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‘All together now’: using songs and actions for kindergarten classroom management

Pre-school children singing

Photo courtesy of Gryphon House.

Margaret Whitfield, co-author of the forthcoming Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips on using songs and games for Kindergarten classroom management.

There are many reasons for using songs and actions in the kindergarten classroom. They’re memorable, they engage different types of learners, channel energy effectively and – best of all – they’re enjoyable. But songs and actions are also fantastic for encouraging teamwork and managing the classroom.

How can songs and actions encourage teamwork?

Singing a song is in its nature a collaborative activity. All the children can join in to create something that they’re proud of. Harness this by allowing children to join in at different levels. Give them a tambourine if they’re too shy to sing – they’ll still be absorbing the language, learning the natural rhythm and intonation. If they’re super-confident, give them a line to sing solo. Try arranging the children in a circle and moving around as you sing the song – the children have to work as one or the circle collapses!

Ask groups to work together to make up actions or new verses. Have the group teach their verse or actions to the rest of the class, using props and flashcards, if appropriate. By working in groups like this, children are encouraged to collaborate and the less confident members of the class are more likely to contribute. (Try this free song activity idea from Freia Layfield, an Oxford University Press Teacher Trainer.)

Think about how you teach songs as a way of promoting teamwork. Encourage the children to be involved in the process. Begin by simple options – listen again, or sing? Clap the rhythm or ‘la-la-la’ to the tune? The children can move to different areas of the classroom according to their choices. Then have a child be in charge of the CD player. Teach the children simple phrases (Pause, please. Play it again, please.) so that they can direct the child working the CD player. With older children, once they are used to being in control, you could challenge a small group to work together with the CD player to learn the song.

How can songs and actions be a tool for classroom management?

All children have their own ideas about what they want to be doing, and it can sometimes be challenging to focus them on the job in hand, particularly if it’s not one they’re fond of.

My experience is that many very young children will respond better to commands if you sing them – however simply, and however badly. Clean up, put your shoes on, wash your hands, and so on. The same can be true with actions – it’s like a code you share with the children; for example, clap your hands to get their attention, hold them in the air, then rub them together as though washing your hands. One advantage of both these approaches is that you’re not using your voice in the usual way.

A step on from this is to turn everyday classroom routines into short chants and songs. This can be particularly effective if you use a tune that children know and like; for example, try teaching this ‘clean up’ song, sung to the tune of ‘London Bridge is falling down’:

Time to clean up everyone, everyone, everyone.
Do it together, let’s have fun,
Let’s get busy!

If you build in some actions, as well, you can ensure that children are focused on the song and not carrying on with what they were doing. In our forthcoming series, Show and Tell, my co-authors and I have included chants to support good behavior, so you can build these into your classroom routine and use them as a fun reminder. For example, when a child drops something (or looks as though he/she is about to!):

Little hands be careful,
Pick it up and hold it tight.
Little hands be careful,
And it will be alright.

You can also use songs as a reward. Leave time at the end of the lesson, pick a child whose work or behavior has been especially good, and ask them to choose their favorite English song for the class to sing.

These are just a few ways that songs and actions can be used to promote teamwork and help with classroom management. If you have any feedback or ideas of your own to share, please post!

Would you like more practical tips on classroom management and how to develop communication, collaboration and other 21st century skills with your kindergarten children?
Visit our site on
Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.

Sign up for the webinar on Making the most of kindergarten classroom management on 18 December.


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Look who’s talking! Getting very young learners to speak in English

Children in playgroundGabby Pritchard, co-author of the forthcoming Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for encouraging your Kindergarten children to communicate in English.

From the moment toddlers begin to discover the exciting world around them, they begin to acquire the language they need to express their curiosity and be understood by others. They very quickly learn to use simple questions to find answers. What? Where? When? How? and Why? become favorite words as they explore how their world works.

So, how can we create a classroom environment that encourages young children to continue their exploration of the world through a new language? Here are some ideas.

1. Begin with questions

Use posters, photographs, toys and real objects to stimulate children’s curiosity about a new topic. Let them feel the objects. Ask plenty of questions: What can you see? What’s this? What color is the…? How many…? Where is…?

Use the same questions every time you introduce a new topic so the children become familiar with them. As they gain confidence, encourage the children to ask some questions of their own too.

2. Cooperative learning

Organize children into small groups to carry out simple investigations and experiments, play language games, act out stories and complete craft activities.

By working cooperatively, your children will find they need to talk about how to complete tasks, assign roles and solve problems. They will also develop their social skills, such as learning to share and turn taking.

Always encourage children to use polite language when working alongside each other. Phrases such as: Let’s play with the… Please pass the… and You’re welcome are very useful phrases. They will help children develop respect for others and form positive relationships. Try teacher trainer Freia Layfield’s idea for a role-play activity that teaches children valuable life skills while getting them to talk in English.

