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Making books look like candy

shutterstock_280154789Patrick Jackson, author of the popular Potato Pals series, Shine On! and Everybody Up!, explores the importance of design and ‘eye candy’ in materials for young learners.

In the natural world, colour and pattern are keys to reproduction and survival. The attention of bees is guided by precisely marked, competing flowers. Camouflaged moths hug tree trunks, invisible to their predators. Birds and animals show off their plumage and markings to attract a partner. Phosphorescent creatures in the warmer oceans mirror the night sky, filled with the stars that guide our journeys across its expanses.

The same is true with the learning journey we embark on with pre-elementary and elementary students. The learning materials we use must guide, motivate and excite, firstly and above all through the eyes of our young students. The characteristics and effectiveness of materials are largely determined by the visual impression they make and the deeper design decisions that undergird their development. As teachers and publishers we rightly should embrace the extent to which design decisions influence the whole learning process.

An Oxford University Press designer once said, “I like to make books look like candy.” Children, more than any other age group, are visual learners. The younger the learners, the more important the visuals are. That is not to say that they are not important with older age groups, but in the absence of a lot of printed text, children depend on what they can see on the pages (or increasingly, the screens) in front of them. The classroom can be very cut off from the outside world and exciting images from beyond the classroom bring the experience of learning a new language alive.

Young learners benefit deeply from interacting with different illustration styles and different media. These inspire creativity as well as maintain students’ attention. Good illustrations convey emotion and that in turn motivates young learners. The aesthetic experience should be pleasurable and the content memorable. No doubt we all remember our favourite illustrations from the books of our childhood. Furthermore, language itself is not linear and the visual presentation of language in context is a powerful tool that mimics the state of language in the real world. It has been proven that language is more memorable when presented with images, particularly images that children can identify emotionally with. Again, this replicates their experience of learning their first language.

The layout of activities on the page gives a book its feel and determines how we will respond. The lesson should flow smoothly from well signposted activity to the next. Icons and titles are part of this rhythm. The font and size of rubrics are also very important, as is the amount of blank space on the page. This informs how we perceive the level of difficulty of the material. The feel and finish of a course book are also vital to our experience of a book. Who hasn’t stroked the cover of a book or run their hands down its spine? Who hasn’t been frustrated as a child by trying to write or colour on the wrong quality of paper? All of these decisions, taken by the editorial and design teams, contribute to the soul of the materials and the ‘user experience’.

We call something superficially attractive but lacking deep meaning ‘eye candy’. They also say that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’. On the contrary, we can and do tell a great deal about course books by looking at their covers, and a bit of eye candy on their pages for young learners is just what they like and need. Their first impression of the path ahead is partly determined by the design of their very first English book.

So let’s not underestimate the work of the design department as we choose the materials we use. Let’s celebrate those beautiful illustrations and gorgeous double spreads. Let’s obsess about clear, well-set rubrics. Let’s appreciate delicious paper quality. Let’s delight at a bit of bling on a cover. As a great scholar may or may not have once said, “Per pulchra ad astra.” Through beauty to the stars!


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Beyond the classroom…involving parents in learning

shutterstock_220645462Vanessa has been teaching English as a Foreign language in Portugal for the past 20 years. She is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação.  Her areas of interest are teaching YLs, Teens and Pre-Teens. She joins us today to preview her webinar, ‘Beyond the classroom… involving parents in learning’ taking place tomorrow, 28th June and Wednesday 29th.

While it is true that as teachers our main mission is to teach the students in our classrooms lots of exciting new language and skills, it’s also true that as professional educators we often invest a lot of our precious time in speaking to and dealing with students’ parents. For example, we may just say a friendly hello, offer a friendly reminder, provide a word of warning or perhaps simply give a student’s family and loved ones some feedback about their child’s progress. Whilst this may suffice for some parents, some teachers assert that this is just the tip of the teacher parent relationship. I would argue that there is so much more that could be done to encourage both parties to join efforts to guarantee that each student reaches their personal learning goals successfully.

This webinar aims to look at how we as teachers can actively involve our students’ parents in their children’s school learning process. Generally speaking, by nature, most parents are interested in their children’s academic life and progress, and want to help their children be successful at school. It is also true that more often than not they are true specialists when it comes to knowing their children’s strengths and weaknesses. Yet, in many cases this natural interest turns out to be a source of frustration as it is not always channeled correctly, and rather than feeling useful and engaged, parents end up feeling lost and frustrated. They know that there is so much more that could be done to help their children, but don’t know exactly how to go about doing it.

In order to revert this, we will begin the webinar by discussing and analyzing how parent involvement outside school can be set up in a practical manner. The webinar will be structured as follows:

  1. Setting up a clear and open channel of communication between teachers and parents.
  2. Suggesting and exploring various ideas and activities to get parents started on the right track and gently guide and encourage them to become active participants in their children’s learning process.
  3. Suggesting and considering ideas like how to plan and set up a revision schedule for their children, how to choose appropriate learning resources and how to use the Oxford parents’ website to find appropriate tasks and activities.

