Six misconceptions about teaching young learners of English

I met Anita Kwiatkowska at a teaching conference in Hungary and she made a very good point to me about this blog: why aren’t there more things for teachers of Young Learners? Well, the short answer is because I no longer teach young learners. But Anita was right that there is nowhere near as much ELT blogging going on for Young Learners as there is for Old Learners. Faced with this I answered the only way I could: I asked her to write something for me to begin to redress the balance.

Here are Anita’s six misconceptions about teaching young learners (YLs) of English.

1. Teachers of YLs should be paid less money because the only thing they do is playing games and singing songs

2. Teachers of YLs have lower qualifications that’s why they teach kids (or – They teach kids because their qualifications are not enough to deal with more serious teaching)

3. Teaching children is not REAL teaching (Can’t remember how often I was given a look saying ‘Now what do YOU know about the difference between Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous???’) . You also don’t speak REAL English, because if you teach YLs (and are not a native speaker) most probably your level of English is equal to the one of your students’.

4. Teachers of YLs cannot/should not/ are not able to teach adults (This one is interesting – it seems like anyone can get a job teaching kids but if a teacher of kids wants to get a job teaching adults, he or she is immediately rejected)

5. Teaching YLs is a very easy/difficult job (it actually is not, once you get the idea how to do it properly)

6. Teachers of YLs like children (hmm… how to say that… I guess not all of them 🙂

So, what do you think? Are these misconceptions true where you work? Are you a frustrated YL teacher? Are there any others? Please post a comment.

Anita Kwiatkowska is a Polish teacher of young learners currently in Turkey. She is also active in the blogosphere and twittevers and is the person behind the blog l_missbossy’s ELT playground.

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Published in: on December 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm  Comments (15)  
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Six universally known video game phrases for the young learner

This summer I was listening to my eight year old son playing video games with some other kids. It was at one of those big tent places with several Playstations, Xboxes and other consoles. The local and television radio stations often set up these kinds of things on the beach near where I live here in Spain. Anyway, there were a mix of children there all playing various racing, shooting and other video games. I noticed several English words coming up again and again even though the children were speaking Spanish, German or French. I think the following six certainly make up the beginning of a YL Lingua Franca Core nowadays.

1. Game Over.

This is probably the number one collocation or chunk for today’s international video game playing youth. These two words probably have quite a negative connotation, unless you have the option of the next words in our list.

2. Start/Restart Game

Yay! We can keep playing, or start the whole thing over again. These words have very positive connotations, and I bet that a majority of kids around the world recognise “start game” anywhere (and instinctively reach to press a button to play). Wouldn’t life be great if we had the option of a “restart game” button to rectify bad career or relationship choices?

3. Weapon

I hadn’t thought of this one until I heard the children yelping excitedly that they had “encontrado los ‘weapons’” (found the weapons). This was followed by rather indiscriminate using of said weapons. Looking at a few of the other games there were several collocations with weapon I would imagine are necessary for the young English-speaking gamer: use weapon, load/reload weapon, arm weapon (for the really BIG ones) and of course fire weapon. I have not yet seen a video game which features the language chunk “lay down your weapons” and really mean it.

4. You have won. (or You win)

The three words every YL longs to see on the screen. ‘Nuff said.

5. Combo

Okay, the older and not-so-clued in readers of this blog might think this is something to do with fast food. Let me explain. Many video games have basic moves which we can all understand. So why is it when you are playing against your six year old nephew he or she can consistently kick your ass? This is because they know the mysterious combinations, or combos, of buttons that make their character move or attack faster and better. Picture a child, holding a joystick, face screwed up in deep concentration and fingers flying across the buttons in a belwildering blur. That is a child using a “combo”.

6. Loading

When I asked my son which other English words he saw most in video games he thought for a moment before finally saying this one. This word is synonymous with frustration for many young learners, as it means they have to wait until they can begin playing in earnest. Sometimes I wonder if some my beginner learners might not benefit from using this word in class when I press them to speak. To give themselves time to think, they could simply answer: “Loading.”

I’m sure there are others I’ve missed out. Anyone want to share one? Or make a comment about video game English?

By the way, the folk over at Digital Play have actually got a whole blog on video games and language learning – it’s my latest find on the net.  Go check them out if you are interested in this kind of stuff.

Published in: on September 8, 2009 at 6:20 am  Comments (6)  
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Carol Read’s Six Favourite Picture Books

carolreadThe other day I realised that there was nothing on this site specifically for teachers of children. Since this is one of the growth areas of English language teaching I thought I’d better start adding some stuff. So here is first list in the Young Learners category. I was lucky enough to convince Carol Read to submit something. Carol is an educational consultant, teacher trainer and award-winning author. She has written many course books, supplementary materials and articles on teaching children.  Here she shares her favourite six picture books (you can see the cover and sometimes inside the book if you follow the links I’ve inserted, which take you to an outside site)

Many picture books are works of art which integrate text and illustrations in a myriad of creative, thought-provoking ways and develop a love of language and literature in children from an early age. In primary classrooms, picture books provide shared contexts for natural language development and engage children with issues which are real and significant to them. As well as developing the imagination, picture books allow for rich exposure to language and the active construction of meaning. Picture books also inspire children to use language because they want to, and allow everyone to participate successfully.

