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Teaching young learners: What makes for good practice? 
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
Posts: 2130
Location: Nagano, Japan
Post Teaching young learners: What makes for good practice?
Aside from teaching have you ever played with children? I'm sure you have. We all have horsed around with nieces, nephews, your own children, friends children, etc. When you've made them laugh, what's the next thing the child says?

"Do it again."

This is an extremely powerful tool. When children are having fun or if they find something amusing, they will do whatever it is again and again and again. It's amazing. Not only will they want you to do it again then, but the next time you see them, they'll ask you, "Do that thing again." (Problem is you have to remember what it was.) In designing lessons plans this can be a key point for game/activity selection and/or creation, as well as presentation. If the students find something amusing they will want to do it over and over again (just ask SEGA.)

The problem is other than tossing them around, tickling them, physically harming yourself, what do they like?

Funny sounds: If you are drilling, try raising your voice 7 octaves at the end and have the students model, sing the word, whisper the word, shout the word, dance to the word, what ever sells.

Funny words: Don't be afraid to make up words or combine words to make non-sense. Children do this and love it. Tell them you want an elephant-pencil. "An elephant-pencil? No, no a monkey-pencil! No, no. A ROCKET-pencil." "A pocket-pencil? What's that?" Children will jump in and start talking!

Physical comedy: unfortunately this could mean physically harming yourself, but the pros just pretend. I do a lot of street side performance type material that really gets kids laughing and on my side. For example when I meet a child for the first time I may go to shake their hand, miss and run right into them. Then, do it again. And again. And again, until eventually I just deem that there must be something wrong with the childs hand and make him/her shake hands with another child just to verify that his hand actually works and repeat.

So, what makes for good practice? Is it clown type humor? Physical humor? Goofing off? I think the fun needs to be structural and can be any, all, or none of those. If you can plan a lesson that is structurally fun, not necessarily contextually fun, you'll find the lesson successful. That applies to the attitude of the teacher, the presentation of the material, and the execution. Interestingly enough, not necessarily the child or the material.

The answer is have fun on the way home - or charm. Don't be afraid to digress a bit. Listen to Ken's story about his beetle in the middle of class. Don't be afraid to run into a wall (pretend to run into a wall) when Ken won't stop. Break into song. Pretend you're a bus driver swerving away from a deer if you're teaching them "I want to be a bus driver." Children (people for that matter) want to be lead, not dragged.

When I design a game or activity the bulk of the burden lies in "how am I going to sell this activity?" How am I going to get the students to say the target language 100 times and come back and do it again next class? Usually, the answer is keep it simple. Some of the best and most popular games are the most simple; Checkers, Scrabble, Tic-Tac-Toe, Tag, Hang-man, Dodge-ball, Chutes and Ladders... When you are choosing or designing an activity or game please keep that in mind. You can always go back and add more later. But, not if it fails the first time. Also, ask yourself if the activity is interesting. It doesn't have to be a circus all the time but if it's not interesting, it's... boring. Is the information students are gathering/discussing/learning about interesting to them? There is a time for learning for learning's sake but if it's always merely constructive for learning, you're going to have a hard time motivating some of the students.

Each teacher is different and teaching styles need to match the teacher. I can go on and on with endless examples of things that work for me, but those are things that work for me. You need to find some things that work for you. If you have the resources, spend time with children. Don't try to teach them, try to learn from them. See what things children like to do with you or what things you do they find intersting. Then apply those to your teaching methodology to make learning fun and effective.

Watch other teachers, parents, anyone and see what things work for them when they are around children. If you simply try to copy someone else you'll generally find yourself flat on your face. Don't try to mimic, but think about how you can incorporate similar things that will work for you. If you can learn from others and build yourself, you'll find yourself in a very powerful position.

Above all, have fun yourself and teach hard!

Happy teaching,

Build up! Be positive! Teach hard!

Tue Jan 03, 2006 10:57 pm
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Joined: Sun Jan 15, 2006 9:12 pm
Posts: 2
Location: JAPAN
Thanks for the advice. I've just started teaching children a few weeks ago and I really have trouble keeping their attention at times. I think these techniques will really help! I'll be sure to report back once I have some techniques of my own.