By the end of the webinar participants will have a fair idea of how to go about creating a game plan to apply in their schools to involve and engage parents to help maximize their students’ learning. We will end the webinar with an opportunity for participants ask questions and to share any valuable experience and tips that they may have.

If you’re interested in taking part in Vanessa’s webinar, register for free by clicking the button below.

register-for-webinar

 


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What are we learning today? CLIL in the Kindergarten classroom

Curious child crouching in forest

Photo courtesy of Jesse Milan via Flickr

Margaret Whitfield, co-author of the new Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips on making the most of CLIL in the Kindergarten classroom.

CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) has been a buzzword in English language education for a number of years now, and is an established part of many programs. Its supporters claim that combining subject learning (e.g. science or music) with language learning can increase student motivation and improve understanding. However, they’re often talking about older children who have some existing knowledge of English and the subject – can we bring CLIL into a Kindergarten classroom with equal benefits?

Well, the good news is that we don’t have to. CLIL is already there! In Kindergarten, children are being exposed to new concepts and content all the time, from number work to songs to mixing colored paints and beyond. In addition, young children are innately curious about the world around them and love to explore new things. So instead of starting from scratch, let’s look at the ways in which everyday Kindergarten activities can be exploited to make the most of their subject-learning and language-learning potential.

Let’s pretend

Pretending is a fundamental part of children’s play at this age. Whether they use costumes or just their imaginations, children are exploring the adult world they see around them. You can use this in a number of ways to explore different themes:

Social science

Focus on families, learning the names of different family members and talking about what they do, and providing opportunities for children to role-play families. Extend this to science, talking about and role-playing animal families.

Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 2

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 2

Language arts

Focus on fictional characters that the children are interested in – superheroes, princes and princesses, pirates, and so on. This can be a great way into describing people as well – look at storybooks together and talk about what the characters are like and how they feel at different points. Then the children can act out the characters, being happy, sad, fierce or brave!

Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 3

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 3

Social science

Focus on jobs, learning the names of different jobs and clothes and color vocabulary to talk about uniforms. Talk about what people in different jobs do and encourage children to role-play firefighters, doctors, police officers and so on – they won’t need much encouragement!

Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 3

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 3

All these activities link with language areas that you might be teaching, but the role-play will also generate a need for more language that children will then practice in a memorable way through their play.

Hands on

Practical activities are key to keeping children of this age interested and motivated, and they can be used to explore all kinds of topic areas. Take a look at the free ‘sink or float?’ experiment activity. Here are a few more ideas.

Subject focus Language focus Activity
Math: counting, simple addition and subtraction, finding one more or less Number namesToys vocabularyHow many …? Use toys (or other objects) to count in different scenarios, e.g. a teddy-bear picnic.
Music: learning a song, keeping the beatMath: counting backwards Number names Learn a simple counting song like ‘Five little monkeys’; use percussion instruments to keep the beat.
Science: learning about the senses  Food vocabularyIs it …?I like/don’t like… Use taste and smell to identify food without being able to see it.
Extract from Show and Tell Student's Book 1

Extract from Show and Tell Student’s Book 1

A table like this can be a useful tool for planning CLIL activities: whether you start with a subject area, a language objective or an activity that you already do that you want to exploit further, it can help you to consider the different elements together. Make sure that there is a natural fit between the language and the subject, and the activity will provide memorable, contextualized language practice. Consider the difficulty of each element, as well – if the language is tricky, maybe it would be better to use a subject area that children are familiar with; if the concepts are challenging, try to match it to language that the children already know.

I hope that, if you didn’t already, you’re now feeling that CLIL is an inspiring and achievable tool for kindergarten. Please post your experiences, and especially activities that have worked well for you, in the comments section below.

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


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Crafty ways of learning English

Close-up of robot head made of paperGabby Pritchard, co-author of the new kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for making the most of creative craft activities in the very young learner English classroom.

Craft activities are a fun and effective way of bringing a new language alive for young learners. They provide a great opportunity for children to use natural language in a real situation for a real purpose. They also help children develop a whole range of skills, including listening and speaking skills, visual literacy skills, social skills and motor skills, as well as encouraging them to think creatively and work cooperatively. Furthermore, children feel a real sense of achievement in completing and talking about the finished product.

Careful planning is key to ensuring your children are able to make the most effective use of new language while working on their craft activity.

Here are six easy ways to make sure your children are developing their language skills as well as enjoying their craft projects:

1. Put language at the center

When choosing a craft project, ensure it springs naturally from the topic your class is studying. Consider carefully how new and review language patterns, as well as vocabulary, can be used. For example, if the language is prepositions of place and the children are making a model of a house with furniture, focus initially on vocabulary. Use known question forms such as What’s this? Is it a…? to prompt answers. Then, as the children place the furniture in rooms, ask Where is the…? prompting the children to answer with full sentences: It’s next to the bed. Extend this by playing a language game with the class when the project is complete. In this case it could be a guessing game in which they take turns to describe where something is without naming it. Finally, the children can describe their finished work.

