Presenting and Attending

In February I presented for the first time ever.  My topic was exploiting L1 in the Young Learner classroom and I gave the talk/workshop at the ACEIA conference in Málaga.  Later in March I attended my first ever TESOL conference, held in Madrid this year.  This post will be about my reactions to both of these experiences.

I loved preparing for my session: researching, planning, getting advice from peers and rehearsing.  It was a lot of work and required quite a large chunk of time but I really enjoyed the process.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the nerves I felt while speaking but I try to think of it as just a small part of the bigger picture.  I wasn’t really aware of how nervous I would be until I did a practice run with a group of peers.  Beforehand I felt a few twinges of nervousness and excitement but it wasn’t until I stood up in front of the group that waves of anxiety started coming over me.  It happened suddenly and took me by surprise but I was glad that my first attempt was in front of a room of people who know me and support me.  That meant I could mentally and emotionally prepare myself for when it happened in front of a group of strangers.  I used breathing techniques and visualization to help me get ready for the big day.  I also rehearsed my talk to the point of automation so that if my mind was tangled up in the web of anxiety during my session, I could still manage to get through it in a more or less coherent way.  I think it worked or at least I like to think it did.

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with my friend Teresa Bestwick at ACEIA Málaga; photo credit- taken on T’s phone 😉

I consider my first presentation a success because I enjoyed it.  There are lots of things I’d change and tweaks I’d make to the session before giving it again but I think it was a good, solid first attempt at giving a talk.  I’m thinking about presenting again, although I’m not sure when that will be or what it will be about.

Presenting was overwhelming and exhausting but also exhilarating.  I found that attending a large conference like TESOL was all of these emotions and more.  I thoroughly enjoyed that weekend in Madrid but it felt like my brain was on overstimulation mode for a good 36 hours.  In fact, I couldn’t sleep the first night we were there and I’m pretty sure it was because my brain just couldn’t shut down and let me rest.

This was my first experience at a big conference like TESOL and I quickly realized that when you’re not attending a session, you’re networking or looking at publishers’ material or even just trying to assimilate all the information you’re being bombarded with.  Again, it’s overwhelming and exhausting but exhilarating.

I went to some really useful sessions at TESOL.  I got lots of ideas for classes but I also had the chance to hear a talk on how pyscholinguistics can be used in the classroom (Belén Ramírez) and another on how Flow Theory and the Quest For Delight are related to teaching (Ceri Jones).  The variety of topics and perspectives was astounding.

For me, the best part of the conference was seeing people I normally interact with on social media, some of whom I had never met in person.  Getting to spend time with them and have real-life conversations was delightful.

I also met lots of new people and got to hear about their teaching situations and experiences.  The vibe at TESOL was invigorating.  It was one of openness and sharing.  Conversations were easy to strike up and were often interrupted by the beginning of a talk or seeing someone you know.  The extrovert part of me was in absolute heaven, although the introvert part of me was screaming for a quiet dark room by the end of the weekend.

The worst part of the conference was also one of its strengths.  There was so much variety  and so many sessions to choose from that it was frustrating.  I found myself reading the timetable over and over again, agonizing over which talk to see because so many of them sparked some interest.

At the end of the conference I walked away with tons of information swirling around in my head as well as tucked away on a flashdrive (kudos to TESOL for taking this ecological step!).  I also came away with a cozy feeling of being connected, supported and valued in my field.  I’m looking forward to the next time I present and the next big conference but happy to have time to rest up and catch my breath beforehand.

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my friend Fiona Dunbar presenting on Pronunciation at TESOL

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Exploiting L1 in the Young Learner Classroom: list of references

The following is a list of references I used when preparing my session.  I have provided a link to the source if it is available online.

I’m hoping to have some time soon to sit down and write a post about the presentation experience.  If you attended my session and have comments or questions, please email me (careymicaela@yahoo.com) or leave them here in the comments sections.

A special thank you to all those on social media and in the blogosphere who shared with me their opinions and experiences with using L1 in the classroom.  Every bit of it helped guide me in preparing my session.  Thanks!! 🙂

 

Atkinson, D. (1987). The mother tongue in the classroom: a neglected resource? ELT journal, 41(4).

Hall, G., & Cook, G. (2013). Own-language use in ELT : global practices and attitudes.London: British council.

