Told me they liked my lessons

If there’s one thing I have learned during almost ten years teaching young and very young learners is that they are going to show you when they like or don’t like your lessons. They can do that through naughty behaviour, cooperative actions, by hugging you or they will just simply say “I don’t like this lesson”.

When they don’t like your lessons, there’s always the option of developing an action plan in order to ask them what they want (games! songs!) and what they specifically don’t like doing. They usually have strong opinions on those matters and will (hopefully) help you.

When they tell you they like your lessons, it means you’re on the right path. However, as much as teachers enjoy hearing that, it may makes us wonder “what if I don’t live up to their expectations anymore?” or “are they going to enjoy my lessons forever?” or even “when are they going to stop liking my lessons?” :O

It’s been two months since the beginning of the year and things are going well so far. Because this unit’s main topic was describing people, I was able to bring many different games for my students, such as Guess Who?, describe and draw, and guess the thief. Also, thanks to the course book, there were chants to work on pronunciation and a really nice song about a thief who gets away. Therefore, I can say that lessons have been quite fun, and students highly motivated, which makes me want to prepare even better lessons.

However, as I have mentioned, how do I keep my students motivated? I have read a few things on motivation in the ELT classroom, but there always seem to be the consensus of “whatever suits your students”. You can’t always please them because they need to do some things that, even if they do not like them, we know they are important and will bring good results in the future. We also need to ensure students can see their progress, even if it is in the form of “what have I learned today?” by the end of the lesson.

Anyway, I just hope they keep their motivation high and come to class with a smile on their faces because that’s what I am here for: to see them happy to learn! 🙂

Practiced describing a person

Today it was one of those days where nothing very special happens, but yet students did produce much more than they normally do in my lessons. We played a simple back to the board game where students had to describe the features of a face that was projected on the board for the others to draw. Then, we voted on who drew it more similar to the original drawing. It was a lot of fun!

Regarding language production, they did try to use L1 and they did try not to speak and use gestures instead (and take their friend’s pencil of their hands to draw it themselves). However, the sentences they could produce were appropriate and there was a lot of new vocabulary that I wrote on the board (e.g. eyebrows, lips, eyelashes, fringe, etc.).

Then, it was time for Movers exercises. I love working with Fun for Movers and the activities are very well thought of for children, the book is colorful and so on. The only thing is that students find it boring. I don’t know why – they couldn’t say specifically what made it boring – so I can only guess. Maybe the activities are done at random, sometimes they have no connection with the main course book, so it may be hard for the students to make the connection. However, I always try to do the Movers activities on Mondays, so there is at least the time difference between the usage of books. It is something I would like to investigate more with the students, to see if I can improve the way we use this course book.

Finally, for the following lesson, we are going to continue describing people. Hopefully, we will be able to finish the Unit on Thursday because I think they are tired of describing faces (if they aren’t, I am!). I plan on doing some writing production because we have had many speaking exercises, but for writing there were only grammar activities.

Were tested on their English skills

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I have been designing tests since I started working as a teacher in 2010. I have designed tests for beginners, children, advanced and proficiency students and I am a Cambridge Speaking examiner. I also have experience preparing students for exams, such as all the Cambridge ones. It is something I enjoy doing, even though I hope someday schools develop new means of assessing students. I believe tests are stressful, especially for young children, and not a hundred percent reliable.

As I have mentioned in my previous post, yesterday and today would be test days. I had to design the tests myself, but some of the exercises I could take from the course book’s resources cd-rom. It was decided as follows:

  • 3 listening exercises (14 points)
  • 8 grammar and vocabulary exercises (46 points)
  • 6 speaking tasks in pairs (40 points)

I believe the score was fairly distributed and the level of difficulty was challenging enough for my 9 year-old students. I could see this because I corrected the tests on the same day students did them and they seemed to reflect the abilities the students usually show me in class. In addition to that, students were pleased to receive the tests right away and seemed very happy about their results (different from the picture that illustrates this post).

As it is still something students will have to face in “real life” – such as university entrance exam, proficiency tests, etc – I believe it is important to formally test students. However, it should not be a stressful experience. We can make it enjoyable by designing tests that students will enjoy taking, that reflect what they have studied in class and, most of all, that students will feel safe doing. The learning experience should never be only for test-taking purposes, but for personal growth and teachers have a major role on making this possible.

Image via Pinterest

Were able to choose the activities

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It was revision day for the test my students are going to take this Tuesday (Listening and Use of English) and Friday (Speaking) and I decided to do something I have always done whenever my students were taking tests.

The procedures were very simple: let them choose the activities they were going to do according to their needs. They included general vocabulary and grammar activities in the activity book (I wrote the pages they could do on the board) and extra worksheets that I spread on my desk so they could come and pick them up.

I believe that by the age of 9 or 10, students know what they can or cannot do very well, that’s why I chose this way of revising content. It is not like discovering the wheel or anything, but, to my surprise, apparently none of these students had ever been introduced to this concept before. While they knew their strengths and weaknesses, they found it so cool that they could choose the activities, get in groups and help each other, they made a lot of comments while doing the activities to point this out (“this is the best revision because we can choose what we want to do”). I was very happy to hear that! 🙂

Even though I am not a big fan of course books, as I have mentioned before, when they bring extra materials and worksheets, they can be very valuable if used right. I don’t like giving worksheets for the students to do out of context, just for “extra practice”. I would rather use them in a revision section the way I did today or to save them for fast finishers.

Of course some students did more activities than others, but they all seemed to agree that it was an useful kind of revision. There was even time to do a “learning to learn” activity that the course book suggests doing after each unit.

