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Managing the Perfect Classroom

Eager children in classKathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina, co-authors of the forthcoming Young Learners series, Oxford Discover, share some classroom management tips.

As teachers of young learners, we all know the benefits of a well-managed classroom. Our students are alert, focused, and excited to learn. All of our energies can go into teaching the lesson, rather than dealing with management issues. So how can we achieve this perfect classroom?

It’s important to remember that good classroom management is like fire prevention – our aim is to avoid problems in the first place. A teacher who is well organized and prepared, and who has specific goals for each lesson, is off to a very good start! However, there are other things we can do to keep our students focused and happy.

We’d like to begin with two broad perspectives on classroom management, and then move on to some simple strategies that you can use right away.

1. How students perceive learning determines a lot of their behavior

If students sense that learning is a one-way street, with information flowing only from the teacher to the student, management problems can occur from the very beginning of the lesson. Some students may be bored, others may feel forced to learn, and others may seek to stand out and be noticed by misbehaving.

The solution is to create a classroom of curiosity, nurturing a spirit of “wondering”. These qualities of curiosity and wondering are natural to students, but are often lost in traditional classroom settings. As teachers, we can reignite these qualities by being curious and wondering ourselves, as in:

I wonder how caterpillars turn into butterflies.
I wonder how this machine works.
I wonder if there is another way to do this.
I wonder how energy is created and used.

After observing this type of questioning from their teacher, students are encouraged to join in and ask their own questions. They perceive that they are seeking answers together, and that there may be many possible answers. Students become empowered to learn and discover as a class. They are also eager to share what they have learned with their teacher, making them partners in learning. As a result, there are fewer occasions for misbehavior or boredom.

2. CCBA – Catch Children Being Amazing!

We created the acronym CCBA (Catch Children Being Amazing) to remind teachers that students respond better to praise than to criticism. By noticing and pointing out how something is being done well, teachers give students specific examples of good behavior and learning. As you continue to comment on your students’ good behaviors, creative ideas, and positive contributions, you can easily shift the focus of attention from bad to good. Here are some examples:

  • I’m really pleased to see how well you all made a circle and got ready to sing.
  • Look at how Jenna and Miki are making big letter shapes together.
  • Michael, you wrote your story so neatly in your notebook.

Noticing and commenting on your students’ good behavior and achievements also builds confidence. Students often tell their parents later about a CCBA moment in their class. In so many ways, CCBA creates a positive classroom environment that supports learning for the entire year.

Here are some simple classroom management strategies you can try tomorrow!

Kathleen Lampa demonstrating the 'quiet signal'

Kathleen Kampa, Oxford Discover co-author

1. Refocusing Student Attention

Occasionally, it is necessary to get your students’ attention, especially if they are chatting after an activity is over. It is best to do this in a calm, quiet, and confident manner.

Here are two simple strategies you can try. Before using them, it’s a good idea to practice with your students several times until they become natural.

The first strategy is called the “quiet signal”. To do this, raise one hand while placing the forefinger of your other hand over your lips. Students then imitate these actions. Soon everyone is quiet.

The second strategy is to use a simple clapping rhythm. When students hear it, they repeat it. This signal is a clear way to get your students’ attention.

2. Transitional Songs

Transitional songs help move students smoothly from one activity to the next. They’re particularly useful for classes with young learners. Here are two songs you’ll be able to use tomorrow in your classroom.

Come and Sit In Front of Me (by Kathleen Kampa)
Melody: The Muffin Man

Come and sit in front of me, in front of me, in front of me,
Come and sit in front of me, in front of me.

Let’s Make a Circle (by Kathleen Kampa)
Melody: Skip To My Lou

Let’s make a circle big and round,
Let’s make a circle big and round,
Let’s make a circle big and round,
Everybody please sit down.

3. Celebrating Success

Creating a climate of success is important. Students work hard in your classroom, so celebrate their achievements! Here’s a chant you can use often throughout your lesson:

We Did It! (Celebration Chant by Kathleen Kampa)

Celebration Chant – We Did It!

We did it! We did it! We did it today!
We did it! We did it! Hip hip hooray!

4. Working Together

When students work together in pairs or small groups, they’re building the 21st Century skill of collaboration. Students who work together toward a common goal are focused and engaged learners. When dividing students into pairs and groups, it is important that the students view the process as fair.

