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Classroom Management and Organisation: making it work.

Christina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about managing your classroom at the start of the new school year.

Every start to the new school year creates stress to any teacher worth their salt. Each year entails preparation of teaching material, the new curriculum and consideration of the students’ needs. There is one thing that can make a teacher’s life a bit easier and that is Classroom Management and Organization (CMaO). For some, these words could prove to be quite intimidating, the sheer thought on trying to manage children fresh from summer vacation could be quite frightening, nonetheless it would help in the long run.

As challenging a task as it might be, CMaO can be interesting and fun for teachers and students. The key ingredients are effective teacher preparation and student involvement.

When a teacher sets up their classroom, it helps to view it as an environment where language learners are supported and can feel comfortable and content. As an educator looks around their classroom from this perspective, they should think about:

  • The written language (posters, word walls, charts)
  • A reading area-are there books that would help develop students’ reading skills?
  • The spaces for learning-are desks and other areas set up in a way that children could collaborate?

Establishing the appropriate layout for the language classroom can be a demanding task; however, it can determine the style of the lesson and subconsciously prepares the students for a logical and organised setting. Moving desks around in a circle, U-shape or group formation can open up communication and create a welcoming environment, as opposed to desks in rows. Imagine how your students would feel after enjoying a fun summer to walk into a classroom where the desks are in rows facing the teacher, without any encouragement of interaction. Desks formed in a way that insinuates teacher-student and student-student interaction can motivate language learners and even improve the teacher’s rapport with the students since children can immediately be aware that the teacher supports their need to cooperate with their peers and feel safe in the environment created for them.

After the teacher has decided on the layout of the room, the location of materials and displays the children need to be involved in the CMaO process, meaning that the teacher must introduce students to the resources and explain their use, draw their attention to the displays on the wall and the seating. This will help the language learners understand and appreciate the purpose of the specific setting and the importance of the CMaO plans. The threat of misbehaviour can be dealt with by instituting rules from the very start. Rules establish the behavioural context of the classroom by specifying what is expected, what behaviours will be reinforced and the consequences of inappropriate behaviour.

In my experience, what helped ensure positive behaviour and avoid misunderstandings was to draw up ‘Behaviour Contracts’. These contracts declared what the teacher expected of the students in the cooperative setting, the awards of positive behaviour and the consequences of negative behaviour. The award for positive behaviour would be left blank for the students to fill in which was fun and gave them a chance to be part of the CMaO planning. Once the contracts were completed, I would read what students would fill in out loud to the entire class which was anything from ‘the teacher would bring us cake’ to ‘the teacher would be very happy’. This helped lighten the mood, made children laugh and excitingly anticipate the lessons to come.

Young learners are highly aware of how their direct surroundings form their learning experience once its importance and benefits are brought to their attention. When a teacher adopts a consultative approach to the design of the classroom, it could lead to many desirable outcomes and increase. This could give the teacher the freedom to teach and the student’s the freedom to learn (Pollard, 2008). So don’t fret, manage and organise.

Pollard, A (2008) Reflective Teaching. Continuum International Publishing Group

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Once upon a time, in the language classroom…

Christina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about teaching through stories.

There are many techniques that language teachers can use to keep young language learners interested and motivated. Storytelling has been described as an ‘ideal method of influencing a child to associate listening with pleasure of increasing a child’s attention span and retention capacity’ (Cooper, 1989:3). In a fun way, young learners see themselves in a motivating and challenging environment which develops and enhances a positive attitude towards the foreign language.

Outcomes of my own research showed that students of a young age are especially interested and drawn to stories where they are given the opportunity to become personally involved and take responsibility for their own language learning. This imaginative experience helps them identify with the characters of the story and build up their own creative powers. One example of this is a lesson with a beginners’ class who were new to story-telling in a foreign language context. Before the story was told, I pre-taught some of the vocabulary which was done by writing the unknown lexical items on the board and eliciting their meaning by miming or placing the words in context. The children were involved and felt great delight when they correctly estimated the meaning of the word.

After the unknown vocabulary was clarified, the children were asked to sit in a circle whereas I was seated in the centre of the network. The students were comfortable and excited since this was new for them. Because of the fact that they were eager to hear the story, I had their undivided attention. The story was taken from Vanessa Reilly and Sheila M. Ward’s ‘Very Young Learners’, a resource book for teachers. The story was called ‘Why do Rabbits Have Long Ears?’ and the aim of the story was to enhance students’ listening, enrich vocabulary by introducing names of animals and the phrases I am a… You are a…before telling the story, I told students that rabbits did not always have long ears and that they were going to discover how rabbits changed. Students were involved in the story-telling process where they were encouraged to mime and pretend to be different animals and elicit names of animals, which made the plot interesting and challenging since their participation was carried out in English.
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The Sound of Music: The Teenager’s Classroom

Boy playing guitarChristina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about the benefits of using songs and music to teach English to teenagers.

