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5 Ways Your Young Learners of English Will Change the World

shutterstock_247739401Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina have taught young learners in Asia for over 25 years. They are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and Oxford Discover, primary ELT courses published by Oxford University Press. Their inquiry-based teaching approach supports a differentiated classroom environment that builds the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.

If you teach English to young learners, take a moment to consider the role you play in shaping their futures. To begin with, you are providing the building blocks of a skill that they can use meaningfully and productively throughout their lives. You are offering the opportunity for global communication, for relationships and careers that will shape who they are and what they do. Most importantly, you can help them change the world for the better.

In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves and becomes even more interconnected, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society.

So how will your young learners of English change the world as adults in the future?  Here are five ways:

  1. By communicating effectively in English. Your students will have the ability to read, write, listen and speak with a strong degree of fluency. They will have the social and academic language skills necessary to consider differing points of view, and to persuade and inform others. Here are some tips on how to help your students develop good communication skills in English.
  1. By thinking critically about knowledge and information. Your students will think deeply about issues, and will connect what they learn with what they already know. They will be able to organize and prioritize the information they receive, in order to make sense of it and achieve new goals with it. How do you bring critical thinking skills into your classroom? Here is a video with some easy-to-use ideas.
  1. By thinking creatively. Your students will have the ability to take knowledge and create something completely new with it. They will connect information from various fields to arrive at solutions to old and new problems. They will personalize new knowledge, adapting it to create something that is uniquely their own. You can develop and nurture creativity in your classroom with some of these simple strategies.
  1. By working together, also known as collaborating. Your students will have the social language skills necessary to work with people from other cultures and perspectives. They will learn to share ideas and compromise to achieve the needed results.
  1. Finally, by caring about the world. Your students will be curious and connected adults who will be able to identify problems and seek out solutions with others. They will strive to make a difference in the world. Try some of these approaches to create a classroom environment in which students are encouraged to collaborate and show caring attitudes towards each other.

Some of these qualities have been listed under the label of “21st Century Skills”. We’re happy to look at them as prerequisites for success.  Students who communicate well, who think critically and creatively, and who work well with others, have the tools they need to find success in any field. And it all begins in our classrooms.

How do we build these skills? The links above will take you to a small sample of video tips on using and developing 21st Century Skills in your English classroom. To view all 56 videos available on this topic, visit this 21st Century Skills playlist on YouTube.

If you’re in Japan, join us on Sunday November 22 at the 2015 JALT conference in Shizuoka, where we will present our workshop entitled A Practical Guide to Building 21st Century Skills. Using examples from our new primary course Oxford Discover*, we will demonstrate how the building of 21st century skills can be incorporated into every language lesson. We’ll show how these skills can help your young learners develop English fluency and increase their motivation at the same time.

*2015 ELTon award winner for Excellence in Course Innovation.

Kathleen and Charles will present at JALT on Sunday, November 22nd. Click here for more details.


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Engaging Young Learners Through CLIL

Kids lying in a circle making goggle eyesCharles Vilina, co-author of the new Young Learners series, Oxford Discover, offers some practical tips on making the most of CLIL in the young learner classroom.

As a teacher of young learners, it’s easy for me to see when my students are engaged in the lesson. I see it in their faces, in their posture, and in the way they inquire and respond. The class is almost vibrating with positive energy.

What are the qualities of learning in such a classroom? Here are just a few suggestions:

active, useful, meaningful, productive, experiential, challenging, rewarding, shared

Students who see value and purpose in their learning, who are challenged to think actively and to ask their own questions, are going to be engaged in the lesson. Take those qualities away, and students become bored and disenchanted.

Discovering the World

This brings us to the subject of content-based language education, which many teachers know as CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). In a CLIL lesson, we open the windows of our classrooms and invite our amazing world inside. Students discover the world for themselves, using the tools of language in a meaningful way as they move through the lesson. As a result, language fluency is increased.

For our young learners, a successful CLIL lesson is meaningful, challenging, rewarding, and requires them to think deeply and learn actively.

Eight Points for Success

There are eight points to remember when incorporating CLIL into your young learners’ classroom.

1. Introduce the world through many core subjects

Since our purpose as language teachers is to build fluency, students should be introduced to a wide variety of core subjects (in the areas of social studies, the sciences, the arts, and math) to build strong language skills. Each core subject has its own particular vocabulary, grammar, and approach to learning. Social language (BICS) and academic language (CALP) are used in these CLIL lessons, integrating and strengthening both.

