Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


4 Comments

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.


7 Comments

Crafty ways of learning English

Close-up of robot head made of paperGabby Pritchard, co-author of the new kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for making the most of creative craft activities in the very young learner English classroom.

Craft activities are a fun and effective way of bringing a new language alive for young learners. They provide a great opportunity for children to use natural language in a real situation for a real purpose. They also help children develop a whole range of skills, including listening and speaking skills, visual literacy skills, social skills and motor skills, as well as encouraging them to think creatively and work cooperatively. Furthermore, children feel a real sense of achievement in completing and talking about the finished product.

Careful planning is key to ensuring your children are able to make the most effective use of new language while working on their craft activity.

Here are six easy ways to make sure your children are developing their language skills as well as enjoying their craft projects:

1. Put language at the center

When choosing a craft project, ensure it springs naturally from the topic your class is studying. Consider carefully how new and review language patterns, as well as vocabulary, can be used. For example, if the language is prepositions of place and the children are making a model of a house with furniture, focus initially on vocabulary. Use known question forms such as What’s this? Is it a…? to prompt answers. Then, as the children place the furniture in rooms, ask Where is the…? prompting the children to answer with full sentences: It’s next to the bed. Extend this by playing a language game with the class when the project is complete. In this case it could be a guessing game in which they take turns to describe where something is without naming it. Finally, the children can describe their finished work.

Young students modelling a project

2. Begin at the end

Always begin by showing and talking about finished examples of the crafts. They illustrate the purpose of the activity clearly, and provide models for the children to work from. If the initial task involves making items that contribute to a bigger project, such as making animals for a farm, discuss how the children will contribute individually and also work together to finish the project. At this point, teach any new words they might need.

3. Lead by example

Before the children begin their projects, demonstrate the process in simple stages. Include the children by asking them to name the materials you are using and discuss what the next stages should be. Invite children to come and act as helpers, modelling instructions and polite behavior with them.

4. Teach the language of instruction

Be consistent with the instructions you use and build upon this throughout the year. Teach and encourage the children to use some new instructions each time they work on a new project. The language of instruction is very useful in a wide range of situations and the children will soon use these new words and phrases quite naturally in class.

5. Work together

Organize some activities that require the children to work in pairs or small groups. For example, ask children to work in pairs to grow a plant. They can choose and plant seeds together and then track the development of the plant by taking photos or drawing pictures. The children can also present their finished project to the rest of the class together.

Two young students making growing pots

Arrange the classroom so that children work in small groups at tables so they share equipment. Encourage them to use polite language as they work. Prompt them to transfer this language to other situations during the day, such as when preparing for snack time or tidying up.

Two young students working together politely

6. Celebrate!

Arrange for the children to present their work at assemblies and to parents through class displays. Invite parents into school to admire their children’s work or have the children take craft projects home so they can talk to their families in English about their work.

Young student showing off his project to classmates

Take a look at the craft activities at the end of each unit of Show and Tell. You will find plenty of ideas to try, from ‘feely’ pictures and sunny day balloons to a class picnic display, or even a whole model neighborhood.

But most of all, have lots of fun and get messy!


Leave a comment

Mixed up by mixed abilities?

Chinese school studenr with class behind herKate Read, co-author of the new Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for making the most of your mixed-ability Kindergarten classroom.

Kindergarten classrooms can be busy and confusing places at the best of times, but when you (like most of us) have to cope with a wide range of abilities, it throws an extra challenge into the mix. We love the fact that each child is an individual, with his or her own quirky little personalities, but it sure makes teaching effectively a challenge! Don’t despair! Here are a few simple steps to unmix you!

1. Be prepared

As with so many things in life, the secret is in the preparation. Think about what you want to achieve and what it is reasonable to achieve on both a class and individual level. Set a range of achievable goals: begin from the same starting point then vary the level of difficulty. Remember that mixed abilities do range upwards – you want to keep the most able children challenged and interested too.

When creating or adapting activities, chose ones which can be approached in a number of ways, especially in regards to oral or written abilities. Think of ways to exploit a variety of skill sets. For example, if you were going to introduce a new song, you might look at doing the following with it:

  • acting out the words with no production, but focusing on creating interesting movements to illustrate understanding
  • a singing/production element
  • a drawing element
  • a simple reading/writing element (e.g. a gap fill or a create a new verse) for those most able to cope with written text.

Make sure that your instructions are very clear, structured and achievable when you present the tasks. Be very clear about what you hope they will achieve by the end of the class or activity – include the range of outcomes in this. When you give instructions, demonstrate the whole process from beginning to end.

Also, don’t underestimate the value of review. Creative reviews give the lower-ability children a chance to take stock and gain confidence while providing a springboard for other children to attempt higher-level activities.

