Katedra pedagogiky



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Masarykova univerzita v Brně

Pedagogická fakulta

KATEDRA PEDAGOGIKY

Bakalářská práce


Brno 2006
Sylvie Doláková

Masaryk University Brno

Pedagogical Faculty

PEDAGOGICAL DEPARTMENT

English Language and Literature Department

Game-like activities in teaching English

to very young learners

  

    Supervisor:                                     Author:

          Mgr. Světlana Hanušová, Ph.D                        Sylvie Doláková

Prohlašuji, že jsem diplomovou práci zpracovala samostatně a použila jen prameny uvedené v seznamu literatury.

Souhlasím, aby práce byla uložena na Masarykově univerzitě v Brně v knihovně Pedagogické fakulty a zpřístupněna ke studijním účelům.

Sylvie Doláková

I would like to thank my supervisor, Mgr Světlana Hanušová Ph.D, for her devoted helpful approach, encouraging thoughts and challenging ideas in connection with my work.
Sylvie Doláková

Contents:
Introduction 2

I. Theoretical part 4

1. Very young learners 4

1.1 How to define very young learners 4

1.2 Characteristics and procedures to make profit

of their specifications in teaching a second language 4

2. Methods and activities 7

2.1 Oral activities 8

2.2 Musical activities 9

2.3 Art and craft 9

2.4 Activities based on cognition of scientific rules 10

2.5 TPR activities 11

2.6 Storytelling 11

2.7 Drama 12

3. Classroom management 13

3.1 Setting the classroom 13

3.2 Teacher’s personality 13

3.3 Classroom language, classroom routines 14

3.3.1 Using mother tongue 14

3.4 Materials to be used in the process of learning 15

3.4.1 Textbooks 15

3.4.2 Picture material 16

3.4.3 Real objects 16

3.4.4 Audio-visual material 17

3.4.5 Keeping and organising materials 17

3.4.6 Lesson Plans 17

II Practical part 18


  1. Linguistics-based activity 19

  2. Long-term project 23

  3. Topic-based activity 27

  4. Vocabulary revision song-based activity 34

  5. Drama in very young learners’ classes 37

III Conclusion 45

Introduction:
“I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place. Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do... Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The performance of understanding that try matters are the ones we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world which we can affect for good or for ill.

(Howard Gardner: Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Basic Books, 1999: pp. 180-181)

Children in this country start to learn their second language when they are nine years old. They have mastered their mother tongue; they have settled in school surroundings, they have got used to systematic work including reading and writing skills. They seem to be ready to absorb conscious learning of the second language. A lot of teachers say the children should learn their second language in the same way as they have acquired the mother tongue, i.e. in natural situations with lots of repeating and acknowledging their attempts, praising and approving reactions. But is it still the approach they need at this age? They have progressed immensely from the time they acquired their mother tongue, their development is obvious. They do not like anything that sounds childish to them; they hate any sign of making babies of them. It is evident that we must either change the strategy or start with a similar approach at an earlier age. But still if we start earlier we must bear in mind that they are not babies any more and adjust the activities to their current level with different interests and a different way of perception as well as their new abilities and skills.

The idea of shifting teaching second language to the earlier age seems very wise, as children at that age have a lot of potential for this kind of work. The very young learners are able to react naturally to any stimulus without analysing the situation, they do not need to translate before answering, they can easily imitate any sound as well as tune in the intonation of the language. Unfortunately, this disposition dissapears at a certain age, when they start to “think about“ what they should say as well as the way to say that. Of course very young learners need a lot of input, much more than older learners. However, they are able to listen to and absorb the text that is beyond their knowledge. This listening experience helps them to gather language awareness, to accustom their ear to variations in pronunciation, and we can profit from it a lot.

They can also easily imitate the characters from stories, which provides them with a possibility to copy the language. It would be unwise to expect their active language production, they cannot create purposeful structures with precise language analysis but, on the other hand, we can ask them to repeat the text many times and they do so if they can see the challenge in it, which is easy to arrange for.

The children’s mastering the language is a holistic process. They integrate as many areas into the learning process as possible. As their attention span is very short, but their curiosity is enormous, we benefit from it by preparing a vast amount of props, objects (such as toys, puppets, blocks, real objects, etc.), pictures, cards, audio and visual aids. Of course we must offer a wide range of activities to be able to switch at the very first moment they seem to be losing their interest. This assumes teachers to have a great database of various methods and activities ready for immediate use, which places enormous demands on them.

This work will focus on what teachers should have in mind when they start teaching English to very young learners.

I THEORETICAL PART

1. Very young learners


    1. How to define very young learners

Different sources state different classification of the term very young learners. These classifications can vary according to the country, the developmental age, the individual. (Reilly, Ward, 1997, p 3). This work is intended to focus on children of the age 4 – 6, which is, according to my subjective opinion, the most suitable age for starting learning the second language.


1.2 Characteristics and procedures how to make profit of their specifications in teaching the second language

Children at the age 4 – 6 have a lot in common, yet they are not very much the same. There are some obvious differences in teaching young learners and teaching very young learners.