Harbord, J. (1992, October ). The use of the mother tongue in the classroom. ELT Journal, 46/4 

Kerr, P. (2016) Questioning ‘English-only’ Classrooms: Own-language Use in ELT. Routledge Handbook of ELT (ed. Graham Hall, 2016)

 

Further reading:

Chambers, F. (1992) Promoting Use of the Target Language in the Classroom. Language Learning Journal. Volume 6

Howatt A.P.R. & Smith R. (2014, May) The History of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, from a British and European Perspective. Language and History. Volume 57. no. 1. 75-95

Taye Tsehayu, B. (2017) Current controversies on the use of L1 in ELT Classrooms: focus on Ethiopian context. The Warwick ETLZINE.

 

Posted in Conferences, Using L1, very young learners, Young Learners | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#liveninguptheprocesschallenge

It’s taken me a while to find time to write this post but it’s finally here.  The idea for this post came from Zhenya Polosatova’s blog post on #liveninguptheprocesschallenge .

I use quite a bit of material in my classes with young learners.  Some material is the same every day but other things I bring in (realia, flashcards, storycards, craft materials, etc) will depend on what we’re doing in that particular lesson.  I always seem to have a ton of stuff but everything has its purpose. My classes with Pre-School are very different from those in Primary so I’m sharing two pictures.

These are some of the items that I use every day with pre-school aged students:

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Emoji cards:  We use these mainly for the warmer question at the beginning- ‘How are you today?’  We ask the person next to us in circle time so it’s a chain question format.  Before we begin I always elicit the different emotions demonstrated by the emojis.

Helper badges: These are the blue badges with stars.  Every class I have two helpers who assist me in handing out worksheets and folders and collecting them at the end of class.  If a student has been misbehaving in class, they could lose a turn at being helper.

Please raise your hand poster:  Students often forget to raise their hand to speak and start interrupting other people who are speaking.  Usually I just have to point at the poster and that’s enough to remind them to raise their hand and wait their turn.

Fish bowls:  This is a classroom management strategy that I’ve used for years.  Each student has a fish with their name on it that they colored in on the first day of class.  Their fish starts off in the beautiful blue bowl with the dolphin, octopus and crab but when a student somehow misbehaves, I move their fish to the bowl with the shark.  The student has to correct their behavior during the rest of the class.  If they are showing effort and have improved their behavior, I move their fish back to the blue bowl at the end of class.  If they continue to misbehave, their fish stays with the shark and they lost their next turn at helper.  Most days I only have to point to the fish bowl and ask if I need to move their fish.  This is usually enough to get a student back on track.

Puzzle piece: Students sit in circle time on these foam puzzle pieces.  I started using these because the floor can be cold and it’s also a great way to organize where they’re supposed to sit.  They sometimes play with the mat but consistent reminders to keep their hands in their laps keeps them focused.

Cheeky Monkey puppet: I’ve used the Cheeky Monkey books for ten years now (!!) and this is the puppet that comes with them.  The kids adore Cheeky and love to start the class by giving him hugs and kisses.  When older students see Cheeky on my table or in my box they always get excited.  I’m changing books next year (it’s time…) and I hope the new puppet will be as popular as Cheeky.

These are some of the things I take to a Primary aged class, in this case it would be 5th:

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Various posters: I hang these on the edges of the board every class.  One is to remind them to raise their hands and another is to offer some useful phrases in English.  There’s also one with flags from English-speaking countries to remind them to speak in English and a Spanish flag for those times when L1 can be used (when we’re discussing a grammar topic or a writing project). There’s also a poster to remind students of what’s expected of them in class: effort, participation, behaviour and attitude.  The big blue S is what I refer to as the super S.  I use it to teach them about the third person singular ‘s’.

Flashcards and word cards: I use flashcards in all of my classes and word cards with Primary.  We use them for presenting vocabulary, revising, fast finisher activities, reminders of what to use in writing tasks… there are so many different ways you can use them!

Stars: In 3rd, 4th and 5th, I have two helpers who assist me in giving out worksheets and collecting assignments.  They also have stars on their desks.  If they hear another student speaking English, they give them a star.  If the student then speaks in Spanish, they take the star away but the student can earn the star back if they later speak in English. This method has worked like a dream to curb the use of L1 in class and motivate them to try it in L2.

Name cards: The students sit in pairs and we change seating every day so that they get to work with different partners.  Before they come in the classroom I put the name cards on their desks to assign seating.  I’m really happy with this strategy because students of this age seem to need the variety.  Whereas the younger students seem to enjoy the structure and stability of knowing who they’ll be next to for the trimester, students in 4th and 5th get bored with the monotony.

