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

March 4

Picture Dictations

I had a great time the other day with my 11-year-olds as we were practising the present simple through picture dictations.  One thing I particularly enjoy about running picture dictations with Spanish speakers is that it removes their desire to dictate “phonetically” – in a normal running dictation, learners are obviously keen to get the spelling correct and so end up dictating things like, “The to-ast is very de-li-ci-ous” or “I li-ke waa-ching TV”.

IMG_2650A quick stage guide:

  1. Introduce and model the activity with a learner.
  2. Pair learners up and give instructions.
  3. Learners work on running dictation in pairs.
  4. When they have all the pictures, instruct them to work together to write a sentence (remind them to use the present continuous).
  5. Swap papers with another pair to correct. Elicit sentences from learners, write correct sentences on the board.

I told the groups there were a maximum of five points per sentence and that they should take off a mark for each mistake (hence the numbers on some of the pictures).


February 16

Ask the Experts

This is a fabulous game which I picked up at a conference years ago, but rarely play as I always worried that it would only be good for higher-level learners.  However, if you limit the questions, it could be a really useful game to play with younger learners and lower-level adults as well as it really enourages them to focus on sentence structure.  Here’s how I set the game up with my B2.2 group the other day:

I gave each learner a piece of paper and asked them to write a topic on it – I said the topic could be very general or very specific.  After collecting in the papers and shuffling them, I gave each person a topic and asked them to imagine one question they would ask if they met an expert in that topic.

Next, I explained how the activity works – we are the panel of experts and are going to answer these questions; however, each person can only say one word at a time.  We did a quick concept-check with the question, “What’s your favourite colour?” to check they had understood how to play.

The first question was on the topic of films and we had to recommend a good soundtrack composer and the second one was about the dangers of mobile phones.  It was a fun activity as we moved away from the original topic – on the subject of mobile phones we somehow ended up talking about people who cook chicken in microwaves with no protection.  I admitted to the class that I wasn’t sure how the game is originally played – whether you just keep speaking until you get to the end of a logical sentence or if there is a time- or word-limit.  Thinking about it now, it could be good to work in two teams and for the other team to judge the experts on the content of their answer; they could also transcribe the sentence to check it was grammatically sound as I error-corrected on-the-spot during our game.

February 15

Games for adult learners – Word Ladders

Word Ladders are fun for any age and they’re easy to play with minimal preparation from the teacher.  On the board, draw two ‘ladders’ with an equal number of rungs on each.  Divide the class into two teams and set them playing.   If you have a large group and enough space on the board, you could draw more ladders.  I always say that learners can help their teammates and keep an eye on the game so you can rub words off if they’re spelt incorrectly or if the other team has already written it first.  Here are some ideas of variations on the game, which you can combine to make the game more challenging:

Going up

In one of the simplest versions of the game, learners start with a word with three letters at the bottom, then on the next rung write a word with four, then five, and so on until they reach the top of their ladder.

Going up with a topic

To add a bit of challenge, you could give the learners a specific topic for the ladder; for example, if the topic was adjectives, they might write fat – thin – happy – strong – serious – exciting – fantastic.  Or for animals, it could be cat – frog – snake – rabbit – leopard – elephant – crocodile.

Last letter, first

In this version, as learners move up the ladder, the word must start with the last letter of the word on the rung below – this gets trickier when combined with Going up.  So you may end up with cat – take – eaten – notice – easiest – terrible – everybody (lots of es in that round!).  And even more so if you add in a topic! 




December 9

Making Questions

Question formation is especially tricky for Spanish speakers given that they don’t use an auxiliary verb in their own language and subsequently don’t change the word order between statements and questions, a simple rising intonation suffices.

I do a simple activity called Guess the Question with my YLs to practise question forms and although I adapt the question each day to incorporate new language and structures we see in class, I’m still finding the activity a little limiting as learners are quick to ask the simpler questions, such as What’s your favourite…? and What time do you…? but struggle to think of more complex structures or more abstract questions.

In order to encourage them to focus on question structure, I’m going to do a similar activity to Guess the Question but as a pair activity rather than whole group and with another slight twist.  This time, one learner will have a card with a question on one side and starter-answer on the back, e.g. What time did you go to bed last night? / Last night, I went to bed at… They’ll hold up the starter-answer to their partner and read out the completed sentence, then help their partner to identify and form the question.  The reason for also including the start-answer is that they’re still in the first stages of exposure to the past tense and I want the focus of the activity to be on question formation rather than whether they can correctly conjugate the verb to answer the question.  However, after a few practices in this way, hopefully I’ll be able to take away the starter-answers.