October comes and brings with it not only initial flowers bloom in Brazil…. but it also brings children’s day. For us, teachers of kids and young learners or even affectionate parents, it’s such a happy and hopeful day! We love to celebrate it with smiles coming from the faces of our beloved kids.
When we think about teaching English to children and young learners there are so many methodologies and teaching contexts involved. There are great teachers explaining about CLIL, Bilingualism, Language Immersion, Second Language Learning etc. For over two decades Prabhu has stated that “the notion of good and bad methods is itself misguided” (PRAIBHU: 1990, 161). He has also established that “there are important variations in the teaching context that influence what is best” (PRABHU: 1990, 162). This leads us to personalization: it’s a way of dealing with our contexts of teaching, finding solutions.
In the same way there is no best method or best context, there is no best learner type: teachers have each day become more familiar with different kinds of children, with different backgrounds and different learning styles. Even though there are kids that have received medical diagnosis, this does not matter to us, teachers: we don’t seek for problems… but we seek for understanding our children aiming to provide them with the best. I am very much used to saying that every child is welcome to my class. I have been teaching kids for over 17 years and I am so grateful for the learning moments they have provided me: each child has abilities, emotions and we can collaborate with them and receive their love, their learning and their development in return. What we, teachers, are also aware of is that the way we design our classes can contribute to the development of each student who participates in our class… the key element is to promote their active participation in class.
When I mention the word “development”, I mean that “higher mental functions derive from social interaction, from social and historical practices” (VYGOTSKY: 2007). Again, agreeing with Vygotsky, I must also state that “cognition emerges not only from biological functioning, but also from the integration of biological and social practices” (VYGOTSKY: 2007).
Thus, we have to respect and believe our children are capable before we start talking about methodologies, contexts or activities. I am very much proud of my students’ development, since we teach not only to help them learn a language, but we teach for them to develop for life!
The context we teach is very important as well as the goals we have while we teach. For example, we all want our children to speak. This is why contextualized practice with the aim of elaborating sentences is part of my everyday routine as a teacher: I love to create strategies that can be helpful for my students to make sentences in English. And you, teachers? What practical strategies can you use to get your students speaking and elaborating sentences? What makes your children and young learners feel they are capable and enjoy learning?
I would like to give one very simple example of game that I use in order to have my young learners speaking! It’s a very humble strategy, but it is useful to get students engaged and being active in their learning processes. Not only we can use memory games to focus on the topics, vocabulary or grammar function we have to teach our students, but we can also use them to present new vocabulary or new topic. Thus, it must always be related to the syllabus or learning abilities we follow, according to the school curriculum we work for.
Activity type: Memory Game
Age: 9 years old
Teaching Context: Introduce vocabulary related to landforms and water forms to 4th graders. In order to introduce this vocabulary in an active way, we can let students play memory game. There are 2 sets of cards: one of them, the names of the landforms and water forms. The other set: sentences that follow the model “A_____________ is a landforms/ water form”. This is a way that goes against the idea of having a teacher presenting content to the class. Instead, it’s the moment we can give kids the opportunity of learning and elaborating sentences at the same time.
Preparation: Teacher prepares vocabulary to be taught and their corresponding images. This can be displayed in 2 column layout. To be cut out – maybe students can help teacher have it cut.
Class organization: In pairs, trios or groups (so that everybody in the class can participate).
Objective of the Activity: Introduce vocabulary by giving students the opportunity of discovering it. It’s a student-centered way that gives students a chance of guessing vocabulary and elaborating sentences at the same time. They also have the chance of interacting with their peers.
Instructions for students: The best instruction for kids is modelling. The teacher can call a student to be his/ her peer. The teacher and the chosen students will model to the class by playing the memory game. The key rule is: students have to make a sentence in English! The students will discover new vocabulary, classify it and a follow up activity could be give more examples of landforms and water forms.
It’s important to mention that this game is just a suggestion that must be used in order to have students elaborating sentences for specific purposes in our planning. In this sense, we must always ask ourselves “what do we want our students to be capable of doing throughout our learning processes?” Other relevant questions are “How can we promote that? How can we make that possible?”
Contextualized and personalized practice play a very important role, since it’s not a language rich environment that will guarantee that students learn: practice is necessary!
And you, teachers? What are the strategies that you use to get your students speaking and being active and motivated in their learning? I would love to hear from you!
And let’s not forget: Happy children’s day!
VYGOTSKY, Lev Semenovich. A Formação Social da Mente. Editora Martins Fontes. 2007.
PRABHU, N. S. There is no best method – why? Tesol Quarterly. Vol. 24, nº 2, 1990.