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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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Ready to write? Tips on preparing Kindergarten children to write

School children writingMargaret Whitfield, co-author of the forthcoming Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips on preparing kindergarten children to write.

Have you ever thought about how complex writing is? It involves fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, control of the arm and shoulder, recognition of letter shapes, association of letter shapes and sounds, and so on. It’s a wonder anyone ever learns to write. The fact that children usually master it is proof of their amazing learning power. The early stages of learning to write involve developing concepts about writing as well as the basic skills that form the foundation of writing development.

Children begin to understand and to enjoy the idea of writing well before they are actually able to write. They see adults and older children writing and, as always, want to join in. Their experiences as they do so can influence both their progress and their later attitude to writing, so how can we ensure that they’re positive ones?

Encourage scribbling early mark-making

Make sure that opportunities for writing are widespread and varied, and that you praise all children’s efforts. When you refer to what children are doing as writing and ask about what they’ve written, you reinforce the idea that they’re doing the same thing as the ‘grown-ups’. You are valuing their effort. The marks may just be scribbles at this stage, but they’re a crucial stage on the path to recognizable writing.

Some everyday opportunities for writing:

  • writing labels for items in the classroom, e.g. toy food in a shop
  • writing a label on a picture they’ve painted or drawn
  • writing a message or a card for a family member

Be CREATIVE

Pencil control is a fundamental skill to master, but there are also many creative activities that will contribute to writing skills that don’t involve pencil and paper.

The following will all develop children’s motor skills, and parents may also like to do some of them at home:

  • Manual craftwork, e.g. manipulating small pieces of paper to make a collage picture
  • Making marks in sand with sticks or fingers
  • Covering a chalkboard with chalk and painting it with a wet paintbrush

In addition, using modelling clay helps to develop the muscles in the hand – get children squeezing, squashing, and rolling balls and sausage shapes.

Focus on letter SHAPES

For children to develop from early mark-making to recognizable letters, they need to recognize the letter shapes. (They also, of course, need to associate letters with sounds before they can use letters meaningfully, but that’s another topic.) Flashcards and posters with the letters are really useful for this, but they can be supplemented and combined with lots of other activities. For example:

  • Have children make the shapes with their bodies. Give two children a flashcard of letter ‘b’, for example, and ask them to work together to make the shape.
  • Match magnetic letters to flashcards.
  • Have children make the letters of their name with salt dough. They can decorate the letters when they’re baked.
  • Letter hunt: give a child a letter flashcard and ask them to find as many examples of that letter around the classroom or on a page of a storybook.
  • Use objects such as buttons or pipe cleaners to make the shape of a letter shown on the flashcard. Watch teacher trainer, Freia Layfield, show you how to make the most of this kind of activity in class and download a free photocopiable activity template.

Make writing part of role-play

Role-play is a key part of children’s play at this age, and it can provide great opportunities for meaningful writing activities. If you leave clipboards with pencils around the classroom in different play areas, children can be encouraged to build writing into their play.

Here are some ideas for combining role-play and writing:

  • Shopping: write a shopping list
  • Firefighters: write the address of the fire
  • Doctors: write a prescription for some medicine or some notes about the patient’s condition
  • Superheroes: write a secret message to another superhero and hide it for them to find
  • Traffic cops: write parking tickets for scooters left in the wrong place – or even speeding tickets!

And finally, be patient

Different children progress at different rates. A child may, for example, have less developed fine motor skills but a good understanding of sound–letter correspondence. Try not to ‘correct’ children’s writing too much and remember to praise their efforts; they will be encouraged to write more and so get the practice they need to progress.

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

Sign up for the free webinar on how to get kindergarten children writing on 22 January 2014.


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Managing the Perfect Classroom

Eager children in classKathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina, co-authors of the forthcoming Young Learners series, Oxford Discover, share some classroom management tips.

As teachers of young learners, we all know the benefits of a well-managed classroom. Our students are alert, focused, and excited to learn. All of our energies can go into teaching the lesson, rather than dealing with management issues. So how can we achieve this perfect classroom?