2. Let students lead the way by asking their own questions

When we introduce a subject, students should first have the opportunity to discuss what they know and what they want to know about it. This inquiry-based approach to learning engages students from the start. Students are invited to discuss their prior knowledge and experience of a subject, making them feel that they are active participants in the learning process. When students then go on to wonder, to ask their own questions about the subject, they create a personal interest in finding the answers. This supports strong student engagement.

Questions might include, based on the subject matter:

Why do butterflies have four wings?
Why are there 365 days in a year?
Why are cities often built near rivers or lakes?

The teacher can contribute to this process by wondering, too. As the teacher also has questions, this changes student perception. They begin to look at their teacher as a partner in learning.

3. Present content through both fiction and non-fiction

Everything in our world is enriched when presented through fiction as well as facts. Our young learners need exposure to stories as well as to expository texts, giving them fresh examples of how knowledge can be presented. This builds literacy skills as well as knowledge.

Here is an example of providing both fictional and non-fictional content for students, taken from Oxford Discover. The core subject is natural science, and it poses the big question, Where are we in the universe?

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

In the first reading above, the subject is presented through a fictional poem about a little girl and her imaginary spacecraft. In the second reading, a science article presents information about our solar system. Through both readings, students approach learning in a unique way.

4. Match the content to the students’ language ability

Be sure that the content you present is at a level of vocabulary and grammar that is comprehensible to your students. This means that the majority of the vocabulary and grammar in the readings has already been explicitly taught and learned in previous lessons.

However, every CLIL lesson will introduce additional vocabulary and grammar that are needed to understand the particular subject or topic. This additional vocabulary and grammar are taught explicitly, either before or after students are introduced to them in the readings. As students experience the new words and grammar through the context of the readings, their understanding increases.

5. Present content in an interesting and challenging way

The world is a fascinating place, but material is often presented in a dull way. Find content that triggers a child’s natural spirit of curiosity. There should be a sense of wonder, exploration, and discovery within the words of the readings.

6. Allow students to organize the content in a meaningful way

Once students have discovered information about a subject, they should have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. This can begin with comprehension activities, but it should soon move to higher order thinking tasks.

A successful CLIL lesson often uses graphic organizers such as time lines, Venn diagrams, mind maps, or charts (illustrating cause and effect, chain of events, etc.). Graphic organizers require students to analyze the information and make sense of it.

Here is an example of a graphic organizer used for the reading shown above about our solar system. It is a Venn diagram, asking students to compare and contrast Earth and the planet Venus.

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

By challenging students to think more deeply, you create a much more active and motivating learning experience for them.

7. Give students an opportunity to talk about what they have learned

Throughout the CLIL process, students are building literacy skills through intensive reading. However, they need an opportunity to build their listening and speaking skills as well. Many opportunities exist in a CLIL lesson for this. For example, students should be encouraged to create their own questions about the readings. This lets students take control of their own learning, as well as to demonstrate what they know. As students share questions and answers, fluency is improved.

In addition, the graphic organizers described above can be a jumping board for dialogue. Students can work in pairs and complete the graphic organizers together while discussing their choices. Later, student pairs can work with other pairs to discuss what they have learned.

8. Provide a summative project to complete the CLIL lessons

A summative project allows students to take what they have learned and create something original with it. A strong summative project is collaborative (getting students to achieve something together) as well as creative (contributing their own original ideas) and communicative (listening, speaking, reading, and writing through the process). In addition, there should be an opportunity for students to present their projects to the class, building their public speaking skills.

Here is an example of a summative project around the subject of our solar system, taken from Oxford Discover. Students work together in small groups to create a model of our solar system, and then present it to the class.

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

To conclude, a successful CLIL lesson is a student-centered approach to learning. The teacher facilitates the learning process by moving around the class, ensuring that students are actively involved and using the language tools they need to succeed. It is inquiry-based, encouraging students to ask their own questions and seek their own answers together.

Most importantly, CLIL allows students to use their language skills in a meaningful and productive way, building fluency and confidence as they seek and discover knowledge.

Would you like more practical tips on using CLIL and teaching 21st Century skills to your young learners? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.


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Mimosa’s report card – strengthening the school-home connection

Family gathered round computerKenna Bourke, Oxford Discover co-author, shares some creative ideas for using technology to help parents support their children’s learning.

Four times a year, I get an email that contains a mysterious thing called a report card. This is a school report on the progress of a six-year-old (name changed for privacy!) who’s not my child, but who’s very important to me. It goes on for several pages, and looks like this:

Sample report card

Great! But I don’t know what Mimosa is reading or how I can help turn her into a full-time genius! What stories is she reading? Does she like them? What’s she learning in science? I’d really like to know!

