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Webinar: Having fun with festivals

A celebration of Holi Festival of Colors

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Vanessa Reilly, teacher, teacher trainer and OUP author, introduces her upcoming webinar on 27th and 28th May entitled: Having fun with festivals – cultivating interest in the target culture in your young learner classroom.

Just how important is the target culture to you when teaching English as a foreign language to young learners? Looking at a language from the point of view of speakers of that language and how they live makes the target language more real, not just a collection of words and sentences to be learnt.

All learners need to be introduced to the target culture, no matter how young or early on in their language learning experience, in order to provide them with the optimum conditions for success.

My webinar will provide an overview of the following:

Target culture in the very young learner and young learner classroom

Very early on in my teaching career, I remember reading Claire Kramsch’s book Context and Culture in Language Teaching, and this statement stuck in my mind:

If… language is seen as social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching. Cultural awareness must then be viewed as enabling language proficiency… Culture in language teaching is not an expendable fifth skill, tacked on, so to speak, to the teaching of speaking, listening, reading and writing.”

So I started to explore:

→ What are the implications for primary age children?

If, as Kramsch proposes, cultural awareness needs to be an integral part of language learning, then I believe that as teachers of English we need to explore the many aspects of English-speaking culture appropriate for all learners, however young the children we teach.

→ What can we do as primary teachers?

We need to look at culture through a child’s eyes and consider what will motivate a Primary child to want to know more about the target culture. Having worked with children for nearly 25 years, I have found even young children are really interested when I talk about what children in English-speaking countries do that is the same or different to their world. I find activities based on festivals very motivational and the children quickly become engaged in the colourful, fun activities; so festivals are usually where I begin to introduce culture into the Pre-school and Primary classroom.

In my upcoming webinar we will look at bringing cultural awareness to young learners through festivals that are important to the everyday lives of children in English-speaking countries. In this very practical session we will investigate stories, songs, games and other mysterious things to enjoy with our Primary children.


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What are we learning today? CLIL in the Kindergarten classroom

Curious child crouching in forest

Photo courtesy of Jesse Milan via Flickr

Margaret Whitfield, co-author of the new Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips on making the most of CLIL in the Kindergarten classroom.

CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) has been a buzzword in English language education for a number of years now, and is an established part of many programs. Its supporters claim that combining subject learning (e.g. science or music) with language learning can increase student motivation and improve understanding. However, they’re often talking about older children who have some existing knowledge of English and the subject – can we bring CLIL into a Kindergarten classroom with equal benefits?

Well, the good news is that we don’t have to. CLIL is already there! In Kindergarten, children are being exposed to new concepts and content all the time, from number work to songs to mixing colored paints and beyond. In addition, young children are innately curious about the world around them and love to explore new things. So instead of starting from scratch, let’s look at the ways in which everyday Kindergarten activities can be exploited to make the most of their subject-learning and language-learning potential.

Let’s pretend

Pretending is a fundamental part of children’s play at this age. Whether they use costumes or just their imaginations, children are exploring the adult world they see around them. You can use this in a number of ways to explore different themes:

Social science

Focus on families, learning the names of different family members and talking about what they do, and providing opportunities for children to role-play families. Extend this to science, talking about and role-playing animal families.

Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 2

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 2

Language arts

Focus on fictional characters that the children are interested in – superheroes, princes and princesses, pirates, and so on. This can be a great way into describing people as well – look at storybooks together and talk about what the characters are like and how they feel at different points. Then the children can act out the characters, being happy, sad, fierce or brave!

Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 3

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 3

Social science

Focus on jobs, learning the names of different jobs and clothes and color vocabulary to talk about uniforms. Talk about what people in different jobs do and encourage children to role-play firefighters, doctors, police officers and so on – they won’t need much encouragement!

Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 3

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 3

All these activities link with language areas that you might be teaching, but the role-play will also generate a need for more language that children will then practice in a memorable way through their play.

Hands on

Practical activities are key to keeping children of this age interested and motivated, and they can be used to explore all kinds of topic areas. Take a look at the free ‘sink or float?’ experiment activity. Here are a few more ideas.