It’s important to remember that good classroom management is like fire prevention – our aim is to avoid problems in the first place. A teacher who is well organized and prepared, and who has specific goals for each lesson, is off to a very good start! However, there are other things we can do to keep our students focused and happy.

We’d like to begin with two broad perspectives on classroom management, and then move on to some simple strategies that you can use right away.

1. How students perceive learning determines a lot of their behavior

If students sense that learning is a one-way street, with information flowing only from the teacher to the student, management problems can occur from the very beginning of the lesson. Some students may be bored, others may feel forced to learn, and others may seek to stand out and be noticed by misbehaving.

The solution is to create a classroom of curiosity, nurturing a spirit of “wondering”. These qualities of curiosity and wondering are natural to students, but are often lost in traditional classroom settings. As teachers, we can reignite these qualities by being curious and wondering ourselves, as in:

I wonder how caterpillars turn into butterflies.
I wonder how this machine works.
I wonder if there is another way to do this.
I wonder how energy is created and used.

After observing this type of questioning from their teacher, students are encouraged to join in and ask their own questions. They perceive that they are seeking answers together, and that there may be many possible answers. Students become empowered to learn and discover as a class. They are also eager to share what they have learned with their teacher, making them partners in learning. As a result, there are fewer occasions for misbehavior or boredom.

2. CCBA – Catch Children Being Amazing!

We created the acronym CCBA (Catch Children Being Amazing) to remind teachers that students respond better to praise than to criticism. By noticing and pointing out how something is being done well, teachers give students specific examples of good behavior and learning. As you continue to comment on your students’ good behaviors, creative ideas, and positive contributions, you can easily shift the focus of attention from bad to good. Here are some examples:

  • I’m really pleased to see how well you all made a circle and got ready to sing.
  • Look at how Jenna and Miki are making big letter shapes together.
  • Michael, you wrote your story so neatly in your notebook.

Noticing and commenting on your students’ good behavior and achievements also builds confidence. Students often tell their parents later about a CCBA moment in their class. In so many ways, CCBA creates a positive classroom environment that supports learning for the entire year.

Here are some simple classroom management strategies you can try tomorrow!

Kathleen Lampa demonstrating the 'quiet signal'

Kathleen Kampa, Oxford Discover co-author

1. Refocusing Student Attention

Occasionally, it is necessary to get your students’ attention, especially if they are chatting after an activity is over. It is best to do this in a calm, quiet, and confident manner.

Here are two simple strategies you can try. Before using them, it’s a good idea to practice with your students several times until they become natural.

The first strategy is called the “quiet signal”. To do this, raise one hand while placing the forefinger of your other hand over your lips. Students then imitate these actions. Soon everyone is quiet.

The second strategy is to use a simple clapping rhythm. When students hear it, they repeat it. This signal is a clear way to get your students’ attention.

2. Transitional Songs

Transitional songs help move students smoothly from one activity to the next. They’re particularly useful for classes with young learners. Here are two songs you’ll be able to use tomorrow in your classroom.

Come and Sit In Front of Me (by Kathleen Kampa)
Melody: The Muffin Man

Come and sit in front of me, in front of me, in front of me,
Come and sit in front of me, in front of me.

Let’s Make a Circle (by Kathleen Kampa)
Melody: Skip To My Lou

Let’s make a circle big and round,
Let’s make a circle big and round,
Let’s make a circle big and round,
Everybody please sit down.

3. Celebrating Success

Creating a climate of success is important. Students work hard in your classroom, so celebrate their achievements! Here’s a chant you can use often throughout your lesson:

We Did It! (Celebration Chant by Kathleen Kampa)

Celebration Chant – We Did It!

We did it! We did it! We did it today!
We did it! We did it! Hip hip hooray!

4. Working Together

When students work together in pairs or small groups, they’re building the 21st Century skill of collaboration. Students who work together toward a common goal are focused and engaged learners. When dividing students into pairs and groups, it is important that the students view the process as fair.

First, decide the size of each group, based on the activity and the number of students you have. Sometimes an activity asks for students to work in pairs, or groups of three or four students. Some groups can have one additional student if the class cannot divide equally into groups.

There are many ways to divide students into groups. For example, if you want eight groups, students count off from “one” to “eight.” If you want six groups, they count off from “one” to “six”. Students with the same number then work together. Another method is to have students pull colored cards out of a box without looking. Students with the same color work together.

Students can also be placed in pairs or groups prepared beforehand by the teacher. One strategy is to place shy students with more confident students. This creates a unique opportunity to unify the class and include everyone in the learning process.

Classroom management issues exist with every class. However, by creating a positive environment of curiosity, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and encouragement, your class will develop a group personality that embraces learning.

Happy teaching, everyone!

Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina

Would you like more practical tips on classroom management and developing 21st Century skills with your children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.

Sign up for a webinar on Making the most of classroom management on 17 & 19 December.


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‘All together now’: using songs and actions for kindergarten classroom management

Pre-school children singing

Photo courtesy of Gryphon House

Margaret Whitfield, co-author of the forthcoming Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips on using songs and games for Kindergarten classroom management.

There are many reasons for using songs and actions in the kindergarten classroom. They’re memorable, they engage different types of learners, channel energy effectively and – best of all – they’re enjoyable. But songs and actions are also fantastic for encouraging teamwork and managing the classroom.

How can songs and actions encourage teamwork?

Singing a song is in its nature a collaborative activity. All the children can join in to create something that they’re proud of. Harness this by allowing children to join in at different levels. Give them a tambourine if they’re too shy to sing – they’ll still be absorbing the language, learning the natural rhythm and intonation. If they’re super-confident, give them a line to sing solo. Try arranging the children in a circle and moving around as you sing the song – the children have to work as one or the circle collapses!

Ask groups to work together to make up actions or new verses. Have the group teach their verse or actions to the rest of the class, using props and flashcards, if appropriate. By working in groups like this, children are encouraged to collaborate and the less confident members of the class are more likely to contribute. (Try this free song activity idea from Freia Layfield, an Oxford University Press Teacher Trainer.)

Think about how you teach songs as a way of promoting teamwork. Encourage the children to be involved in the process. Begin by simple options – listen again, or sing? Clap the rhythm or ‘la-la-la’ to the tune? The children can move to different areas of the classroom according to their choices. Then have a child be in charge of the CD player. Teach the children simple phrases (Pause, please. Play it again, please.) so that they can direct the child working the CD player. With older children, once they are used to being in control, you could challenge a small group to work together with the CD player to learn the song.

How can songs and actions be a tool for classroom management?

All children have their own ideas about what they want to be doing, and it can sometimes be challenging to focus them on the job in hand, particularly if it’s not one they’re fond of.

My experience is that many very young children will respond better to commands if you sing them – however simply, and however badly. Clean up, put your shoes on, wash your hands, and so on. The same can be true with actions – it’s like a code you share with the children; for example, clap your hands to get their attention, hold them in the air, then rub them together as though washing your hands. One advantage of both these approaches is that you’re not using your voice in the usual way.

A step on from this is to turn everyday classroom routines into short chants and songs. This can be particularly effective if you use a tune that children know and like; for example, try teaching this ‘clean up’ song, sung to the tune of ‘London Bridge is falling down’:

Time to clean up everyone, everyone, everyone.
Do it together, let’s have fun,
Let’s get busy!

If you build in some actions, as well, you can ensure that children are focused on the song and not carrying on with what they were doing. In our forthcoming series, Show and Tell, my co-authors and I have included chants to support good behavior, so you can build these into your classroom routine and use them as a fun reminder. For example, when a child drops something (or looks as though he/she is about to!):

Little hands be careful,
Pick it up and hold it tight.
Little hands be careful,
And it will be alright.

You can also use songs as a reward. Leave time at the end of the lesson, pick a child whose work or behavior has been especially good, and ask them to choose their favorite English song for the class to sing.

These are just a few ways that songs and actions can be used to promote teamwork and help with classroom management. If you have any feedback or ideas of your own to share, please post!

Would you like more practical tips on classroom management and how to develop communication, collaboration and other 21st century skills with your kindergarten children?
Visit our site on
Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.

Sign up for the webinar on Making the most of kindergarten classroom management on 18 December.


