Talked about places in town

After the lesson where my students learned about London, it was time to expand their vocabulary on places in town. They already knew many items, so I decided to try a mind-mapping system with them. This was the result of the brainstorming phase:

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Mind map – Places in town (I wish I had a bigger whiteboard 🙂

They had some time to copy the mind map on their notebooks. As there were some fast-finishers I asked them to do some spelling practice, which is something they are used to doing whenever there is a vocabulary lesson. Then, they talked about their town, by using the structure “there + be”, which I had introduced in the past lesson. It wasn’t even a proper task, as I prefer to set a clear goal (e.g. comparing two towns, making a list of things there are in their town and they wish they had, and so on). Even though they tried to use “have” instead of “there + be”, I could correct them on the spot and they came up with nice sentences. We will need to further practice the structures in order to consolidate the language, though.

In a perfect world, where students would take 10 minutes to copy a mind map – instead of half and hour! – I would ask them to get in pairs and write sentences about their town and compare to another town (maybe London or somewhere they like) and share with the whole class. I would have them try to improve their friend’s sentences – this groups is really cooperative, so they would enjoy doing this.

We still have a few lessons in this unit and there are many projects coming up – something related to fish, and I know nothing about fish!

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Talking about the blog a little… Last month I was very excited to write about my lessons, but in April we had so many holidays and I had to teach so many “boring” lessons that the rhythm wasn’t as I intended. I hope in May I can stick to the schedule. I’m planning on changing things, like how I talk about my lessons, doing a more straightforward kind of posts. Let’s see how it goes. Happy Labor day!

Learned about London

For many Brazilian ELT teachers, teaching there is / there are to describe places can be a challenge simply because students do not get the concept. In Brazilian Portuguese we use the verb ‘to have’ to do this. So, for example, instead of saying ‘There is a bakery near my house’, we would translate ‘Has a bakery near my house’ (ouch!) – also, sentences without subjects are accepted in our language.

Following the syllabus defined by the course book, I had to teach my students vocabulary related to places in a town followed by the grammar ‘there + be’. Being a Dogme advocate, I decided to bring a ‘London Children’s Map’ to see what they could already do and what would come out of seeing a map of a different city.

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When I spread the map on the floor and had them sit down and observe it, they had so many questions! Where’s the Big Ben? Where does the queen live? What’s this man doing on the map? Where did you live in London? What’s that thing (pointing to various things on the map)? To the point I had to stop them, and had them take turns to ask the questions. Some of them were so eager to ask things they didn’t even wait for me to finish my reply!

This took almost the whole lesson. However, we did had time to cover some of the vocabulary planned in the syllabus and to say some sentences comparing our city to London using the target language. The class ended with me trying to explain why Kate Middleton couldn’t be queen and why Phillip isn’t a king????? They were very enthusiastic to learn about the royal family.

Even though things were a bit rushed and we didn’t get to record vocabulary items on the notebook or to produce any written language, it was very productive in terms of English culture and introducing vocabulary in a meaningful way.

Image via Google and this is the map I’ve got!

Wrote about their favourite books

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Today we continued our project that we started in the previous lesson. I wanted my students to write about their favourite books, focusing on the description of a character. I was quite happy with the results.

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I decided to follow a Process Writing approach with elements of Product Writing because they had a model to follow. Here it is step by step and a picture of the board with the:

  • Students had the information they needed for the text (title, author, type of book, favourite character, description);
  • I wrote a model of my text on the board, by eliciting student’s suggestions on how to phrase the information;
  • Students wrote a draft of their texts on their notebooks and gave me to correct;
  • Students wrote the final version of the project (posters) and drew their favourite character.
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I am quite proud of my board skills in this one 🙂

It was a very simple approach that required little preparation on my part. It wasn’t very open for students to produce ‘new language’, though. They had quite a fixed model to follow, but some of them did try to include some plot details, like the one who wrote about the adventures of Tin Tin, who asked me how to say ‘ the captain was a drunk’ (haha!). However, to me, they needed just to be aware of how to write about the basic details of a book and to make the connection with what we have been focusing on by describing the character. And this objective was met by all of them.

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Talked about their favourite books

Last class, I showed my students some books, such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Mulan, Sinbad, Sherlock Holmes stories, and so on. There was a good variety of genres and plots. We played a game where I would describe the story and they had to snap the correct book. It was fun and they were curious about some of the stories. So, we decided to vote on a book they would like to read together and they chose an adapted version of Mulan.

Something I like about the course book is that there is a CLIL section – which is a very soft version of CLIL, but anyway – and this time they are supposed to write about their favourite books. Since we were describing people’s facial features, they also have to describe their favourite character.

Today, I had them bring their favourite books and they wrote the basic information: title, author, type of book, favourite character, short description of their favourite character. Then, we sat in a circle and they shared this information. In order to make sure they paid attention to what their friends were saying, in the end of the activity I asked if they remembered something about their friend’s favourite book. There was a lot of emergent language in this activity, but I am still a bit frustrated that some of them only said “I like this book because I like it, it’s nice”.

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So, this unit’s project is going to be a description of their favourite books and characters. They are going to produce a poster with a short text. As I am trying to demand more from my students in terms of language production, I will also ask them to write their opinion of the book and, in the end, they will share their production to see if they are interested in reading any of their friend’s favourite books.

Let’s see how this goes. 🙂

Images via Google

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