Say something nice

I don’t bring an electric keyboard and toys to class to teach grammar rules. That’s the job of the “formal” English teachers. My job is to help kids practice speaking so that they learn how to actually use all of those rules that sometimes even native speakers don’t fully understand. If you don’t know how important that is, look here, or search Google for “Lexical approach”. Since my job is also to teach them to enjoy English as a spoken language, I want that practice to be interesting, varied and meaningful while creating a pleasant, non-threatening environment for everyone.

It’s sometimes hard to relate to sentences written in a textbook. However, students often have trouble creating their own sentences using a specific format.

Recently I was helping a group of weak students practice (again) the different forms of “to be”, an essential English verb that has no Hebrew equivalent used in common speech. This time I tried something new. Each student had to compliment another student. To make sure we included he, she and you, they had to say the sentence to the student and then tell us the same thing. Example – “You are strong. She is strong.” Sometimes they had something to say about more than one student – “They are good at art”.

Not only did students leave class likely to make fewer mistakes, they also had more reasons to feel good about themselves.

A simple song about anger management

I usually use my own songs with young learners, since many popular children’s songs that seem simple are too complex for non-native speakers. I see no reason to have them go merrily down a stream or up a water spout during their first exposure to a new language with unfamiliar sounds.

One song I do like to use is If You’re Happy and You Know It. I usually simplify it even more by leaving out the line “and you really want to show it” and repeat the previous line instead. This song can be used to teach more than simple words describing feelings and actions. It’s really about expressing emotions safely.

I pause before the verse “If you’re mad and you know it…” Yes, I use the word “mad” instead of “angry” because it’s much easier to pronounce and spell, and isn’t confused with “hungry”. I ask children what they do when they’re mad. Some of them go to their rooms, play with a favorite toy or go to sleep, which they can’t do at school. Some may admit to throwing things, few will say that they hit someone even if they did 5 minutes earlier. This is when I tell them that we never hurt someone or break anything no matter how mad we are, so we’ll learn something we can do. Then we all stomp our feet. It really is a great way to release frustration, especially when everyone makes mad noises and faces, too.

From then on, any time I see a child get angry I remind them – don’t hit, push or break anything – stomp your feet.

P.S. The following week I teach them to twiddle their thumbs when they’re bored.

Teach children the way they learn

Whether you teach full classes or small groups, in or after school, it’s important to keep your students interested and engaged in lessons.

Children don’t just like to move, they need to move. Research also shows that they learn best when they’re active, using their bodies as well as all their senses. We don’t need to wait for students to learn some vocabulary to have fun – we can have fun while we’re teaching it. Memorizing lists of words and translations is boring. It may improve test scores but doesn’t do much to improve speaking skills. Learning with all the senses is much more effective.

Do you spend a good part of your lessons telling students to sit still and be quiet, punishing them if they don’t? Do you use a lot of worksheets because your students have trouble sitting still, hoping that this will keep them from moving around?

Are you ready to try another approach?

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What did we learn today?

Teaching creatively while maintaining structure means adapting many conventional ideas. 

One of my favorite sources is החופש ללמד  Their latest series of tips talks about having students sum up what they learned. I usually end a lesson either by having students collect objects while naming them, or with a chant “What did we learn today?”.  They suggest having several students write down something new they learned to see if they understood what we consider the most important points of the lesson.

Writing doesn’t really work in my groups. I teach spoken English. Students don’t have pencils out unless they’re learning about school supplies, looking for objects that are yellow or start with “p”, or using them to tap a rhythm. Some of them haven’t learned to write yet, and since the point of the lesson is learning to speak writing won’t demonstrate that.

So last week toward the end of lesson I opened the voice recording app on my phone and asked who wanted me to record them saying new words or phrases. This was a lot more exciting and more students wanted to answer. Most classes asked to hear the recording and students had an opportunity to hear themselves speak English. I save each recording by class, along with speech-to-text,  to have a record of their progress throughout the year. 

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Get off the Box!

This time I was teaching prepositions. Showing them with my hands, playing games, drawing on the board, learning with all the senses. But some kids are stubborn and want to learn the way they learn in school – “Just translate everything into Hebrew”

I could start telling them how sensory learning has proven to be more effective and how word-for-word translations, especially with words like prepositions, are the cause of many errors, but in this case I had a much better and quicker argument. Here’s what happens when we translate:

over – מעל
under – מתחת
on – על
off – ?