First, decide the size of each group, based on the activity and the number of students you have. Sometimes an activity asks for students to work in pairs, or groups of three or four students. Some groups can have one additional student if the class cannot divide equally into groups.

There are many ways to divide students into groups. For example, if you want eight groups, students count off from “one” to “eight.” If you want six groups, they count off from “one” to “six”. Students with the same number then work together. Another method is to have students pull colored cards out of a box without looking. Students with the same color work together.

Students can also be placed in pairs or groups prepared beforehand by the teacher. One strategy is to place shy students with more confident students. This creates a unique opportunity to unify the class and include everyone in the learning process.

Classroom management issues exist with every class. However, by creating a positive environment of curiosity, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and encouragement, your class will develop a group personality that embraces learning.

Happy teaching, everyone!

Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina

Would you like more practical tips on classroom management and developing 21st Century skills with 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 webinar on Making the most of classroom management on 17 & 19 December.


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Using discussion posters and… an elephant’s foot

Elephant's foot

Image courtesy of valentinastorti via Flickr

Kenna Bourke, co-author of the forthcoming Young Learners series, Oxford Discover, explores the benefits of using discussion posters with young children to aid learning, cognitive skills, and vocabulary development.

Sometime around the age of one to one and a half, I made an incredible discovery: speech! No longer was I just a helpless, gurgling baby making faces at my parents. Oh, no! I could now ask questions. How cool!

And not only could I ask questions, and get answers, but this new found skill gave me one Very Special Power: the ability to drive my parents crazy. I’m reliably informed that many conversations went something like this:

Me: What’s that?
Mum: It’s a table.
Me: Hmm. What’s that?
Dad: It’s a banana, but I think you know that.
Me: (grinning) What’s that?
Mum: You know perfectly well what it is.
Me: WHAT’S THAT?
Dad: It’s an elephant’s foot.
Me: (laughing uncontrollably) No, it’s not! It’s a book!

Sound familiar? I don’t think I can have been the only kid to use the ‘extreme interrogation technique’ for the sole purpose of testing my parents’ patience. It’s in the nature of children to ask questions – lots and lots of questions. That’s how we build basic vocabulary as children: we see something, we wonder what its name is, we point, we ask a question, and BANG! We get an answer. Then we store the image and answer, and the next time we see the object, we know what it is. Excellent.

The curiosity of a child is perhaps the best teaching tool we have. So how do we harness this natural thirst for knowledge?

Well, one way is through the power of the poster. These days we almost take posters for granted. Are they pretty decorative items that make our classrooms look bright and cheery? Yes, but … now it’s the adult’s turn to ask the question, ‘What’s that?’ Here are three things that posters are invaluable for:

Triggering critical thinking

Like me, you may have had an animal alphabet when you were a child. A is for antelope; G is for giraffe; Z is for zebra; X is a problem (!); and that helped you remember the letters of the alphabet. But posters don’t have to be limited to single word associations – they can help students connect concepts.

Think of a colour chart, for example. We can either put splodges of colour on a poster and print the words red, blue, yellow, and so on under the splodges, or we can use posters to go well beyond vocabulary acquisition by presenting a series of interlinked concepts, as in the poster to the right (click to download). In presenting concepts visually, we enable children to think more deeply and meaningfully about a topic. With a poster like this one, you could put students into pairs and ask them to give examples from their own experience and knowledge: where have they seen colours in nature? Have they ever made a colour? Is colour a good thing? What colourful animals can they name? Why might some animals be colourful? They then share their ideas with another pair.

Boosting memory

We know that the cognitive process is enhanced by images. Just as with real physical objects, like books, tables, and bananas, images enable learners to recognize and recall, making it easier for them to internalize meaning and store that meaning in their memory banks. To this day, I clearly remember a poster in my history teacher’s classroom. It was a satirical image of a famous politician with a boiled egg instead of a head. And to this day, because of that image, I could tell you all about him.

A striking image stays imprinted on the memory. It acts as the foundation for a pattern of thoughts and memories – a story if you like – in much the same way that a few bars of music can conjure up memories many years later. Using any good poster, try giving students a minute to remember as much as they can. Then hide the poster or ask students to stand with their backs to it. What do they remember? Why do they remember that? What associations did they make with the image?

Creating equality

Posters have the power to make all students equal. Images free up the imagination and give everyone a voice. As a teacher, you can ask students to say what they see in the poster and there’s no wrong answer. Every answer is equally valid and everyone, from the loudest to the quietest, gets a chance to voice an opinion and react to what he or she sees. It’s very hard not to have some sort of reaction to a visual image (you may like what you see, or you may dislike it; it may provoke a thought or remind you of something) and this means that discussion happens naturally and effortlessly. Child A looking at a poster may see a boy and a girl, but Child B, looking at the same image, may see a family or friends.

Clouds at sunsetWith any image or poster you like, try asking students to brainstorm thoughts, words, feelings, or memories. One child may see a picture of a cloud, while another may see … an elephant’s foot. And who’s to say a cloud can’t be an elephant’s foot? My parents would say it can be!

Would you like more practical tips on developing communication and other 21st century skills with 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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Critical Thinking in your lessons – It’s easier than you think!

Pensive girlIn the second blog post in our series on 21st Century skills, (to accompany our teacher training videos on the same subject), Charles Vilina talks more specifically about critical thinking skills and how you can bring critical thinking into your lessons.

In my earlier blog, I introduced some of the main 21st Century skills, and argued that the English language classroom is a perfect environment to build those skills. After suggesting five “strategies” that I feel are essential to encourage 21st Century thinking and learning, I promised some more specifics in later blogs.

My focus for this particular post is on the skill known as “critical thinking.” I look at critical thinking as a series of abilities that take students beyond simple comprehension of information. A critical thinker uses logic and evidence to prioritize and classify information, find relationships, make judgments, and solve problems.

You might argue that our students don’t need to move beyond the simple comprehension of words and sentences. However, critical thinkers are better learners, because they explore meaning much more deeply. As English language curriculums continue to use more content to teach English, critical thinking strategies give students a chance to analyze and process the information in valuable ways.

Let’s look at one specific way in which you can begin to bring critical thinking into your lessons. It begins with vocabulary, one of the building blocks of language.

Vocabulary

In all vocabulary development, students must know a word in three ways: by its form, its meaning, and its use. Critical thinking takes this concept even further. Students should know a word as it relates to other words. For example, let’s say that you are teaching students the following lexical set about forms of transportation:

bicycle sailboat
airplane hot air balloon
rocket subway train
cruise ship bus
taxi skateboard

Once your students have a solid understanding of the above words, I’d suggest the following activity:

  1. Divide the class into groups of four students.
  2. Ask student groups to list the above forms of transportation in order from slowest to fastest.
  3. Ask each student group to discuss their list with another group.

This activity, as simple as it sounds, involves lots of logic and critical thinking. For example, students may decide that a skateboard is probably the slowest form of transportation on the list. However, it gets a bit more difficult after that. Is a bicycle faster than a sailboat? It depends on the wind speed. Therefore, does a sailboat move at the same speed as a hot air balloon, since they both move with the wind? Does a taxi move faster than a subway train? Sometimes, but then a taxi has to stop at intersections. How about a cruise ship? Perhaps we can find the average speed of one on the Internet. Is a rocket the fastest form of transportation? Yes, everyone agrees that it is.

The goal is actually NOT to arrive at a correct answer, but to get students to think more deeply about words, what they represent, how they are each part of bigger systems, how they relate to each other within those systems, and so on.

By doing so, students are required to use all of their language skills in the process. The lesson is no longer about memorization and simple meaning. It has transcended this and become an experience. Students are much more likely to remember and use these vocabulary words after such an activity.

Of course, any number of vocabulary sets can be used, with a variety of other critical thinking activities. For example:

1. The lexical set is “inventions”

Activity One:  List the words on a timeline in the order in which they were invented.

Activity Two:  List the words again in the order of importance to humans.

2. The lexical set is “sports”

Activity One:  List the words in a Venn Diagram, dividing sports into those that can be played indoors only, outdoors only, and both indoors and outdoors.

Activity Two:  List the words again in the order of the amount of equipment needed to play them.

3. The lexical set is “adjectives”

Activity One:  List the words under the headings of Positive, Negative, and Neutral.

Activity Two:  List the words in a Venn Diagram, dividing the adjectives into those that can describe people, things, or both.

