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Learning to learn in the primary classroom

I have been teaching a group of young teenagers of very mixed levels and ages for six months now. Half of the group comes from the state-school system and the other half attend “an alternative school”. The latter group is one-three years younger and was the weakest one in terms of language knowledge at the beginning of the year. These children were weak elementary while the rest strong pre-intermediate/intermediate. I was even wondering whether they would be able to cope emotionally with the fact that the rest of the class coming from a state-school background is so much stronger.

As time went by, however, the children who were seemingly behind caught up at an amazing speed. They were very good at using soft skills such as really listening to the teacher and to each other. They asked questions with confidence if they got stuck. They were able to work out answers for themselves by observing the clues carefully. I also watched them constantly use colors to highlight, to make mind-maps, and to make beautiful drawings in their notebooks to accompany their newly learnt language without having to draw their attention to these learning strategies. Their notebooks are not ordinary ones with the answers of exercises, lists of words and occasional grammar tables, but they look more like living books that you would want to open again and again to look at. And of course, I sometimes witnessed their frustration as well, but I saw their strategies of handling these emotions successfully too.

‘… the children who were seemingly behind caught up at an amazing speed.’

These children have learnt something important that we all need in this rapidly changing world, and these are skills that allow them to adapt to new situations, new contexts, new people, and new tasks easily. Possessing vast knowledge – most of which computers provide us with in fractions of seconds anyway – does not give us enough support in being able to rise up to new challenges at this speed. Instead we need the soft skills and learning skills that equip us with the necessary flexibility.

What are these skills? How can they be developed? From the example above – just as, I am sure, we can all list such examples from our lives – these questions have obvious answers. But it feels harder to teach these skills instead of a set of new words or a new language point as they are less tangible.

Essential skills for primary children

So what is it that children need to learn in the primary school? According to Emőke Bagdy, a renowned Hungarian clinical psychologist, at this age children need to learn the following things: To read, to write, to count, and to be confident. They need to develop a sense of self-belief that they can do it. If this fails, according to E. Bagdy, children will struggle with their learning, in managing new situations at school, and in their life as adults.  This is also supported by the PISA report (Programme for International Student Assessment) that has found that learners’ belief in their own efficacy is the strongest single predictor of whether they will adopt strategies that make learning effective or not (Artelt et al., 2003, pages 33–34).

One of the key things that influence children’s confidence is our own view of them as individuals and of their abilities. It is important to approach every single child believing that they can do it. A simple idea to do this is to catch them being good, something that can be easily done with the help of the Snakes poster – see below.

Snake Poster.

Draw one snake for every child in the class and label each one with a student’s name. Make sure the body of each snake is divided into lots of triangular sections. Each time a student does something praiseworthy (e.g. makes a helpful comment, shows determination, waiting patiently for their turn, etc.), tell them to come out and colour in one section of their snake with a pen of their choice.

Mixed-ability teaching, Edmund Dudley, Erika Osváth, OUP, 2016

 

Of course, we need to make sure that children progress with the colouring in their snakes approximately at similar speeds to avoid any feelings of shame, which would definitely be detrimental. Feeling good about oneself has an immense motivational power at any age, but it is imperative in the primary classroom.

Another important teaching moment that has a great impact on children’s self-confidence is our way of dealing with mistakes. In my view, there are no mistakes made in the primary classroom, but rather opportunities for children to notice something that is different or new in terms of use of words, language chunks, spelling, etc. For example, if children are copying words in their notebook from the board and there are some spelling errors, rather than overwriting these in red by the teacher, it’s a good idea to encourage children to look at the board again and discover the differences for themselves.

Naturally, there are many more soft-skills that need to be developed at this age so that children become efficient learners, such as resilience, curiosity and collaboration. In my upcoming ‘learning to learn skills’ webinar, we will be looking at further practical examples of how we can develop these in the primary language classroom. Click here to register, don’t miss it!

Have an idea of your own? We’d love to see it, so do share it below in the comments!


Erika Osvath is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. She worked for International House schools in Eastern and Central Europe as a YL co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. She regularly travels to teach demonstration lessons with local children, and do workshops for teachers. Erika is co–author with Edmund Dudley of Teaching Mixed Ability.


References:

Artelt, C., Baumert, J., Julius-McElvany, N. and Peschar, J. (2003). Learners for life: student approaches to learning. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/education/school/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/33690476.pdf Accessed 15/2/18.

