Number one for English language teachers

Keith's Corner: Entry 14: Design week

In his fourteenth diary entry, Keith explains how even the most unlikely of objects can inspire a vast array of language-rich activities when during Design Week at Anglia School they put something old to good use!

‘What language is there in a sewing machine?’

I was recently asked this question by a colleague in response to our inheriting a beautiful antique sewing machine and incorporating it into our lessons with the children. The question raises an important issue about language learning and very young children.

Language learning from a textbook

I think there is an implied assumption in the question that you can’t really learn English using a sewing machine since there isn’t a textbook involved. But, at Anglia School, the children learn through ‘doing’ – the children learn English because they live English in their classes. The secret to creating an environment that promotes successful language learning in very young children is precisely to find the things that these children love to do! And since all young children are totally obsessed with making things, let’s get them … well, making things in English!

Learning by doing

A CLIL approach – that is, integrating a content area with the English language – is perfect for this age group. It’s such a natural way for very young children to learn language and begin to use it in a way that is similar to how they learn their mother tongue. At Anglia School, we’re always on the lookout for great projects for young learners – for activities that incorporate science or maths in the language classroom and that get young children thinking about the world around them. Clothes and design are already a major source of interest for children by the time they are five, for both girls and boys. Our Design Week embraces this love of fashion and dressing up and turns it into a week-long language-learning opportunity.

Specific terminology

There is a set of words associated with sewing that is fairly specific: needle, thread, material, cotton, stitch, wheel, reel, cloth, tuck, fold, hem, along with the names of all the items of clothing that we set the children the task of creating. What makes sewing special is that it creates an ideal context for working with and using these words.

Everyday language

There is also plenty of everyday language that working with a sewing machine demands, such as instruction verbs to do with sewing: push, pull, turn, hold, stop, lift, measure, compare, cut. There are comparatives too, like bigger, smaller, larger, shorter and longer. And that is not to mention the entire language area of likes and dislikes and expressing preferences.


There were even more language-learning opportunities to be had once we got the children on the catwalk – we had them describing colour, giving opinions and much more. The children also had great fun designing their own t-shirts, as well as trying their hand at knitting. And they were lucky enough to get the chance to work on a tapestry together.

Affective filter hypothesis

The affective filter hypothesis attests that negative emotions, such as anxiety and boredom, can act as filters that block or interfere with the language-learning process. An environment that stimulates learners and puts them at their ease can help to remove those filters. We see every single day at Anglia School how important it is for children to enjoy what they are doing. The fact that they are invited to create art, craft objects and even clothes gives very young children a sense of achievement. In turn, this feeling of success gives children satisfaction in their learning, which makes them more ready and willing to learn.

My advice is this – every EFL school for young children should have a sewing machine!

Let’s get designing!

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