Flashdrive:  I like to use the smartboard to show a document on Word of the target language I want them to use during a dialogue or a pairwork activity.  Creating the document before class saves me time at the board and gives us more time for drilling and for them to do the activity.

Thank you to Zhenya for this fascinating challenge.  It’s been fun sharing what I use in class.  I encourage you to check out her post  and participate in the challenge!

Posted in materials, reflections, Young Learners | Tagged | 4 Comments

Call for Opinions and Experiences

I have finally decided to take the plunge and in February I will be presenting for the first time ever.  As I am nervous about how my first session will go, I am overpreparing everything and basically making myself even more nervous in the process!

Joking aside, I’ve chosen a rather divisive topic for my first presentation, calling it ‘Exploiting L1 in the Young Learner Classroom’.  Most of the training we receive in preparing to become English language teachers considers the use of the students’ native language in the classroom rather taboo.  For various reasons we are obliged encouraged to use only the target language.

As I am researching this topic and getting my session ready, I wanted to hear from other teachers and trainers what their opinion and their experiences were regarding using L1 when teaching Young Learners.

  1. Do you occasionally use the students’ native language in the classroom?
  2. Under which circumstances and why?
  3. Do you feel guilty about using L1? Why or why not?

Please share with me your thoughts and help me expand the way I approach this session.  Any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Posted in Conferences, Using L1, Young Learners | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Circle Time Feelings Activity

I begin most of my classes with young learners in Circle Time (see this post for more information).  The beginning of each class normally includes students telling the class something they’d like to share, a hello song and a question that we ask around the circle in a chain format (each one answering and then asking the person next to them).  Although we sometimes ask questions like, ‘How old are you?’ or ‘What’s your favourite colour/animal/food?’, quite often we ask each other, ‘How are you today?’.  When I ask the class all together, they know to reply, ‘I’m fine, thank you’.  This is the generally accepted response to that type of question.  But when we ask each other in circle time, the learners have the opportunity to express how they’re feeling that day.

We begin the activity with me holding the laminated emoji cards in my hands and eliciting each from the students.  The feelings shown in the cards are the following: cold, hot, hungry, thirsty, sad, tired, scared, surprised, happy, angry, ill and worried.  A few of my students also took it upon themselves to create their own cards for dizzy, hurt and sleepy.

emojis blog post

As they name the feelings, I put the cards in the middle on the floor so that everyone can see them.  Then I ask the first student to my left or right, ‘How are you today?’ initiating the question chain.  I try to insist that students respond in a complete sentence with ‘I’m’ and it’s also a good way of getting them to practice using ‘and’ as a connector.

Students really seem to enjoy this activity because it’s highly personalized and allows them to express how they’re feeling.  At first I thought they might always end up saying, ‘I’m happy’ but I’ve noticed that some of them like to pretend how they’re feeling and in this way use a variety of the vocabulary.  It’s interesting and motivating to see students so young using that type of strategy to practice English.

I find this activity useful on many levels as it serves to get them thinking and speaking in English as well as teaching them vocabulary that we’ll inevitably use in class to talk about how characters feel in stories, etc.  Indeed, some of the feelings (e.g., worried, surprised) are taken directly from stories we will read in class and this is a way of pre-teaching those words.  It’s very easy to adapt this activity to the vocabulary needs of any class.

Do you use a similar activity in your classroom? Or would you consider introducing this feelings activity?  Please share any comments on your experiences below.  Thanks for reading!

Posted in Activities to Share, Methods, very young learners | Leave a comment

What do you mean you don’t remember?!

Working with Very Young Learners can be painfully slow going and frustrating.  With the four year-olds especially, I often find myself wondering, ‘Am I really teaching them anything? Or are we just playing and singing songs?’ It seems like we’ll work with a vocabulary set over and over again.  They’ll even say the words a few times but then immediately forget all of them.  I’ve worked with this age group for over ten years now and I still get discouraged.

Part of the problem is that VYLs are already taking in so much new information on a daily basis.  Take a moment and think about everything they are learning for the very first time every day: how to hold a pencil, that turning the tap on too far means water will go everywhere, how to sit with their legs crossed and not fall over, the words to express what they want and how they’re feeling…are just a few examples.  They are constantly bombarded with new experiences and knowledge about how the world works.  When you take that in mind, it’s understandable that their brains can be a bit overwhelmed and saturated with information.

