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Ready to write? Tips on preparing Kindergarten children to write

School children writingMargaret Whitfield, co-author of the forthcoming Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips on preparing kindergarten children to write.

Have you ever thought about how complex writing is? It involves fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, control of the arm and shoulder, recognition of letter shapes, association of letter shapes and sounds, and so on. It’s a wonder anyone ever learns to write. The fact that children usually master it is proof of their amazing learning power. The early stages of learning to write involve developing concepts about writing as well as the basic skills that form the foundation of writing development.

Children begin to understand and to enjoy the idea of writing well before they are actually able to write. They see adults and older children writing and, as always, want to join in. Their experiences as they do so can influence both their progress and their later attitude to writing, so how can we ensure that they’re positive ones?

Encourage scribbling early mark-making

Make sure that opportunities for writing are widespread and varied, and that you praise all children’s efforts. When you refer to what children are doing as writing and ask about what they’ve written, you reinforce the idea that they’re doing the same thing as the ‘grown-ups’. You are valuing their effort. The marks may just be scribbles at this stage, but they’re a crucial stage on the path to recognizable writing.

Some everyday opportunities for writing:

  • writing labels for items in the classroom, e.g. toy food in a shop
  • writing a label on a picture they’ve painted or drawn
  • writing a message or a card for a family member

Be CREATIVE

Pencil control is a fundamental skill to master, but there are also many creative activities that will contribute to writing skills that don’t involve pencil and paper.

The following will all develop children’s motor skills, and parents may also like to do some of them at home:

  • Manual craftwork, e.g. manipulating small pieces of paper to make a collage picture
  • Making marks in sand with sticks or fingers
  • Covering a chalkboard with chalk and painting it with a wet paintbrush

In addition, using modelling clay helps to develop the muscles in the hand – get children squeezing, squashing, and rolling balls and sausage shapes.

Focus on letter SHAPES

For children to develop from early mark-making to recognizable letters, they need to recognize the letter shapes. (They also, of course, need to associate letters with sounds before they can use letters meaningfully, but that’s another topic.) Flashcards and posters with the letters are really useful for this, but they can be supplemented and combined with lots of other activities. For example:

  • Have children make the shapes with their bodies. Give two children a flashcard of letter ‘b’, for example, and ask them to work together to make the shape.
  • Match magnetic letters to flashcards.
  • Have children make the letters of their name with salt dough. They can decorate the letters when they’re baked.
  • Letter hunt: give a child a letter flashcard and ask them to find as many examples of that letter around the classroom or on a page of a storybook.
  • Use objects such as buttons or pipe cleaners to make the shape of a letter shown on the flashcard. Watch teacher trainer, Freia Layfield, show you how to make the most of this kind of activity in class and download a free photocopiable activity template.

Make writing part of role-play

Role-play is a key part of children’s play at this age, and it can provide great opportunities for meaningful writing activities. If you leave clipboards with pencils around the classroom in different play areas, children can be encouraged to build writing into their play.

Here are some ideas for combining role-play and writing:

  • Shopping: write a shopping list
  • Firefighters: write the address of the fire
  • Doctors: write a prescription for some medicine or some notes about the patient’s condition
  • Superheroes: write a secret message to another superhero and hide it for them to find
  • Traffic cops: write parking tickets for scooters left in the wrong place – or even speeding tickets!

And finally, be patient

Different children progress at different rates. A child may, for example, have less developed fine motor skills but a good understanding of sound–letter correspondence. Try not to ‘correct’ children’s writing too much and remember to praise their efforts; they will be encouraged to write more and so get the practice they need to progress.

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

Sign up for the free webinar on how to get kindergarten children writing on 22 January 2014.


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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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All for one and one for all? Fostering teamwork among your teaching staff

Group of teachers working togetherKaren Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, returns with another post for Coordinators and Directors of Study, sharing her tips for encouraging teamwork among teaching staff.

Teamwork must be at the core of any organisation’s corporate culture. Needless to say, it plays a crucial role in educational institutions, since it is teachers who represent their values and principles before students, in addition to building trust and respect.

In order for this relationship to be successful, we need to ensure teachers are acquainted with the philosophy behind our school, as well as any news or decisions that have been taken and may affect either them or their students. It is essential to bear in mind that even if students know us as coordinators and resort to us sometimes, this happens only in certain circumstances. Otherwise, it is their teacher who acts as the main source of confidence and information, and who consequently needs to be well-informed at all times.

It goes without saying that teaching can be lonely at times. We are always surrounded by students but the actual work is done solo: planning, doing research, creating materials, evaluating our performance after a lesson and even the delivery of the lesson itself. It is therefore the coordinator’s responsibility to make sure all teachers receive the necessary support and guidance so as to feel part of a team and supported.

Below you will find some tips which may help you achieve this not-so-easy task:

  1. Set common objectives and make sure everybody is fully aware of what these are and what they entail for each member of the team. It is vital for you to believe in these goals in order for the rest of your staff to believe in them as well.
  2. Roles need to be clear for everyone to do their job right, so let people know what their responsibilities are and how they fit into the organisation. This will help avoid misunderstandings, tasks which do not get done and overlapping of roles.
  3. Show your team a confident attitude. You need to show staff that if you pool your efforts, you will be able to achieve your goals.
  4. Share your knowledge and expertise when appropriate, especially with new or less experienced teachers who may need more guidance. Remember to always be careful that your suggestions are expressed in a non-patronising way. Staff should be encouraged to pop in whenever they feel they would benefit from some support.
  5. Leave your office doors open for teachers to share any concerns and/or suggestions they may have. Remember they are the ones in direct contact with students and therefore have access to first-hand information, which may prove of paramount importance to making the right decisions regarding courses, coursebooks, methodology used, etc.; all key elements to successful coodination. Being fully informed and keeping a close relationship with your staff paves the way to proactivity and, as a result, success.
  6. Be accessible and dependable. Leaving the door open should be an attitude rather than just an action. You ought to be a good listener and really pay attention to teachers’ ideas, suggestions or preoccupations. Follow-up on the different issues that may arise and make sure you answer their queries and provide them with the information they require. Adopt a democratic leadership style, asking for their feedback on any decisions taken and letting them have a say – even if the final decision will always be yours. Praise contributions and ideas and listen to constructive criticism. It takes courage to let the coordinator know you don’t agree with something, so value this as proof of motivation and a desire to work towards common goals.
  7. Communicate with staff on a regular basis, be it by email or face-to-face, before or after lessons, or at formal meetings. Make sure communication is two-way and that the necessary channels exist for staff to not only receive information but also share it, both with you and with other teachers. This can be done, for example, by having Google Drive groups where you can share links and materials found online or created by the members of the group. You can also organise events where teachers can share and present their ideas and materials to one another. Although this could be seen as time-consuming and difficult to organise, it has proven to be extremely useful for my teachers, due to the fact that it provides them with the chance to see ‘materials in action’ and get acquainted with their rationale.

What do you do to promote teamwork within your institution?