puppets

Story-based learning in the ESL classroom: the underrated treasure trove

 (Note to reader:  this blog post is a follow-up on the one I wrote previously, entitled “An alternative to textbooks“.  The previous blog gives general background ideas, while this one dives deeper into the concrete way I dealt with “Elmer in the Snow” with my ESL class)

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Whenever I reached into my big blue bag during the English lesson, the question flashing through the children’s minds was always about what was going to come back out?  A puppet?  Some flashcards?  Some song cards?  Or… maybe… a new story?

A new story marked the beginning of a new adventure for the class.  Where would we be going this time?  Would we follow the very hungry caterpillar into its cocoon, or help the very busy spider make her web?

Once, we learned about Elmer and his friends as they traveled up the mountain, into the snow, and the fun they had there.  After the story, the fun began.  We built a paper-maché mountain on the tabletop, adding jungle trees, flowers, and animals.  We built rivers and bridges, so our toy cars could enter Elmer’s world.  Pine trees, snow, snowballs and icey ponds joined the landscape, and the children made their own finger-puppet elephants so they could re-enact the story.  Some, of course, just enjoyed the feeling of the gooey wallpaper paste we used to build the mountain, spending much of the lesson making circles in the paste with their hands flat on the table.

The entire time, the children were naming things, and talking about our construction.  What did we have to build, why, where would it go?  How would we reconstruct Elmer’s world on our tabletop?  Who could tell the story, while the others joined in?  Would the elephants hide in the cave we’d just built?  Would they slide down the mountainside?  What a rich, unexpected way to build their vocabulary and their language experience!

Of course, we took a few liberties with the original story while constructing our own, but that was half the fun for the children in my class.  They practiced saying things like “We go up the mountain,” or “We go down the mountain,” or “Where are you hiding?”  The more advanced children made up short stories while the others played along with their puppets.  After a month, however, the mountain and its jungle had grown quite tired after so much use.  It was time to tear it down, and start with a new story.

It is my experience that children learn many things from a good story.  Stories have so much to offer in ESL/EFL programs, and yet there has yet to be a single ESL/EFL textbook published in which the teacher is encouraged to get a book and read it aloud to the class.  Never have I found a course that requires teachers to step out of the textbook and into children’s literature, and that, in my opinion, is a challenge that needs to be picked up on by publishers of ESL/EFL materials.

There are so many reasons to use children’s literature in the ESL classroom.  Children’s literature is motivational, offers authentic language, fosters academic development, and offers a window through which children can view other cultures.  There is an excellent article written on this very topic, to be found here.  It’s concisely written and highly informational, so it’s well-worth the detour to read.

Besides re-enacting the story with puppets and scenery, there are other things one can do with children’s stories.  Here, I’ll try connecting stories to activities that activate the various intelligences:  (of course, this list is only a start, and I’m sure you’ll have more ideas of your own!)

  • Visual-spatial:  Draw pictures that match the story, make up your own pictures and re-create the scenery in the building corner
  • Logicalmathematical: ordering story cards
  • Musical: are there any songs you can think of, related to the topic?  Do you hear any rhyme or repetition in the story?
  • Natural: where does the story take place?  What kind of environment do you notice?  Is the environment like our own, or is it different?
  • Interpersonal:  Interview each other about the story, or  make up a new ending.
  • Intrapersonal:  What if you were one of the characters?  Which one would you be, and why?   How would you feel?  What would you do?
  • Verballinguistic: What rhymes do you hear in the story?  What new words can you find?  What language patterns do you hear?
  • Bodilykinesthetic:  re-enacting the story with puppets or with a role play

Of course, it’s important to choose children’s books wisely.  What are the kinds of things I kept in mind when choosing books?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Topic: does the topic match what you are trying to teach the children?  For instance, when teaching about clothing, The Very Hungry Caterpillar might not be such a good choice, while Aliens Love Underpants would fit better.  If you google the title of your book and “lesson activities”, you’ll find all sorts of interesting ideas.  Example:  aliens love underpants + lesson activities will get you here.
  • Topic (continued): of course, it’s always a good idea to make sure the story isn’t “babyish” for the older learners.
  • Level of language: for beginner learners, a simple story with lots of repetition is really useful.  I’ve also taken really easy books for older learners, and after I tell them their task, they’re quite gung-ho about listening to the story, so they can make an even better version on their own to read aloud to the little kids in their school.
  • Pictures: these have to be visually appealing, clear, and explain what the story is about.

There are other things to look at as well, but this is a good place to start.  I’m curious, what children’s books do you know about, that you might use in your own classroom?

for further reading:  “Four good reasons to use literature in primary school ELT” article: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.476.2159&rep=rep1&type=pdf

 

 

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An alternative to the textbook

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I’m an addict.  I cannot help it, and I’m not sorry about it either.  I can never just walk past a children’s book store.  I always have to go in.  And I never leave empty-handed.  There are just too many good books in the world, and I just have to share these with “my kids”.

For years, I taught English to preschoolers and kindergarteners, using children’s books as a basis for the unit.  Were we learning about food?  We’d read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Were we learning about colors?  We’d read What Color are Your Underpants.  Were we learning about the weather?  Maisy’s Weather Book was an all-time favorite.  I’d read the book out loud, once, twice, and by the third time, the children were reading the story aloud with me.  They knew every page, every detail of that story by heart.

But just reading the story was never enough.  We needed to take that story and make it our own.  We’d re-write the book, adding our own fruits and foods to a revised version of the The Very Hungry Caterpillar.   We’d use a picture-book version of Curious George and re-build the story in the building corner, so the children could tell and re-tell the tales of the adventures of a “good little monkey, who was always very curious”.  I found that by broadening the children’s experience with the story, their vocabulary development was enriched in ways that I could hardly have realized otherwise.

Just reading a story aloud is never enough, in my view.  The child’s experience with a story needs to be broadened, deepened, adapted, so that the child learns to own the tale, and make it his own.

In my lesson planning, I would always think of ways to expand the child experience with the story.  I always found that brainstorming along the lines of multiple intelligence was a great way to do this, and so I’ll place a few ideas here, as an inspiration to other ESL teachers looking for ways to broaden their children’s experience with children’s literature.  Mind you, this is just a start.  There are so many more things one can do with a good children’s book.

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  • mathematical-logical: make picture story cards for the children to put in order as the story is read aloud.
  • verbal-linguistic: use picture story cards for the children to look at and predict what the story will be about.  What do the children think will happen?  Can they tell a story (before you’ve read it aloud?)
  • visual-spatial: children re-create the environment of the story, either with drawings,  with paper-mache, with blocks, or with puppets.
  • bodily-kinesthetic:  re-enact the story in the building corner, with puppets, or in the classroom.
  • natural:  what environment do you notice in the book?  Is it a jungle, or mountains, or something else?  Is the environment in the book the same or different from the environment you live it?  How so?
  • intrapersonal:  what if they were the main character of the story?  How would they feel?  What decisions did the main character make?  Would they have made the same decisions?  What would they have done differently?
  • interpersonal:  children re-create the story with each other, and change it to fit a new “plot twist” or interview each other as though they were characters in the story.
  • musical:  What songs do you know that match the theme of the story?

Children’s literature is an excellent way to expand children’s experience with the language to be learned.  When they are unable to read it on their own, the teacher can read the book aloud, exposing children to authentic language use in ways no one else can.  Once they start reading on their own, their vocabulary development will improve by leaps and bounds, as children find themselves confronted with words and contexts no textbook will ever be able to provide.

It’s a shame that textbook publishers make so little use of this fact.  Which textbook do we know of that actually says “now, go and read Maisy’s Weather Book to the class as an introduction to words about the weather”?  The answer to that is simple: not a single one.  So it’s up to us, the professionals, to spread the news.

Read to your children!  Children’s literature is an excellent way of developing vocabulary and grammar skills among young learners!

Which books do you like to read to your class

?  Please let me know!

 

What are you wearing today? … and the importance of speaking

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How many of us will recognize the following scene:

  • Teacher: (points to picture) Children, what is this?
  • (hands fly into the air)
  • Teacher: Okay, J, please answer the question.
  • J: (answers the question)
  • Teacher:  Very good.  (points to picture) Now children, what is this?
  • (again, hands fly into the air)
  • Teacher:  Okay, S, please answer the question.
  • S:  (answers the question)
  • and so on…

Just how much time do these children actually speak during this English lesson?  If every child gets one turn during the lesson, and each turn takes two to five seconds, the children get two to five seconds of speaking time during that lesson.  Now imagine this happens during each lesson, all year long.  How long is the school year?  In the Netherlands, it’s forty weeks long, so if I multiply five seconds by forty lessons, each child has had 200 seconds of speaking time, or 3,3 minutes.  If I’m generous, I can even double that to 7 minutes of speaking time throughout the entire year.

In order to learn how to speak a language, children need to practice actually speaking, often and regularly, in various environments.  They need a chance to practice in small groups or in pairs, so they may make mistakes and learn from them, without being embarassed.  They need to use the language themselves.  This is where co-operative learning structures come in handy.

I’ve already discussed a few simple co-operative learning strategies in my blog before, so regular readers will recognize my mantra of “get the children to do the speaking”.  But for new readers, co-operative learning strategies allow learners the following advantages:

  • They can practice in a smaller, safer environment
  • They get more practice
  • They get more feedback within that smaller, safer environment
  • All of the children are guaranteed speaking time during the exercise.

No doubt there are more points to be made, but that is enough for now.

******************** and now for the fun part **********************

A few days ago, I was cleaning out an old closet and came across an “oldie but goodie” among all of my old material.  I decided it was too good to throw away, so I’m sharing it now with you.

This activity is meant to help learners talk about clothing in a half-open exercise.  It works like this:

Step 1: the chidren get four drawings of people wearing different kinds of clothing.  They color in the clothing and faces of the people on the page.DSCF5457

Step 2:  The children cut out the four pictures along the heavy lines.DSCF5458

Step 3:  the children place the four drawings one above the other, and staple them into a book cover.  They carefully cut along the light, dashed lines to make a flip-flap book.

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Step 4:  the children can now begin short discussions about what they are wearing.  For instance, this person is wearing a red coat, orange shorts, and blue shoes.  Please note: all of the children will be speaking at the same time, so the classroom might get a bit noisy for a few minutes…

This is an example I made for talking about clothes, but one could also make a simple flip-flap book for numbers and fruit… (“What is in your fruit bowl?” “I have 2 bananas”)

  • What are you eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…
  • What will you do in the morning, afternoon, and evening…
  • What time are you going to (read a book / go shopping / play football)…
  • How is the weather on (Monday / Tuesday / Wednesday)…
  • How many animals are at the farm…

With a little imagination, one can create all sorts of flip-flap books based on what concepts are being taught at the time.  When creating flip-flap books of your own, make sure to have the sections lined up carefully, so that when the pages are cut apart the dialogues make sense.  The most important thing when making this, though, is that you have fun.

What other kinds of dialogues can be made up using flip-flap books, I wonder?

Here is a document with blank pages for flip-flap booklets.  You can adapt these for your own classroom if you like.

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There are three pages: one with two flip-flaps per page, one with three flip-flaps per page, and one with four flip-flaps per page.  Print the page you want to use, or copy-paste it into a new document for yourself, and insert the images you want to use for your lesson.

It’s important for you to decide who’s going to do the work: you or the children.  If, for instance, you want the children to create their own flip-flap booklets, then it’s important that they do the work.  You can pre-structure certain parts of the booklet yourself, or none of it at all, and let them do all of the work.