Subject focus Language focus Activity
Math: counting, simple addition and subtraction, finding one more or less Number namesToys vocabularyHow many …? Use toys (or other objects) to count in different scenarios, e.g. a teddy-bear picnic.
Music: learning a song, keeping the beatMath: counting backwards Number names Learn a simple counting song like ‘Five little monkeys’; use percussion instruments to keep the beat.
Science: learning about the senses  Food vocabularyIs it …?I like/don’t like… Use taste and smell to identify food without being able to see it.
Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 1

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 1

A table like this can be a useful tool for planning CLIL activities: whether you start with a subject area, a language objective or an activity that you already do that you want to exploit further, it can help you to consider the different elements together. Make sure that there is a natural fit between the language and the subject, and the activity will provide memorable, contextualized language practice. Consider the difficulty of each element, as well – if the language is tricky, maybe it would be better to use a subject area that children are familiar with; if the concepts are challenging, try to match it to language that the children already know.

I hope that, if you didn’t already, you’re now feeling that CLIL is an inspiring and achievable tool for kindergarten. Please post your experiences, and especially activities that have worked well for you, in the comments section below.

Would you like more practical tips on using CLIL and teaching 21st Century skills to your kindergarten children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.


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Janet Enever reflects on the #ELTJ Debate at #IATEFL 2014

Janet Enever at the ELTJ Debate at IATEFL 2014At this year’s ELTJ Debate, Janet Enever (Umea University, Sweden) argued against the motion that ‘This house believes that Primary ELT does more harm than good‘. Janet shares her thoughts on some of the points that came out of the debate. You can watch the full recording of the debate on the IATEFL Online website, or catch up on the highlights in our Storify story of the event.

Firstly, I’d like to say how pleased I was to hear so many interesting and relevant points raised at the ELTJ Debate. Together, they provided fruit for a really valuable round table event – perhaps this would be a more productive format for developing shared understandings and creating networks than the adversarial stance of a debate.

Here, I’d like to pick up on a few points raised that I felt were particularly important – just to start the ball rolling for additional perspectives to be aired.

There’s proof in the pudding

Firstly then, the exciting new evidence from Eva Wilden in Germany! A study of over 6,500 children at the end of the German primary school phase (aged 10/11 yrs). She reported clear evidence of greater progress in receptive skills by approximately 50% of the sample who began English earlier. This large scale study is very significant evidence. In addition, the study linked higher achievement with stronger reading skills in German (national language – which may or may not be the children’s first language). Can we extrapolate from this that higher level literacy in the language of schooling/L1 works hand-in-hand with higher achievements in English?

I’d like to add a note here on the broader question of literacy and politely take issue with Fiona [Copland]. There is now strong evidence on the potential of early language learning to contribute positively to literacy in L1. The references are now too numerous to list here, but perhaps I can include one quote and suggest that for anyone interested, it would be worth following up on this particular source. So: Fernandez (2008:8) summarises evidence, that:

far from detracting from the development of literacy, learning a second language actually enhances and enriches children’s language experience and offers unique insights and opportunities for the development of cognitive skills, which are unavailable to the monolingual learner.”

It seems possible that Eva from Germany has evidence of just this happening – I’m glad to say that she has now agreed to present at our conference in Umea this June – so join us if you can to hear more! Of course, OUP are one of our proud sponsors!

Political buy-in

Secondly, I’d like to mention the contribution of a colleague from Bangladesh. I haven’t had the chance to spend time there so cannot pretend to be knowledgeable on the challenges, though I’ve heard this account many times and seen many of these challenges elsewhere in the world. The current problem for Bangladesh seems to be that there are very few positive aspects to this policy decision! Here I will take up just one.

From the ELLiE study we learnt that primary English teachers need a fluency level of at least B2 if they are to be able to respond to the unplanned, informal everyday requirements of English in the primary classroom. In many contexts this continues to be a distant goal, but this does not diminish its importance. At a language planning stage we need to ‘help’ politicians to fully understand this and strategically plan to achieve this target. Years ago when I worked in Poland (soon after the political changes), I witnessed thousands of teachers of Russian losing their jobs. Some, astonishingly, managed to speedily turn their hands to rapidly learning English and became excellent English teachers instead. The shift in language choice that has occurred there over the past 24 years is certainly remarkable, with a national policy now established for introducing the first foreign language (mainly, but not only, English) from the start of schooling. However, in a country of 40 million, this has taken a generation to implement – and they are still working on it. Evidently, Bangladesh has much greater challenges – probably not only in the teaching of primary English, with large classes and a struggle for adequate resources.

How much is too much?

The final point that I’d like to discuss relates to the question of ‘how many languages are possible at primary level?’ This is indeed a difficult question to answer – probably impossible! A delegate from Switzerland outlined their current debate. Last year I attended a national discussion forum on this in Bern where I learnt that English was creeping up the agenda in a number of cantons, and concerns were rising particularly about the decline of their fourth language – Romansch. From informal coffee break conversations I gained the impression that the German speakers in particular no longer saw French as so important/valuable as English.