Something else to consider is that their memory and cognition are completely different from older children and adults.  This seems like an obvious statement but there are plenty of parents as well as teachers who often fail to take this difference into account when dealing with little ones. Coupled with a short attention span, children at this age also have a more limited short-term or working memory.  These two factors make it even harder for them to transfer knowledge to long-term memory.  As we develop (until a certain age), both attention span and memory increase in scope as well as effectiveness.

There are a few mnemonic devices that I’ve found to be useful in the VYL classroom.  The one that stands out above the rest is using music to help learners remember words and chunks of language.  For example, there are times when I’ll try to elicit a vocabulary word that we’ve been working on (over and over again) but none of them can recall it at that moment.  However, if I start singing the song with this vocabulary set and stop just as I get to that word, someone always seems to come up with the word.

I also use chants with classroom language such as instructions.  I normally have learners wait before picking up their pencils and start to work on a worksheet so that everyone is beginning at the same time.  It helps to lessen the time that Fast Finishers are waiting for everyone else. So the routine is that I chant, ‘wait, wait, wait’.  They often chant along with me and this helps them to remember that they should wait for my cue to start without me having to explain it every time.

Another device to help learners commit new words to short-term and later long-term memory is associating a mime with each vocabulary word.  Very Yong Learners love to move need to move, so using variations of Total Physical Response with them is a must.  Generally speaking, the vocabulary we work with at this age is very concrete and lends itself well to using mimes. Some obvious examples are the body, animals and places in the house but with certain sets such as family or food, you may need to get creative.  I’ve found that when learners can attach a mime to a word it serves as what some refer to as memory hook.  In adults this refers to relating a new word to previously gained knowledge but in young learners I think this hook can be created using gestures they’re familiar with.

Working with Very Young Learners and evaluating their progress (or seemingly lackthereof) can be disheartening and requires quite a bit of patience.  My advice (and this serves to remind myself as well) is to expect to feel frustrated at times but cherish the triumphs and celebrate them.  Praise goes a long way to build their confidence, engage their interest and motivate the rest of the class to participate as well.

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Posted in Memory, reflections, very young learners, Young Learners | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Process Writing with Young Learners

 

As teachers, we all know that writing is an important skill that requires training as well as practice.  Developing an ability to express our thoughts clearly in writing can be difficult and takes time.  I think it’s important to begin working on this skill at a young age and for this reason I include process writing in my classes starting with students around age eight.  In this post I’m going to lay out the steps we take in completing these projects as well as discuss why each step is important.

Developing a skill in writing at any age has its challenges but with young learners it requires careful planning, lots of encouragement and patience.  Pre-writing tasks and scaffolding are crucial because young learners have very little experience with writing (at least compared to an adult).  It’s also essential that we make the tasks personal and meaningful to them in order to keep them motivated.  In addition, having clear steps that they are familiar with will help them stay focused.

The course books we use include a project in each unit so I use these to help model the process as well as the end product but I’ve tweaked it to include more scaffolding as well as more proofreading.  The advantage to using the projects in the course books is that they correspond to the vocabulary, grammar and topic we are working on, giving students an opportunity to put their working knowledge into action.  However, if your course books don’t include a project, it’s fairly easy to come up with writing tasks that achieve this goal.

The first step in writing involves getting the students interested in a topic as well as giving them the vocabulary and lexical chunks they need to express themselves. The lessons in the unit that involve introducing and practicing vocabulary and grammar related to the topic are a large part of this pre-writing step.  Students use the information and structures we’ve been studying when they sit down to write their project, making the task meaningful and giving their learning a concrete purpose.

Another pre-writing task that is extremely important is allowing students to see models of what they’re going to write.  As I mentioned before, young learners have limited experience when it comes to writing so this step helps them form a clear idea in their heads of what the finished product should look like.  I find that when students know what is expected of them the process is less stressful and the reasoning behind each step is easier to understand.

Before we begin the writing process, we look at and discuss the models found in our course books.  I also make my own model so that students can see how we can use the same structures with different information to create our own projects.  I think that they also just enjoy having a model they can handle and touch because it seems more real to them somehow.