Do you want one simple way to help parents support your classroom teaching in the home?

Use technology.

Like teachers, parents are busy people. They might only look at a school website a few times a year, but many of them have social media accounts, which they look at daily. How about creating a closed page for your class on Facebook, or whichever social network is popular in your country?

Here are a few ideas for using this as a tool to help parents feel more involved and excited about what’s happening in your class:

1. Try sharing a short biography of an author that the child and family can research

For example, Who is Michael Rosen? What’s he written? When was he born? What’s his daughter’s name? What do you think about the poem ‘A Dangerous Raisin?’

2. Advertise your projects

Explain what you’re going to do so your students can prepare. Or post the results of the projects once they’re done so the parents can see them.

For example, How many subtraction problems can you think of at home? In what contexts do we use subtraction every day? What’s a funny subtraction problem you can ask your friends?

3. Share the week’s lesson theme so it can be discussed at home

For example, Oxford Discover begins each new unit with a Big Question: How do we have fun? What makes birds special? How do numbers help us? Great dinnertime conversation ideas!

4. Preview a reading text so children can discuss their prior knowledge of the subject with their family

You could do this by sharing a simple three-line synopsis of what you’ll be reading in class. Provide some questions for parents to discuss with their children.

For example, What do you know about symmetry? What symmetrical objects can you find at home? What’s the most beautiful example of symmetry you can think of?

5. Follow up on reading texts or topics that have captured the students’ imaginations by posting links to sites that contain further information

For example, in Oxford Discover, you’ll find a fiction reading about a whistling language. That language also really exists! There are schools on the island of La Gomera that have made this ancient language — silbo gomero — a compulsory school subject.

6. Post a picture that relates to your lesson to stimulate discussion

This is really fun! Provide some sample questions, too.

For example, What’s going on with these cars? Why can’t you see through their windows? Where do you think the picture was taken? Who invented wheels? What would life be like if we didn’t have cars?

Completely white cars

Photo © Kenna Bourke

7. Include links to free parent support sites

Oxford Parents gives parents simple, effective advice on supporting their children’s classroom language learning at home.

Would you like practical tips on developing a strong school-home link and developing 21st Century skills in your children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.


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Creativity in the young learner classroom

Young girl filming with iPhoneCharles Vilina and Kathleen Kampa, authors of the new Young Learners series, Oxford Discover, share teaching ideas on an important 21st Century skill: creativity.

Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
Albert Einstein

We’re very happy to be sharing our thoughts and ideas about creativity with you, because it is such a natural and motivating skill to develop in our young learners. Creative activities are fun and engaging for our students. They take learning far beyond the simple tasks of understanding and memorizing. In fact, it is the highest order thinking skill, as Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy illustrates below:

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy

Creativity is an essential skill (along with critical thinking, collaboration, and communication) that students need in order to be successful in the 21st Century. Creative students are better at making changes, solving new problems, expressing themselves through the arts, and more.

How important is creativity?

In one of his TED talks, education scholar Sir Ken Robinson says:

Creativity now is as important in education as literacy. We should treat it with the same status.”

Creativity is a natural ability that is found in every young learner. Unfortunately, traditional classrooms don’t always value creativity, and sometimes even hold it back. Our role as teachers is to nurture creativity at every opportunity.

Consider the following:

  • Creativity develops when students are able to analyze the information they’ve learned, make new connections with that information, come up with new ideas, and evaluate their choices.
  • To nurture creativity, students need the freedom to offer ideas and express themselves without judgment. In a creative classroom, all contributions from students are welcomed.
  • Creativity requires the courage to make mistakes. Sir Ken Robinson states, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
  • Creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand. David Hughes, founder of Decision Labs and professor at UNC Chapel Hill, feels that innovation is essential for our global economy.

What are the qualities of a creative classroom?

  1. Teachers and students ask open-ended questions that encourage curiosity and creativity.
  2. Students brainstorm as many ideas as possible without fear of being judged or being wrong. Students then go on to choose the best ideas and improve upon them.
  3. Students demonstrate creativity not only individually, but with partners and in small groups. Ideas are generated and assessed collaboratively.
  4. Students lead the learning and work together to complete projects. These projects help students take the information they have learned and present it in new and creative ways.

How can you nuture creativity in your classroom?

