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The essential ingredients of the young learner classroom

Mise en place pronounced ‘meez-ahn-plas’ is a very important concept in cooking. If you were to ask famous chefs like Gordon Ramsey or Alain Ducasse or Paco Perez, they will tell you ‘mise en place’ is an absolutely essential first step when cooking in a professional kitchen. So, this process contains a number of steps: firstly, check the recipe, then collect your tools, followed by gathering your ingredients and finally, complete the basic prep work. Once the chef has done the mise (in ‘chef speak’), they can set about combining all the ingredients together to create a masterpiece.

You will probably ask how this connects with teaching young learners and with what we as teachers do every day. I believe we as teachers also have mise en place, or in its translated form: a process of ‘putting (things) into place’. Just like a world-class chef prepares and then cooks, we prepare and then teach.

Preparing your lesson

When we ‘do the mise’, what are the elements that we prepare? We think of the content of the lesson (the recipe), we make sure that we have our resources at hand (puppets, flashcards or online tools, etc.), we choose the activities that we will include in our lesson (our ingredients) and we also complete our basic preparation work by thinking about the plan for the lesson (or maybe even writing it out shortly). We do these things to:

  • empower the learners to reach their full potential;
  • motivate the learners so that they enjoy learning, and
  • ensure that our lessons run smoothly.

Here are some tips and tricks to make your ‘mise en place’ more effective. Firstly, let’s think of ways that we can empower our learners:

  1. give your learners choice by providing possibilities for them to choose what kind of product (a poster, a poem, etc.) they want to present at the end of a project;
  2. include aspects of reflection into your lesson by asking learners questions like how they feel they have done a particular task or how they think they could do a task better;
  3. make sure that you include a focus on autonomy by showing learners ways that they can learn better, for example, by showing them how word maps work, or introducing dictionaries to the learners or even teaching them about phonology, and lastly
  4. remember to add some cognitive challenge to the lesson by including aspects of
    Bloom’s taxonomy that focuses on lower order thinking skills (LOTS – remembering, understanding) and also higher order thinking skills (HOTS – applying, analysing, evaluating and creating), etc. More cognitive challenge could be developed by adding more HOTS. For example, you could use flashcards of methods of transport and ask learners to place them on a VENN diagram (see below) – those that are on land, those that are in the sea and those that can be in the sea and on land.

When doing this activity, learners are applying their knowledge of transport method analysing the various transport methods in order to do the task.

Secondly, we want to motivate learners to enjoy learning (in general). Interestingly enough, empowering learners also motivates them making the abovementioned ideas also valid here. Other things you could do is to make sure that the stages of the lessons change regularly in terms of their focus, from active (stir-type) tasks to more passive (settle-type) tasks. So, we could get learners to create their own mini flashcards (passive, face down) which they could then use to play a game with a friend (active). This could then be followed by learners in small groups creating gap-fills for each other (more passive, face-down), etc. In this way, we keep up the pace in the lesson and include interesting and engaging tasks, that will motivate the learners. You might have also noticed that the stages described above are very learner-centred contributing to greater motivation in the classroom.

Preparing to run your lesson

Finally, we also want to make sure that our lessons run smoothly – here are some ideas:

  1. use anchor posters for frames or tasks types that you do often in the lesson. You can then
    just point to the anchor poster and the learners will know what to do.
  2. use an imaginary ‘volume’ switch to show learners that they are becoming too noisy.
    Once you introduce this idea, you can then just turn the ‘switch’ up or down and the learners will know what needs to be done. And it is fun!
  3. always include models, demos and examples – so instead of telling learners how to play tic-tac-toe, show them. The format ‘I do / we do / you do’ I find particularly useful here, as it also provides appropriate scaffolding initially.

But let’s get back to our mise en place: one key aspect that we should never forget, the culinary masterpiece cannot be created, if the chef did not do the chopping, etc. beforehand. Thus, for us as teachers, mise en place is also key. The tips and tricks given above are all elements that should be considered before the lesson. So check your ‘recipe’, collect your tools, gather your ingredients and do your prep. Remember your mise en place!


Find resources to support your day-to-day classroom management, ideas to motivate young learners, and practical tips help your mixed-ability students shine here.


Elna Coetzer – DELTA/CELTA tutor – International Training Institute, Istanbul.

South-African born Elna is based in Istanbul and works as a teacher trainer and consultant with OUP and the International Training Institute. She is an accredited CELTA and Delta tutor, works as an Oxford Teachers’ Academy trainer and an online moderator.

During her teaching career she has worked with many learners teaching multi-level classes where differentiation and inclusion were of the utmost importance. She has written teacher training materials used internationally, recently an online teaching course for Chinese teachers. She has worked in a variety of countries training teachers and has expertise in a variety of contexts from KG to adult teaching. She also has experience working with a variety of subject teachers (i.e. maths, science, biology, etc.) in various countries like Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey and the UAE.

Her interests range from teaching YLs, developing a growth mindset, using stories to develop literacy and reading, developing oracy and anything related to professional development.

