February 17

Motivating the Masses

You know how sometimes when you go to tidy up, things end up messier than they were before?  Well, my office is a little like that at the moment as I decided to rearrange my desk and in the process realised that two weeks ago I gave a talk at ACEIA Málaga and I still hadn’t got around to posting the slides on here…ooops!  Unfortunately, it might not make a whole lot of sense if you weren’t in the session…hopefully at some point in the future when I have some free time (!!!), I’ll get around to writing up the different activities in more detail.

Motivating the masses from verybouncyperson
February 11

Fortnightly Focus #11 – that group again

Busy week here, so my Wednesday post has turned into a Saturday post!

I’ve been trying a new behaviourial (points) system with this group which is having a positive effect on a number of them.  I found I was constantly juggling giving points for participation with rewarding the weaker learners when they did something well and trying not to unfair to the strong learners who would be streaks ahead in points at the end of the lesson.  Each time I needed to award points, my focus was away from the learners and I was feeling a lack of control.  Now, everyone starts the lesson on maximum points and the idea is not to lose any points during the lesson – they’re divided into sections for things so that as well I can see why people are losing points – not sitting properly, annoying classmates, chatting in Spanish and so on.  As I say, this means it’s now clearer for the class why an individual is losing points, although it does mean there’s perhaps less incentive to participate as points aren’t awarded for taking part or getting answers correct.

The fabulous Jill also re-introduced me to a fun activity which she does with YLs to keep them engaged and listening – each day there’s a magic word and if the teacher says the word, the learners have to stand up, turn around and sit down.  I’ve tried it a few times and I’ve found it works well with high-frequency, easy-to-spot content words.

I used “what” the other day which was highly amusing as I was asking lots of questions during the lesson…which leads me on nicely to my next Fortnightly Focus – I’m going to be thinking about questions: questions I ask my learners, questions I ask myself, questions learners ask me…

October 19

Fortnightly Focus #4 – Dealing with energy levels in YLs

To be honest, this is still very much an ongoing focus, as I try to deal with a tricky group of six-year-olds.  But I’ll share some thoughts now and no doubt come back to it again at another point.

Steps I’m taking to resolve some of the issues within the classroom:

  • I had a points system in place, but it was very limited (maximum of three smiley faces).  A colleague suggested flooding the class with points as this would give more space to take away points when needed.  This is having more of an effect, as I can often move closer to the points charts when I can see some learners becoming a little antsy and, in fact, it’s had quite a positive effect on one of the learners who’s very responsive to the new system
  • Spending more time around the table seems to make the lesson start in a better way.  I think previously, when they were in the smaller space at the front of the class, they became a little touchy-feely towards each other, whereas now they have more personal space
  • Turning off the air conditioning unit which unfortunately makes the classroom hotter, which probably in some ways makes the learners more antsy, but it means that I’m not constantly asking them to move away from it – to be honest, I was genuinely concerned that they would get ill sitting directly in front of it, I’m sure a blast of cold air right across your head/neck can’t be healthy.  However, temperatures are dropping slowly here in the south of Spain, though I can see my classroom being one of the warmest year-round
  • Working on making my routines more varied and dynamic – I’m trying to introduce a new song each week so that we have plenty to sing about as songs and chants can be great moments to refocus them.  Also, I know there are certain activities which they do enjoy so I’m trying to include them without relying too much on them (partly because they need more varied input and also they might then get bored of their favourites!)

Tough as the class is, I’m glad that it’s the first lesson of the afternoon as I do have the feeling of “getting it out the way first” and while it is draining to be faced with a difficult group, I’m trying to stay positive about it – there’s nothing worse than having the sinking feeling in October that you’ll be working with a group for the next nine months and it feels like it’s reached the point of no-return already.  So I’ll keep trying new things and getting advice from colleagues on what’s worked for them in the past 🙂

My focus for the next two weeks will be working on listening skills in the classroom as I’m giving a talk on the topic at ACEIA next month and want to try out some of my ideas before the session.

October 10

Don Quijote – a short play

One of the new challenges I have this year is teaching 4th Primary Social and Natural Science as part of the school’s bilingual programme.  I see four groups once a week – which is fantastic in terms of planning as I can pretty much repeat the same lesson four times (tweaking it as I go and reflecting on what worked well from the first lesson of the week!).

A couple of weeks ago, the whole year group was involved in a project about Don Quijote – all their lessons in different subjects were themed around the story and so I also offered to prepare on the topic for my class.  Having never read the book, I wasn’t really sure which direction to take, so I read up about it (and watched some children’s cartoon versions of the story) to get some ideas.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to cram the whole story into an hour-long class, so picked out one of the more famous scenes of Don Quijote attacking a windmill, which he believes to be a giant.