There really is no correct translation in this case for the word “off”. The only way to explain it is to SHOW THEM. Like any concept that doesn’t exist in one’s native language, it’s still difficult for them to grasp, especially when they’re searching for the Hebrew word in their head. To understand “off the box” students need to think outside the box, and more hours of memorizing lists of words won’t help. Creativity in the English classroom, as well as any classroom, doesn’t just make lessons fun. It opens students’ minds to allow them to absorb and understand new concepts and formulate their own ideas. 

Over the years I’ve created songs, games and other materials for English teachers to use, and of course used them myself with hundreds of students. I’ve had a lot of success, but also some frustration. Sometimes I find myself giving proverbial nuts to people whose creative teeth have been worn down by a standardized system. 

So now I’m going back to my musical and dramatic roots to develop a new program which will take them on a journey “outside the box” and develop the creative thinking necessary for English language expression

If you would like to hear more, please fill out the following short survey, or pass it on to those who might benefit:

English

Let’s finish the year with a smile

It’s the end of the year and everyone is tired. Maybe you’ve finished the textbook and maybe the kids just don’t have the patience to open it. This is the time to review everything you’ve done during the year and let groups choose their favorite games, songs and activities. Here are a few more ideas:

  1. Summary game – Make cards for different categories you’ve taught and spread them out, then set out objects or pictures representing words from each category. Children in turn choose an object/picture, say the word and place it in the proper category. You can also call out words and have them run to the proper card.
  2. Another good activity to refresh their memories is “Name that Tune”. Play or sing a few notes of a song they learned and see who can guess first.
  3. Review Weather and Seasons with an emphasis on “hot” and “summer” (yes, I know it’s still raining) – sing The Weather Rock, play the game hot-cold, sort out objects and clothes by season.
  4. Swimming, Swimming – one of my favorite camp songs. I wish I had written it, but since I didn’t this is the best clip I could find on YouTube https://youtu.be/HeMOaMwTgp0
  5. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream – Familiar to many and easy to teach if students repeat after you. Emphasize the difference between “I scream” and “ice cream”.
  6. Give students a certificate of completion to show that they have “graduated” and can speak English.
  7. End-of-the-Year celebration – My book English is Fun on the Stage contains short playscripts that can be performed by students. You can also put together your own, or just have them sing some of their favorite songs.

Hopefully you and your students have had a fun year. Finishing on a high note will help them remember it that way. 

How to teach English to young learners


I don’t know if it’s Bennett’s new program, the growing amounts of research* or a generation of Israelis who  grew up learning English but are still afraid to speak, but there seems to be an increased awareness of the importance of learning English at an early age. Many teachers are teaching English to young learners for the first time, and the question “How should I teach them?” is being raised more and more. 

My answer is – Don’t. 

???

That’s right – Don’t teach them at all. Young children learn on their own without being taught. Expose them to English by speaking to them, singing, playing games and reading stories and they will absorb the language naturally. Explanations will bore and confuse them, and are unnecessary.

Now for some more specific ideas:

Speak – Young children are very tuned in to body language, facial expressions and voice intonation. Unless you are giving complicated instructions, speak English and use gestures to make the meaning clear. They will quickly become accustomed to hearing English and recognize common words and phrases.

Sing – Songs are an excellent way to learn and remember language along with its natural rhythm and flow. Singing should be active – add movements, hand motions and props rather than just watching videos. Make sure the lyrics of the songs are simple, repetitive and suitable for EFL students. They don’t have to understand every word, but don’t burden them with words like “merrily” and “water spout”. This is why I started writing my own songs.

Play- If you play games that they already know, it will be easy for them to understand instructions in English, allowing you to use very little L1 and making them feel more comfortable by creating a familiar atmosphere. Use games in which the children repeat a few words or sentences. Some popular kindergarten games I use are Knock-Knock-What’s My Name, Telephone, What’s Missing, Red Light/Green Light and Hot/Cold.

Show them – Do any activity they like, but do it in English. Whether you dance, draw, cook or throw a ball, if they can see what you’re doing while you speak to them they will understand and pick up new vocabulary.

A few basic rules to remember:
  • Keep them active. Kids need to move.
  • Be friendly and patient. Everyone learns at their own pace.
  • Children learn by hearing, seeing and doing. 
  • Avoid translating whenever possible. Use props, pictures or gestures instead. The disadvantages of translation can fill another blog post.
  • Make it fun. They more they enjoy English, the more they’ll learn now and in the future.