game

We are under the tables!

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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!

 

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How’s the weather? CLIL in action

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Dear readers:  For a change of pace, I’m not going to invent the wheel, but will simply share a good idea that’s been used in many classrooms all around the world.

I remember the first time I made my very own cardboard thermometer back in kindergarten.  I was only four at the time, but was fascinated by the fact that I could “make” the weather as warm or as cold as I wanted, simply by moving the yarn up and down.  In the rich world of make-believe, I would shiver as the “temperature” dropped to freezing, and fan myself off as the red yarn slowly crept up to the higher numbers.

Years later, I played the same game after making these with the children I taught.  The children loved combining counting with crafts.  They learned concepts such as “hotter” and “colder”.  They practiced sentences such as “It’s four degrees, that’s cold”, or “Ten degrees is hotter than four degrees.”  The more advanced learners moved on to temperatures below freezing, practicing basic addition and subtraction with positive and negative numbers.

Here’s a short explanation of how to make the thermometer:

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Materials needed: a rectangular piece of cardboard, markers or pens, a ruler, scissors, and red and white yarn.

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Use a ruler to draw a line on the cardboard.  Then, mark off spaces and write the numbers in order.  Here, I used red pen for the negative numbers.  (this cardboard has glue tears on it, but most children won’t mind that)

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Cut two bits of yarn – one red and one white – slightly longer in length than the thermometer.

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Poke a hole at the bottom and the top of the number line.  Tie the yarn together at one end, and poke the free ends through the holes.  Tie together on the back of the thermometer.

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Here’s a variant of the cardboard thermometer I found on the internet.  A bit more complicated cutting work, but the concept of colors to indicate freezing, cool, warm, and hot is nice.

Another variant is to print a pre-made number line up to 100 and stick this on the thermometer.  This way, children can practice their numbers up to 100.  For those who like a real challenge, a blank number line is handy.  Handy search terms for pre-made number lines are “number line to ….”, “number line to 100 by 10s”, or “blank number line”.

This is a nice way to introduce various concepts in the ESL classroom:

  • numbers 1 – 10, or -10 through 10
  • simple measurement practice
  • connect to math with simple addition and subtraction
  • connect to weather words such as freezing, cool, warm, and hot
  • connection to self: how do we dress when it’s freezing, or when it’s warm?
  • a dash of drama: what do we do when it’s freezing, or when it’s warm?
  • simple use of comparatives with cooler and warmer
  • presentational speaking: the weather forecast

In other words, cardboard thermometers are a simple but effective way of getting children to talk during the ESL lesson.  Children can easily make these on their own, and help their classmates when needed.  They can personalize these by decorating (for instance, a sun or a snowflake), and use them in acting out their own weather reports.  Most importantly, children have fun during the ESL lesson.

Flow charts: visualizing the 20 questions game

4c3cb8e281f009140a83546b1bdd72b9“Does it have legs?” a child asked.  The child in front of the class answered quickly, “yes, it does.”

“Can it fly?” another asked.  “No, it can’t,” was the answer.

It took a little while and a number of yes/no questions, but soon the class knew the animal’s secret identity: a giraffe.

This guessing game is a favorite among many ESL teachers, including myself.  The question I found myself asking was how to make it more challenging for the older learners.  Also, how could I change the format of this game so that every learner could participate, even the shy ones?

 

It took a little searching, but I soon had a viable answer: flow charts.  In essence, a flow chart works just like the verbal version of the guessing game, but visualizes the process of elimination involved.

There are different ways a flow chart can be used in the lesson.

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A sample visual flow chart for younger learners.

For younger learners, one can make up a poster-sized chart with pictograms on the question blocks and pictures of the vocabulary being sorted out.

For middle learners, one can make a flow chart with simple questions.

The older learners can make up their own flow charts to try out on classmates.

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The same flow chart, but now with questions written out.

Flow charts allow children to visually sort information along the lines of simple questions.  The example provided here is about a few animals, but with a bit of creativity, one can help children make their own flow charts about any number of topics one teaches about, for instance modes of transportation, clothing, food, weather, hobbies, and jobs.  By having children sort the information in this fashion, they are also activating their logical-mathematical intelligence, broadening their learning.