In our discussions, I usually begin by reading out loud the model in the book but making mistakes.  Students listen closely, stop me when I make a mistake and say what it really says in the model.  It’s a simple technique but it keeps the class as a whole focused on what we’re reading.  At the same time they’re predicting and correcting the same structures they’ll be using in their own writing.

After we read the model together, I like to point out certain things to keep in mind in order to help avoid errors or to make sure that meaning is clear.  It depends on the text but these things range from a reminder of the spelling of difficult words to how to use the apostrophe correctly.  It’s really just a last minute revision of grammar or spelling before they begin their projects.

The next step involves a notes-and-writing-skeleton worksheet that I’ve come up with for each project.  I like to put the document on the overhead and we look at it together before I hand it out to students.  I think this step is important because once you give them the worksheets, their heads are down and they’re no longer following what you’re showing them on the overhead.  An alternative is to give them the worksheets but tell them to keep all pencils down.

There are two parts to the worksheet for each project. The top part is for notes and it serves to stimulate students as well as help them gather together information they’ll use in their writing.  The bottom part is a skeleton of the paragraph or paragraphs they’ll be writing.  They use the ideas they’ve come up with in the notes section to fill in the sentences in the skeleton.  Writing a full paragraph using connectors, correct punctuation and the appropriate lexical chunks can be daunting for an eight year-old.  Using the worksheet to write notes and fill in the skeleton students magically come up with a complete paragraph with their own ideas and personal information.

While students are filling in the notes section I am monitoring, answering questions, giving feedback, reminding students about spelling and generally just encouraging them to write to the best of their ability.  Before they begin completing the skeleton, I check their notes for spelling, grammatical errors or meaning that isn’t clear.  I do the same when they finish the skeleton.  Constant revision and feedback help to assure students that they’re on the right track and avoids errors in their final product.

We finish the worksheet in class and for homework students write a clean copy of the skeleton on a piece of paper to hand in.  I collect those in the next class and correct them.  I think this step is important for two reasons.  First, it gives students a chance to write the sentences in the paragraph on their own and get a feel for the form of the task.  And secondly, it encourages them to proofread their work.  Their objective is to write a clean copy of their project as a sort of practice run before creating their poster.  They tend to take it quite seriously because they want the end product to turn out well.

Once I’ve corrected their drafts I return them to the students and for homework they finish their projects.  In order to make the projects more appealing to young learners, I ask them to take their writing tasks and make posters with pictures they’ve drawn, photos cut out of magazines or pictures printed off the internet.  It adds an element of fun to the assignment and at the same time gives their writing context.

I collect their posters and mark them using a rubric that they’ve seen before so they know exactly what the expectations are.  I look at things like effort, whether it’s on time, creativity and appearance, handwriting, capital letters/punctuation, spelling and grammar.  Instead of a number grade, I use comments to point out what they need to improve next time and what they’ve done well this time.

The final step in our writing process is the one they probably enjoy the most.  Each student puts their poster on their desk and everyone mingles around, reading each other’s projects.  This is really the moment when everything comes together and all their hard work becomes worth it because they can show it off to their peers.

This is what process writing looks like in our classroom.  It’s a very structured, carefully planned procedure that does allow for some creative wriggle room but its purpose is mostly to give students exposure to using certain grammatical structures and lexical chunks in a controlled way.  A freer approach to writing can and should also be used in the young learner classroom but that’s a whole other post.

Thank you for reading.  I hope you’ve found this post useful or at least interesting.  Please share any techniques or ideas related to developing writing with young learners in the comments section.

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Feelings of Isolation

 

When I first started teaching, I worked at a public school in the States and then at language academies in Spain.  As a teacher new to the field and keen on personal development, I often sought out opportunities for training (still do!).  They were usually available in some form or another, even if it just meant speaking to colleagues in the break room about what we were doing in our classes.  There was a feeling of being connected and part of something bigger, which is comforting for a new teacher.

After a few turbulent years of trying to find a workplace where I felt valued and appreciated (as opposed to exploited and easily replaceable), I came across the chance to break away from working for someone else and become self-employed.

A friend and I began an adventure in building an after-school English program in a public school.  We worked hard to find our way, establish our own policies and figure out the business side of private language teaching.

This is our ninth year and I’d say we’ve been successful so far.  The school is located in a small town and word of mouth has really helped us to gain respect and trust.  We now have waiting lists to get in to all of our Pre-School and Primary classes.

It’s been daunting at times but I’ve enjoyed putting together a program that adheres to my beliefs regarding teaching.  We’ve had to put some focus on the business side of things but, generally speaking, we try to put the students and their needs first.