2. Use the children’s strengths

It’s very important for each child to know that he or she is a valued member of your classroom community. Each contribution is important. For example, someone with good motor skills but poor linguistic skills could make a different but equally important contribution to a project or activity and you need to make this clear. Most tasks will be enhanced by mixing abilities within a group and encouraging peer co-operation. Many children enjoy taking the teacher role and this can be usefully exploited!

Using the children’s different strengths also benefits their social development. Be sensitive to how far you can push the children, but at the same time do mix things up by changing groups, dynamics and procedures when you think they can handle this.

Teaching a mixed–ability class is a great opportunity to

  • develop cooperative learning and peer teaching
  • appeal to different strengths and learning styles
  • support the less able and challenge the more able
  • train children to work both independently and in groups.

3. Be flexible

As you will know, teaching mixed abilities draws on all your multi-tasking skills – but it is worth it when it works well. At times there might be a bit more confusion than with a single approach, but keep calm, aware, and in control, and you will often hear that sweet hum of concentrated activity. Just in case things don’t go perfectly to plan, try to keep a good ‘Plan B’ activity in the sidelines, even if it is just a quick break in the form of an action song or a chant before settling them back into the task. If you see their interest flagging, don’t be afraid to change your approach.

4. Appreciate the achievements of all learners

All children need praise, particularly when navigating the unknown waters of a new language. Find things to praise in all the children’s efforts. If you can’t find something, then deliberately help them do something that is praiseworthy. Remember to think of the individual’s learning path and compare what they’ve done to their own past achievements as opposed to the achievements of others. Demonstrate and reward success – post their efforts on the wall, or in folders, and hand out congratulations stickers, etc. In a very simple way, go back to the objectives you discussed at the beginning of the class. Show the children how they achieved them and how well they did.

Challenge question for fast finishers: how many times did I manage to insert ‘mix’ into this blog?

Would you like more practical tips on working with mixed-ability classes and developing 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.


1 Comment

9 Questions for iPad Party Poopers

Potato Pals tablet in schoolPatrick Jackson, author of the popular Potato Pals series, questions the assumption that there’s an app for everything – especially where young learners are concerned.

My son Kai went for a sleepover with his best friend Aedan last night. As we were packing his bag, he asked if he could take his iPad with him. We said he couldn’t. “You’re going to play with Aedan. You don’t need an iPad”. Shock! Horror! As far as Kai is concerned, we are totally wrong about this and have done him a great injustice. He reckons that it’s just another toy and playing with an iPad with Aedan is just like playing with Lego or running around in the garden. I think not. I even rang Aedan’s mum and asked if Aedan was going to be using his iPad. I was delighted to hear that he had already been banned for a week for some unspeakable and unnamed crime earlier in the day. I didn’t ask what. I tell you – digital parenting in suburban Dublin is a mine field!

Thank goodness technology has not yet managed to replace most of what happens in old-style play. Where it replicates it we have a poor cousin to the real thing. There are apps that you ‘run’ on and apps that you ‘paint’ on but unless you are stuck on a long car journey, neither will be as fun or valuable as the real thing.

There are well-understood reasons why kids need to play ‘naturally’. They need to socialise. They need to move. They need to be creative. They need fresh air. They need to communicate in the wonderful way that kids do when they are playing and they need to get dirty. They need to be dancing to their own wild inner drums and until the unlikely day that technology catches up with the ‘real’ world, Kai’s iPad is staying on my desk (where I can play with it) for most of the day and particularly when his friends are around.

Apps are all around though and aren’t going anywhere soon. Parents, teachers and educational administrators are dealing with these issues all over the world. In our home, we deal with it with a sophisticated and continually negotiated system of time limits, rewards, checks and balances. We hardly even understand the system ourselves.

To make it more confusing, we distinguish between educational apps and those that we consider to be a pretty good waste of time or ‘just fun’. There are many that are virtually impossible to distinguish. We are totally aware that we could be wrong about many of the calls we make. We may indeed be denying our son a future in a world where a key skill will be catapulting different types of birds at distant pigs. Anyway, our current rules allow Kai a 30-minute iPad session in the morning before school during which he is allowed to do creative or educational things. Then he gets 30 minutes of free iPad time after his homework when he can do whatever he wants. The only things we forbid completely are games that show graphic violence. Incredibly, that is not the case for all of his classmates.

For language educators, apps are a hugely valuable resource. They will increasingly become part of how languages are learned. We are now just at the beginning of the mobile age in ELT and, for better or worse, it’s only going to become a larger part of what we do. Being able to sort out the digital chaff from the grain is going to be a key skill for the language educator. Knowing when to say “No. We can do this activity better in the real world” will be important.

The danger is that educational systems will err by replacing real world activities with cheaper, cleaner, more addictive tech alternatives. The irony is that in many cases in the ‘developed’ world, giving a classroom of children more time on tablets will save the system the time, money and the trouble of organising and cleaning up after real play while creating the illusion that this is preparing them better for the 21st Century.