Flow charts can also be used to assess a learner’s understanding of the concepts taught.  Can he or she ask questions effectively to find out what the secret word is?  Can he or she formulate the questions correctly?  Can he or she create a flow chart that includes all of the concepts learned during the last few lessons?  These are just a few possibilities that come to mind when connecting flow charts to assessment of our learners.

The examples provided here are, of course, rather straightforward and very simple.  I suppose children in high school or adult ESL learners could make more intricate examples, for example to describe their day or how they prepare a meal.  I wonder if others use flow charts in their ESL classrooms?  If so, how?  I’d like to hear your ideas.

 

 

 

BINGO! …activating those speakers

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“B-6, O-68, G-55…”  How many of us have ever played this form of Bingo in the ESL class?  It is an excellent and well-known way to review the numbers we’ve learned.  Some of us have already discovered the joys of downloadable bingo cards covering clock-reading, animals, fruits, and a whole host of other topics.  Often, when this game is played, the teacher names the word, the children scan their card for the corresponding picture or number, and they cross it off.  When they get a row (or column, or diagonal), they win the game.

This is a fine way of reviewing passive knowledge of a given set of vocabulary.  Children enjoy playing, and quite frankly, we teachers enjoy the occasional break from the drudgery of textbook lessons, so there is much to be said in favor of bingo games in the classroom.  What I’d like to talk about here, therefore, is how to build this game into a more flexible form, with less work for the teacher and more space for the children to actively practice using the language.

When my student teachers use this game in their lessons, they oftentimes will have spent hours and hours creating a dozen different bingo cards, only to spend a half an hour playing the game with their class.  As any experienced teacher can attest, this is a heavily imbalanced use of precious time.  The question is, how to spend less time to achieve the same result.  There are different possibilities.

One way to solve that problem is to find ready-made bingo cards.  There are various sites on the internet that provide these, either for sale or free of charge.  If this is what you want, a simple tip is to use the search terms “free download ‘bingo cards’ + topic”.   The only thing you need to look out for, however, is whether or not the words on the bingo cards actually match the words you’re teaching.  This is not always the case.  However, what these ready-made boards lack in vocabulary matching, they make up for in time savings.

Another way to solve this problem is to have the children make their own cards.  This way, you can make sure that the words on the bingo boards match what you’ve been teaching.  I’ve done this in different ways, depending on the children I was working with.  With the very young children, for instance, I made handouts with simple pictures of the words we were learning.  They had to choose a set number of those pictures (usually 6 or 9), cut them out, and then stick them to an empty bingo board.  I usually had two of them choosing from the same handout in order to save on paper and also to insure that everyone had different bingo boards.

Another solution I’ve successfully used was to create a simple bingo board using line-drawn pictures (tip: google search tools: type ==> line drawing).  Then, the children used one of a given four colors to color each picture.  Each picture could only have one color.  Then I’d call – for example – “yellow mouse” or “green snake”.  If a child had colored his mouse yellow, then he could mark that picture.  If his mouse was orange, however, then he couldn’t mark it.

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Older children, can recall what words they’ve been learning, and write them on the board.  When they’ve listed what they know, I added a few words of my own as challenge words.  Then, they wrote a number of words on their own papers as a rudimentary bingo board.  I let them write them in a row, since they only won when they’d got all the words on their board.

Having the children make their own boards is a bit of a time investment, especially the first time around while they figure out what to do.  Practice does make perfect, however, and soon enough they learn to create their own bingo boards quickly.

One way of making the bingo game more active is to get the children to call out the words.  It is perfectly okay to have the children take turns pulling the words out of a hat and naming them.  We can take it a step further, and make the game more challenging by having the children spell out the words, or put the word in a correct sentence, or even describe the word without naming it.  All of these are ways to make the game easier or harder, depending on what your children can handle.  When the children are taking turns calling out the words, we teachers can lean back and enjoy the process, making sure everyone is joining in, understanding the game, and that everything is going smoothly.

In this way, the children become the active owners of the game.  In requiring them to create their own material, and their own descriptions of the concepts involved, we empower the children.  We free ourselves up from a lot of work and get to step back from the role of ‘source of all knowledge.’  And – last but not least – we get to have more fun, which is a very good thing indeed.