Nothing is perfect, though. Looking back, I think students would have also benefited from a fast chat before they could choose activities to talk about what we have learned and to test each other in pairs. I would do that with can do statements, for example, “I can name school subjects” or “I can tell the time using half past, quarter to, quarter past”, where they would tick or cross. This way, I believe students would be better able to define what they needed to do.

Finally, I really enjoyed doing this today because it is one of my goals this semester to promote autonomous learning in class and students showed they are ready. I have noticed that students nowadays rely so much on the teacher and parents to do things for them, even to plan their study schedule, while they could be doing it themselves. I plan to write more on autonomous learning soon.

Played Guess Who? in English

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It was time to begin a new Unit of the course book, which involves teaching students to describe people’s appearances focusing on the head (hair features, facial features, etc.).

I decided to do so through a task-based approach because I was quite sure my students had already been introduced at least to the parts of the body. First of all, I drew some faces on the board while they were getting settled for the lesson, which made them very interested in making their comments about the faces, so I asked them to do so in English.

Then, I elicited and boarded the vocabulary they were supposed to know, such as:

  • hair: long, short, curly, wavy, straight, blonde, dark, red, etc.
  • parts of the face
  • other facial features: beard, mustache, glasses, ponytail, hat, bald, etc.

Finally, I told them they were going to play Guess Who? but in English. They were very excited, but they needed to know the language for that. Therefore, I had to ask them how they play the game in L1 and how to “translate” that to L2. They gave me more or less the grammar they needed, though I had to polish it a little and drill:

  • Has he/she got _____ (hair)?
  • Is he/she wearing _____?

This is what my whiteboard looked like after all the input:

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(If there is something I learned during the Delta was that we need to always improve our board skills. Is there a board course we can do somewhere?)

They played it in small groups and used the language, even though there were some mistakes, such as:

  • Not doing the inversion for questions (She has got brown hair?)
  • Saying “Has he got bald?”

After that, we had to use the course book to do some grammar and writing exercises. I must confess it is a little bit frustrating not having enough time to work on error correction and really use what they have produced in order to teach them. We have a syllabus to cover and, unfortunately, there is still the culture that if there isn’t a course book to follow, then the school is not “serious” or “trustworthy”.

In an ideal scenario, I would have them draw a picture of a friend or family member and write a short text describing him/her to present and display in the classroom. They could also create their own Guess Who? game using cardboard to play with during the break. I would also take them to the library to get a book, read it and then describe their favourite characters, and we could even extend the language to personality adjectives, abilities and expand their language in a much more meaningful and memorable way.

However, the reality is that next week we’ve got revision, tests and more exercises to do, but nothing can stop me from squeezing in something different for the sake of my students’ learning.

Wrote about the reasons why they love their school

In my last post, I said I believed my students could write better sentences about their school. And I’ve done exactly what I said: I took their sentences, wrote them on paper slips and asked further questions to help them develop their ideas and wrote them myself on the paper.

Why did I write it myself? Mostly due to time constraints. I still have course books to follow and a deadline to do the test with them. And also because I am always late. As I keep bringing extra stuff for my students, I tend to end up having to rush things towards the end of the semester/year.

Regarding the activity and my expectations, I think my students did a good job. They answered the questions right away, reflecting and giving interesting reasons for liking a particular thing about their school. They mentioned games they played in the playground, the forest that surrounds the school and the fresh air they can breathe. It was a nice moment of meaningful input for them and assessment for me.

I really wanted to have them record a video for the school’s website, because in the end, the project was also a nice way to promote the school. But we shall see the arrangements for that.

Next class we are going to go back to using the course book. The main goal will be to describe people’s appearance by using parts of the body vocabulary.

Image via tumblr

 

Made a list of what they love about their school

When we start a new year, it is always important to reflect about the school and why it is important to go there and learn things. After reviewing school subjects, telling the time and school materials, it was time to go beyond language learning and get to a deeper reflection. As I love making lists, I asked my students to list 10 reasons why they liked their school. We had a few example sentences on the board and they went home to create their sentences.

Today, I boarded one sentence from each student and they helped me correct them. Then they did some self and peer correction to go through the other sentences. So far so good, focusing on the language is always important.

However, when I sat down after the lesson to reflect on their production, I realized they only wrote about concrete things. Here are a few examples:

  • I like my school because there is a soccer field.
  • I like my school because we watch films.
  • I like my school because it has a big playground.
  • I like my school because we have got music lessons.

The language is fine for their level, they are beginners. What bothers me is the content of the sentences. because, even though they are nine years old, I believe they should be able to say more. For instance, to say that they learn things, that they can play with their friends in the big playground and that in the music lessons they listen to songs in English.

I believe there are two reasons why they failed to do what I expected. First, I did not scaffold enough and should have asked them more questions to help them think deeper. So I blame myself, of course. Second, maybe they are not able to understand why they are at school, what they are doing there. In other words, they are not conscious of their roles as citizens of the world.

I want these sentences to become a poster with the “10 reasons why I love my school” to be displayed in the hallway. If the students were excited about the project, they could even film it to put on the school’s website.

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Anyway, I believe my students can do better than what they have produced. Therefore, next class I will bring their sentences back on slips of paper, and reflect on each idea. For example, what do you do at the soccer field? What kinds of things can you learn when watching a film? What games do you play in the playground? I will write their answers on the slips and leave some space for them to try to improve the sentences. There will be a few examples because they need language input.

I hope they can produce better sentences with that activity. We shall see that on Monday 🙂