In more than 25 years of teaching, I’ve used many different picture books with children aged 3 – 12 and have a precious collection of well-thumbed favourites. In the 1980s, picture books closest to my heart included classics such as The Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle), Where’s Spot? (Eric Hill), Meg and Mog (Helen Nicoll & Jan Pienkowski) as well as more challenging titles such as Where the wild things are (Maurice Sendak) and Gorilla (Anthony Browne). I still love these books and have found it an almost impossible task to reduce my collection of favourites to a list of six. I’ve therefore decided to choose six picture books which i) I’ve used recently and ii) have produced the most enthusiastic responses in the groups of children that I’ve shared them with. They are in no particular order as follows:

1 Giraffes can’t dance  (Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees)

This picture book in rhyming verses tells of Gerald the giraffe’s anguish at being mocked by all the other animals for his lack of dancing skills at the Jungle Dance.

We follow Gerald’s touching learning journey from his loss of self-esteem to becoming the object of admiration of all the animals. In terms of significant issues, the story touches on believing in yourself and discovering your own personal strengths. Two features are the strong beat of the rhyming verses which makes the language highly memorable, and the expressive illustrations of Gerald both when he’s sad and as he entrances the animals with his elegant dancing at the end of the story.

2 I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato (Lauren Child)

In I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato Charlie plays a series of imaginative and amusing tricks on his little sister, Lola, who is a very fussy eater, to get her to eat her dinner. The story is predominantly told using direct speech from Charlie’s point of view. Charlie and Lola are drawn in bold lines with large eyes and expressive mouths that clearly convey their every feeling. Lauren Child also uses a combination of photos, collage and computer-generated backgrounds, as well as a variety of fonts and sizes in the text. These add to the appeal and humour and emphasise how Lola really hates eating vegetables. This story is ideal as part of a unit of work on food and, if children enjoy Charlie and Lola, there are many more stories in the series as well.

3 Mr Wolf’s week (Colin Hawkins)

The appeal of Mr Wolf’s week seems to lie in the fact that it is an ordinary, everyday story about the routine of a normal, inoffensive wolf, in contrast to the villainous character children associate with traditional stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood. For language classes, the story helpfully focusses on lexical sets typically found in children’s coursebooks: days of the week, weather, clothes and everyday actions. The charm of the story lies in the delightful pictures of Mr Wolf and the simplicity of the repeated language pattern for each day: Monday is … (weather). Mr Wolf puts on his … (clothes) and …. (what he does). This also makes it an ideal model for children’s own attempts at writing a story. The examples at the bottom of this post, Mr Rabbit’s week (Inés) and Mr Dog’s week (Guillermo) are by 7-year-old children in their second year of English.  

4 Something Else (Kathryn Cave & Chris Riddell)

Something Else is a moving story about differences, and the agony and isolation of being an outsider. Something Else wants to be like the other creatures but they won’t accept him. Then one day a strange creature comes to Something Else’s house and wants to be friends. Something Else almost rejects him but is reminded of his own experience just in time. Embedded in this beautifully illustrated and apparently simple story are themes of racism and intolerance. Whenever I share this story with children in upper primary, I never fail to be impressed by their mature response and ability to talk openly about issues that adults often shy away from. Something Else makes me think how often we underestimate children, and also that picture books should not only be for them.

5 Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell)

Dear Zoo is a classic ‘flap’ picture book that never fails to appeal to very young learners. If possible, it’s best to use the ‘big book’ version which makes it easy to see with large groups and more fun to open the ‘flaps’. The concept of writing to the zoo to ask for a pet is brilliantly simple, and the repetitive language pattern, combined with different size coloured boxes and animals on each double spread, engages the rapt attention of little ones, even those with the shortest concentration spans. As the different animals on each page get sent back to the zoo because they are not suitable, the animal on the last page of the story is ‘perfect’.

6 Lost and Found (Oliver Jeffers)

Lost and Found is a touching story about a penguin and the boy who helps him. Behind its apparent simplicity resonate themes of loneliness, friendship and the value of kindness. As the boy and the penguin set off to the South Pole, their tiny boat contrasts with the vastness of the blue and green-toned sea and the waves as big as mountains. Many children worry when the boy realises his mistake in leaving the penguin at the South Pole, and their reunion hug on the penultimate page needs no words. This is a picture book children will ask you to read again for sheer pleasure and, in my view, it’s best to let the magical words and illustrations speak for themselves.

What about your favourite picture books? It would be great to hear.

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Published in: on March 15, 2009 at 8:02 pm  Comments (9)  
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