Young students modelling a project

2. Begin at the end

Always begin by showing and talking about finished examples of the crafts. They illustrate the purpose of the activity clearly, and provide models for the children to work from. If the initial task involves making items that contribute to a bigger project, such as making animals for a farm, discuss how the children will contribute individually and also work together to finish the project. At this point, teach any new words they might need.

3. Lead by example

Before the children begin their projects, demonstrate the process in simple stages. Include the children by asking them to name the materials you are using and discuss what the next stages should be. Invite children to come and act as helpers, modelling instructions and polite behavior with them.

4. Teach the language of instruction

Be consistent with the instructions you use and build upon this throughout the year. Teach and encourage the children to use some new instructions each time they work on a new project. The language of instruction is very useful in a wide range of situations and the children will soon use these new words and phrases quite naturally in class.

5. Work together

Organize some activities that require the children to work in pairs or small groups. For example, ask children to work in pairs to grow a plant. They can choose and plant seeds together and then track the development of the plant by taking photos or drawing pictures. The children can also present their finished project to the rest of the class together.

Two young students making growing pots

Arrange the classroom so that children work in small groups at tables so they share equipment. Encourage them to use polite language as they work. Prompt them to transfer this language to other situations during the day, such as when preparing for snack time or tidying up.

Two young students working together politely

6. Celebrate!

Arrange for the children to present their work at assemblies and to parents through class displays. Invite parents into school to admire their children’s work or have the children take craft projects home so they can talk to their families in English about their work.

Young student showing off his project to classmates

Take a look at the craft activities at the end of each unit of Show and Tell. You will find plenty of ideas to try, from ‘feely’ pictures and sunny day balloons to a class picnic display, or even a whole model neighborhood.

But most of all, have lots of fun and get messy!


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Mixed up by mixed abilities?

Chinese school studenr with class behind herKate Read, co-author of the new Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for making the most of your mixed-ability Kindergarten classroom.

Kindergarten classrooms can be busy and confusing places at the best of times, but when you (like most of us) have to cope with a wide range of abilities, it throws an extra challenge into the mix. We love the fact that each child is an individual, with his or her own quirky little personalities, but it sure makes teaching effectively a challenge! Don’t despair! Here are a few simple steps to unmix you!

1. Be prepared

As with so many things in life, the secret is in the preparation. Think about what you want to achieve and what it is reasonable to achieve on both a class and individual level. Set a range of achievable goals: begin from the same starting point then vary the level of difficulty. Remember that mixed abilities do range upwards – you want to keep the most able children challenged and interested too.

When creating or adapting activities, chose ones which can be approached in a number of ways, especially in regards to oral or written abilities. Think of ways to exploit a variety of skill sets. For example, if you were going to introduce a new song, you might look at doing the following with it:

  • acting out the words with no production, but focusing on creating interesting movements to illustrate understanding
  • a singing/production element
  • a drawing element
  • a simple reading/writing element (e.g. a gap fill or a create a new verse) for those most able to cope with written text.

Make sure that your instructions are very clear, structured and achievable when you present the tasks. Be very clear about what you hope they will achieve by the end of the class or activity – include the range of outcomes in this. When you give instructions, demonstrate the whole process from beginning to end.

Also, don’t underestimate the value of review. Creative reviews give the lower-ability children a chance to take stock and gain confidence while providing a springboard for other children to attempt higher-level activities.

2. Use the children’s strengths

It’s very important for each child to know that he or she is a valued member of your classroom community. Each contribution is important. For example, someone with good motor skills but poor linguistic skills could make a different but equally important contribution to a project or activity and you need to make this clear. Most tasks will be enhanced by mixing abilities within a group and encouraging peer co-operation. Many children enjoy taking the teacher role and this can be usefully exploited!

Using the children’s different strengths also benefits their social development. Be sensitive to how far you can push the children, but at the same time do mix things up by changing groups, dynamics and procedures when you think they can handle this.

Teaching a mixed–ability class is a great opportunity to

  • develop cooperative learning and peer teaching
  • appeal to different strengths and learning styles
  • support the less able and challenge the more able
  • train children to work both independently and in groups.

3. Be flexible

As you will know, teaching mixed abilities draws on all your multi-tasking skills – but it is worth it when it works well. At times there might be a bit more confusion than with a single approach, but keep calm, aware, and in control, and you will often hear that sweet hum of concentrated activity. Just in case things don’t go perfectly to plan, try to keep a good ‘Plan B’ activity in the sidelines, even if it is just a quick break in the form of an action song or a chant before settling them back into the task. If you see their interest flagging, don’t be afraid to change your approach.

4. Appreciate the achievements of all learners

All children need praise, particularly when navigating the unknown waters of a new language. Find things to praise in all the children’s efforts. If you can’t find something, then deliberately help them do something that is praiseworthy. Remember to think of the individual’s learning path and compare what they’ve done to their own past achievements as opposed to the achievements of others. Demonstrate and reward success – post their efforts on the wall, or in folders, and hand out congratulations stickers, etc. In a very simple way, go back to the objectives you discussed at the beginning of the class. Show the children how they achieved them and how well they did.

Challenge question for fast finishers: how many times did I manage to insert ‘mix’ into this blog?

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