For Bagdy Emőke, see: http://bagdyemoke.hu/beszelgetesek-emokevel/

Dudley, E. and Osváth, E. (2016). Mixed-ability teaching. Oxford: OUP.


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Using games for win-win learning

Like many people around the world, I recently took time off at the end of December and the New Year to relax at home. A common feature of any holiday season, alongside eating large meals and seeing family and old friends, is playing games. For example, my son was playing with a new video game console and within a short time I was addicted and striving to reach the ‘next level’. Then, after finishing off yet another large meal, someone suggested playing a board game that hadn’t been opened since last year. Initially, there was typical resistance to starting a game which had a long set of rules and which could take up the whole evening. And yet, 15 minutes later, everyone was thoroughly engrossed and participating fully.

This was a demonstration of just how engaging games can be! And it doesn’t stop at board games, there are action or guessing games, treasure hunts, trivia or memory games, games with props, online games, or even game shows on TV (which we invest our time in with no hope of winning an actual prize). Games incorporate fun, incite collaboration and competition, which in combination is incredibly motivating.

One theory for the motivational power of games (both physical and online) is that players reach a mental state where they are completely focused on the task. This is sometimes referred to as ‘flow’ (1); in other words, the difficulty of the game is not too hard or too easy, equally matched to the player’s skill level.

It is at this level that games have the most potential as valuable classroom tools. As teachers, we are always looking for classroom activities which take students to that place in their language learning when they feel fully engaged and motivated to continue to the end. Of course, we normally think of games as involving winning and losing, but when we use games in the classroom I prefer to think of them as achieving a win-win outcome.

Yes, you can try to win the game, but you also win by taking advantage of playing a well-designed language practice game. Because when games work well, students often forget that they are doing an exercise, as they start to use English in their state of flow.

As for the type of language that games can practise, I have yet to find a language point that a game isn’t good for! Take, for example, the board game format where everyone starts on one square, rolls a dice and moves round the board landing on different squares. For vocabulary, you can write different words on squares and students have to say a sentence with the word or ask another player a question using the word. For functional language, write speaking tasks on the squares such as ‘Ask the player on your right out for dinner this evening.’ Or even have students make their own board game and write the rules for other teams to play.

Finally, when choosing or creating a game to use in the classroom with your students, try to make sure that it contains these five components which all begin with the letter ‘C’:

  • Games benefit from having an element of chance which can be created by the throwing of a dice or picking up of a card at random. Chance adds tension to a game, and for language practice it encourages students to use language in response to changing situations.
  • Challenge. Players like to feel a sense of achievement in a game and this is only reached by including the right level of difficulty and including factors where students must succeed against adversity in some way.
  • Competition. Although you don’t want a classroom entirely based on winning and losing, a little bit of competition is often an effective way to change the pace of a lesson.
  • Collaboration. Games which involve students working together in teams or pairs are the perfect way to create a collaborative environment in which students support each other’s learning.
  • Communication. This is probably the most important C. Games for provide students with an authentic reason to communicate, allowing them to start using the targeted language.

To test these five C’s out, here is a game taken from my course book Business Result Second Edition. See if you can find the element of chance, challenge, competition, collaboration and communication within the game:

 


John Hughes is a trainer and course book author. In his webinars on the 13th and 15th February he’ll be showing your more ways you can incorporate simple games into your lessons, and demonstrate how you can use games to target the specific interests and needs of your students. He’ll also provide a board game template for you to download and use with your students.


(1) Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: the psychology of happiness. Rider: London.


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10 ways home learning apps can boost children’s English learning

Home learning appsToday’s children are much more tech savvy than yesterday’s, and this has had a profound effect on the way that they learn languages! No wonder then that there has been an increasing interest in home learning technologies that support language learning at school and back at home.

Children are natural language learners. They love to seek out and soak up new experiences, and we can’t deny that they are much more stimulated and motivated when they interact with apps. Apps enhance their curiosity, spice up their learning, and keep them engaged as they make learning animated, fun and more appealing to children.

We want our children to learn on the go; learning apps engage them with opportunities to improve their listening, reading, writing, speaking and cognitive skills in an authentic way, wherever they may be. Apps can create an enjoyable learning atmosphere when they are used effectively.

