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Saturday, May 28, 2011

100th post!

I thought I should do something special to celebrate my 100th post on this blog - 100 posts may not sound like many in an 18 month period, but it's still a landmark! I made a Wordle of both my 2009 and 2011 (so far*) entries and have added them to the glog below. I have made several glogs for young children before, but I am quite useless at it and it takes me hours even to create a simple glog like the one below! Click on "full size" to see it properly.

*I actually wrote this quite a few weeks back, due to Blogger counting non-published drafts as entries - I thought I had made 100 when really I was only up to about 94! So I had to wait a while... The Wordle, therefore, doesn't include my more recent posts.

I hope you like it :)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dogme McNuggets?

McNuggets by Calgary Reviews  on Flickr

I have a new student. She's twenty-eight and is in the armed forces. I decided to try and take a dogme approach with her lessons, as she's having individual classes. During our first two lessons this has worked well because we've been doing quite a bit of talking about familiar topics such as family and our typical day, and lots of language has come up, but nothing unusual - in fact, the language that emerged was actually the typical grammar and vocabulary you would find in a coursebook lesson on those topics. This makes me feel that I haven't been doing dogme at all! Is it that after so many years of traditional course book lessons, I have it all so strongly etched into my brain that I automatically encourage certain language items to come up? If so, that can hardly be called dogme! But am I really directing the language so much? Or is it that when you talk about your daily life you automatically use certain Mcnuggets? Hmm, I'm getting a bit confused.

In any case, this student has a grammar and vocabulary exam next month, so our short term goal is actually to brush up on all those Mcnuggets. This is student-centred learning - the student's priority is to try to pass her exam, rather than be able to communicate in English. That will come later.  Sometimes, I think we forget about our students' priorities because we were trained in the Communicative era and have some kind of need to help our students communicate. However, as I mentioned in a recent post on jigsaw puzzles, this is not necessarily whar our students want or need.

So, assuming that I have to help my student remember (and in some cases learn) the grammar and vocabulary she needs to pass her exam, can I possibly take a dogme approach? If I do, we will certainly miss out some important Mcnuggets. Again, I'm slightly perplexed.

These are just some thoughts that have been running through my mind, anyway. Sorry for rambling. Take no notice!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rainbow Colours

In several of my previous posts I have talked about my class of six-year-olds, for whom I designed a syllabus based around content from other subject areas such as literacy, science, art and crafts, drama and P.S.H.E.

Today I'm going to talk about an activity I did last week, which the children thoroughly enjoyed. At the moment we are looking at the world around us, and in the previous lessons we had been talking about the weather. In the lesson in question we were looking at primary colours and the other colours that can be formed by these. Some of the children were aware that mixing colours formed new ones, but others were finding it hard to guess which colours would be created. So we did an experiment to see how by using only three colours: RED, BLUE and YELLOW, we could make others such as orange, green, purple and pink.

What you need:
  • A bowl
  • red, blue and green food coloring
  • milk
  • washing-up liquid

    First, I showed the children what we were going to do. I mimed pouring milk into the bowl, and then adding a drop of each food colouring at the edges of the bowl, about a third of the way apart.  I then pretended to put a drop of washing-up liquid in the middle. As I was doing this I explained what I was doing in simple English.
    I then gave the children a worksheet where they had to predict what they would see.

    Worksheet 5

    We carried out the experiment twice, in order to see if there were any changes between the two bowls.

    The children were fascinated by how the colours moved around the bowls, mixing and changing shade and form. We left the bowls for a few minutes and then came back to note any changes.

    The children commented on the new colours that emerged and even compared the second bowl to a planet!
    These pictures show how the two bowls developed:

    The children then completed the second part of the worksheet, by choosing one of the two bowls and drawing what they had seen.

    The final activity was noticing which colours merged together to form new ones.

    The children had lots of fun and were really engaged - one of the few times I have managed to get them all standing still around the table quietly!

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Baggy Trousers

    How many of you teach teenage boys? Or lads in their early twenties?
    For those of you that do, this may well be a common sight in or around your classroom:

    By Lebatihem on Flickr
    Always on the lookout for interesting and unusual non-coursebook topics to use with some of my teenage students, I was glad to find this article in The Guardian.

    I will use the unmodified text with my advanced students, but may come up with a graded version for my younger teen group. Here are some quesions to get the discussion going before introducing the text, for Upper-Intermediate or Advanced learners:

    Introduction to the topic
    1) What kinds of clothes do you usually wear?
    2) Do you wear the same style of clothes all the time? e.g. at school, hanging out with friends, at a disco etc
    3) Do you prefer your clother to be tight and fitted or loose and baggy?
    4) Does your style belong to a particular trend or group? e.g. emo, goth, mod, rocker, hippy, preppy, hip hop, gangster etc
    5) Do your classmates wear the same types of clothes as you? If not, how would you describe their outfits?

