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English Language Teaching Global Blog


Making books look like candy

shutterstock_280154789Patrick Jackson, author of the popular Potato Pals series, Shine On! and Everybody Up!, explores the importance of design and ‘eye candy’ in materials for young learners.

In the natural world, colour and pattern are keys to reproduction and survival. The attention of bees is guided by precisely marked, competing flowers. Camouflaged moths hug tree trunks, invisible to their predators. Birds and animals show off their plumage and markings to attract a partner. Phosphorescent creatures in the warmer oceans mirror the night sky, filled with the stars that guide our journeys across its expanses.

The same is true with the learning journey we embark on with pre-elementary and elementary students. The learning materials we use must guide, motivate and excite, firstly and above all through the eyes of our young students. The characteristics and effectiveness of materials are largely determined by the visual impression they make and the deeper design decisions that undergird their development. As teachers and publishers we rightly should embrace the extent to which design decisions influence the whole learning process.

An Oxford University Press designer once said, “I like to make books look like candy.” Children, more than any other age group, are visual learners. The younger the learners, the more important the visuals are. That is not to say that they are not important with older age groups, but in the absence of a lot of printed text, children depend on what they can see on the pages (or increasingly, the screens) in front of them. The classroom can be very cut off from the outside world and exciting images from beyond the classroom bring the experience of learning a new language alive.

Young learners benefit deeply from interacting with different illustration styles and different media. These inspire creativity as well as maintain students’ attention. Good illustrations convey emotion and that in turn motivates young learners. The aesthetic experience should be pleasurable and the content memorable. No doubt we all remember our favourite illustrations from the books of our childhood. Furthermore, language itself is not linear and the visual presentation of language in context is a powerful tool that mimics the state of language in the real world. It has been proven that language is more memorable when presented with images, particularly images that children can identify emotionally with. Again, this replicates their experience of learning their first language.

The layout of activities on the page gives a book its feel and determines how we will respond. The lesson should flow smoothly from well signposted activity to the next. Icons and titles are part of this rhythm. The font and size of rubrics are also very important, as is the amount of blank space on the page. This informs how we perceive the level of difficulty of the material. The feel and finish of a course book are also vital to our experience of a book. Who hasn’t stroked the cover of a book or run their hands down its spine? Who hasn’t been frustrated as a child by trying to write or colour on the wrong quality of paper? All of these decisions, taken by the editorial and design teams, contribute to the soul of the materials and the ‘user experience’.

We call something superficially attractive but lacking deep meaning ‘eye candy’. They also say that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’. On the contrary, we can and do tell a great deal about course books by looking at their covers, and a bit of eye candy on their pages for young learners is just what they like and need. Their first impression of the path ahead is partly determined by the design of their very first English book.

So let’s not underestimate the work of the design department as we choose the materials we use. Let’s celebrate those beautiful illustrations and gorgeous double spreads. Let’s obsess about clear, well-set rubrics. Let’s appreciate delicious paper quality. Let’s delight at a bit of bling on a cover. As a great scholar may or may not have once said, “Per pulchra ad astra.” Through beauty to the stars!


Beyond the classroom…involving parents in learning

shutterstock_220645462Vanessa has been teaching English as a Foreign language in Portugal for the past 20 years. She is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação.  Her areas of interest are teaching YLs, Teens and Pre-Teens. She joins us today to preview her webinar, ‘Beyond the classroom… involving parents in learning’ taking place tomorrow, 28th June and Wednesday 29th.

While it is true that as teachers our main mission is to teach the students in our classrooms lots of exciting new language and skills, it’s also true that as professional educators we often invest a lot of our precious time in speaking to and dealing with students’ parents. For example, we may just say a friendly hello, offer a friendly reminder, provide a word of warning or perhaps simply give a student’s family and loved ones some feedback about their child’s progress. Whilst this may suffice for some parents, some teachers assert that this is just the tip of the teacher parent relationship. I would argue that there is so much more that could be done to encourage both parties to join efforts to guarantee that each student reaches their personal learning goals successfully.

This webinar aims to look at how we as teachers can actively involve our students’ parents in their children’s school learning process. Generally speaking, by nature, most parents are interested in their children’s academic life and progress, and want to help their children be successful at school. It is also true that more often than not they are true specialists when it comes to knowing their children’s strengths and weaknesses. Yet, in many cases this natural interest turns out to be a source of frustration as it is not always channeled correctly, and rather than feeling useful and engaged, parents end up feeling lost and frustrated. They know that there is so much more that could be done to help their children, but don’t know exactly how to go about doing it.

In order to revert this, we will begin the webinar by discussing and analyzing how parent involvement outside school can be set up in a practical manner. The webinar will be structured as follows:

  1. Setting up a clear and open channel of communication between teachers and parents.
  2. Suggesting and exploring various ideas and activities to get parents started on the right track and gently guide and encourage them to become active participants in their children’s learning process.
  3. Suggesting and considering ideas like how to plan and set up a revision schedule for their children, how to choose appropriate learning resources and how to use the Oxford parents’ website to find appropriate tasks and activities.