This topic links also to the question raised by a British Council representative from Senegal in Francophone West Africa. Similarly, there, current discussions consider whether children will suffer from overload if they have to cope with learning two languages in addition to their home language/mother tongue/language of schooling (various terms may apply in different contexts). In response to the question of: ‘How many languages are too many?’ we can cite countries such as India where it is often the norm for young children to shift between 3-4 languages in their daily lives – but these are generally languages that are widely used in the community. We can also cite smaller-scale examples where three languages are taught in schools from an early age – e.g. Luxembourg, Belgium, some regions of Spain such as Catalonia and the Basque region. However, again, at least two of these languages are widely used in the community, whilst the third (English) is seen as a high status international language.

From this and other evidence then, we know children can cope, but we have to ask whether the contextual conditions are sufficient to provide enough support for them to make progress. With good teachers, good resources and a supportive wider community (both in and out of school) I’m sure it can be done. However, achieving this on a wider scale takes substantial national/political commitment. Of course, it also takes a significant amount of class time so it’s important to consider the priorities and take care not to create a primary curriculum that suffers from overload. In Africa, I know it’s a real dilemma, with some former colonies having opted for non-local language as the medium of instruction from the start of schooling and then later recognising this might result in only limited progress in basic education. The theme of Medium of Instruction deserves a separate discussion I feel – and was not the focus of the Debate. Here, we are discussing the introduction of a foreign language, together with the teaching of a former colonial language (English or French mainly).

My expectation is that the outcome is unlikely to be balanced bilingualism. Nonetheless, the experience of learning two languages early, in addition to the first language, will certainly provide a valuable foundation for later further development – assuming the conditions are sufficient to ensure good provision. Of course, Harry Kuchah’s contribution from Cameroon serves as a salutory reminder on how difficult it can be to achieve satisfactory conditions for learning.

There are so many more points I would like to discuss, but I hope the above provides some food for thought and provokes further discussion. As you can see, there are so many perspectives to consider.

If Janet’s points on the ELTJ Debate have interested you, or you’d like to challenge them, feel free to leave a comment below. And don’t forget to watch the recording of the Debate or read our Storify highlights.


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#IATEFL – This house believes that Primary ELT does more harm than good

Thumb up and thumb downAhead of the ELT Journal debate at IATEFL 2014 in Harrogate, Graham Hall, editor of ELT Journal, presents an introduction to the motion of the debate.

The ongoing expansion of English language teaching for Primary age learners and teenagers has been a notable feature of ELT in recent years. In many countries, English is now compulsory in primary as well as secondary education, whilst English for Pre-school learners is also increasingly common. Some estimates suggest that up to 80 per cent of English language teaching globally is directed, in diverse contexts, at students in Primary or Secondary schools. As the exact cut-off point between Primary and Secondary education varies around the world, let’s assume for this blog that we’re referring to teaching children of pre- and/or post-11 years old).

As both parents and educational authorities seek to increase younger learners’ English language skills, we can’t assume that an earlier start to learning English is automatically better. The advisability of an early start to learning English can be affected by a number of factors, ranging from the availability of suitably skilled teachers and appropriate resources to concerns about the possible implications for the teaching and learning of other languages, and from the development of suitable classroom practices and methodologies to the relationship between a child’s first language literacy skills and their English language development.

So, it’s perhaps time to step back and take a little time to reflect on the extent to which the expansion of Primary ELT is, in fact, straightforwardly ‘beneficial’. If we, the ELT profession, teach millions of Primary age children English around the world, does this automatically lead to advantages, both for individuals and societies more generally, or is it possible that Primary ELT brings with it significant problems and difficulties? Does, in fact, Primary ELT do more harm than good?

There are perhaps 3 key reasons for the growth of Primary ELT. Firstly, there is the widespread assumption that ‘the earlier a language is learned, the better'; in other words, younger children are (or are more likely to be) more successful language learners. Secondly, the expansion of Primary ELT is a response to the increasing demand for English, which results from globalization; governments and policy-makers around the world would like an English-speaking workforce, which they see as leading to economic success. And finally, parents would like their children to benefit from learning English.

Yet, although age clearly influences language learning in some way, the exact nature of this relationship is rather less clear than is popularly imagined – the actual evidence in favour of younger learners’ superiority in L2 learning is rather inconsistent, especially in non-immersion situations, where encounters with English might be limited to a few hours a week in the classroom. And we might also worry about a top-down ‘rush for English’ in which policy is not thoroughly thought through and issues such as teacher training and education, and classroom methodologies and materials for teaching Primary ELT, become problematic. Is a gap developing between policy and practice, and between our goal of how Primary ELT ‘should be’, and the realities of often under-resourced classroom life?

