skills A Practical Guide to Reading Comprehension Exercises:  
London: Cambridge University Press. 1981. Print  
Gupta Nilanjana and Rimi Chatterjee: Reading Children Essays on Children’s Literature. Orient  
Black Swan. 2006. Print  
Hauguard, K. Comic Books: ‘Conducts to Culture’? Reading Teacher. 27  
Koenke Karl: The Reading Teacher Vol. 34 No. 5 (February, 1981) pp 592-595 published by  
International Reading Association. Article Stable URL: http/ 20195292 Web.  
McCarter, Jeanne. New York. Cambridge University 2007. Press.  
McCloud, C. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art: Northampton MA: Kitchen Sink Prices. 1993.  
McCloud, S. Revaventing Comics: New York: Harper Collins. 2000. Print  
Nuttall, Christine. Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language: London: English Language Book  
Society 1982. Print  
Pickover, Clifford A. Sex, Drugs, Einsten & Elves: California: Smart Publications Petalune 2005. Print  
Sivashanmugam, C. and V. Thayalan Greater Heights in Linguistics: Coimbatore: Department of  
Linguistics Bharathiar University. 2010. Print  
Stostak Jerome. Vocabulary Workshop Level A to D: New York: Sadler-Oxford. 2005. Print  
Wagner, Tony: “The Global Achievement Gap, Basic Books, New York, 2008. Print  
Dr. Jayashree Dalit : Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Maniben Nanavati Women’s College,