Today, with little or no English at all, parents can be a part of their children’s language learning journey using home learning apps with them.

Home learning apps that are specifically designed for pre-primary children may include listening and pointing activities, games, singing songs, and listening to stories. Apps are designed to keep children on task, maintaining their interest and concentration by gradually increasing the level of difficulty and challenge. By using instructions and activities that reflect what children learn in the classroom, children can easily navigate apps by themselves. The educational value of home learning apps can be enhanced by simply watching, guiding, and sharing children’s enthusiasm as they navigate the app. Parental engagement transforms screen time into family time, and refocuses a child’s attention to the task at hand while simultaneously reinforcing their language learning.

There are thousands of language learning apps out there, and they all do things differently. So we’re basing our 10 tips on the Lingokids English language learning app.

Lingokids (available free via the Apple and Google Play stores) is an educational app that features materials from Oxford University Press ‘Jump In!’ and ‘Mouse and Me’ coursebooks. The curriculum has been designed by experts in early language learning development. The app targets pre-primary children who are studying ‘Jump In!’ and ‘Mouse and Me’ coursebooks at school, and aims to help parents reinforce their children’s English at home in a highly engaging and fun way. It immerses children with a wide range of vocabulary in meaningful contexts using cross-curricular topics. The app uses stories, songs, animations, games, letter tracing and interactive live-action videos of native English teachers introducing a variety of topics. The adaptive learning system also adjusts the level of difficulty according to the child’s performance, providing each child with a unique learning experience. There’s also a reward system in place to encourage and reinforce language!

The potential and success of Lingokids can be maximized with the support and the participation of parents at home. Here are ten activities for you to share with your parents using Lingokids to extend their children’s English learning outside the classroom.

Create a mini-story book: After watching the stories, parents and their children can work together to create mini-story books, encouraging children to retell the stories to other family members. If parents know how to write in English, they can write sentences or words that their children have said as they are retelling the stories. The mini-story books can be shared with teachers at school as well.

Dramatize the stories: Children love to watch videos over and over again. Parents can use their interest in the characters by making puppets that their children can use to dramatize the stories. Parents can also take part in this role-play.

Turn off the sound: After practicing with the app, parents can turn off the sound and view the topics that they have played again. They can ask their children to name the things that they see as they play the app.

What they remember: After using the app, parents can ask their children to recall what they remember from what they have just practiced. Children can describe and draw the things that they remember. The drawings can be displayed in the house to be referred to any time that parents would like to practice English with their children.

Create a picture dictionary: After practicing with the app, children and parents can draw and colour the words together in their picture dictionaries. If parents know how to write in English, they can even write the English words next to the pictures.

Picture cards: After practicing with the words in the app, parents can create picture cards of the target vocabulary. Children can help by drawing the pictures on the cards. Then, they can play flashcard games together. They can play a memory game, or they can put the picture cards in a bag before taking them out one by one and naming them. They can put the picture cards on the floor. As they play the app, children can point out the picture cards that they see and hear on the app.

Sing the songs: The app is full of songs that parents and children alike can sing along to. Singing along and performing the actions referred to in the song is a great way of embedding the language in a unique and engaging way.

Record: Parents can record their children as they are dramatizing the stories, playing with the flashcards, retelling the stories through their mini-story books, or singing along to the app. By listening to themselves speak, they can become more confident and more fluent in the new language.

Additional materials: Each topic has worksheets that parents can download, print out, and do with their children. The worksheets include song lyrics, more books and craft activities, and useful phrases that parents can integrate into their children’s daily lives.

Learn with them: Learning English with children helps to foster in them a positive attitude towards English. If parents use the app enthusiastically, children will imitate, encouraging and motivating them to learn English. Parents should practice with their children even if they’re proficient in English themselves, as it’ll help young learners to stay on task.

The activities above should not only help children to learn English, it’ll allow parents to spend quality time with their children, learning and having fun together. It’s a win-win situation!


Özge Karaoğlu Ergen is the foreign languages department K12 technology integration specialist, a teacher trainer and a course book writer.  She has been recognized by the ELTons Awards, ESU, MEDEA, Microsoft, and Telly Awards for her digital projects. She currently teaches young learners herself, and she has been developing digital games, animations and mobile applications with her learners for the last eight years.