Having the chance to create and build up a program such as this has been very positive.  The words that come to mind are rewarding and motivating.  I make all the decisions about my syllabi, curriculums, course books, classroom management, etc.  Everything.  I don’t have anyone telling me that I need to teach these units in the book before Christmas or that we can’t mention this behavioral issue to the parents and that I just need to get on with the class.  Compared to when I worked for academies, I now feel very self-reliant as well as free.

The downside of working for yourself is that it can be very isolating.  There are only two of us running and teaching the classes in our program because we’ve deliberately kept the scope small and focused on quality.  I have the Pre-School classes and most of Primary; my colleague has the last year of Primary and all of Secondary.  This means that we’re in a small town in southern Spain, each teaching different levels and without direct contact with other teachers of English.  The feeling of belonging to a network or at least being part of something bigger is no longer there.

I use a number of tactics to combat feeling isolated.  Talking to friends who are teachers is sometimes effective, although when we get together at the weekend sometimes the last thing we want to talk about is work.

When I have time, I also turn to social media to connect with other teachers by reading and commenting on their blogs, joining chats on twitter and conversations through facebook.  Finding time is not always feasible though.

Conferences are another way to meet new people, hear about other people’s ideas and generally feel connected.  The problem is that signing up and going to them can be expensive (transport, hotel, etc) as well as time-consuming.

Writing on my blog is another way to alleviate feelings of isolation.  Sharing my thoughts with other teachers and bloggers helps me feel significant and like I have a voice.  Interacting through comments also shows me that what I have to say is somehow having an effect on others.

I don’t always find the time to carry out these tactics but when I do, I manage to feel a connection with other teachers, which is important to me.  I value self-reliance but I also believe in the advantages of forming part of a community.

If you can related to the thoughts I’ve shared here, please leave a comment about it.  Be sure to mention what you do to feel less isolated.

I’d like to thank Zhenya (see her recent blog post on Connecting) for the inspiration that I needed to sit down and finally write this post.  Sometimes it helps to just write about something and put those thoughts out there.

Posted in personal reflection, PLN, reflections | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Mini Whiteboards in the Young Learner Classroom

I have lots of props, posters and other visual aids that I use in class with young learners but I’m pretty sure that my best investment was in mini whiteboards.  They were relatively inexpensive yet are extremely versatile and fairly durable.  I don’t use them every day in class but I do use them for a range of activities and at various points in a lesson.  The possibilities are endless but I’ll share some ideas here.  The reader is also encouraged to check out AnthonyTeacher.com and his blog post called ‘Six Ways I Use Mini Whiteboards in the Classroom’.  I had been mulling over writing about mini whiteboards for a while and reading his post helped push me towards actually sitting down to write it. Thanks, Anthony!

Let’s begin with a look at why mini whiteboards are a valuable tool in the young learner classroom.  First and foremost, they grab the students’ attention. As with most classroom props, I don’t bring the boards out until we’re ready to use them.  I do this in part because young learners will most certainly be distracted if they see the boards sitting there, waiting to be used later.  But it’s also a tactic in using their surprise at seeing me take the boards out as a way to motivate and interest them.

In addition to the excitement that the boards bring to the classroom, they also keep the lesson student-controlled and student-centered.  Instead of the focus being on me at the board/projector at the front of the room, it’s now up to the students to produce whatever we’re working on.  I think that this shift in control is part of the appeal that using the boards has for younger children.

Putting the focus on the students also means that they’re being forced to work in pairs or groups giving them practice in skills such as sharing, negotiation and collaboration.

As the teachers of young learners will know, having them take out a piece of paper and get a pencil ready to write something down can take AGES.  Mini whiteboards save time as well as paper.  The first few times you use them it may take a bit longer but once the teacher shows the students how to use the boards efficiently and correctly, it can become an effective part of classroom routine.

At the Primary level, mini whiteboards can be used for a wide range of activities and purposes but I think I’d have to say in our classroom they are most frequently used by Fast Finishers because it’s quick and easy for students to pick up a board and do a few activities, most often with a partner.

There are plenty of Fast Finisher tasks that students can do with mini whiteboards but the two that stand out for me are Peer Dictation (also mentioned by Anthony Teacher) and Hangman.