    After seeing the picture above:
    6) Have you ever worn your trousers like this?
    7) Would you consider dressing like this? Why (not)?
    8) Why do you think some boys wear their trousers in this way?
    9) Does this style say anything about their personality or views?
    10) Should they be allowed to dress like this at school?

    Tell the students that the council of Florida is considering banning men from wearing trousers that show their underpants.

    11) What do you think about this proposal?
    12) Why do you think they are considering making this law?
    13) Do you think we should have the right to dress how we like? How important is this to you?
    14) Do you think that some ways of dressing are unacceptable in public? If so, which?
    15) In France, the wearing of a face-covering veil in public has been banned for Muslim women. What do you think about this law?
    16) Can we compare Florida's law and France's law?

    Students now read the article.

    17) Are "saggy trousers" only worn by one group of people?
    18) Where did the look originate?
    19) Does "showing your pants" have the same consequences for girls and boys?
    20) What do the "saggers" say are their reasons for dressing in this way?

    With very small high level groups (at the moment I only have 2 or 3 in the class!) I tend to take a more relaxed approach and allow the discussion to move on in whatever way is appropriate in that lesson. These questions are just a guide to fall back on. With a larger group I would hand out the list of questions to students in groups of three or four. I would then look at any language that comes up in the text and any that emerges during the discussion. The text is used as a basis for discussion rather than a reading comprehension, as my students have more trouble speaking (and coming up with things to say) than reading and understanding a text.

    You could do lots of other things with the article, or as a follow up. For example, you could create some rather interesting roleplay scenarios with a "sagger" and his grandmother! The students could write a composition about different styles and fashions, or they could write a diary entry for a boy who has been told he must not wear saggy trousers. If you have any more ideas, share them in the comments section.

    I am now wondering if there are any "saggy-trousered" TEACHERS out there!

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Not A Real Post!

    In case you were thinking that I had miraculously written a second post today, just a few minutes after the first, this isn't a real post! I just thought I would mention that this humble blog is in the Top 200 list of Language Learning blogs created by Lexophiles. There are another 199 fantastic blogs on the list, so I don't expect I'll get many votes, but if you would like to vote (for this one or any other blog) you can do so here.

    I won't be voting for my own blog this year either! (Thought doing that was a bit cheeky!)
    Good luck to all those other bloggers on the list!

    How do you do a jigsaw puzzle?

    Sorry the text is so small - I've tried to change it but nothing happens! The spacing has gone mad too!

    Thanks to liza31337 on Flickr
    I wrote the title to this post sometime ago and then promptly forgot about it. I have just found it amongst the drafts that I never got round to finishing and posting. At first, I didn't even remember why I had decided to write a post entitled "How do you do a jigsaw puzzle?" and what it had to do with learning or teaching English, but then I remembered - I often get these flashes of parallels between day-to-day occurences and language learning methods, as in these older posts: Queuing in the Supermarket and Brick by Brick the Tower is Built. Having received a new jigsaw puzzle as a Christmas present (and taking ages to do it!), I got thinking about the different ways in which people approach things like jigsaws and how this is a reflection of a person's character, and consequently, their learning style.

    I hate Science and Maths and Logic and anything else where you have to follow a procedure, step by step, methodically - boring! Now, I'm not a particularly creative person either, but I have always found it hard to think in a logical, ordered way. This is probably why I never really enjoyed Maths and Science at school. (By the way, you must read Brad Patterson's post Etymology and Dogme flies, 
    where he talks about Science, Humanity and Coursebooks!) I prefer to do things in a slightly more random and ecletic manner. If I do have to solve a mathematical problem, for instance, I would try to work it out (in my head or on paper), but I wouldn't methodically work out the equation that could probably solve it much more quickly. I don't "do" equations! My partner, however, works out absolutely any problem with an equation - he believes this is the most practical, and the easiest way.

    So, back to the jigsaw. Just as my partner methodically separates all the pieces - first the border, then all the other pieces according to colour (yes, in lots of little plastic tubs), I would rather do it more randomly. Ok, I do the border first, but I would rather not spend hours putting pieces into separate piles. On a larger section of colour, such as the sea in a map of the world, my partner puts all those pieces in nice lines, separated according to gender (in Spain jigsaw pieces are male or female, depending whether they have holes or sticking-out bits) and methodically tries each one in the space he is trying to fill. A jigsaw is supposed to be fun and for me there is no fun in this. In the past, we have done jigsaws together, and it's much better as we both have our own style. We complement each other in this way. However, I had to do this last jigsaw alone, and I found myself having to do some of it in exactly the way he would have done - trying out each piece one by one. This was mainly because I was fairly sick of it - it takes a long time to do a 2000 piecer on your own, and I really wanted to finish it.