By the end of the webinar participants will have a fair idea of how to go about creating a game plan to apply in their schools to involve and engage parents to help maximize their students’ learning. We will end the webinar with an opportunity for participants ask questions and to share any valuable experience and tips that they may have.

If you’re interested in taking part in Vanessa’s webinar, register for free by clicking the button below.



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Classroom resources for Easter

shutterstock_177323042Easter is nearly upon us, so we thought we’d share some classroom resources to help you and your class celebrate as the holidays approach.

We’ve put together some activities from our materials within Oxford Teacher’s Club for young learners to help bring Easter into the language learning classroom. Enjoy!




Easter Songs and Chants

The Easter Egg Song

The Easter Egg Karaoke

Easter Card

An Easter Card for colouring & creative writing

Easter Crossword

Easter Crossword for primary level – vocabulary & colouring exercise

More Resources

There is a huge bank of free resources for Pre-Primary and Primary on the Easter Corner area on Oxford University Press Spain’s website. Find resources for Intermediate and Secondary language learners here on CultureMania.

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Children’s Day: Motivating Students through Games

Kids lying in a circle making goggle eyesLysette Taplin, an ELT Editor for Oxford University Press, Mexico and experienced English language teacher, discusses the educational value of games in the English language classroom in celebration of Children’s Day in Mexico.

Kids have amazing imaginations. This is why they have some really great ideas. And sometimes, these ideas become wonderful inventions. Did you know that kids invented the Popsicle and waterskiing? Did you know that a kid also invented earmuffs? And who invented the trampoline? A kid!

George Baez, “From Dreams to Reality”[1]

Universal Children’s Day (http://www.un.org/en/events/childrenday/) aims to promote the welfare of children everywhere and to encourage understanding between children all over the world.[2] In Mexico, this day is celebrated on April 30.

Many schools in Mexico celebrate Children’s Day by hosting special events and festivals which often entail story-telling, games and more. Children love playing and games are a great way to promote communicative skills in the English language classroom. So, why not celebrate our kids with fun-filled games which also foster language development. They are highly motivating and create an enjoyable and relaxed learning environment which encourages active learning, collaboration as well as creative and spontaneous use of language. Task-orientated games engage students and give them a meaningful context for language use. They focus their attention on the task itself rather than the production of correct speech, and the competitive nature keeps students interested and concentrated as most learners will try hard to win.

The advantage of using games is that they are student-centered and can integrate all linguistic skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. For example, when reading a dialogue from a story or play, project it onto the board, erasing some words or phrases. Have students work in teams to write the missing words. Encourage students to think of the funniest or most interesting captions to complete the gaps. Then, have teams vote for the funniest options. This activity promotes reading and creative writing while at the same time practices speaking and listening skills as students must understand what others are saying and express their own ideas.

A running dictation game also gets students out of their seats and involves the four skills. Prepare and print a short text and place it at the front of the classroom. Have students work in pairs or small groups and decide on who will be the writer and who will be the runner. If students are working in small groups, have the non-writers take turns being runners. Tell the runners in each team to read the text and memorize as much as possible before returning to their team and dictating what they read to the writer. Tell students that the text must be as accurate as possible, including correct spelling and punctuation. With advanced groups, you can add italics, bold, parenthesis, etc. to make the text more challenging. Once teams have finished writing, hand out a copy of the text for them to check their work. This is an excellent and motivating game that can be adapted for both younger and older learners.

Games to practice new or recycled vocabulary can help students learn and retain new words more easily. Chinese Whispers is a simple but effective game that gets students to practice correct pronunciation while reinforcing vocabulary. When playing this game, I usually split the class into two teams to add a competitive element. Tell the teams to stand in a line and ask a student from each team to come to the front of the class. Whisper one vocabulary item to them, or alternatively show them a picture or flashcard without letting the rest of the class see. Have them go to the back of their team’s line and whisper the word to the student in front of them. Tell the last student in each line to say the word aloud. Students love this game and find it hilarious when words get distorted as they pass down the line.

Games encourage students to interact and communicate and to be more sympathetic towards one another, thus fostering understanding. While of great educational value, games are a fun distraction from the usual routine of language learning. They create a relaxed learning environment where real learning can take place and can also reduce students’ fear of speaking in a foreign language, which improves communicative competence. I believe games can and should be central to language teaching and can be used at any stage of the lesson. Many traditional games, such as Hangman, Pictionary, Bingo, Memory, Charades, Battleships, etc. can all be adapted for the ELT classroom. Kids love to play, and fun, exciting games will engage them in communication, making them forget about the language challenges they face.


[1] Baez, George. “From Dreams to Reality.” Ed. Justyna Zakrzewska. Step Inside 3. Mexico: Oxford University Press, 2014.

[2] Unicef, Universal Children’s Day: Celebrating children and their rights, UNICEF Malaysia, 2012. Date of access: 08/04/2015. http://www.unicef.org/malaysia/childrights_universal-childrens-day.html


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.