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How music changed my teaching life

Patrick Jackson in a class of kids

Havin’ a bit of fun

Patrick Jackson, author of Potato Pals, Stars, and Everybody Up, all published by Oxford University Press, shares with us the power of using songs in the classroom. This article was originally published on the Super Simple Learning blog.

Before I went to Japan and started to teach kids, I ran a late night café in Dublin. While there are some similarities between customers in a restaurant and students in a classroom, I certainly wasn’t qualified to be a teacher. I had very little training and, like many other foreigners who get a job teaching English just because it’s their mother language, I basically walked into a classroom with no idea at all about how to teach young learners. It’s an unacceptable situation that the TEFL industry has to look at. Anyway, I really didn’t know what I was doing and so I made it up as I went along. I had no connections with a wider community of teachers beyond a couple of people in my school who were in the same boat as me.

I soon found out that the only way to survive with young learners was to sing with them, and keep them moving.
The combination of music, language and movement is the most powerful tool we can use to teach young learners and, more importantly, it keeps everyone happy! After a while, I was pretty much structuring my lessons around song. I would include at least four or five songs in a forty-minute lesson. I could easily see that these refreshed everyone, kept the energy positive, gave the class a nice structure and really got the kids to remember the target language in a fun and effortless way. Songs are a great way to get the language in! This is accepted by most teachers nowadays. It always amazes me that there are some who still don’t embrace music and movement. In fact, I don’t know how they survive!

Do you have any tips for using songs in the classroom?

Give everyone something to do. Students can make simple instruments out of recycled materials and that will keep the whole class involved. You can also use props, costumes or get students to make and hold up cards illustrating the language while singing. This creates a stronger connection between the lyrics and the meaning.

Always add movements to songs and if you’re dealing with space issues make up hand movements that can be done even by students sitting at desks.

Get the rhythm going and the tune will follow easily. Clapping out the rhythm together will also create a good screen of background noise for shyer students to feel safe behind.

Divide the class into half or groups and break the song up, singing to each other. A bit of competition can even be fun and a good way to get the energy up. Singing rounds and parts will make it sound very professional!

Think about how the song ties in with your curriculum. Although singing most songs is fun, if you don’t make the connection to the curriculum, you are missing an opportunity to strengthen language acquisition by making those all-important links. With a ready-made course, that hard work has already been done for you.

Patrick Jackson presenting in China

All together now!

Look to combine your favourite storybooks with appropriate songs and vice versa. Projects and other supplementary activities will also build up those connections between the lyrics of the song and ‘real’ language.

Once the language is in, make sure you give students enough ways of getting the language out again – to really use it! I find that a combination of role-plays and personalized writing, drawing and speaking activities that all lead up to take home moments make for the best all-round approach.

How about songs in your books?

When I started authoring textbooks I was very happy to be allowed to make songs a major component. This was true of Potato Pals where every book is accompanied by a song, but to an even greater extent with Everybody Up. Everybody Up is a new primary ELT course from Oxford University Press that I was very happy to have worked on with the Super Simple Learning team. Actually, Everybody Up has more songs than any other primary course. Oxford University Press spared no expense in putting together a dream team of songwriters including Grammy winning Julie Gold (“From a Distance”) and Devon and Troy of Super Simple Learning. We really couldn’t have been luckier.

Everybody Up Global Sing-along 2013The Everybody Up Global Sing-along is an exciting project that encourages classrooms around the world to send in You Tube videos of themselves singing songs from Everybody Up. It’s something that would never have been possible before the easy access of technology and social media. Watching the videos come in from around the world has been the highlight of my career so far. It’s especially fun and educational for the kids to see themselves cooperating on the production of their videos and to be able to see other children all over the world singing the same songs as them. The competition is open until August and I would very strongly urge any of your readers that teach kids to enter. There is a huge prize for the best entry; an all expenses paid trip to Oxford to attend the English Language Teachers Summer Seminar 2014 at Oxford University, including flights and accommodation. The schools that submit the best entries can also receive a visit and concert from the songwriters and last year Devon and Julie Gold visited Taiwan.

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