An EFL teacher discovering the whole new universe :)

March 15, 2006

Teaching Very Young Learners

Yesterday I attended an interesting and much needed seminar on teaching very young learners, aged 5 to 8. The speakers, workshop leaders, were Irena Rozman, OUP ELT Representative for Slovenia and Clare Matthews, a teacher and teacher-trainer from England, who came to Slovenia four years ago.
Rozman talked about the general characteristics of small children, emphasizing that we should apply multi-sensory approach to fully develop the potential of children who are still developing emotionally, socially, physically, intellectually, etc. We should vary activities and their pace as well as take their age specific behaviour into consideration. Small children simply can't hide their feelings and they share their joy or sadness with us, also depending on whether they are extrovert or introvert, anxious or confident personalities. To help them acquire the language successfully we should provide them immersion, as much as possible, encourage imitation (through miming, repeating, singing, dancing...), emphasize interaction (through TPR, questions, stories), and support their internalisation of the language (by encouraging them to speak and by remodeling their words). Teacher of young children should be fun, but firm, and should value the kids individually. The child has to be put in the centre, while learning about very concrete and familiar topics, as well as daily routine and events.

Matthews stressed the importance of keeping children focused and entertained to enhance the learning experience. She showed us the benefits of using hand puppets, masks, and colourful wall displays, as well as decorated shoe boxes for collecting the vocabulary flashcards. Building a monster was also great - with two heads, one tail, three legs... body parts vocabulary being practised in a fun way. I also learned a new song that goes with the tune of Ten Green Bottles Sitting on the Wall:
Red, pink, yellow, purple, green or blue,
red, pink, yellow, purple, green or blue.
What's your favourite colour?
Please tell me do!
Is it red, pink, yellow, purple green or blue?

Rozman talked about gradual introduction of writing and reminded us on variety of tools (such as crayons, pastels, chalks, paint...) and surfaces (such as chalkboard, shaped pieces of coloured, differently-sized paper, card, stones...) that can be used to raise their motivation. At pre-writing level we are developing children's basic skills such as distinguishing and recognizing different shapes, as well as gross and fine motor skills (e.g. SNAP game). At letter-level they learn the shape and name of letters, also the alphabet. Another nice song, new to me, goes to the tune of Are You Sleeping Brother John:
Letter A, letter A!
Where are you? Where are you?
Here in 'apple', 'ant', and 'Anna',
'alphabet' too, 'alphabet' too.

Letter B, letter B!
where are you? Where are you?
Here in 'bat', 'big' and 'bad',
'banana' too, 'banana' too.


When we come to word level, children can start recognizing words by just saying yes/no when you show them the flashcards with pictures. For example, you write down the word 'lion' and then show pictures of different animals. Children say no, no, no... until the picture and the word match.
Another interesting activity that shouldn't be forgotten when teaching the pronunciation is clapping the syllables of the word, e.g. ba-by.
To help building child's visual memory of written words, this activity can be used:

First children have a look at the word, then we say it aloud, teacher covers it, they write it down and finally check how successful they were.
A very interesting piece of advice was that we should use low key letters because they are more easily distinguishable than high key letters (!).
At the sentence level we teach children word order and some useful chunks of language with hidden grammar. A great way to do it is by following "traffic lights rule" (I guess this activity is taken from Writing with Children, J. and V. Reilly, OUP, 2005). You prepare a tree with colourful leaves:

Later you tell them to follow the "traffic lights rule". For children this is an easy way to build simple sentences and gradually get familiar with the pattern.

These were just some of the seminar high points. Considering the fact that it lasted only about three hours, I really learned a lot and enjoyed listening to two great presenters. Thanks, Oxford Center Ljubljana :)


Anonymous DevonT said...

Hi Anita,

Thanks for the great seminar summary...I'll be putting some of those ideas to work right away. I've already implemented some of the advice on word level recognition with great success. Thanks!

21/3/06 2:51 am

Blogger poca said...

Hello Anita,

I am an English teacher candidate from Turkey. I think your summary is very useful and clear, I felt like I attended the seminar.


16/5/08 9:50 pm


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