    Ok, you are wondering what on earth this has to do with anything. (Again!) Well, I think this can say a lot about how a student learns. As a language learner myself, I hated memorising lists and verb conjugations, and grammar rules. In fact, I never got to grips with the subjunctive at university - there are far to many rules to remember. And in any case, knowing the rules doesn't mean that you can actually use them. I learnt how to use the subjunctive by using it, by listening to people and reading. I picked it up. And I think this is reflected in the way I do jigsaw puzzles and solve problems. Other people prefer a more methodical approach.

    So here we have two types of learners, although, of course, there are many more, especially if we look at Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. I think, as teachers, we need to be aware of this - that some of our students feel the need to know rules and have direct translations, and others don't. We often tend to stick to a methodology which encourages discovery and sometimes even glosses over the grammar, keeping everything in context (well, one context), but we always get at least one student who keeps asking "Ok, but what is the rule?" and "How do you say that in Spanish?". In many cases, I have seen teachers (and I have done it myself), try to keep explaining something with examples, refusing to either state the rules or translate, just because it was not the "in" thing to do. But if we really are trying to make our lessons learner-centred, surely we need to do things in the way that best suits our students? 

    I think my main point here is really that "no one way is the right way". Depending on the students in a particular class, you may need to cover areas of language in more than one way. We could have reading and listening texts, even extensive reading, for students like me, who "find" language automatically with exposure. But we could also have more drilling and controlled exercises for those who need to separate their learning into categories. This is obviously very difficult to do in class, but for homework we could give the students several options. On occasion, we could divide the class up into two groups (according to learner type) and give them different actvities to complete. Or even, in pair work, put two different learners together and have one concentrate more on form and the other on the ideas.

    So, how do you do a jigsaw puzzle?

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Imaginary Trips - Let's go to the fair!

    It's Feria time again and I thought I would link to last year's post in which I outlined a way of encouraging (very) young learners to talk about the fair.
    At the Fair by Dominic on Flickr

     When creating my own lesson ideas for young children I always try to provide a variety of activities that include movement and drawing or colouring, in order to change the dynamics - after a noisy game that includes running around, an arts and craft activity can be ideal in order to lower excitement levels and successfully sustain a quiet period during the lesson. I also try to make the lesson multi-sensory, which means using senses other than sight and hearing (which are the predominant senses used in an English lesson), such as touch and smell. This may mean bringing in real or toy objects for the children to handle.

    In the lesson above, I used pictures to present the vocabulary, but another option would be to play recordings of the sounds as well. There could be a horse trotting or galloping, fireworks going off, "sevillanas" music, the sound of a rollercoaster, the siren of the dodgems etc. Using the sense of smell can be more difficult to organise, but you could try to bring in some typical foods of the fair, such as candy floss, caramelised nuts. Taste would be a better option maybe - you could have a blindfolded tasting session of toffee apples, candy floss, lollypops, crisps or whatever else is typical. Try not to give them too much sugar though!

    With young children I always try to tap into their imaginations, as they have not yet begun to doubt their own creativity. Children left alone will naturally start to play and imitate situations they have seen in real life or on TV. All little girls have played "house" and all boys "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and indians" and we have all pretended to be superheroes like Batman or Superman. Children know that these games are not real, but this doesn't stop them from having fun - in fact, it is much more fun to be a superhero than a 6 year-old boy!
    I really believe we should be taking advantage of this in the classroom. Too much lesson time is spent on drilling with flashcards or large pictures - I'm not saying this is bad, but the same language can be "presented" and practised in a much more fun way. Instead of having the children sitting at their desks pointing to flashcards around the room, take them on a pretend bus to wherever you want to take them (with animals you can go to the zoo or the jungle), in this case to the fair. Put them in a line holding hands in twos, just like on a real school trip, and point things out to them. I usually have the pictures of the vocabulary placed around the classroom and I point to them, saying "Ooh look! There's the big wheel! Can you see it? It's very big! Shall we go on it?" In this way the children are being exposed to a lot more language than if you just say "big wheel" and they point to or touch the flashcard. You can involve the children even more by asking them where they want to go next. All this makes it more special - the children can really imagine being at the fair!

    I have done similar "physical" visualisations with the topics Autumn, Winter and Spring, as well as Animals. We pretend to do lots of the activities we associate with those seasons, such as making snowmen or jumping in puddles. The children have lots of fun and just as importantly, all the children have the opportunity learn, whether they remember more things they have done, heard, drawn or written. In short, this kind of lesson is VAK because it includes activities that activate the different senses and therefore encourages learning from all types of learner.
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