Or, you may decided that you really want them to practice specific vocabulary, in which case you will need to create the basis for the flip-flap booklet yourself before printing it.

Some suggestions for material you might use:

Images for things to do, daily tasks, modes of transportation, clothing, etcetera can be found on www.mes-english.com.  If you want, print the handouts provided on this site, and the children can cut and paste the images they want to use into their own book.  Otherwise, you can copy the images from the power points provided and paste them digitally into the document before printing.

Images for blank clock faces can be found here: http://www.helpingwithmath.com/printables/worksheets/time/wor0301time05.htm.  If you use blank clock faces, the children can write in their own times.  If you want them to practice specific times, then you can draw them in on your own, of course.

If you are interested in more ideas and concrete assistance with implementing these booklets in your classroom, please let me know.  Good luck, and remember to have fun!

 

ESL material: puppets

puppetAll my life, puppets have played an important role in my life.  From Sesame Street as a young person, to puppets during my German 101 class at the university, they helped express ideas that “real” people couldn’t do as well.  I suppose that’s because – in my humble opinion – children identify with puppets better than with adults, no matter what shape, color, or size they may be.  And for me, as an adult, my puppets are allowed to do things that I as an adult would never be allowed to say or do.  Puppets break down barriers for shy children, and help channel speaking activities for for the more gregarious ones.

In this blog, I will describe some of the ways pupppets have assisted me in teaching ESL during my  years as a teacher.

Pass the puppet

This is a circle activity.  During the lesson, we practice various answers to a certain question, such as “what is your favourite fruit?” or “what is your name?”  The puppet goes from hand to hand, and the children say their answer to the question.  Shy children, of course, may simply pass the puppet on to the next child.  There’s no need to pressure them into speaking before they are ready; they’ll be rattling away soon enough.  The advantage to practicing in this manner, is that the children are mentally preparing their own answer as the puppet makes its way over to them, and they are listening to the answers other children give as well.  In a circle of 21 children, this means that each child has mentally prepared his own answer 20 times, while comparing his own answer with that of the others 20 times as well.  That’s a lot of practice!

Sometimes the puppet must also do an activity.  If, for instance, we are learning prepositions, they children will say whether monkey is going over, under, or behind the chair, while making monkey go over, under, or behind the chair.  Other times, they will say what he is doing.  For instance, “Monkey is sleeping.”  Then he lies down and starts snoring, to everyone’s delight.

The very shy hermit crab

The very shy hermit crab

I use a large variety of puppets: the hermit crab, too shy for introductions; the very hungry caterpillar, based on Eric Carle’s book; the kangaroo mom and her baby for simple questions; monkey for action-related vocabulary; grumpy monster for talking about feelings, and many, many more.

Finger puppets

The easiest model of finger puppet, I have found, is to take toilet paper rolls and cut them into 3 or 4 rings.  The children draw a figure on thick card, cut it out, and then staple it to a ring.  They put 2 or three fingers through the ring and there it is, the instant finger puppet.

These puppets are easily kept in a small box for use in our storyscapes, where it jumps, sits, dances, and plays hide-and-seek.  Even though much of the speech used during free play is in Dutch, I encourage the use of the vocabulary we’ve been learning and regularly hear sentences employing both languages.  Free play is ideal for developing fluency and self-confidence in a new language!

Stick puppets

Every year, I have a class of children learning more advanced words for clothing.  They then make stick puppets wearing all sorts of clothes, and practice saying a short blurb about their puppet.  The stick puppets are very simply made by drawing a figure onto paper, coloring it in, cutting it out, and sticking it to a wooden kabob skewer.  I videotape the puppets while the children are talking about what they are wearing, and put the videos into their portfolios.  I also assemble the bits of videos into a larger, class-broad video, that we watch later on as a class.

 

These are only a few of the ways I use puppets in my lessons.  I wonder if you have any other ways you use puppets?  Please feel free to share!