There are many strategies and techniques that language teachers use in order to keep their teenage students interested and motivated. This specific age group can prove to be a challenge; for this reason, a teaching tool that would aid the educator is the inclusion of songs in lessons, specifically songs that the students can relate to.

Music and songs have been part of the human experience for as long as we can remember. The combination of music and lyrics has a very powerful effect on teenagers, therefore, the use of songs in the classroom can, in fact, be very valuable. Music tends to decrease anxiety and self-consciousness in language learners. Learning a new concept or vocabulary through a song is, without a doubt, less threatening and intimidating than a typical worksheet. Including songs in a language lesson can enrich teaching material and supply the lesson with more meaning. Students become more engaged, stay focused for longer and retain the information offered in the lesson.

One important reason for using songs in the language classroom is that they are excellent examples of colloquial English, that is, the language of informal conversation. Teenagers can be exposed to more informal language that can bring them closer to a more genuine usage which they may find more realistic. Furthermore, songs and music can often supply the language classroom with a context to better understand the target language. Pitches, melodies, rhymes, and phrases can function as musical context and can be a way of triggering meaning and comprehensibility. It has also been argued that through this teaching technique, teenagers can experience a wide range of accents, depending on the different songs they are exposed to. It could be British English, American English or any variety of regional accents. Consequently, through the lyrics, the accents and the artists, language learners are brought closer to cultural elements of the target language, a feature that could often be overlooked in the classroom.

Drawing from personal experience, after a ‘song session’, I leave the classroom feeling positive that a fun and prosperous lesson was delivered. The best part of it all is that my teenagers, this wonderful yet difficult crowd, enjoy themselves whilst learning. The teacher is immediately given the opportunity to develop a rapport with teenage learners, letting them know, in a way, that they may have similar tastes and that their teacher is not from another planet. In the process of this realisation, students develop their cognitive skills by being involved in various tasks connecting to the song at hand. An example comes to mind where a teacher could pre-teach unknown vocabulary, ask students to fill-in gaps in the song, spot ‘grammar mistakes’ the singer makes (such as ‘ain’t no sunshine’ or ‘I wanna dance’), guess what the singer would do next and discuss various scenarios. The possibilities are endless!

The selection of songs should complement aspects of a thematic unit and value, or a topic of interest that students have requested. It is not difficult; on the contrary, teachers find themselves enjoying it just as much as the students. If the teacher can employ a song with enough resilience to stick in the teenage mind long enough to experience triumph with language structures, learn an aspect of the target culture and/or achieve listening enjoyment, then the teacher will have reached their goal.

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Interactive Language Learning with Young Children

Group of children crowding around a model globeChristina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about the benefits of more interactive classroom experiences.

Many teaching approaches have been implemented in language classrooms over the years in order to provide positive outcomes and successful language learners.  Although various approaches have their advantages, an effective interactive methodology can help increase confidence and result to successful language learners in an environment where children learn to appreciate the foreign language and encounter it as a means of communication; and what better way to achieve this than by introducing an interactive approach with young learners?

One of the many pleasures of teaching children is their enthusiasm and motivation to explore the unknown. For young learners, being able to use a new language is exciting. However, this enthusiasm may quickly fade if children are exposed to teacher-centred environments where the opportunity to freely explore the language through communication is limited. In order to avoid this, teachers can intrigue their students with more communicative activities.

Contemporary language teaching supports the view that language is not simply symbolic, but largely inference-based. In such an environment, the emphasis is on comprehending and transmitting meaning through interaction within a classroom context.

Rivers (1987) believes that interaction is vital to language learning situations because through interaction, learners can enrich their knowledge of the foreign language as they are exposed to authentic linguistic material while listening or even having a discussion with their teachers or peers.

Nonetheless, in order for students to benefit from an interactive classroom environment, it is essential to provide the appropriate layout. Students can be encouraged to interact when seated in semi-circular groups, ad-hoc clusters of chairs or in pairs, where the teacher is not the centre of the communication network. A teacher can be surprised with how the introduction of an interactive approach can bring out the confident language speaker in even the shyest student.

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