Sun Jan 15, 2006 9:22 pm
I completely agree with you on not copying someone else. Every teacher is different. This is one thing that took me a few years to realize. I would try to do something that I saw another teacher do and I would completely fail. You definitely have to alter ideas sometimes in order to make it work for you or fit your personality. I love watching other teachers because I get great ideas from watching them but at the same time I've learned to not be afraid to alter their ideas. That's the beauty of teaching. There is always another way of doing something!

I'm sure you will learn to catch their attention! I teach at an Elementary School (ages 5-11) and one thing that I do to quiet them down and to get their attention is a quiet clap. I'll call out QUIET and we all do this little 7 beat clap. It definitely beats out getting upset or having to raise your voice and they love it!!
Kids love rewards as well. When I taught small classes I would normally give out stickers or candy. Now that I teach large classes I give out stamps for winning a game. Each student has a stamp sheet and the goal is to obtain as many stamps as possible and at the end of the year the students with the most stamps will get a prize. What ages are you teaching? The younger they are…the shorter their attention span will be. With young ones (4-7yrs), I always try to keep every activity really short. I alter sitting down activities with movement activities (songs, games, etc ). Every 5-7 minutes I’m changing activities. You don’t want them to get bored that’s when trouble begins! Hope this helps.

Sun Jan 15, 2006 10:39 pm

Joined: Thu Jun 22, 2006 5:51 pm
Posts: 28
I'm not so good with the horsing around but I did discover that I could keep the kids attention for longer than usual when I pretended that I was stupid teacher who knew no English and got everything wrong.
If we were reviewing the alphabet, to spice up what was going on on the white board I would write letters backwards, upside down, or just the wrong letter or a number and the kids found it hilarious that they had to tell me what I'd done wrong.
I'd also hold up flash cards and call out the wrong word (this is after we have done many lessons of learning the correct words, I hasten to add!!) and pretend that I couldnt understand why they were all yelling "No!" at me.

I like to believe activities like this help them to think outside of just learning by rote.

Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:23 am
Kids do like playing best, and that's why teaching with games is such an effective technique. Of course, you do need to sell the game, like other people have posted on this thread, and once you do that they'll find themselves playing. The best part is that they'll be learning while they play and might not even realize it!

Another great thing about using games is that students learn differently and games are a great way to incorporate methods that appeal to the children's different learning styles -- and this is another great practice for teaching children. Just think, one great game can get the students moving, using numbers and using music all at once.

One thing to remember, though, is that incorporating all the different learning styles into one activity can be overwhelming and by not using them all you'll force the students to explore outside of their comfort levels at least part of the time.

Sun Oct 01, 2006 10:55 pm

Joined: Tue Sep 19, 2006 9:08 am
Posts: 48
Location: Imsil, Jeolla-buk-do, South Korea
I teach in Asia where there is so much pressure to do everything right. So many times they would rather say nothing than to say something that was not completely correct. "How was the test?" "Terrible!" "Really?" "Yes, I got one wrong." How tragic, you only got 95%. Such pressure to do things perfectly. Mistakes are the enemy. It takes so much energy to try to break them out of this mold and just let them enjoy the ride of discovering the language and let them play with the words. To try to express new things, to make mistakes and learn from them without self-esteem falling to pieces. And this atmosphere really does have to start with me because they don't get it from anyone else. Having fun is so vital to this. So much good can be achieved if the teacher can have fun with the students and if the students see that the teacher really likes being with them. I really love teaching. Some days are hard and I have my trouble classes. And I don't want to even start talking about school politics. But what really matters is what I bring to class.

I like to make mistakes with my students. I have several activities where I purposely make mistakes and let the kids laugh and correct them. It is so much fun for them. And they learn when they can correct mistakes. I make strange mistakes and I make mistakes that they sometimes make themselves. It helps them to improve without the focus being on them. It is so wonderful when I have a class that start to embrace mistakes even if it is just for the one hour a week they spend with me.

Fun has such amazing learning potential.

Sun Oct 01, 2006 11:18 pm
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