Let’s look at some specific ways to nurture creativity in your classroom, starting with one of the building blocks of language learning:

Phonics

Learning about letter shapes and names can be creative! When your young learners are introduced to letters, try this activity to build their creativity. Write the letters one by one on the board and ask the following questions:

Can you make the letter _(b)_ with your fingers? With your hands? With your whole body? With a partner?

When you first do this task, you might model how students could do this. Think out loud. Let’s see. Letter b is round and straight. How about like this? Or like this? Then your students are ready to try their own ideas.

Words

Vocabulary words can be taught in many creative ways. For example, verbs such as walk, tiptoe, and skate can be learned more deeply by inviting students to move in creative ways. Questions might include:

  • Show me what it’s like to walk in deep snow. Show me how you might walk on hot sand.
  • Imagine that you’re tiptoeing past a sleeping polar bear.
  • We’re on a frozen lake in Antarctica. Let’s skate with the penguins!

As you can see, creativity and imagination are closely related.

Other words such as nouns and adjectives can be presented creatively through facial expressions and body language, through movement, and even through dramatic skits.

Grammar

Grammar is often considered to be a logical and unimaginative part of English. However, grammar can be very creative as it is expressed in songs, poetry, and storytelling. Look for opportunities to build creative skills along with grammar skills.

Here’s a fun and creative way to teach not only grammar and speaking skills, but math as well! It’s taken from Oxford Discover Student Book 2, Unit 8:

Oxford Discover SB2 Unit 8 speaking activity

The above activity combines the logical thinking from math with the imaginative thinking from poetry. Students have a great time substituting the animals and numbers in the poem with their own creative ideas, while at the same time presenting a logical math problem.

Big Questions

Oxford Discover offers an inquiry-based approach to learning that allows students to consider big questions with many answers. Students are allowed to come up with their own additional questions. This process is creative as well as motivating for students.

Consider this Big Question from Oxford Discover Student Book 3: How do people have fun?

Students explore the many ways that people have fun around the world. The discussion may turn to the subject of celebrations. Students may explore the following questions:

  • What is a celebration?
  • What are some ways that people celebrate around the world?
  • What do people celebrate in your area? How do they celebrate?
  • What is needed to make a celebration successful?

As students explore these questions and find answers, they process the information by analyzing and evaluating what they have learned. Finally, they should be given an opportunity to create.

One suggestion is to get students working together to plan a celebration. They must determine:

  • What are we celebrating?
  • What is our celebration called?
  • Who is invited?
  • How will we celebrate?
  • What will we need to prepare?

As students plan, they also create. Students might create a poster, gather materials for their celebration, or even write a short play. Finally, they share what they have planned with the rest of the class.

In summary

A creative classroom is a joyful and motivating place where children feel empowered to learn, where all ideas are welcomed, and where learning is deep and meaningful. Children who are allowed to be creative are better learners, and they are more aware of their own learning styles. Creativity is a lifelong skill that our students will take with them into their adult lives to solve problems and help build a better world.

We’d like to conclude with a powerful quote from Robert Fisher in his IATEFL address entitled, “Expanding Minds: Developing Creative Thinking in Young Learners”:

What promotes creativity is a questioning classroom where teachers and pupils value diversity, ask unusual and challenging questions; make new connections; represent ideas in different ways – visually, physically and verbally; try fresh approaches and solutions to problems; and critically evaluate new ideas and actions.”

Thank you, and happy teaching!

Would you like more practical tips on developing 21st Century skills in your children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.

Sign up for a free webinar with Charles Vilina and Natasha Buccianti on How to use creativity in the classroom on 18 and 20 March 2014.


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Bring on Utopia! Make us all equal! How mixed ability plagues my life…

Diverse elementary students working in the classroomKenna Bourke, co-author of Levels 5 and 6 of the new Primary series, Oxford Discover, offers some practical tips for making the most of your mixed ability Primary classroom.

About a hundred years ago, when I was six, my Belgian primary school teacher wanted me to crochet a poncho: ‘M’enfin! Un poncho, Kénna! C’est facile!’ Crochet! Crochet??? As I remember it, this involved manipulating a weird-looking needle, and some balls of wool: sky blue, navy blue, and white. That poncho haunts me to this day. My long-suffering mother crocheted it in the end. And I had to confess that I hadn’t crocheted it. And six-year-old life wasn’t good for a while.

Also at the age of six, I was promoted to top of the class in Flemish, above all the Belgian kids (dank u wel), and close to bottom in Math because 213 divided by 7 = (well, I have no idea and why does it matter?).

