Are You Playing or Learning? – Both!

 

VickyReadingontheFloorI am in my nineteenth year of teaching and I have taught in Greece and Switzerland so far, the latter being my home for the best part of the past seven years. I teach students of all ages and levels. When people ask me why I like teaching Young Learners, I tell them that I love it because it is

  • creative
  • I learn so much from my little ones
  • fun!

First of all, let us look at who these lovely little people we call Young Learners are. We have Very Young Learners (VYLs), who are 3 – 6 years old and then we have Young Learners (YLs), who are 7 – 12.

When I teach them, as do many teachers I know and have seen when visiting their classes, I love to incorporate the element of fun. Children learn in a much more pleasant environment and much more effectively, I believe. To be honest, all students and even adults like the element of fun in their classes!

Sometimes however, I have been asked the following question: “Are you playing, are you just having fun, or are you learning?” I have been asked this both by parents of students or caregivers, and also by a few teachers – rarely the latter category, but it has happened!

I understand their concerns, and especially in contexts where children need to follow a specific methodology in order later on in life to sit for a language exam. However, I still think that even in those contexts, fun can be part of the lesson – if not the whole time, even ten minutes at the end can help!

Fun ideas are loads to be found, either from colleagues, other teachers we connect to on social media, or social media themselves as resources, like Pinterest for instance.

st-jerome-wedo-wingard2
(Image taken from http://thegreatadventurelab.com

Some fun ideas I use in my classes are:

  • Story Cubes! They are dice with pictures on them and I discovered a specific kind from a Canadian teacher, Aviva Dunsiger, whom I am connected to on Twitter. They are called Rory’s Story Cubes and there different categories. Kids shake them, throw them on a surface and depending on the pictures that come up on the dice, they have to put them in the order they want and then they can tell the story they have just created. They come up with some really fun and funny stories, and above all they practise their speaking skills (they can even write down their story as a small task in class) and learn and consolidate a lot of vocabulary! If you do now want to buy cubes, you can even make your own. There are so many templates online and you can draw or stick pictures on them – even better, along with the kids! They will love it and again, learn so much.
  • You’re the teacher today! Sometimes I let the kids know beforehand that in the next lesson they can be the teacher for a while. They can teach us something as long as they do it in English! I go and sit along with the other kids, either in the chair of the teacher-student or on the floor with the kids. Some teach us dances, some bring in things like their favourite Lego creations…and they just love teaching us! They love the responsibility that comes with it and they always take it very seriously.
  • Books! Some teachers and parents say that their kids do not love books…well, I think that children need to be exposed to them first of all. There are books all over my school. Not only on bookcases, but also on plastic boxes and baskets on the floor, on the window ledges. You can just see them picking them up on their own, finding the topics they like and sometimes they want to read them out loud in class! What could be better? We can also organise trips to bookstores or libraries with them. Read-alouds once a week or as often as we deem necessary. Kids just loving listening to grown-ups read to them, especially if we change our voice for every character!

These are only some ideas for Young Learners. The list is endless!

Let’s keep in touch! I would love to know what you do with your kids. Just remember to have fun with them and they are still learning no matter what.

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The day k d lang came to our class…with Godot (Pt 1)

This is a long story…that can be explained in this post only a little. Along with our students, it can lead us to many places!

Let’s start from the very beginning. k d lang (she writes her name in lower case, just like  e e cummings : ) is a Canadian singer, with a golden voice, and my absolute favourite female performer. Her song Constant Craving is one of my all-time favourites. I just love the instruments used (especially the accordion is haunting and beautiful), the lyrics are amazing and k d’s voice spectacular.

The other day, I was listening to the song (again) and paying much closer attention to the video, which I have seen more times than I remember…and it hit me. I looked at the characters…they reminded me of something. Are the men in the theater where k d is, playing in Waiting for Godot? I did that play in university, in my very first year in a class called Introduction to Drama. I loved that play so much, that it became the main topic of a paper I wrote then. I checked the story behind the video, and it really is k d in a theater, where this play is being performed!

Can I use her song AND the play in class? Sure – I can try!

Here is how I am thinking of using it – let me know if you have any different ideas! I am positive that my students will take me to other places that I had never imagined before, so this is just a rough idea.

I am thinking of using it with B2 / C1 / C2 level students, because some of the vocabulary and themes can be a bit challenging for lower levels. So then for my classes, it will be mainly teens and adult students.