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Developing Reading and Writing Skills | Q&A

Thinking back on the Developing Reading and Writing Skills webinars, it was wonderful to see so many teachers participating from all around the world. Thank you all for your participation, sharing your own ideas, and all your wonderful questions. While we managed to discuss a number of your questions during the sessions, this blog post is here to answer some of those that we did not manage to get through.

Webinar Activities

Could the activities we looked at be used with other age groups?

The content of the webinar was focused on young learners, however all the activities we looked at work just as well with teens and even adults. The ‘Who? What? Why?’ activity where students analyse the writer’s purpose, for example, can be used in exactly the same way with all age groups, the only thing that would change is the text you use in class.

Similarly, the activity below, designed to encourage students to respond to the text by sharing facts, ideas and questions that have occurred to them, can be used with very little variation. If you are working with older students you may wish to take out the visual prompts of the book, light bulb and question mark and replace them with question prompts, such as ‘What have you learned?’, ‘What ideas does the text give you?’, ‘What questions do you have?’ However, this is in no way necessary, and many adult learners will find the images just as useful for prompting their ideas as the young learners do.

reading and writing activities

How frequently we should use these activities in class?

My answer to that is as often as you can! Getting into the habit of looking at reading texts as pieces of writing is important, and these activities are designed to help your students to do just that. I recommend repeating these tasks at least once every couple of weeks. By doing this, the students will quickly learn what is expected of them, and because the texts we are using in class are different every time, the students don’t get bored. If you are worried about repeating the same activities with your class you can always vary the way the students are working (pairs, groups, individual, or whole class discussion), or the way they present their answers: Oral presentations, mind maps, graphic organisers, or written paragraphs would all be good alternatives.

Error Correction

There were quite a few questions regarding correcting mistakes in our students’ writing, so I shall attempt to answer them all together. When and how we correct our students’ writing will depend on the objective of the writing task that you set. A free writing task, for example, would typically not be corrected at all, as these tasks are usually a tool for thinking. However, if we are practicing specific skills or writing task types then we will need to factor in some level of error correction.

One of the biggest benefits of written English is that students can go back over their work, and think about and correct what they have written. Like many teachers, in my classroom I use error correction codes to enable students to self-correct their writing. Allowing students to correct themselves gives them the opportunity to think about their writing, and put all that they have learned in class into practice. Of course, before you start using a correction code you need to let your students know that this is what you will be doing. Make sure that the correction code you use is on the wall of the classroom and that your students have their own copies for working at home, that way they will become familiar with it.

Of course, what we correct is a more complicated question. Younger learners, and those who are just starting to learn English are likely to make many mistakes in their writing, and when our students get their work back from the teacher it can seem very disheartening to find that there are many errors to correct. One way to avoid this is limit the type of errors you are correcting. If you are using a course book, or a writing skills book with your students then it can also work as a guide for your error correction.

Let’s say you are working through Oxford Skills World with your students, unit by unit they will be learning new writing skills, and these are the areas that we should focus on in our marking. So, if they are learning how to use full stops and capital letters in unit one, then when we take their writing homework in we would correct only the mistakes connected to this skill. When the student has corrected these errors, you can choose to move onto another type of mistake for the second draft, or save other error types for a later piece of writing. You can change the number of error types you look at per draft depending on the needs of your students and the class objectives.

Recommended Reading

Finally, several of you asked for some recommended reading and books for further information. If you are looking for guidance for teachers, then the OUP ELT blog is a great place to start! You will find plenty of interesting and useful articles right here, like Gareth Davies article Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible – How to get your students writing  or Philip Haines’ 25 Alternatives to Reading Aloud Around the Class.

There are also plenty of great professional development books available with ideas for improving your students reading and writing. I really like the Into the Classroom series from OUP, as it has plenty of practical activities which are easy to use in class.

Thank you again to those of you who attended the webinars, and good luck with your reading and writing!


Charlotte Rance is a freelance teacher trainer and consultant based in Brighton. She has worked in the English Language Teaching industry for over a decade, and has worked in China and Turkey, as well as her native UK, where she completed her Diploma in TESOL at the University of Brighton. Charlotte’s key areas of interest are young learners and the use of reading as a tool for language learning.


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Teaching Grammar: Classroom Choices Q&A with Charlotte Rance

It was such a pleasure to meet so many teachers from all over the world in my recent webinar ‘Teaching Grammar: Classroom choices’. If you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here in our webinar library.  