Peer Dictation with primary-aged children is much simpler than that of older students but the principles involved and the skills they practice are very similar.  Some of these skills include but are not limited to: listening, writing (letter formation is the focus for the younger students), spelling, pronunciation, working in pairs and error correction.  With students in the first two years of Primary, we use word dictation; older primary students can dictate chunks of language or full sentences.  The target language will depend on the capabilities of the students as well as the aim of the task.  I usually ask them to dictate words or sentences from the unit we’re working on so that the task serves as reinforcement and revision.  It’s important to set up the activity carefully with them, especially the first few times.  I make sure that they’re sitting facing each other, one has a book and the other has the board.  I also number the spaces where the student will write the three words or sentences that will be dictated. We do a demonstration of the steps involved in a dictation and off they go.

Hangman is another Fast Finisher activity that is easy to set up, familiar to most students and can be quickly interrupted when we need to move on with the rest of the group.  I usually ask students to use words from a particular unit/s or I give them some categories to choose from.  I find that narrowing the scope a bit helps them come up with more meaningful vocabulary and saves time because they can get overwhelmed if told to just come up with any words they can think of.

Although we use mini whiteboards most frequently in Fast Finisher tasks, there are countless other ways to incorporate the boards into lessons and at various stages.

Brainstorming is one way to use the boards.  There are many reasons to brainstorm and many ways to implement it in the classroom but one example is before reading a new text or starting a new unit, having students brainstorm related vocabulary or ideas.  This helps to activate their prior knowledge on the topic and build upon it. Writing on the mini whiteboards saves time as well as paper and makes the activity a bit more attractive to students.

I also use the boards in presenting and working with new vocabulary or grammar. Something that has worked well in our classroom is using the boards to put the words in a sentence in order.  At the Primary level, students often get confused about word order, especially in negative sentences and questions.  When we’re looking at a new construct such as ‘I can swim/ I can’t swim/ Can you swim?’, I write each word on a mini whiteboard and have students hold them in order.  We make up new sentences and questions that the class reads aloud together or the class will come up with ideas for sentences that the students holding the boards have to put in order.

Mini whiteboards can also be used during activities that require pair or group work and minimal writing (due to the space available on the board).  For example, we could do a listening activity in which students are asked to take note of the food (or colors, animals, etc) they hear in a recording.  Instead of each student writing separately on paper, it saves a lot of time (and paper) if the teacher hands out mini whiteboards and the students work in pairs or small groups.  Another possibility is a reading activity in which students write the answers to concept-checking questions about a text on mini whiteboards with their partners.  Again, this saves time as well as paper and makes the task a bit more fun.

Quizzes and games also lend themselves well to implementing mini whiteboards.  There are all sorts of possibilities here but a revision game that we use seems to work well.  At the end of the school year (although this could be done at the end of a unit as well), the students form small groups of three or four.  They sit facing each other so that they can discuss answers and collaborate.  Before class I prepare a list of questions based on information we’ve seen in the course book.  These questions can be True or False, multiple choice, fill-in-the-gap, short answer, etc. I use the board or projector if I need to or I have students simply listen to the questions. Groups earn points by writing the correct answer on the mini whiteboards. It’s important that they take turns within the group writing on the board and I always make a group discuss their answers before giving the final version so that there isn’t just one student always taking the lead.  We keep score on the board and the winners may receive a sticker or small sweet, although I try not to use prizes much in class.  Participating and enjoying the activity should be the real motivation.

Keeping all the groups engaged, even when it’s not their turn can be difficult and for this reason I usually allow the next group to attempt to answer if the first group doesn’t come up with the correct response.  The trick is to not repeat the question.  If that group wasn’t listening and can’t provide an answer or if their answer is not correct, it’s then the next group’s turn to respond and so on.  The students tend to enjoy this activity and it’s a great way to consolidate and revise the information we’ve seen throughout the year.

As we’ve seen, mini whiteboards are an adaptable and efficient tool in the young learner classroom.  They can be used for a wide variety of tasks and at many different stages in a lesson.  Students really enjoy working with the boards, helping to keep them focused as well as motivated.  If teachers are looking to invest in a resource that is practical and multifunctional, mini whiteboards are the way to go.

If you have more ideas to share on how to incorporate mini whiteboards in the YL classroom, please leave them in the comments section.  Thank you for reading!

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The Conference High

I love going to Teachers’ Conferences.  I always walk away with my head buzzing and full of ideas.  They’re energizing and motivational, especially at this time of year when I need just a little boost of excitement about teaching to keep me going.