These issues will be discussed and debated in more detail in the ELT Journal debate, held at the IATEFL Conference in Harrogate (UK) on Thursday 3rd April (11.30-12.45 BST). There, Fiona Copland (Aston University, UK) will propose the motion: ‘This house believes that Primary ELT does more harm than good’; Janet Enever (Umea University, Sweden) will oppose the motion.

For more information about the conference and to access the debate online visit Harrogate online. You can also follow us on Twitter as we live-tweet highlights from the debate and other IATEFL speaker sessions.

Graham Hall is editor of ELT Journal and works at Northumbria University in the UK, where he teaches on Northumbria’s MA in Applied Linguistics for TESOL and MA TESOL programmes.


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Bringing English home – strengthening the school-home connection

Mother and daughter holding leavesKate Read, co-author of the new Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for strengthening the school-home link.

We all know that most learning goes on outside the classroom. So it follows that learning English shouldn’t be limited to the classroom. Indeed, learning any language can be enhanced by bringing it into the home – after all, the home is where language begins for the young child.

There are a number of easy ways to do this but, first of all, you’ve got to have the parents on board. They can help with learning English, even if they aren’t confident about their own level of English.

There are many ways of doing this:

  • Send home regular letters (or even informal emails or texts) about the topic you are covering. Include ideas for home activities. Oxford Parents give parents simple, effective advice on supporting their children’s classroom language learning at home.
  • Invite parents for informal chats at regular intervals.
  • Give parents simple guidance documents that outline when and where it is helpful to use English at home. Encourage them to foster a positive and fun attitude when using English. Give them advice on when it is not helpful – such as when the children are tired or distracted. Here’s a video tip and free conversation card to help you do this.

1. The child as teacher

It is very empowering for a child to take on the role of the teacher. The child can ‘teach’ simple words or phrases to the family. You can systematically give them words or expressions to take home. You can also give the children tasks to do at home – teaching or telling specific things to specific people. A favourite activity is for the child to teach the whole family to sing a song in English. You can help with this by making the song or backing tracks available. Children will enjoy this process and it will do wonders for consolidation. As you already know, there’s nothing like having to teach something to make you learn it!

2. The child as performer

Allow the child to take some work home to share with the family. (Courses like Show and Tell offer special ‘take-home’ projects.) At its simplest, this can be songs to sing or chants to repeat at appropriate times. It can also be retelling a story to the people at home – or even performing it with simple puppets. In the digital age, and if you have permission to do this, sharing a video of things that they have performed at school is a great way of building confidence and consolidating knowledge. When children use the language to give a performance, they take ownership of the language.

Show and Tell - children performing

3. Making an English space

It’s really useful for children to have reminders of language learned. This helps them to keep it active. Home is a great place for putting up posters, pictures and even single word images or text. Depending on the child’s level of literacy, these can be labelled either by the child or by you. You can also suggest having an English space in the home where the child can keep English books, English games and even English toys. Creating a physical environment where English is a feature provides children with a ‘real’ place for English in their home lives – this facilitates further integration of the language.

4. Making games in English

You can create some simple games to play at home. Provide outlines of games that can be used over and over and provide updates of words/lexical sets that can be used with the games. The games can be very basic with repeated questions and answers, such as hiding things and saying “Where’s the…?” (You would need to supply the names of the objects to look for.) It could be a game to play with picture or word cards, such as concentration/pairs, or “Which card did I take away?” As the child advances, activities could include could be slightly more complex board games for counting and vocabulary.

5. Books with audio

Bedtime reading is always a very special time for the parent and child. For parents who are not confident reading in English, you can recommend books with audio so that they can look and listen with the child. Some people like using stories that the children already know in their own language, making the most of the child’s familiarity with the content. Finally, if you are using simple stories in class that have audio, such as the stories on the MultiROM in Show and Tell, send them home with the children so that they can ‘read’ it with their families.

Encouraging children and their families to do any of the above activities is very simple. The most important thing is to instil the idea of a partnership between school and home. This partnership requires clear and simple communication and lots of enthusiasm. Remember, in the immortal words of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz: There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home …

Do you have any ideas of great ways to use English at home? Share them with us in the comments section below.

Would you like more practical tips on strengthening the school-home link, and teaching 21st Century skills in your Kindergarten children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.

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