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Giving children more agency in class: A Q&A session with Annamaria Pinter

shutterstock_309235367Annamaria Pinter is Associate Professor at the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick. She has published widely in the area of Young Learners ELT. She is the author of Teaching Young Language Learners (2017, second edition). Earlier this month, she delivered a webinar on ‘Giving children more agency in class’, and today we bring you the question and answer section of the session.

What do you think about the use of the mother tongue versus the use of the L2 in activities where children work in groups and actively explore something, analyse data or discuss ideas?

My general advice would be that the most important first step is that everyone should be engaged and enthusiastic about participation whatever language they are using. Then, in any one situation the teacher can judge what might be realistic for the children to say and manage in L2 and what has to be handled in the L1 or indeed bilingually or using various languages that learners speak in multilingual classrooms. It is often possible for the teacher to translate into English something that a child may have said in L1 and even more importantly, children may also be able to help each other with re-phrasing things in English. No matter what the situation is, however, it is good to insist that the final product (such as a poster, a newspaper magazine page, a recorded presentation, a questionnaire or any other product) should be in English. It is good to display these products by uploading them to a secure website or simply putting them up on the wall because making these available to external audiences this will help motivate children to work hard on their English.

How can I allow children to choose learning content within a restrictive curriculum?

This is difficult. With serious restrictions, teachers can only make very small changes.  It may be possible for some teachers to look at content and learning outcomes and see if the children can at least have some limited agency by choosing tasks (albeit very similar ones) or by being invited to design an extra task in each unit, or simply choosing the order in which they would like to tackle units in the book. If no freedom or agency is given to the teacher in a very restrictive curriculum, then it is hard to implement the ideas from the webinar. Still, some teachers in India were able to do extra work with the children outside classrooms and some allocated only a limited amount of time to research project work every week after covering the content of the book. Children were motivated to get the book out of the way to be able to progress to the ‘real projects’.

What do we do if we feel that the children’s ideas or input is not relevant or useful?

In my experience this is very rare and an important lesson for us teachers is that whenever children say or suggest something that seems unusual or at first sight irrelevant, it should never be just dismissed as such. It should always be explored further so that we can gain a better understanding of the original idea or point. It may well be relevant but in a different way compared to what we would have anticipated. In my experience children really appreciate this gesture of respecting ALL their responses.

What does this mean for the teacher’s role?

Teachers generally report that this is a more satisfying way of working, they feel alive and more enthusiastic about their jobs and the children’s motivation and intensive engagement seem infectious. In many ways when children take more control and teachers become ‘learners’, there is less pressure on the teacher to get everything right alone, but it is important to remember that teachers are also role models. If children are researchers and expected to work hard and enthusiastically, teachers must be doing the same!!

If you missed the webinar and want to catch up, feel free to visit our Webinar Library, for this session and previous recordings.


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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.

References:

[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


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Easy CLIL ideas for the young learner classroom

Children in playgroundTeacher trainer, Freia Layfield, offers some practical ideas to bring CLIL into the young learner classroom.

Categorisation tasks (science)

Bring a selection of flashcards to class. Draw two large circles on the board. Label them with two different categories. For example, fruit / dairy, plastic / paper, animals / plants. You can use more challenging categories for older students, like living / non-living. Ask individual students to place a flashcard into the correct circle on the board. If the students are older and able to read and write, you can ask them to write the name of the thing in the correct circle. As a group, the students can then check and decide if the flashcards are in the correct circles or not.

Measure it or weigh it (maths)

Ask the students to measure or weigh a number of objects in class that are related to a topic you are studying. For example, weigh classroom objects or measure hands, feet and height. Ask students to draw and record their results. Allow them to work in pairs. Each pair can share their answers with the class. This exposes them all to a lot of English and develops their maths skills.

Magazine collages (art)

Bring a selection of old magazines to class, or ask the children to bring in one each. If possible, the magazines should be related to a topic you are teaching. For example, home and garden magazines if you are looking at houses, holiday magazines or brochures if you are studying countries and holidays, or wildlife magazines if you’re looking at animals and the environment. Put the students into pairs and give each pair a piece of paper. Ask the students to cut out, and stick onto the paper, pictures that are connected to a topic. For example, Places you want to go to or Animals you like. Students can share these collages with the class and talk about the pictures they have chosen. This works well with all ages.

Internet research and peer teaching (social science)

This works very well with slightly older children. Divide the class into small groups of 2–3 students. Give each group a different research topic. For example, if you’re studying animals, assign each group a country to research. They should work together to identify 3–4 animals in that country and then find out a fact about each animal. For example: The Kangaroo is a marsupial. It carries its baby in a pouch. Students can print pictures or download them onto a memory stick to show the other students in class. Each group then gets a chance to present their new knowledge, in English, to the rest of the class.

Would you like more practical tips on using CLIL with your young learners?  Head over to the Oxford Teachers’ Club for ideas and teaching tools for young, and very young learners. Not a member? Sign up here – Ii’s easy and free. 


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Child-friendly testing for young learners

Girl sat at computer smilingAhead of our webinar on the Oxford Young Learners Placement Test, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at how you can make testing a child-friendly experience for your young learners, and useful for you.

“Testing young learners? Really? Seriously? Why?”

That’s usually my reaction when I hear teachers talking about testing young learners.

“So, how do you decide what to teach them? How do you know how to teach them? Testing young learners gives you important information.”

As a friend said this to me I realised my problem was with the word “testing”. For me, testing is judging and labelling, not teaching. Of course, I have always gathered information about my learners and used it to help me teach better. Testing is one way to gather information, but testing young learners needs to be a friendly, positive experience for them. You need to consider their age, use bright colours and fun images, and give them a sense of achievement for having gone through the experience.

Making testing a positive experience

In her book, Teaching Young Language Learners, Annamaria Pinter writes: “In order to understand what children have learnt, teachers may need to use a variety of assessment methods.” Along with observation, portfolios, and project work, testing can be a valuable tool, providing teachers with information quickly and easily. It is important, however, for teachers to take out any of the stress and tension usually associated with testing and work to make it a positive and motivating part of the learning experience.

Understanding the range of abilities in your class

The test also needs to be useful. After all, you are, in essence, gathering information about your learners to help you teach better. Firstly, information from a test can help a teacher place learners in groups of similar abilities, either as a class, or as groups within a class. Knowing the mix of levels in a class or a group, or the strengths and weaknesses of an individual student can help a teacher provide the right kind of support that motivates each student to learn.

Using the results to inform your teaching

This brings up the point of differentiated teaching. A test can provide teachers with important information about each of their students. Who is strong in their use of the language? Who is weak in listening? Who may have difficulty with vocabulary, or grammar? Having the answers to these questions can help a teacher target their teaching to the needs of the class.

To find out how to make placement testing a fun and positive experience for your young learners, whilst also giving you accurate and reliable results to help you target your teaching, join our webinar entitled An introduction to the Oxford Young Learners Placement Test‘ on 9th June 2015.

 


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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.