3. Get more from stories

Young children love to immerse themselves in the world of make-believe. Using stories in class provides a great basis for getting children to talk about motivation, consequences and feelings.

Read aloud, or play audio recordings of, short, simple stories. Then ask questions to get the children to think carefully about the characters and events. The questions should encourage a deeper understanding of how and why things have happened.

You can begin by asking simple questions, for example, Is the giant happy? Are the bears angry? Then move on to more probing questions: Why is Jack scared? Why are the bears angry?

When the children have explored a story, encourage them to work in groups to act out the story using props. You may be surprised by how much more enthusiastic the children are, and how much more they put into their acted versions of the stories, once they have explored the meaning thoroughly.

4. Show and Tell

A great way of rounding up a topic and reinforcing what children have learned is to set up group or class projects. These can include:

  • topic-related craft activities
  • hands-on tasks such as growing plants or preparing snacks
  • recording activities such as making graphs of class preferences or talents
  • bringing to class a favorite toy or book to talk about.

Start ‘Show and Tell’ sessions by talking with the children about what they are going to produce, getting them to contribute ideas about how they will do this and the sorts of equipment they will need to complete the project. Get the children to work together to produce different parts of projects where possible. If they need to work individually on a project, prepare sets of materials for groups to share, to encourage them to observe others and discuss ways of working in order to produce the best results.

Finally, have the children present their work to the class, to other classes, or even to their parents. This will help build confidence in their ability to express themselves and give them a real sense of achievement.

For a simple way to introduce the idea of Show and Tell to your kindergarten class, visit the page on ‘Teaching 21st century skills with confidence’ for another video tip from Freia Layfield. It comes with a free worksheet that you can download from the Oxford Teachers’ Club (it’s quick and free to register).

We’d like to hear from you

Please do share your experiences of getting children talking in class – we would love to hear about them. You can use the comments box below this blog.

Would you like more practical tips on developing communication and other 21st century skills with 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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Five Easy Ways in Which You Can Encourage Young Children to Think Critically

Child thinkingKate Read, co-author of the forthcoming kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for getting your kindergarten children to think critically.

Too young for critical thinking?

When people refer to critical thinking, it’s often in association with older Primary and Secondary children who have mastered basic literacy and numeracy skills. Critical thinking is sometimes seen as a higher-level skill that can only be used after the children have mastered the basics of the language through traditional methods. But is this really true?

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is defined in a number of ways but in essence it means the ability to analyze information, make decisions based on information and insight, and find creative solutions to different problems and questions. These skills, once learned, can be used throughout a lifetime and are becoming increasingly important in today’s world.

Turning received wisdom on its head

When we set out to write Show and Tell, our forthcoming kindergarten course for Oxford University Press, my co-authors and I decided that we would see how we could take basic critical thinking skills and apply them to a kindergarten context. The more we wrote, the more we became convinced that not only was it possible to do this but it was vital to do this in order to prepare young children for the years ahead. We realized that you’re never too young to start thinking critically.

We see an approach that places critical thinking at the center as a way of creating a partnership in the learning process with the child. An approach in which learning isn’t just about memorizing isolated words but is about exploring concepts through the medium of language. We also see it as harnessing what is already there: the young child is abounding in curiosity about the world and that curiosity is the most important learning tool you could possibly have.

Five easy ways in which you can encourage young children to think critically

1. Questions, questions, questions!

Encourage a child’s natural inclination to ask questions. Focus on why questions more than any other. Treat children’s questions seriously and enthusiastically and engage with them. Encourage other children to engage with the questions as well.

2. Allow children to discover

When presenting a child with a series of facts, the relevance can often be lost. However, if you guide children with ways of finding things out, they will understand and consolidate the understanding more easily. For example, if you are looking at shapes, don’t tell a child that a triangle has three sides and a square has four. Let them count, draw conclusions and verbalize their answers. In that way, it becomes more meaningful and memorable. From a young age, discovery can happen through observation, trial and error, and even simple experiments.

3. Wrong can be right

In order to be comfortable with critical thinking, children need to be in an environment where they feel confident and comfortable taking chances and getting things wrong. Try not to criticize a wrong answer but use it as an opportunity to further explore. We can often learn more from wrong answers than right ones!

4. Respecting and encouraging opinions

Children should be encouraged to form and express opinions on even simple things. Forming opinions means that they have processed the information, activated it and formed a judgment on it. Once expressed, their opinions should be treated as important. See if they can develop new ideas from that point onwards.

5. The seriousness of fun and games

Game playing can be a great way of critically assessing the ideas and attitudes of others while deducing ways of solving simple ‘problems’ that effective or good games present. They also give children those vital skills of reacting to the unexpected when dealing with other people and their ideas.

These are just a few ideas but I’m sure that the experienced kindergarten teachers out there could add and add to this. Use the comments section below to let us know what you come up with!

Would you like more practical tips on developing critical thinking, and other 21st century skills, in your kindergarten children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and photocopiable downloadables.


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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!