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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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.

Why bother?

Last week I attended the ETAI (English Teachers’ Association of Israel) National Conference. In addition to the wide variety of lectures and workshops, we were given a chance to ask a panel, student-style, questions beginning with “Why bother”. Most of us added “when…” such as “Why bother coming to a conference when we can meet online?” (short answer – the importance of face to face contact). Sometimes the most logical answer was “Don’t bother”, but one question really bothered me and I wish I had been able to answer –
     “Why bother having an English Day when my colleagues don’t cooperate?”
Honestly, I barely see a connection between the two clauses (a word I picked up substituting in formal English classes). We don’t have English Days for our colleagues, we have them for our students. English Day is a chance for students to have a positive experience in English,  and no matter what activities you choose they probably will learn something. It’s a way to show them English as a spoken language and culture in a relaxed atmosphere. Whether they perform on stage, make crafts or play games, they will have achievements to remember that aren’t graded.
It’s unfortunate that there are teachers who aren’t willing to put in the extra effort to do something special for their students, but don’t let that stop you from doing your best.
Why bother teaching at all? Why bother preparing interesting activities, paying extra attention to students who are struggling as well as those who want to be challenged more, and making sure that everyone understands before you continue? If you do this to impress your colleagues, you will probably be disappointed by their reactions. But if you do everything you can to help your students, in the long run your efforts will pay off and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you made a difference.
And when your colleagues see this, they may decide in the future to join you.

What are you doing for English Day?

Have you started thinking about English Day this year? Remember, a successful English Day requires creative thought and planning, and your school calendar is probably starting to fill up. So if you and the rest of the English staff haven’t thought about it yet, let me help you get started.

Why should we have an English Day?
An English Day is a chance for students to have a fun, positive experience in English. No drilling, no writing in notebooks, no tests and no pressure. Just activities they enjoy along with a chance to hear and speak English in context. It’s an opportunity for them to see English as something that can be fun and relevant to their daily lives.

Where should I start?
First I recommend choosing a theme. This will make it easier to choose activities and pull everything together. Themes can be simple and vocabulary-oriented such as animals or weather and seasons, or wider concepts such as around the world or protecting the environment. To build up anticipation, have each class choose an appropriate costume, prepare a poster or decorate their classroom ahead of time.

You also need to set a date and make sure it gets listed on the school calendar (lessons learned the hard way).

Kick-off

Start the day with everyone together. It’s great if everyone can learn a song or chant ahead of time and sing it together. This is the time to build up group spirit and also explain what everyone is going to do for the next few hours. If classes have chosen names call them out in your best rock-star voice. Emphasize that today is going to be fun.

Activities

Each class or group should participate in 3-4 different activities. You should have at least one instructor at each station who speaks English and can lead the activity, and one leader to accompany each group. You can also have older students lead activities for younger classes, which keeps them both busy.
  • Songs – Teach a new song or sing familiar songs. Choose them according to the theme and level of the students. You could have each group learn a different song and perform them all at the end of the day.
  • Sports – Have at least one station of active games so that children have a chance to release energy. These might be kangaroo and horse races if your theme is animals, games from different countries if your theme is around the world, or throwing a ball or ring at targets marked with letters or words.
  • Group games such as charades, hangman, hot potato or a treasure hunt.
  • Crafts – It’s nice if children can bring something home. The craft doesn’t need to be related to English, just make sure all the instructions are in English. If you also demonstrate while you speak there’s no need to translate.
  • Food – Find some simple recipes related to your theme. If cooking isn’t practical there are plenty of other options. Get information about students’ allergies ahead of time and have alternatives ready. Like crafts, as long as the recipe and instructions are in English they’re learning English.
  • Stories – Either read a book or tell a story with pictures and props.
  • Printable games – Make sure they’re fun, challenging and different from worksheets you would use in a regular lesson. If some stations are led by teachers who aren’t comfortable speaking English this is a good option.
Plan and print a schedule so that everyone knows where they should be when. Review each station carefully and make sure you have all the materials you need, and that they are in place before the day begins.

What to do during the break
Don’t expect students and teachers to give up all their breaks just because they’re having fun. If your school has a tradition of “active breaks” you know what to do. Put on a CD with dance songs in English and set up some simple outdoor games.  You could also sell food or other items, depending on you school’s policy. Remember, only English.

Bringing it to a close

At the end gather everyone together again. This is a good time to put some kids on stage. This can be a short play you’ve prepared ahead of time or songs they learned during the day. Go back to your rock-star voice to make sure everyone had a great time and that they want to do it again next year.

How can English is Fun help?

English days are all about making English fun, and I have a wide range of resources to offer: