Thursday, 11 June 2009

Useful techniques for young learner classes

1. Could they do the task in their first language?

When teaching English to young learners remember…
That they are still cognitively and socially growing in their first language let alone in an additional language. This has implications for what we teach in our English lessons. One of the most important questions to ask ourselves as language teachers to young learners is, ‘Would they be able to do this in their first language?’ In other words you need to check if:

A. The target language in the activities is suitable for the age, language level and interests of your learners. As an illustration, you wouldn’t teach ‘How do you do?’ to young learners because they would not use a form analogous to this at their age in their first language, so it would be unnatural to introduce it in the target language.

B. The concepts you are introducing are suitable for the age or ability level of the learner. As an illustration, it would not be pedagogically wise to teach the English ‘quarter past’ and ‘quarter to’ to learners who had not been introduced to these concepts in their first language because we would be trying to teach them two different things, the language and the new concept, and this would make their language learning extremely difficult.
(Annie Hughes runs the distance MA in Teaching English to Young Learners at the University of York.)

2. Food – make it multi-sensory fun

The more senses involved during the introduction of new words, the better young learners remember them – food items are ideal in this respect. Here are some ideas for teaching food words.

A. Use flashcards/realia to elicit the words your students already know; for example bring various fruit and vegetables to the classroom in a shopping bag and ask students to guess what you’ve got in it.

B. Blindfold your students or ask them to close their eyes and guess what fruit or vegetable you’ve got in your hand by touching it.

C. Ask students to taste various fruit or vegetables with their eyes closed and guess what they are.

D. Give students samples of various food items and ask them to rate the taste on a scale of 1–10.

E. Ask students to work in pairs describing various fruit or vegetables to each other (colour, shape, taste) and guessing what they are.

F. Ask students to draw various fruit or vegetables and name them.

G. Give students a picture with hidden fruit to find; has hidden picture tasks that can be done online or downloaded and used as worksheets.
(Malgorzata Strona is programme manager in the young learner department of Bell International.)

3. Getting them to speak: photo jigsaws

Young learners love talking about themselves. Personal photos are an excellent way to encourage them to speak more. Take photos a step further and make jigsaws of them. You know best what will appeal to the children you teach.

Enlarge each photo by photocopying it onto A4 paper or card. Cut it into geometric shapes or draw/stick a jigsaw template onto the back. Divide the class into groups or pairs and give a a different puzzle to each group or pair. Let each group pick a piece of the puzzle and, using this piece, guess what the whole puzzle shows.
If they don’t see the other puzzles as they work, later they can play a guessing game. As each group finishes go around and let them tell you as much as they can about the photo. Then let different groups ask each other about their jigsaw guessing what’s in each one, what a person is wearing, when the photo was taken and so on.

You have to provide support for these questions and answers but it can be a very motivating and enjoyable way to extend listening and speaking.
(Mary Slattery is a writer and teacher trainer. Her publications include English for Primary Teachers (co-author Jane Willis) and Vocabulary Activities for Children.)

4. Talk to them in English from day one

Talk to your learners in English from the start. Children need to listen to lots of spoken language if they are to absorb and acquire English naturally. They are used to not understanding everything they hear, even in their mother tongue. Just make sure they are listening and they will gradually pick it up. Use English (with gestures, demonstrations and an occasional word of L1 to help them understand) to:

A. Give instructions: Get your colour pencils out. Have you all got your colour pencils? Okay, what we are going to do is…

B. Talk about what they are doing: That’s a lovely picture, Zoltan. Well done. I like the way you’ve drawn that tree.

C. Enlarge upon things on their textbook page: Who’s got a drum like this one? Same colour?

D. Talk about your family or your life as a child (children love hearing about their teachers). Bring in a family photo, draw a larger version on one side of the board as you talk about each person. That’s my little sister, Anna – she was often very naughty! Then draw your family tree, linking it to the people in the picture/photo. This allows you to tell them everything again, and recycle vocabulary naturally. Later they can bring a photo and you can ask them about theirs.
(Jane Willis, co-author of English For Primary Teachers, helped design the Aston University MSc/Diploma in Teaching English to Young Learners)

(source: ELTGazette)