Language development in a broad perspective: the kindergarten class


A sample floorplan of a kindergarten classroom

One of the challenges unique to kindergarten teachers is making good use of the various corners of their classrooms: a house corner, a maths corner, an arts and crafts table, a painting corner, a writing center, a math and science center, a reading corner – the list can be quite long!  Each corner offers opportunities to explore various aspects of development in a more or less informal fashion.  To the outsider, such classrooms may seem chaotic, as children move from place to place, solving puzzles, building castles, and painting pictures.  To the practiced eye, however, these children are learning as they play and work, selecting activities that suit their need and energy as they go along in a semi-orderly fashion.

Outfitted carefully, each of these corners offers opportunities to practice learning and using a foreign language.  For instance, the house corner affords children the space to practice simple dialogues previously practiced during a class lesson.  At the arts and crafts table, children can create attributes related to the picture book that was read during the language lesson.  These attributes can later be used on the story table, to re-create and re-tell that same story.

Here, I’d like to put forward an idea that I’ve used in the past, with great success.  It’s a way of combining language learning with fine motor development: the clay table.

clayAt the clay table, children play with the clay while talking about what their work.  This allows for a low-stress, informal environment where the teacher can introduce new vocabulary and help children practice putting those words into chunks or sentences.  Typical conversation includes talking about what they are doing: rolling the clay, smashing it flat, making impressions with stamps and objects, for instance.  When they are modelling animals, for instance, they can talk about the animal: what animal is it, how do you know that?  Where are the legs?  the ears?  the claws?  This kind of conversation happens in a spontaneous, relaxed fashion.  There is no agenda of pre-determined vocabulary that must be learned and practiced.  Instead, topics pop up as the child works, and the teacher joins in, stimulating discussion and introducing new words as needed.

I often kept a pile of laminated flashcards on the clay table, with the instruction for children to make one of the items depicted.  When they finished, they could show it off and tell me about what they’d made.  A picture of their accomplishment was made for their portfolio, as a reminder of their spoken sentence and a celebration of their creation.

Another thing you can do with clay in the lesson, is use it in a game of “clay-tionary” – a 3-dimensional adaptation of Pictionary.  Make teams, if you like, or let children just take turns making things (animals, food, feelings, depending on the theme at the moment) for the other classmates to guess.  When the creation is correctly guessed, a group “hurray!”  is a wonderful celebration before moving on to the next creation.

child-making-a-clay-figureHere is a recipe for homemade play-dough:


  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
  • 2 Tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2 cups water
  • Food coloring

Mix all dry indredients in a large saucepan.  Add the water, food coloring, and oil.  Mix well over medium heat for five minutes, stirring contantly until the dough becomes thick.

Take it out of the pan let it cool.  Knead it well, until the texture becomes smooth.  Keep in an airtight container, and it will last for months.

Wonderful for making shapes or pounding, pulling, rolling, or molding!  Nice to the touch.

Whatever you do in your lessons, remember the most important element: fun!  And happy teaching.


We are under the tables!


Thinking back to past lessons, there is one moment I will never forget.  One morning, the school principal showed up at my door, together with about ten prospective parents.  I sat in the quiet classroom, alone in my circle of chairs.

“Miss Amy, what are you doing?” she asked.

“Teaching English,” I answered.  A few muffled giggles escaped from unseen corners.

In answer to her puzzled expression, I asked, “Boys and girls, are you under the tables?”

The giggles erupted into joyous shouts, “We are under the tables!”

“Are you ready, boys and girls?” I asked.  Silence ensued.  “Then quietly sit on your chairs.”

“Sit on the chairs!  Sit on the chairs!” the children whispered as they made their way back into the circle.  I counted back from five, and soon everyone was seated.  The parents, nodding their approval, continued their tour, and we carried on with our lesson: under the chairs, on the floor, behind the chairs, on the tables, no space was safe for these adventurous children led by their only slightly mischevious teacher.

One of the most important things we as teachers can do, is to have fun while teaching our children.  As I often tell my student teachers, if we have fun, they will have fun, and if they have fun, they will learn more than we could hope for.  When children play, they develop in so many ways: socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively.  They are exploring and experimenting, noting the responses they get, re-fitting their thinking before sallying out again, to try new things or repeat their sucesses.  We teachers need to remember this, and make use of this in our own teaching, but how?

Total Physical Response (TPR) lends itself really well for play.  There are, of course,  different views on what TPR is, and how it can be used.  But at the base of it all, anytime one combines language with movement in order to learn a language, one is using TPR.  In the story above, I was combining a game of hide-and-seek with commands combining prepositions and classroom furniture.  The children were free to repeat what I said, and those who spoke up in Dutch were occasionally corrected by their peers, leaving me with the happy task of keeping a semblance of order in between commands.

A happy classroom is a learning classroom.  Happy teaching!