The webinar gave us the opportunity to look at some of the choices we make as teachers when planning and delivering our grammar lessons, and it was very interesting to hear your experiences and ideas.

Of course, along with sharing your experiences and ideas, there were also plenty of interesting questions, many of which
we didn’t have the time to answer. This blog post is here to try and answer some of those.

Is it OK to use L1 to teach grammar?

Firstly, I think it is important to remember that for many teachers this is not an option. Perhaps you don’t speak your students’ first language, or you teach in a multilingual classroom where there isn’t a common first language. Maybe you work in a school where there is an ‘English only’ policy, and you are not allowed to use L1. In these situations, the teacher has no choice but to use English to give instructions, explain language and check new concepts, and this is done successfully, even if it sometimes might take longer than expected.

But for those of you that do have the option to use L1, is it OK to do so? In my opinion, even if you are teaching in a monolingual classroom where you do share a common language with your students, it is best to use English as much as possible. You are the students model for English, and exposing them to as much English as you can will only benefit them. However, this does not mean that using L1 can’t be beneficial for the students.

If I am teaching in a monolingual classroom I do not ban my students from using L1. In fact, it can be a useful teaching tool for checking meaning and understanding, and quickly overcoming confusion. For example, in a monolingual classroom I often encourage my students to discuss pair work activities in their L1. This allows me to monitor and check their understanding of the language point easily. Another way in which L1 can be useful for grammar teaching is through quick translations. Let’s say that we have been teaching ‘used to’. Asking students to quickly translate a sentence can be a very efficient way to check that they have understood my explanations.

When is the best moment to correct new grammar and how can we help students to correct their own grammar mistakes?

When deciding when and how to correct your students’ mistakes it is important to think about the purpose of the activity that the students are completing: are you expecting accuracy or fluency? If the focus is on accuracy, then it is important to address any mistakes at the time, while mistakes that are made during fluency-based activities can be noted down and corrected later, perhaps in the last five minutes of the lesson, or the next time you see the students.

When it comes to self-correction, remember that in order to correct themselves students need to know the correct answer. Self-correction requires a deep awareness of the language point, so before you try to encourage it you need to be sure that they will be able to do so. The best way to encourage self-correction is to highlight that an error has been made, and give your students time to think about it.

Firstly, we need the student to notice the mistake. This can be done in a number of ways, for example gestures, facial expression, or a question such as “I’m sorry?” or “What was that?” If the student is confident with the grammar point, then they may well be able to self-correct immediately. However, most students will need a little more support to self-correct. This can be done by reminding them of the rules, by saying something like: “remember, regular verbs need an ‘–ed’ ending in the past tense”, or “which tense do we use when we are talking about something that happened yesterday?” By prompting our students in this way, we are helping them to remember what they have learned, and giving them the time to think about the answer.

What can we do if our students don’t see a point in learning grammar?

While there are many students who are motivated and interested by learning grammar rules, there are just as many who find spending time on language structures boring and would rather ‘just talk’. Whichever side of this your students fall on, I find that it is better to put the focus on the function of the language that you are teaching.

Thinking about the function of a language structure gives the students a valid reason to learn it. For example, if we tell our students that we are going to learn how to talk about our life experiences, they are likely to be more interested than if we say: “Today we are going to learn the present perfect”. Using too much technical language in the classroom can be scary and boring for our students, but the idea of getting a new ability in English, especially if it is relevant to their needs, should help them to understand the point of learning grammar.

Could you recommend any books for teaching grammar?

If you are looking for a great teacher reference book, then you can’t go wrong with Michael Swan’s ‘Practical English Usage’ (OUP). This was on my CELTA recommended reading list, and since then it has saved me on many occasions! The latest edition is also available online, which I am sure will help with any sticky situation in the classroom.

When it comes to teaching materials, for school-aged learners I really like Grammar for Schools (OUP) because it provides lots of communicative grammar practice. For older students I like ‘Language Practice’ by Michael Vince because I find it works well in the classroom and as a self-study guide.


Author

Charlotte Rance is a freelance teacher trainer and educational consultant based in Brighton, UK. She has been working in the English Language Teaching industry for over a decade, and her key areas of interest are young learners and the use of stories and reading as a tool for language learning. Her main goal as a trainer is to provide practical advice and strategies that teachers can implement in their lessons.