Classroom Language Flashcards

Since the beginning of the semester, it has been one of my main teaching goals to get my students to speak only L2 in class. I have already shared some strategies I have tested, and today I brought something different.

Captura de Tela 2017-05-16 às 20.24.08

A very valuable thing I have learned from other teachers was to teach students Classroom Language in the very first day of class, especially for beginner students. There is a lot of material available online, but I have never found something that was truly useful for my context. I needed just a few phrases students can use for asking for the page, going to the restroom, etc. Having a little drawing ability – just enough to doodle things students can understand what they are – I have come up with eight drawings to represent:

  • Ms Duda (teacher, whatever you’re called), come here, please?
  • I’m sorry, I’m late! May I come in?
  • What’s the page, please?
  • May I have a pencil, please?
  • May I go to the restroom?
  • I don’t understand. Can you repeat, please?
  • How do you say ‘casa’ in English?
  • May I say something? / May I go next?

You can download the flashcards by clicking here 🙂

Of course, the language can vary, depending on how formal your school is, or what you want to teach them. The drawings are in black and white so that young learners can colour them. Here’s an example of how I use them in my classroom:

IMG_8471

Started a Reading Club

223118dbbaa02c500a1eb39ce870c4e5

This is a project I wish my teachers had done with me when I was a student. Its main goal is to help students develop the reading habit.

Every week, students choose a book in the school’s library and take it home to read. After reading, they must rate it by colouring stars in their reading log. Sometimes they will have some kind of activity to do about the book, such as describing their favourite character.

Parents are involved in the project by having to sign the log and helping their child choose a good time to read and a comfortable place in the house. Even if they cannot speak English, they can help by providing an adequate reading environment.

After reading five books, there will be a bigger activity where students will produce something for the community. For instance, they will choose their favourite book, take it home again and read it to as many people as they can and report the experience. Or maybe they will write a book recommendation for the school’s library’s bulletin board saying what were the best things about the book.

My students were really excited after the first week of the project. Even though some of them forgot to return the book, they all read their books and filled in the log and were excited to take another book home – or sad they could not take it home because they can only take a new book when they return the other one.

It is a very simple project anyone can do if there is a library at school. I believe it is very important to share projects like this, especially in our sometimes ‘over-technologic’ environment, so that children can see that there are other fantastic worlds to be discovered away from the computer screens. 🙂

Image via Pinterest.

Tried to use more L2 in class

IMG_6814

Excellent English strategy

In a monolingual context, it is often a challenge to get students to use L2 in class, especially if they are beginners. After almost eight years of teaching, I have tried many techniques with different groups in order to get them to speak English. Some of them worked for some groups, some didn’t work at all, but I can say that it is the students who will inform your decision of choosing a certain strategy. Here are a few:

  • L1 Pass – a friend’s idea that consists of giving students one or two “passes” (cards, coins…) every class so that they can use their first language when they need to. The teacher may take a pass from them if they use L1 inappropriately. This works well in quieter groups and with students that will follow rules.
  • Points on the board – write all students names on the board when the class begins and whenever one uses L1, draw a line next  to his name. The teacher can choose whatever punishment according to the groups and the school’s policy (removing points from the final grade is particularly threatening for teenagers). This strategy goes in the opposite direction of Behaviorist’s positive reinforcement concept.
  • L2 “thermometer” – during the lesson, students move up and down an L2 thermometer. If they are using L2, they go on to the positive end, if they are using L1, they go down. This requires a lot of work on the teacher’s part, and may cause stress between the students if they thing your judgement is unfair. However, it works well with a highly motivated group.
  • Excellent English – the one I am currently using with my students. By the end of the lesson, students line up and evaluate their L2 use during the activities, they move their tag up or down accordingly. During the class, my job is to call their attention and remind them of the routine whenever they start overusing L1. It works well with small groups and with highly motivated students. It helps create a sense of responsibility, because they will be responsible for their own growth in the usage of the new language. I would not use it with teenagers, though.

What do you do with your students to get them to speak English in class? 🙂

The poster image and balloons are from Twinkl.

Wrote about their favourite books

IMG_6776

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.

IMG_6775

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.
IMG_6773

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.

IMG_6774

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”.

kidsbookshelf-2gfv145

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

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

a67592bb7ee999c451cb09de426a90d4

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