As mentioned before, get students into groups to collaborate and to achieve the goals of each activity. Then, get groups talking together to discuss their choices.

These types of activities are especially helpful as students later create sentences using these words. After all, they’ve had a chance to explore the vocabulary more deeply with their fellow classmates.

In coming blogs, we’ll discuss many more ways to include critical thinking in your lessons. Until then, Happy Teaching!


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5 Ways to Prepare Your Students for the 21st Century

young boy reading a workbookIn the first in a series of blog posts about 21st Century skills, (to accompany our teacher training videos on the same subject), author and English language teacher Charles Vilina provides some great tips on why 21st Century skills are important, and how to incorporate them into your classroom teaching.

When I was a small boy in the 1960s, drawings of the 21st Century always showed the same visions. People of the future would wear shiny space clothing, travel on moving sidewalks and in flying cars, and talk on portable phones.

Isn’t it interesting that many of these visions have come true? We now have personal computers and smartphones that let us share information instantly around the world. Modern air travel can take us anywhere on the planet. And while I don’t wear space clothes, I do use those moving sidewalks in airports! I think we can all agree that the 21st Century is a very exciting time in human history.

So when I talk to teachers about new developments in English education, and go on to mention the term 21st Century skills, why do so many begin to look uncomfortable?

Let’s start by looking at these skills a bit more carefully. 21st Century skills can actually be listed as a group of words that begin with the letter “C”.

Communication          Creativity          Critical Thinking          Collaboration

To state it simply, these are the four skills that your students will need to be successful in the 21st Century.

21st Century skills are being taught in primary classrooms in many countries. Many international schools are also committed to teaching these skills. However, I would argue that your English language classroom is actually the PERFECT place to build these 21st Century skills. Here’s why:

In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves toward greater interconnectedness, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society. Yes, basic language skills are essential. However, equally essential is an individual’s ability to think outside the box, find future solutions to future problems, collaborate and reach a consensus across cultural and national borders.

So let’s get to some specifics. How easy is it to teach 21st Century Skills in your classroom? Well, chances are good that you’ve already started. The English language classroom has been evolving for decades, and continues to do so.

As a general guide, however, here are five “essential strategies” I would recommend that you develop in your classroom to encourage 21st Century thinking and learning. They may involve a change in perspective about how your students learn best, so feel free to take small but steady steps toward these goals. Practical information on how to implement these strategies will follow in future blogs.

1. Let Your Students Lead The Learning

Learning takes place best in environments where students feel empowered to learn. Effective teachers are more like moderators, offering inspiration and guiding students to discover for themselves. Give students the opportunity to be self-learners, which guarantees lifelong learning. This brings us directly to the second point.

2. Create an Inquiry-Based Classroom Environment

If students are to lead the way to learning, they need to be able to ask questions – and then find the means to answer them. Students (and teachers) need to “wonder out loud” as they encounter new information. A KWL chart (What do you Know? What do you Want to know? What have you Learned?) can guide students toward true self-motivated learning.

3. Encourage Collaboration

We are greater than the sum of our parts.”  Herein is the heart of collaboration. A healthy, active classroom is a sharing classroom. Students are social beings, and even more so in a language class. Find every opportunity to allow students to form pairs and small groups. Not only does this encourage the development of speaking and listening skills, but it also teaches students how to effectively achieve goals together.

4. Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Learning is more than memorizing and remembering. Critical thinking skills take students well beyond simple comprehension of information. Students use these skills to solve problems in new situations, make inferences and generalizations, combine information in new patterns, and make judgments based on evidence and criteria. Introduce activities in your lessons that build critical thinking skills along with language skills.

5. Encourage Creativity

Encourage your students to be creative throughout each lesson. Creative activities allow students to express what they’ve learned in a new way. This synthesizing and personalizing of knowledge consolidates learning, and creates an experience that remains with students long after the class is over.

By keeping these strategies in mind as you plan each lesson, you will be encouraging the development of 21st Century skills. Of course, your students may also need time to adjust to this new way of learning. However, they will soon begin to feel empowered to think more critically, to ask questions and seek answers, and to express themselves creatively. Most importantly, their communication skills will become much stronger as a result, which always remains our main objective!

Keep an eye out for more in-depth blogs in the 21st Century skills series. In the meantime, I wish all of you the greatest of adventures in this wonderful vocation that is English education!