On Saturday I attended the Conference in Málaga organized by ACEIA (Asociación de Centros de Enseñzana de Idiomas de Andalucía). They made it well worth coming out on a Saturday morning. It was a smoothly run operation making it an overall pleasant experience.  An added bonus was the mid-morning breakfast and the snack after the sesssions had finished.  Both were really tasty and supplied generously.

I had a really hard time deciding which sessions I wanted to see.  They all had something that caught my attention but I can’t be in two places at once so I had to choose.

Karen Muckey was giving a presentation called, ‘I am the Kid Whisperer’ and Bridget Hutchings was discussing TPR in her session, ‘Shake Your Body’ but I decided to start off the morning watching Claire Potter deliver a session called: ‘Harnessing instrumental and integrative motivation in the classroom to promote meaningful communication’.  What I liked most about her talk was that she didn’t just present us with information, she personalized it and got us interacting in pairs and groups.

Claire started off asking us when we last learned something new, what motivated us to learn and what our strengths and weaknesses were.  I thought this was an effective way to put us in our students’ shoes and get us thinking about what motivates them to learn English.

Next she had us take part in a few speaking activities that we could adapt to our own classrooms.  I like the fact that she didn’t tell us how to set up and do the activities, she showed us how to do them by getting us involved.  More and more presenters are using this tactic and for me it’s much more meaningful to have gone through the motions of doing an activity myself than to have someone describe it to me.

After the lovely breakfast, we went off to session two.  There was a session on Demand High by Scott Donald, another about Mindfulness and EFL by Simon Pearlman and another on The Lost Art of Drilling by Hannah Beardsworth.  What a difficult choice!  At the last minute I went with being practical and decided to see what Hannah had to say about drilling.  I was not disappointed.

I thoroughly enjoyed Hannah’s session, not only because of the ideas I gained from it but also the way she delivered it.  She has a rather humorous way of presenting, using different types of voices and intonation.  There’s energy in the way she speaks and it grabs your attention because you’re not really sure what’s coming next.  Another reason I liked her session is that she included quite a few activities that I use regularly in my own classroom.  Learning new things at conferences is great but sometimes it’s just as nice to see a presenter using the same routines and methods as you do.  My first thought is always, phew! I am on the right track!

The last session I attended was ‘Observations from Observations: The 7 Essentials’, by Chris Johnson. Again, it was really hard to decide where I wanted to be.  I could’ve seen Teresa Bestwick’s, ‘Raise Your Expectations’, but her workshop was aimed at first-year teachers. I almost went to ‘Classroom Management- Reflect and Plan Your Troubles Away’, by Michael Joseph Gibson but in the end I opted for Chris’s session.

In this last session, Chris got us discussing in pairs what he considers the seven essentials of teaching:  Working in Pairs, Pronunciation, Error Correction, Recycling and Reinforcement, Personalization, Pace and Pushing Our Students.  It was a nice way to round out the morning and reflect on these fundamentals of teaching.

Once the presenting was done, we shuffled off to the lobby area of the hotel for some refreshments.  As I mentioned before, it was a wonderful and generous spread. We all had a chance to catch up with people we knew as well as continue chatting with people we had met that morning.  It was networking at its finest. There was also a raffle (I won a little stuffed puppy I can use with my YLs- thank you Macmillan!).

I really enjoyed watching the speakers and I found the sessions useful, practical and thought-provoking but I have to admit that the best part of the conference for me was interacting with everyone in the lobby.  My PLN (Personal Learning Network) includes quite a few people from Seville and Cádiz so we generally keep in touch using Facebook and blogs.  Actually being able to see each other and chat in person is a luxury that doesn’t happen often so when it does it feels that much more special.

I think I could’ve stayed there chatting and catching up for quite a bit longer than we did but all good things come to an end.  When it was time to go I definitely felt that Conference High I usually get after a productive and stimulating morning like this one.  I’m already looking forward to the next conference coming up.  I may be a conference junkie.

For more information about the ACEIA conference and the speakers I’ve mentioned, check out their web page:

http://www.aceia.es/aceia-malaga-elt-conference-2016

If you have that Conference High and want to keep reading more about them, Mike Griffin has just published a series of posts on his blog related to ELT conferences:

https://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/

Please share your experiences with the Conference High in the comments section.  It’d be great to hear from you!

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