This article by Olha Madylus contains advice and suggestions for activities that can be used to teach general topics.
Introducing the topic
The best way for young students to grasp meaning is through seeing or experiencing. Pictures will clearly demonstrate the meaning of the key lexis you wish to present.
Recycling of previously taught language is vital to ensure children do not forget it, use it in realistic contexts and also feel secure by dealing with language they already know. It also gives you more interesting scope for language use and can be used to check understanding of new language. When introducing/practising new language, link it to vocabulary they already know.
Total physical response (TPR)
Young children find it impossible to sit still. We cannot stop this, but can allow for lots of movement to let children use their energy and feel totally involved in the lesson. Movement when linked to the target language helps children remember language as well as enjoy the activity. Simple activities, such as this favourite warmer I have with five to six year olds, are easy to set up:
- The teacher and students stand in a space (chairs and tables moved to the back of the classroom).
- The teacher calls out a verb that children have been presented with previously and are familiar with, e.g. swim, hop, fly.
- As each word is called out, the teacher and children move around making appropriate actions. Verbs can be added as the children’s vocabulary grows.
- The teacher can stand out of the group and just call out words as the students’ familiarity with the words grows. Students can take turns calling out the words.
My students love doing this at the start of every lesson – they like the security of a regular pattern to lessons and enjoy moving around and showing their understanding. At the start of the lesson it’s good to bring them all together into a group activity to foster a sense of the group and help ‘tune’ them into English. They may have come straight from another lesson or from home and not have heard English for a while.
Music and song
Music, songs and chants add to the pleasure of learning and make language more easily remembered. Singing in English for many children is more natural than speaking in English. Songs are a group activity and therefore secure – you don’t need to worry about making mistakes or forgetting, and even if you don’t sing you are still listening to others.
Young children pick up language in chunks and are unable to analyse language from a grammatical perspective. For example, children will be able to understand the idea of the past tense once they have had stories told/read to them that use narrative past tenses. Grammar will therefore be picked up rather than learnt. Focus should be on ensuring that meaning is always paramount.
Children need routines to feel secure and to ensure lots of exposure to and practice of language.
Children love playing games, especially ones that involve problem solving. A Pelmanism card game, or ‘pairs’, is a simple and effective way to practise language meaningfully in a fun way.
- Take a set of vocabulary items, e.g. seven animals, and make a set of fourteen cards. On seven, write the names of the animals, and on the other seven, draw or stick on pictures of those animals.
- Spread the cards upside down on a table or floor and muddle them up. The object of the game is to find a match.
- Each player picks up two cards, looking at them and showing them to the other players.
- If they match (the name of the animal and the picture of the animal are the same) they keep them; if they don’t they must put them back exactly where they found them and the other players must try to remember where they are.
- Children pick the cards up in order until all the cards have been matched. The student with the most pairs is the winner.
While playing the game children must read the key vocabulary, understand meaning and also attempt to remember the location of the cards. In my experience children usually say the words out loud as they read them and often help each other to find the match. It’s a popular and enjoyable activity that helps students remember and practise vocabulary. A lot of different vocabulary can be practised this way. I have even produced a card set for jobs that I used with teenagers and adults and they all enjoyed it too.
Often in teaching English to children we find that we cover topics that are taught in their mother tongue. This is very helpful in both directions. By presenting new language that students are already familiar with as concepts in their own language through other lessons, children have little problem understanding meaning and can concentrate on dealing with the English. By using cross-curricular topics we support the learning of those subjects.
Children love stories and they are a wonderful way to practise/reinforce language and allow children to pick up new language in a meaningful context. There are many wonderful storybooks with colourful pictures to be found, but we don’t always have the appropriate book to practise the language that has recently been presented in a lesson. So we may need to create a story. A few helpers in the classroom are a good idea for every teacher of English to children – a teddy bear, glove puppets, etc, make great helpers.