I will show them the title first. Some initial rough questions:

  • What do you think it means?
  • What does to crave mean?
  • Why does she call it a constant kind of craving? Guess what the song is about! (The artist herself has never clearly, in as many interviews as I have seen, mentioned who or what the source of inspiration for this song is. There is no correct or wrong answer in songs, poetry or literature anyway, I believe. They can all be left open to interpretation. We want our students to produce written or spoken language in English.)

I will let them listen to the song and watch the video then. 

  • What is the singer doing? What do you think her feelings are and why?
  • Where is she? Why do you think so?
  • What are the people in the theater doing: The audience? The people on stage?

Then I will give them the lyrics. You can see them and the activities in a document called ConstantCraving_LessonPlan and feel free to do anything you like with it, change it, create it from the beginning, anything!

  • We can go through the lyrics one by one and discuss, thoughts that come to our minds, feelings, anything.
  • They can choose a word or phrase that strikes them and write a small poem or short story.
  • They can perform / present their poems or stories in front of the class (if they feel comfortable, or we can do it with them / for them) – perhaps even with the song playing softly in the background, to give a more dramatic tone : )

Here is my favourite live performance of the song, for your pleasure – happy listening!

Waiting for Godot will be the next post – Part 2! Stay tuned. 

My Language Learning Part 1 – Lights, Camera, Action!

(Image taken from erbilfilmfestival.org)
(Image taken from erbilfilmfestival.org)

I have mentioned in previous blog posts that ever since I came to Switzerland, I have been learning German – I love languages, and I think that being able to communicate in the language of the country you live in is great, makes your life easier, and opens new doors for reading more and understanding films, taking part in discussions and so on. Plus, it is respectful to the country and people who have welcomed us.

After my very first visit to Istanbul in late 2012, I totally fell in love with the people, the country and the language so I thought about starting to learn Turkish as well. I must admit, it is one of the most difficult languages I have undertaken, but I love the sound, the poetic meanings words and expressions can take, so I am going to continue and I really want to learn!

I would never have done it without the help of my good friend and teacher, Dinçer Demir, who very patiently teaches me on Skype once a week. I also try to listen to songs on YouTube, make out the words and sounds that the language has. Sometimes, it gets really hard and I think of the usual I-don’t-live-in-the-country-so-my-exposure-is-low excuse. I have decided to stop that, and get as much exposure as possible.

Last Sunday, I was listening to a beautiful Turkish song a good friend, Esra Aydın, had posted on Facebook, and now YouTube has a new (at least I have just discovered it) function called AutoPlay, which immediately starts a new song of the same genre you were listening to before. So, another song came up, a beautiful one, and I saw that is was part of the soundtrack of a film, called Evim Sensin (You Are My Home). I thought, hey great idea, why don’t I try to watch this film and see what I get from it language-wise? It is the typical girl-meets-boy storyline, so it cannot be so difficult to start with. Oh my, I had so many difficulties but I am happy I watched it for various reasons.

  • I realised that I understand much more than I thought – even though my speaking still needs a lot of work, but that is the last stage of a language that we can reach proficiency in, I believe and I always see it in my students as well.
  • The typical girl-meets-boy storyline proved to be even harder than I thought, because the story was so complicated and had ups and downs. Of course, the actors’ body language helps a lot, but very often I found myself wondering, what they had just said and the man was deep in thought, while the girl was still happy and smiling, or why the girl had gone to the hotel – was that her husband’s mother she was going to find there?
  • It really helped that the movie did not have subtitles, as I was under pressure, let’s say, to comprehend on my own. I guess if I do this often, I will improve. This first time, though, was very difficult – but I learned a lot of new words, connecting them to the looks on their faces, gestures or if they were pointing at something or holding it.
  • I learned a lot of new things about the culture, like a great singer called Sezen Aksu, who sings one of the songs in the soundtrack. She is a living legend in Turkey and it was great to get to know more about her and her work! Dinçer also does that in our lessons – he teaches me a lot about the culture as well, and I really appreciate that, as I believe culture is an integral part of language learning and I do the same with my own students, whether I am teaching them English, or Greek.

I will be blogging about German and Turkish language learning throughout the year, different methods I will be trying out, the successes (I hope) and the problems I will be facing along the way. Are you learning a language? Feel free to share your experiences and ideas with me and our community of educators and students!