Poetry jam

 

“Birdie, birdie in the sky, why’d you do that in my eye?

Looks like sugar, tastes like sap,

Oh my gosh it’s BIRDIE CRAP!”

Not all of the children dare read this one aloud; usually it’s the most rambunctious of the group who choose this one.  The rest listen and laugh loudly as the readers pretend to wipe the bird poo out of their eyes.  It’s time for the yearly poetry slam, and children have practiced reading their various poems in small groups.  Now, the groups take turns performing their poem, in the hopes of reaping heaps of applause and cheers from their classmates.

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Normally, a poetry slam is done by poets sharing their own original work.  A jury decides which of the poets wins, based on a scale of 1 – 10.  In my ESL lessons, however, writing original works was a bit difficult for the children.  Instead, I found simple, funny poetry that they could use.  Using search terms like “funny poems for kids” and “ESL poems”, I found sites like Ken Nesbitt’s, where poetry of all sorts of child-friendly topics is listed.  Another excellent source is Shel Silverstein’s books “At the End of the Sidewalk” and “A Light in the Attic”.

In selecting poetry for my children, I ask myself several questions:

  1. topic: is it interesting to the children?
  2. length: is it short enough for children to practice several times over?  Alternatively, if it’s too long, can I use just a portion of it?
  3. vocabulary: is it understandable for the children?  And, where applicable, is it related to the topic we are covering in class?
  4. made-up vocabulary: can the children figure out what it “means” and how it’s pronounced?

Why is a poetry slam so useful for the ESL learner?  I’ve addressed the natural rhythm in spoken English in an earlier blog.  Reading poetry with a clear rhythm and rhyme takes this speaking activity to a higher level, combining speaking with reading.  It makes it easier for children to practice speaking and reading fluently, while giving children the space to showcase their abilities in a low-threshold activity.  Allowing them to work and perform in small groups makes it even easier for them to perform in English in front of a group.

Here I’ve listed a couple of sites that might be helpful in looking for poems one can use in the ESL classroom:

Ken Nesbitt’s poetry for children: http://www.poetry4kids.com/poems

Shel Silverstein’s site: http://www.shelsilverstein.com/

Gareth Lancaster’s poetry for children: http://www.fizzyfunnyfuzzy.com/

Short poems for children: http://www.mywordwizard.com/short-poems-for-kids.html

I’m curious what other sites you might find.  Please share!

 

Hit and sink ’em: Battleship in the ESL classroom

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As a child, I remember playing Battleship time and again with my three younger brothers.  It was always the sport to figure out where they’d hide their boats, while trying to hide my own in “fresh,” new places each time.  And all that without cheating, not even once.  Well, maybe once… or even twice… but enough about me.  Time for talking about the very serious business of playing.

You can only imagine my surprise when I found a lovely variant of this game on www.mes-english.com, only a few years back.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this site before, but this game has turned into one of my absolute favorites.  Each time I introduce this game to my students, their disbelief makes way for fun, and then… time for the teacher hat.  How can they adapt this game for their own classes?  What other topics can they use for this game?  The ideas start rolling out as the students start matching up sets of words and phrases.

Here’s how my simplified version of the game works:

  1. think up two sets of words or phrases that are easily combined into a simple sentence, for instance color and clothes, time and activities, number and fruits.
  2. draw out two grids of rows and columns (one for the player, one for his counterpart).  The exact number of rows and columns doesn’t really matter, but it will affect how much time your pupils need for playing the game.  The more columns and rows, the more time you will need (but the more practice your pupils will get!).
  3. write words or phrases along each axis of the grid.  For instance, clothes along the tops of the columns, and colors at the front of each row.
  4. pupils put “secret smileys” on their grids.  Again, it doesn’t really matter how many smileys they draw, but the more smileys they draw, the longer the game may take.
  5. pupils take turns asking each other simple questions, for instance: Do you have a red shirt? If the opponent has a “secret smiley” on the space where red and shirt cross, then he says “Yes, I have.”  If not, then he says, “No, I haven’t.”
  6. The pupils keep playing until all of the “secret smileys” have been found.