She is a qualified life coach, is interested in psychology and loves a good detective novel.



Helping students to organise their ideas in writing tasks

Solutions-Writing-Challenge-logo-WEBIn January we asked over 450 teachers from around the world to vote for the biggest writing challenge they face in their classroom. Since then we’ve dedicated a month to each of the top three voted for challenges with a series of webinars and blog posts from some of Oxford’s top teacher trainers. During our survey we also received some fantastic comments from teachers telling us about other writing challenges they’ve encountered. Join us as we take on 3 extra challenges raised by teachers like you. In this blog Elna Coetzer addresses the first of these challenges:

‘My students struggle to organise their ideas on the page’.

I wish I were Stephen King then I could also spend weeks and months writing my first line, but realistically speaking… So here goes!

Today we are going to look in more detail at a number of ways that we can help students organise their ideas more successfully through targeted practice tasks. I have also included some brainstorming techniques.

Firstly, what are targeted practice tasks?

Let’s think of lessons in which we expose our students to specific reading sub-skill practice:

– in these lessons we focus on helping students develop a specific sub-skill like guessing meaning from context, and
– the aim if achieved, is that our students are then better equipped to perform this type of reading sub-skill.

Linking this with targeted writing tasks, a lesson might focus on writing a blog post and the targeted tasks would then focus on using extreme adjectives. Another lesson could be writing an online profile in which the targeted writing task could be focused on working with the layout of profiles and the type of information that needs to be included. Over a period of time you can then help your students develop a whole range of writing skills or writing-related skills like structuring ideas or organising outlines, one targeted practice task at a time.

Why are these tasks so useful?

1. They allow students to focus on one achievable aspect of the writing process,
2. they raise students’ awareness of a specific facet of writing a certain type of text and
3. this is a more memorable way of helping students with specific writing challenges.

In addition to the above-mentioned, it also gives students a greater chance of success, because it only focuses on a certain part in the writing process.

Now let’s turn to the ‘how’ of these tasks!

This time around we are going to look at ways to help students with organising their ideas. Here are my tips…

TIP 1: Exposure

In order for our students – many of them coming from a very different L1 writing background – to organise their ideas into an effective whole, they need to be shown many examples of texts. For this reason we need to:

– make sure that we expose our students to a variety of text types and overtly discuss the components and ideas that make up the text. This type of activity is often part of Solutions writing lessons where students are prompted to answer questions about the content and layout of said text.
– use a content checklist which can raise our students’ awareness of the variety of ideas within a text and how these ideas are organised into a whole. These kinds of checklists can be compiled for any text type.

For example if you are looking at an online blog post about a hotel recommendation (your text type), you could include the following points:

1) Put the following in order: information about the staff, where did you find the hotel, information about the location of the hotel, how to make a reservation, reason for the visit, the facilities at the hotel, a short recommendation;
2) Did the writer include a description of the hotel?
3) Did the writer remember to mention all the details that are necessary for a specific type of traveller? Etc.

Students look at the text and by discussing the various items on the checklist, they are helped to notice how texts are organised and how ideas are combined to form these texts.

TIP 2: Deconstruct

For this type of activity one can use graphic organisers, flow charts and mind maps. In this tasks students again look at a text and take it apart, transferring the ideas onto a graphic display of some kind. One could use a text of any type for this activity, just make sure that you choose the best graphic display for your text type. In other words if you are working on writing stories, then using the following graphic organiser would be the best:

Solutions Blog 3

In this way the students deconstruct the story focussing on both the outline and the ideas included in the story. This can then lead to tip 3…

TIP 3: Reconstruct

Here the students use a given outline, either prepared by you or by the students (using the brainstorming techniques and graphic representations you have already taught them) to write their own text making sure that they include all the details mentioned in the outline. When they have completed this task, the students are given the original text for comparison. Again the purpose of the activities in both tip 2 and 3 is to help students notice the various building blocks which combine to form a well-written text.

TIP 4: Highlighters and colours

Introduce your students to a variety of brainstorming techniques – see some examples below:
– using the journalists technique: you answer the questions (what?, where?, when?, who?, why?, with whom? etc.) in order to gather all the information which should be included in the text.
– using mind mapping

Every time when you introduce a new technique, make sure that you also show your students how to link the ideas into a logical order by using highlighters or different colours. You could highlight ideas that belong together or underline ideas supporting the same main topic using the same colour. In this way students can organise their writing in a more visual way. What students then need to do is combine their ideas that are colour-coded in order to form a text.

Remember as with other targeted practice tasks, the purpose of these activities is to help students actively and overtly develop a specific skill: that of how to organise and structure their ideas to form a coherent text. Thus the students do not necessarily have to actually do the writing when doing tasks focussing on tips 1,2 and 4. By practising the specific tasks over and over again, the students will be able to structure and organise their writing better.

All that is left for me to say is: try these ideas, make them your own and let us know how it went! And as I said, you do not have to write a complete text to be working on your writing. In terms of writing with our students, it is about one focussed task at a time! Good luck!