Here is the beautiful song that led me to the film, which in turn led me to a new part of language learning! A great film by the way, produced, written, music composed for and sung by another new to me Turkish actor/singer, Özcan Deniz.

 

 

More Than Just A Story – An Interview with Dinçer Demir

Dinçer in action, doing a workshop

Another honour on my blog today – I have just interviewed a great teacher, very good friend, collaborator and my Turkish teacher, Dinçer Demir. It is such a wonderful interview, and yet again I have learned so much from him! Please watch him and all the amazing things he has to say about connecting, teaching and learning.

He and his teaching were also one of the things that inspired my plenary, The Human Touch, in March.

It all starts with a story…that becomes more stories and many, many more things! Thank you to Dinçer for finding this wonderful title for the interview.

Read his blog at http://www.dincerdemir.com/ 

Dinçer, çok teşekkür ederim!

Education As a Happy Place – An Interview with Priscila Mateini (@Priscilamateini)

Priscila Mateini
Priscila Mateini

I am delighted to present you with one of my eduheroes, Priscila Mateini from Brazil. Priscila is a teacher, a super-mom and a great person I have connected to on social media and I am very happy to learn from and with her. This interview really touched my heart, because in Priscila’s words you can see the enthusiasm and love for what she does, exactly the same way one sees them in her words when she writes on Facebook or Twitter.

She uses the word happy numerous times throughout our interview, which is the essence of education and our work as educators, I believe – Priscila is the embodiment of this, and that is why I have decided to give that title to the interview as well; it is all inspired by her!

You can read more about her work on her blog My Reflection on Teaching and Learning.

And here is her interview – obrigada, Priscila!

Storytelling and Language Learning with Picture Dice

One of the things I love about being connected on social media is that I get new ideas for my teaching practically every day. It must have been three or four years ago, when I was on Twitter and I saw an educator (apologies for not remembering who it was!) posting about using story cubes in class and then a lot of teachers got into the Twitter discussion, talking about how there were using them in class, others said they were also discovering them then and there like me…I found it a brilliant idea and they work a treat, not only with Young Learners, but also with my teenage students – I have also used them with adults and they loved them!

I also mentioned them in one of the workshops I did about three weeks ago, invited by the amazing Larissa Teachers Association in Greece! The teachers there have inspired me to write this post.

On to the picture dice, or story cubes now…

They can be used as a filler at the end of the lesson, for them to unwind and still learn, as a warmer for the beginning for the class – even though they might get really excited and not want to continue with other things – including the adult students!

One of our children telling us a story! (@LorasNetwork)
One of our children telling us a story! (@LorasNetwork)

This is not an advertisement for the specific product, but I also got this idea from a teacher on Twitter. There are actually ready-made story cubes, called Rory’s Story Cubes and they come in various topics. Actions, Voyages, Original, and many more. They are actually quite affordable and their material guarantees that nothing will happen to them.

How we use them:

  • The student holds them all together and shakes them, and then throws them on the table or floor as they would with normal dice. Then, they have to spend a few minutes thinking about the order in which they want to connect the nine cubes, in order to tell a story.
  • Sometimes, if we have time, we mix up two or three boxes and they can make an even longer and funnier story!
  • Two or three students can work at a time, preparing what they want to say and then, when the time comes for them to tell their story the collaboration and improvisation that comes up is spectacular!
  • One student throws the dice and starts telling the story, while the other(s) have their backs turned to the storyteller and they try to guess which picture the storyteller is talking about!
  • Students practise so many things with this game. Their grammar, and mainly their tenses and also vocabulary. They learn new items of vocabulary and they use them again and again in their next games, and they do it in a fun way too!

If you prefer not to buy, and create your own, or even better create your own along with the students, I have found a Paper-Cube-Template, online, which you can print on thick paper or cardboard so that it is even sturdier to use and lasts longer.

We can then:

  • Draw or cut and paste pictures on them with the students so they can create their own character and stories.
  • Add splashes of colour on each side of the die, so they can learn the colours, if they are beginners – we can do the same with numbers, or words, anything!

There is an educator in Istanbul, Evridiki Dakos, who did something last year that was terrific! She created her own huge dice using cardboard boxes, and then laminated them with clear tape so they would be more durable and the pictures could stay in excellent condition. Here is a collage of her work and you can find more super ideas from Evridiki on her blog, ELT Teacher Development.

Evridiki's amazing creations!
Evridiki’s amazing creations!