We need to be able to recognise when an app can do the job better and in a more compelling way, and when it can’t. Some apps definitely enrich and support learning in a valid way. Some are really just addictive eye-candy or one-offs without any real lasting depth.

So what questions should we be asking when we look at an app? What should app authors and developers be aiming for as they work on the latest educational apps? What should teachers and administrators be asking as they make these important decisions?

I’ve found myself asking a few questions while working on an app for young learners that’s just arrived at the big party going on over on the App Store.

Does this app allow students to interact with the target language in a way that would be difficult or impossible to replicate in traditional ways?

Does the app offer students opportunities to communicate with friends and family beyond the classroom using the target language; opportunities that would not exist otherwise?

Can the app deliver authentic language in a more efficient way than by traditional methods?

Can students use this app to create personalised learning that puts them at the centre of the target language and helps them to tell the story of their own lives?

Is the app going to support home study and take-home sharing, building a bridge between the classroom and the home?

Will this app develop student autonomy; helping them to take responsibility for their own learning?

Does this app deliver existing materials in a more efficient or more compelling way and does it supplement and enrich those materials?

Is the target language delivered through the app in an integrated and linked way?

Does the app use a good variety of skills and engage those skills meaningfully?

It’s great fun at the app party now but it’s wrong to believe there’s an app for everything. As parents and educators we need to be able to think clearly; know when to be party poopers and know when to jump in and join the fun.

Patrick Jackson is an ELT author and teacher. He is author of the popular Potato Pals series, which has just been released as an app for iPad. You can download one story for free from the Apple App Store, with the option to purchase 6 more stories from within the app.


2 Comments

Five Easy Ways in Which You Can Encourage Young Children to Think Critically

Child thinkingKate Read, co-author of the forthcoming kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for getting your kindergarten children to think critically.

Too young for critical thinking?

When people refer to critical thinking, it’s often in association with older Primary and Secondary children who have mastered basic literacy and numeracy skills. Critical thinking is sometimes seen as a higher-level skill that can only be used after the children have mastered the basics of the language through traditional methods. But is this really true?

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is defined in a number of ways but in essence it means the ability to analyze information, make decisions based on information and insight, and find creative solutions to different problems and questions. These skills, once learned, can be used throughout a lifetime and are becoming increasingly important in today’s world.

Turning received wisdom on its head

When we set out to write Show and Tell, our forthcoming kindergarten course for Oxford University Press, my co-authors and I decided that we would see how we could take basic critical thinking skills and apply them to a kindergarten context. The more we wrote, the more we became convinced that not only was it possible to do this but it was vital to do this in order to prepare young children for the years ahead. We realized that you’re never too young to start thinking critically.

We see an approach that places critical thinking at the center as a way of creating a partnership in the learning process with the child. An approach in which learning isn’t just about memorizing isolated words but is about exploring concepts through the medium of language. We also see it as harnessing what is already there: the young child is abounding in curiosity about the world and that curiosity is the most important learning tool you could possibly have.

Five easy ways in which you can encourage young children to think critically

1. Questions, questions, questions!

Encourage a child’s natural inclination to ask questions. Focus on why questions more than any other. Treat children’s questions seriously and enthusiastically and engage with them. Encourage other children to engage with the questions as well.

2. Allow children to discover

When presenting a child with a series of facts, the relevance can often be lost. However, if you guide children with ways of finding things out, they will understand and consolidate the understanding more easily. For example, if you are looking at shapes, don’t tell a child that a triangle has three sides and a square has four. Let them count, draw conclusions and verbalize their answers. In that way, it becomes more meaningful and memorable. From a young age, discovery can happen through observation, trial and error, and even simple experiments.

3. Wrong can be right

In order to be comfortable with critical thinking, children need to be in an environment where they feel confident and comfortable taking chances and getting things wrong. Try not to criticize a wrong answer but use it as an opportunity to further explore. We can often learn more from wrong answers than right ones!

4. Respecting and encouraging opinions

Children should be encouraged to form and express opinions on even simple things. Forming opinions means that they have processed the information, activated it and formed a judgment on it. Once expressed, their opinions should be treated as important. See if they can develop new ideas from that point onwards.

5. The seriousness of fun and games

Game playing can be a great way of critically assessing the ideas and attitudes of others while deducing ways of solving simple ‘problems’ that effective or good games present. They also give children those vital skills of reacting to the unexpected when dealing with other people and their ideas.

These are just a few ideas but I’m sure that the experienced kindergarten teachers out there could add and add to this. Use the comments section below to let us know what you come up with!

Would you like more practical tips on developing critical thinking, and other 21st century skills, in your kindergarten children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and photocopiable downloadables.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,243 other followers