Unseen Passage: Classes Inside Railway Carriage

Attending classes inside a railway carriage seemed unusual enough, but the seating arrangements turned out to be unusual, too. At Totto-chan’s previous school each pupil was assigned a specific desk. But here they could sit anywhere they liked at any time.

The most unusual thing of all about this school, however, was the lessons themselves.

Schools normally schedule one subject, for example, history, during the first period, when everyone in the class just did history; then say, arithmetic in the second period, when you just did arithmetic. But here it was quite different. At the beginning of the first period, the teacher made a list of all the problems and questions in the subjects to be studied that day. Then she would say, “Now, start with any of these you like.”

So, whether you started on history or arithmetic or something else didn’t matter at all. Someone who liked composition might be writing something, while behind you someone who liked chemistry might be boiling something in a flask over an alcohol burner.

This method of teaching enabled the teachers to observe – as the children progressed to higher grades – what they were interested in as well as their way of thinking and their character. It was an ideal way for teachers to really get to know their pupils.

As for the pupils, they loved being able to start with their favourite subject, the fact that they had all day to cope with the subjects they disliked meant they could usually manage them somehow. So, the study was mostly independent, with pupils free to go and consult the teacher whenever necessary. Then pupils would be given further exercises to work at alone. It was the study in the truest sense of the word, and it meant there were no pupils just sitting inattentively while the teacher talked and explained.

The first-grade pupils hadn’t quite reached the stage of independent study, but even they were allowed to start with any subject they wanted.

Some copied letters of the alphabet, some drew pictures, some read books, and some even did physical exercises.

Just then the boy sitting behind her got up and walked toward the blackboard with his notebook, apparently to consult the teacher. Totto-chan stopped looking around the room and fixed her eyes on his back as he walked. The boy dragged his leg, and his whole body swayed from side to side. Totto-chan wondered at first if he was doing it on purpose, but she soon realized the boy couldn’t help it.

The boy said brightly, “My name’s Yasuaki. What’s yours?”

She was so glad to hear him speak that she replied loudly, “I’m Tottochan.”

Q. Answer the following questions briefly in your own words:

  1. What was unusual about the seating arrangement?
  2. How did the method of teaching help the teacher?
  3. Why did the pupils enjoy their lessons at this school?
  4. What different things did the first-grade, pupils do?
  5. Which sentence in the passage tells us that the boy had difficulty in walking like other children?
  6. In not more than 50 words, describe how the children were taught.
  7. Give the meaning of the following words as used in the passage:
    1. assigned (line 3)
    2. ideal (line 19)
    3. independent (line 24)


  1. The seating arrangement was unusual because unlike Totto-chan’s previous schools where each student was allocated a specific desk, here the students were at liberty to sit anywhere they liked at anytime.
  2. The method of teaching enabled the teacher to understand his pupils better. The teacher could very well understand their interests, their way of thinking as well as their character.
  3. The pupils enjoyed their lessons at this school as they could study here ‘independently.’ They could start the day by studying the subject of their choice and take up the subjects they disliked later in the day. They had the choice to consult the teacher whenever they needed.
  4. The first grade pupils copied letters of the alphabet, drew pictures, read books and even did physical exercises. They were too young to be given the chance of independent study, but they were allowed to start with the subject of their choice.
  5. ‘The boy dragged his leg, and his whole body swayed from side to side.’
  6. The teacher made a list of problems and questions in the subjects that were to be studied. The pupils were allowed to start on their own, with any subject of their choice out of these. They could consult the teacher whenever they required. Then the teacher would give them exercise.
  7. Meaning of the words:
    1. allocated
    2. most suitable
    3. dent without control.

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