Category Archives: Young learners

Young learners activity – teaching numbers and actions

Flickr - Rameshng

Flickr – Rameshng

On Saturday mornings I have the pleasure of teaching a nine year-old boy English for an hour. Although I prefer to have a good range of tasks in each of my business English classes, the energy of my younger student is always a fresh reminder of the importance of variety. We read books, use flash cards for vocabulary and sing songs. In the spirit of learning by doing, today we tried a new game for practising some action verbs and numbers (I suppose you could use this for any vocabulary really), and I’d love to share it with you!

What you’ll need:
– About 10 post-it notes
– Enough space for your student(s) to run around without hurting themselves

What to do:
– With your students, write a different number on each post-it note (for example my student has problems with 11-20, so we used those numbers today)
– Ask your students to stick the post-it’s randomly around the room
– Now give the students instructions on which number to go to and how to get there, for example “Run to number 11”. You can also use different actions for movement like hop, skip, jump, walk, swim, fly. Be creative!
– I think this would be great if you had a group of students and they could take turns to give instructions
– When the kids are out of energy, you can ask them to bring you the post-its back one by one and tell you what is marked on them

I’d love to hear from anyone who has other suggestions!

3 things I’ve learnt from kids classes about teaching adults

Flickr -  woodleywonderworks

Flickr – woodleywonderworks

Next week is “la rentrée” in Dijon, meaning that all the kids are going back to school after their two-month holidays. I remember when I was younger our summer holidays felt like they lasted an eternity and I always almost forgot what school by the time I needed to go back. Some of the French kids I know have been to summer camps in the mountains and having fun zip-lining, rock climbing and visiting fun parks. This week, however, is the week where they start preparing for next week’s classes and I am lucky enough to be able to work with a couple of kids one-on-one to get them back up to speed. I spend most of my time working with adults and these kids classes have really got me thinking about some similarities and differences between working with kids and adults.

Here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Some kids are shy, so are some adults. We need to make them comfortable.

Two of my 11-12 year-old students are really shy. In our first classes they had real troubles saying “hello” or even “bonjour”. This has absolutely nothing to do with their English ability, but rather their shyness. But by no means is this something exclusive to kids. I have also had adult classes where certain students were initially afraid of speaking, in a group setting in particular. Perhaps they were afraid of making a mistake or felt that their level wasn’t as high as that of their classmates. In my experience the French school system is more lecture-based, where students are expected to listen and take notes rather than use the language they are learning. This could partly explain why kids can have a hard time speaking and why adult students, who learnt in the same setting, have the same difficulties.

So how can we make speaking easier for kids and adults? I think it’s important to go gently in each case to begin with, until you’ve built some rapport and made them comfortable with anyone else they’re working with. Another thing to think about is keeping it relevant. I remember my CELTA trainer Mo Killup telling me about a trainee who had designed a lesson that included a ten-minute freer practice activity where students were asked to “discuss the differences between Beethoven and Mozart, and tell your partner which you prefer”. Needless to say this activity bombed, given that this group of students was not made up of classical music buffs. Just as I’ve had to take the time to figure out what my younger students are into (one likes koalas and another likes fastfood and martial arts), my adult students also respond better to topics they know about and are interested in.

  • Kids like songs and games. Adults too can learn better using them.

My first fun-sized student was a ten-year-old boy who loved everything musical and had ants in his pants. He wanted to dance, sing and jump around. After making the rookie mistake of wearing high heels to the first lesson, every week I dressed for a workout. We covered actions with “Simon says” (run, jump, stand up, sit down, turn around) as well as singing songs for learning animals and body parts. One of his favourite games was running to post-it notes with different vocabulary items spread around the room. Is a game-based and song-based approach appropriate for adults? Absolutely! Keeping in mind that business English students probably don’t want to be seen singing in front of their colleagues, or running around the room sweating in their suits. Adults enjoy a challenge every bit as much as children do. Games with competition between colleagues (for example the ‘circle board game‘ can lighten up the dullest vocabulary revision exercise. Throw a ball around the room for grammar drills, eliminate students as they make mistakes and it will all of a sudden become more of a challenge. Teaching kids reminds me that it’s always possible to teach whatever I’m teaching in a more stimulating way.

  • Kids like and need repetition. So do adult learners.

Last summer I had the opportunity to teach some groups of kindergarten-aged kids (4-5 years old) everyday for two weeks. Our theme was Julia Donaldson’s the Gruffalo, a mystical beast who lives in the forest with his little animal friends. On the first day, after our “hello, how are you?” song and a few flash card games, I read the book to the class. They sat and listened, and one or two were already telling me the names of the animals on the pages. On the second day, near the end of the class, we read the same book again, this time looking not only at the animals but also at the different colours. The kids really enjoyed it and more of them were participating. On the third day I figured they could do with a little variety (or perhaps the reality of the situation was that I was bored of reading the book again and again, and naively assumed my students were feeling the same way). I gave them a colouring activity which they were happy with, but when they were done and I told them the class was over, they were absolutely gutted that they couldn’t read the book again and tell me he names if all the animals. The following day when we did read the book, even the quieter kids were participating and telling me the animals and colours hey saw.