Of course, there are loads of variations on this theme.  With the very young people, I use flaschards and laminated smileys.  When the child makes a combination, for instance, “2 dogs,” then I turn the matching card and we all applaud.  When the child makes another combination, for instance “3 cows,” I turn the card over and we all say “oh no, try again.” Children can take turns being the card-turner, so I have my hands free.

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Children can play in pairs (two against two), so that they can help each other create proper sentences.

The boards can have pictures instead of words.

There’s a lot more that can be done with this game, and now I’m curious what your experiences are with this game.  Feel free to let me know!

For your reference, the site that inspired this blog entry:  http://www.mes-english.com/games/bombsaway.php

Putting some hocus pocus into CLIL

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“Abracadabra, hocus pocus, you will all form a quiet line!”  I wave my wand, close my eyes, and count back from five to one.  Then, I cautiously peek with one eye, then both eyes open in wonder as I look at the giggliest quiet line I have seen all day.  The children realize, of course, that they are as much of the magic as the wand I waved, and we make our way down the hallway to their classroom in silence.

Magic is a very real part of young children’s reality.  How often have I used that magic wand in my own ESL lessons?  I cannot even count the ways.  At a certain point, however, the children realize that the magic isn’t as real as it used to be.  Santa Claus becomes a person in a costume, and the tooth fairy is really Mom or Dad.  Does that mean that magic should leave the classroom?

Not in my opinion.  At that moment, I change the aspect of magic from something they experience, to something they can do.  In this case, I combine magic with maths and English in a card trick any 6-year-old can do, and it’s called “What’s my magic number?”  Here’s how it works:

Easy version:

  1. Remove all Kings, Queens, and Jacks from the deck.  Now, only the numbers are left (Aces count for ones).
  2. Shuffle the deck.
  3. A helper takes a single card from the deck and keeps it to himself (secretly!).
  4. Lay out the cards, one at a time.  When you find two cards that make sums of ten, for instance, 9 and 1, or 8 and 2, cover these with new cards.
  5. When all of the cards have been laid out, pick up matching piles.  “Matching piles” are piles in which the top cards make sums of ten.
  6. The remaining pile will be the “match” for the secret card.  For instance, if the helper has a 4, then the last pile will be topped with a 6.  If no piles are left, then the missing card is a 10.

Harder version:

  1. Shuffle the deck.
  2. A helper takes a single card from the deck and keeps it to himself (secretly!).
  3. Lay out the cards, one at a time.  When you find two cards that make sums of ten, for instance, 9 and 1, or 8 and 2, cover these with new cards. A set of King/Queen/Jack counts as a complete set, so cover these a set at a time.
  4. When all of the cards have been laid out, pick up matching piles.  “Matching piles” are piles in which the top cards make sums of ten.
  5. The remaining pile will be the “match” for the secret card.  For instance, if the helper has a 4, then the last pile will be topped with a 6.  If no piles are left, then the missing card is a 10.  If two face cards are left, then the missing face card is the missing card.  For instance, if you have only a Jack and a Queen left over, then the missing card is a King.

Challenge version (for instance, magic number is 13):

 

  • Note:  A Jack counts for 11, a Queen for 12, and a King for 13. Numbers count for their own value.
  1. Shuffle the deck.
  2. A helper takes a single card from the deck and keeps it to himself (secretly!).
  3. Lay out the cards, one at a time.  When you find two cards that make sums of thirteen, for instance, Queen and 1, or Jack and 2, cover these with new cards. A King, being “thirteen”, can be covered whenever it shows up.
  4. When all of the cards have been laid out, pick up matching piles.  “Matching piles” are piles in which the top cards make sums of thirteen.
  5. The remaining pile will be the “match” for the secret card.  For instance, if the helper has a 4, then the last pile will be topped with a 9.  If no piles are left, then the missing card is a King.

There are other possibilities of course, which you can figure out by playing around with the cards on your own.  For instance a magic number of 14 is easy enough (King and 1, Queen and 2, etc.), but it’s also possible to make magic numbers of 11 and 12 while using the entire deck.

And there you have it: a simple yet effective means of automating sums up to 10, in English, mixed with a spoonful of fun, and…its-magic-small

With this trick, you get children to practice their sums in English, making this the ideal CLIL lesson for young children who don’t yet speak lots of English.

Here’s an instruction video for the Easy version.