Lesson Stages:

  1. Elicit from learners what they know about Don Quijote – where does he live? what does he do? what’s his friend’s name? does he have any animals?  During this stage, it’s helpful to elicit some of the lexis which learners might be unfamiliar with from the story (e.g. helmet, fight, windmill, etc).
  2. Divide the class into small teams (in our classes, they are grouped around tables of four or five).  Hand out the prepared story, cut up into sections.  I had eight envelopes, each with six pieces of paper in.  Tell the group to order the sentence.
    1. My name is Don Quijote and I’m a very brave
    knight. This is my faithful servant, Sancho Panza.

    Couple of quick hints:
    Think beforehand about where you separate the sentences as we don’t want learners to get bogged down with unknown lexis at this point.  For example, the sentences above can be ordered without needing to know the word faithful.  Secondly, try to prepare enough envelopes so that there are a couple more than the number of groups in the class.  That way, when a group finishes ordering the sentence and you check it, you can give them another envelope without needing to wait for another group to finish.  Also, you can write on the table with chalk so you remember which sentences the group have completed.

  3. When groups have completed a number of sentences, do whole group feedback by asking groups to read out the sentences in order.  If you have a projector, it also helps to project the story and (another quick tip) if you prepare the text as a Word document, you can make the text white, then highlight and change the colour when they read out the sentence – this allows you to effectively have the whole text on the board, but means learners can only see the sections you want them to.
  4. As you reveal each sentence, drill it and check lexis and pronunciation.
  5. Divide the class into groups of three – Don Quijote, Sancho Panza and the narrator.  You might like to do some further drilling of the story once everyone has their roles assigned.  Give them a few minutes to practise the story in their groups, then invite them to the front to act it out.  If there are any pronunciation problems during a group’s performance, do a quick review of it before the next group performs.

Things I enjoyed about this activity:

The sentence ordering activity was quite kineasthetic which I think is important for primary-aged learners.

Drilling the sentences as a group meant that we could work a little on rhythm and intonation, as well as the pronunciation of tricky vocabulary.  Also, because of the content, you could get quite theatrical with the drilling.

In all the classes, learners were keen to act out their story.  I found this quite motivating as I know within the group there are varying levels of confidence with English and so the fact that they all wanted to participate was great.

Some disadvantages:

You do a fair amount of running between tables during the sentence ordering activity.

Also, it’s sometimes hard to ensure that everyone is equally involved in the ordering task.  Perhaps a way to overcome this would be to nominate a learner from each group to be in charge of a sentence – so the others can help, but only that individual can touch the cards and must also read out the sentence to you when it’s complete.

With a group of 25, learners can get a little restless watching other groups perform – in the past I’ve given teams points for their pronunciation and theatrical performance and also for listening to others.

If you fancy trying the lesson yourself, here are the story cards and the boardwork.

September 6

Ten years later #1

Well, it turns out that it was ten years ago this month that I did the IH Young Learners course in Sevilla.  It was a fabulous experience – full of useful theory, practical ideas and oh-so-enjoyable teaching practice and I met some wonderful teachers on the course, including Micaela who is still a good friend and fellow teacher/blogger.

Unfortunately, whilst I’ve retained a lot of the course information in my head, I hadn’t actually re-opened the folder I developed during the course in the past ten years and, as I’m having a bit of a clear-out, I’ve decided to take out bits which I had forgotten about and store them on here.

Ten years later #1 is based on a wonderful text about how YLs differ from adult learners, some of which I’ll summarise below:

Accuracy vs. Fluency – When we learn our first language, the emphasis is on communication rather than fluency and we should work on finding a balance between fluency and accuracy in our lessons, with both groups benefitting from activities which focus more on one than the other

Cognitive Ability – YLs are less able to deal with abstract concepts which has implications in terms of how we approach language learning – adults will be more able to deal with form and function as they have more awareness of how their L1 works

Direct and Indirect Learning – Adults have more skills at their fingertips to appreciate the ins and outs of the language and are often keener to develop an understanding of how the language works.  On the other hand, YLs learn more indirectly

Energy Levels and Moods – Allow for flexibility when planning lessons to cater for changes in energy levels during the lesson.  Although this is a factor we associate more with YLs, we should also be sensitive to the energy levels and moods of our adult learners who may be coming to class after a long day at work or be dealing with personal issues which affect them

Memory – YLs are sponges and able to learn very quickly.  However, they lack the more developed memory skills of adults, who also have better learning strategies at their disposal

Motor Skills Development – This is an area we should be looking to develop with our YLs and be aware of their restraints during planning

Pronunciation – Adult learners can generally learn to make new sounds, though this will take a considerable amount of practice and may still not come naturally to them (sometimes I can roll my r, other days I can’t!).  YLs enjoy mimicry and we often make use of drilling exercises in the YL classroom, but we shouldn’t be afraid of getting adults repeating ad infinitum if there is value to the activity

Social Skills – Generally speaking, adults have this pretty sorted, though they are still skills we should work on in our classes.  YLs will require more support in this area with tasks which encourage co-operation, competition and interaction with peers