By the time I was twelve, studying at a school in England that shall remain nameless, I was put in the bottom set for English (this requires you to have read Dickens’s Christmas Carol and be able to recite it backwards), and the top set for French (this requires you to be able to say ‘M. et Mme. Dupont ont deux enfants’). I spoke French far better than my teacher, which turned out to be a major disadvantage. I also spent vast tracts of time wondering why lacrosse – a sport – wasn’t banned under the Dangerous Sports Act, and being quite good at … swimming.

Aren’t we all to some extent ‘mixed ability’? Does it matter?

It may or may not matter. The debate rages on. Some contend that all students should be streamed according to ability. But the fact is that people aren’t equally able, and it’s not always possible. As has been said endlessly, if you have a class of two students, you automatically have a mixed ability class. Utopia is a briefly entertaining fiction – we live in a mixed ability world, which we can choose to think of as something to be celebrated.

Imagine how boring it would it be if we all excelled at everything. There’d be little point in competition sports, or comedy shows, or concerts, or art, or literature … It wouldn’t really be worth cooking a great meal for friends because (yawn) everyone can do that. And don’t even think about solving a mathematical puzzle while you’re commuting to work, because we’re all equally good at it, and the person sitting to your left has probably already completed it.

Of course no two students are the same, but there you are, faced with your mixed ability class, and you can’t change that. So what do you do?

Move the benchmarking goalposts?

More often than not, we take a curriculum or set of standards and benchmark all students’ abilities against them, which is fine. But how about also benchmarking student achievement against that individual’s potential? Successful learning usually happens when you hit the tipping point between frustration and challenge. At university, I got bored and frustrated because French was too easy. At school, I was miserable and frustrated because Maths classes were difficult. Had I been pushed much harder in one direction and given more appropriate tasks in the other, I might have been more successful in both subjects.

Differentiate for success?

There’s a danger, also, of setting tasks that scream ‘advanced’, ‘normal’, or ‘remedial’. Not a good thing. It can result in making one student feel superior, another feel average, and the third feel stupid. Used tactfully, differentiated activities can build on each other. A below-level activity provides support and scaffolding for less confident students before they move to a task that is at- or on-level. The at-level task then provides support for students to deal with the greater challenge of an above-level task. Alternatively, you might differentiate learning by setting different tasks to different groups simultaneously so that all students are collaborating on discrete aspects of the whole, as in some L1 classrooms. No one really likes to stand out, except perhaps for the captain of that dreadful lacrosse team.

As my co-author on Oxford Discover, Kathleen Kampa, suggests in this video, there are some ingenious ways of giving all students the same task, yet letting them determine how to do that task at exactly their own level.

Motivate by focusing on what’s good and fun?

Call me a quitter, but I didn’t pursue crochet beyond the age of six, or Math beyond 15, though today, self-taught, I can do Math perfectly adequately. As adults, most of us very sensibly choose to do what we’re good at and what we actively enjoy. Too often, children aren’t given that freedom of choice.

We can create meaning in class and foster an atmosphere in which successful learning will take place by allowing students different ways to respond, and by giving them activities that appeal across a range of intelligences. Some of us are natural listeners; others love reading. Some of us wouldn’t dance or sing if our lives depended on it; others dance and sing till they drop. Some of us react to visual stimulus; others are oblivious to it. But we all do something well. Multimodality, in the form of video, audio, posters, spoken and written language, music and movement, is invaluable in helping students build 21st Century skills in an unthreatening, equalizing environment.

How? To put this idea in its most basic form, try, for example, to give:

  • classifying and problem-solving tasks to students who show logical or mathematical intelligence
  • physical, tactile, TPR-style tasks to kinesthetic learners
  • groupwork, classwork, and games to students who demonstrate interpersonal skills and intelligence
  • reading and writing tasks to learners whose verbal or linguistic intelligence is evident
  • and tasks centred around posters, pictures, and diagrams to children who show signs of visual or spatial intelligence.

As I write this on a January afternoon from my flat in New York City, it’s 11 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus-something horrifying Centigrade, and nothing would please me more than being able to crochet my own poncho to keep warm. But I refuse to get despondent. After all, aged 1, I was so mixed ability that I could drive a car! Who knows what else I might achieve if pushed?

Kenna Bourke as a toddler 'driving' a car

Kenna Bourke as a toddler ‘driving’ a car

If you’d like more ideas on teaching mixed ability classes, why not register for a free webinar led by my colleagues at OUP? Making the most of mixed-ability young learner classes will be held on 18th February and repeated on 20th February 2014.

Would you like practical tips on teaching mixed-ability classes and developing 21st Century skills in your children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.