I think that deciding how many times to review content with any particular students, is a skill that is developed through experience. Over time I’ve become better in tune with students’ needs and won’t hesitate before I squeeze in extra review. It can never hurt to present target language in a new way and to make students more just a little more familiar with it.

Bribe ’em once – and it might not work the second time.

Larry Ferlazzo has blogged on a study, which found that people were unlikely to donate to a charity for a second time if the said charity threw in a sweetener for their first donation. The post can be found here.

I think that this behavior is definitely reflected in the classroom. Once last year I gave away a tote-bag as a prize, and during my CELTA, I tested a little bit of bribery with a chocolate fish. Both of these lessons worked just fine, and the students were very motivated. Although the tote-bag lesson was a one-off, I had the interesting experience of sitting in on some lessons with the class that had been competing for the chocolate fish. They were disappointed with other teachers that weren’t offering prizes, and were even more disappointed when I arrived the next day to teach them empty-handed.

So, in my experience, bringing one chocolate fish to class means setting a precedent, and making a commitment to bringing one every lesson from then on. It would be interesting to hear if any other teachers have had any different experiences.

Total Language Immersion – What does that mean?

I spent my weekend in the beautiful Burgundian village called ‘Pommard’ where my husband is from, and where his family lives. This weekend it was a time for a family reunion, celebrating a new addition to the family and a milestone birthday. Needless to say, there was excellent wine, a lot of delicious food and – the inspiration for my post today – endless amounts of conversation. Relatives and friends, people who are very close and care about one another, get together and speak as much and for as long as they can. Topics can range from the weather, to politics, to the latest tractor breakdown – always with a lot of humour mixed in. And admittedly, I didn’t understand everything.

But this is what I would call ‘complete immersion’. I would like to mention that just because you live in a country, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will be immersed in its language sufficiently for you to learn it. Unfortunately for my language skills, my new living arrangements mean that I don’t have to speak French all the time. I no longer have to speak only French at home, as my husband understands if I speak to him in English. Also, being an English teacher rather than working in a restaurant with French colleagues and customers, I speak a lot of English at work. And being in Dijon, a city, I’ve been able to find English-speaking friends who I spend more time with than the French.

Admittedly, if I really wanted to ‘integrate’ more into French society I could. But I believe that human beings are linguistically lazy, and will (consciously and subconsciously) try to speak their mother tongue whenever I could. I first noticed this with the French community in Wellington, New Zealand. Many of them would share a flat with a group of other French people, work in a French restaurant with French managers and colleagues and only go out with other French speakers. As a result, some of those who had been there the longest didn’t necessarily have very high levels of English.

Another eye-opener was teaching some of the elementary-level students in Wellington, at the Campbell Institute during my CELTA course. The majority came either from Chile or from China, and had been in New Zealand for different lengths of time (from 6 months to 10 years) and were aged from 23 to 72. I was initially surprised that some of the students had such a basic knowledge of English, but when I got to know particularly two Chilean students, I had a much clearer picture of why they had effectively avoided learning English. Similarly to the French ex-patriates that I spoke about, these Chilean students were very established in the Wellington Latino community. Neither had yet found work, so they spent all of their time with their Chilean flatmates and socializing with other Spanish speakers.

So how can we maximise these opportunities for total language immersion, such as my social family weekend? I think it’s important to make friends who speak the language, and who ideally won’t speak your mother tongue. And the more the better – don’t just make one friend, but make lots of friends and have them speak to each other at a natural pace while you try to follow. This is the principle. But my English-speaking bubble is very comfortable, so it will take some motivation to put the plan into action.

Thoughts on my first esl lesson with young children

Good news all! I got the job – so yes, the lesson went really well. We played a colour-learning game, sang two songs about songs and body parts, and read an iPad book called ‘Red hat, blue hat’. My crowd control was just fine, but because of the time constraint (30 minutes, minus about 10 minutes for the time for the kids to come into the room, sing the ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ songs and then to leave the room). My lesson plan had three key student-speaking activities, but I missed one out and shortened one. This made it a very games-and-songs-heavy lesson, with less content consolidation than I would have liked.

Overall though, I’m a happy camper, and I look forward to developing my teaching (and getting a free dance workout each time) with these young learners!

Young learners – I mustn’t panic!

I’ve been teaching English for just under a year, punctuated by a month’s CELTA training and a short holiday where I continued teaching online. Throughout this time, I’ve taught mainly business English – something that I find especially stimulating, as it keeps me on my toes, always learning new things from new people with different specializations. I’ve done a few classes with high-school aged kids too, preparing their ‘baccalauréats’, which were more focused on a particular goal than acquisition of general English. So when I was invited to start teaching English for an agency specializing in classes for young learners (i.e between 4 and 10 years old), I was admittedly surprised.

So far I’ve observed a few classes with children, run by another more experienced teacher. The classes for the 4 and 5 year-olds last for half an hour each, and are heavily song and games-based. I especially enjoyed the pace of the classes, changing activity every 5 minutes and communicating with children exclusively in English with lots of hand-gestures. At times though, it seemed that the children were having difficulty concentrating and were doing their own thing.

Next week I’ll be teaching on my own, and I wonder if any helpful teachers out there might have any advice on how to keep the little ones interested and in line? It would be much appreciated.