Halliwell (1992, pp. 3 – 7) speaks about the requirements of foreign-language learning for very young learners: “Most children have basic skills, developed in the process of acquiring their mother tongue, which makes them capable of learning a new language. While learning a foreign language, children continue to develop these skills, which are as follows: The ability to grasp meanings, (…) The ability to manage with limited linguistic means, (…) The ability to learn indirectly, (…) The ability to learn through fantasy and imagination, (…) and The ability to interact and speak.“

We will try to find out how these attributes can be applied in the classroom with very young learners and what we can do to fulfil this implication.

Young learners‘ most obvious characteristic is their playfulness. They enjoy playing with toys and objects, playing make-believe, role-playing. They can spend quite a long time playing, displacing objects, building constructions, colouring pictures, however, they are not able to concentrate on a controlled activity for a longer time as their attention span is short. The children lose their concentration very easily if they do not find the activity interesting enough, or short enough. To avoid exhaustion we have to change the activities as often as possible and to involve the children in a different task. However, we can take the advantage of this necessity as we can employ many kinds of procedures which will help children to absorb the language input from many aspects. By means of this we can involve for instance listening to the story, repeating important sentences, drawing or colouring pictures, making puppets or masks, re-telling stories and role-play, creating a natural surroundings for using a foreign language. In this complex activity children will revise their vocabulary as often as possible and thus achieve good pronunciation, vocabulary knowledge, and familiarity with some language structures.

It is very well known that children can quite easily remember a vast amount of vocabulary and basic structures, but they have a short-term memory. Bearing this in mind, we have to repeat activities many times, yet to choose different methods not to burden children with monotonous exercises. Some psychologists say a child should be exposed to a new word at least two hundred times to include it into their active vocabulary. We can imagine what we owe those children if we do not offer them enough opportunities to meet the word as often as they need. We should choose various ways to incorporate the words into sentences and structures, so that the children listen to them as often as possible. We can create questions and answers containing the key words, provide many contexts for using them again; praise the children whenever they repeat the words themselves, which strenghtens the confidence in producing the foreign language. (s.t. Morgan, Rinvolucri, 1986).

The big advantage seems to be the fact that children are willing to participate and cooperate in every action that appeals to them. As they are quite inquisitive they try every activity where they can see some interesting moments. It is a very important thing that we can attract their attention to new language situations, in which we want to practise new vocabulary, new structures. As children perceive language in chunks, we must offer them interesting surroundings for activities.

Of course we must not teach language in separate sections, for example focusing on pronunciation, or developing listening abilities. We must hide these tasks into an interesting content-based complex that will help develop as many aspects as possible. We can make use of the children’s ability to copy whatever appeals to them; from movement, expression or sound to intonation. And moreover, if we include these activities into the teaching procedure, children will be more involved in various activities and thus more open to learn. “Children acquire pronunciation and intonation naturally by listening to you. When you talk, they absorb the sound of the language. But this does not mean that they will produce perfect words or phrases when they begin to speak in English. They need to try out sounds, to play with the sounds, your help and praise all the time. Young children naturally like playing with the language. They can mimic new sounds more easily than older learners. When you praise their efforts you are motivating them to try again.“ Slattery and Willis (2001) state: “We should think of it in moments when we feel stressed by the feeling that the children do not make such progress as we have expected. It may not be the result of our poor approach, but the proof they need to treat and elaborate acquired knowledge“.

Some children adopt language after a long “silent period“, during which they process the information, get used to its form and shape, store it into their memory and only

then are they able to show their knowledge. We should be very patient with those children and not force them to speak in any way so that they do not feel stressed. It is essential for children to have a chance to feel success while doing new activities; and this is the opportunity for the teacher to praise every attempt to contribute to the children’s language output and to highlight good ideas in it. “It is almost always true that language learners understand more than they can say, and when children learn their first language they respond to language long before they learn to speak. Second language learners also have a „silent period“ in which they listen to the language around them, internalize it, and formulate their own personal grammar, which they adapt and expand as they are exposed to more language.“ (Phillips, 1994).

It is known that some children of that age may be selfish and not willing to cooperate with other children. It is a good opportunity for the teachers to build some social skills through teaching English, as a lot of activities are based on cooperation and collaboration. Sometimes we have to deal with child’s impatience; they are not able to overcome some problems. To help them cope with it we should encourage them a lot, spread positive atmosphere, show them the way to deal with the problem in a model situation by the means of fantasy characters, we should help them solve difficult matters or teach them to seek help in the other children. We may build their social skills via offering such activities that enable children to discover problems step by step in mutual cooperation and participation. They learn to contribute to the task, to share ideas and to let the other children in their community.

Children of that age very often deal with poor physical background, for example bad hand-eye coordination, clumsiness, slowliness. Learning the language and especially concentration on some appealing tasks can help such children to cope with those troubles quite well, as this encourages their efforts. It is known that children include learning in their lives quite naturally; it broadens their skills, improves their abilities, and contributes to their total development. Learning a second language may help in many ways, not only in the ability to speak different language, but it can also contribute to their overall development.

Gardner (Basic Books, 1999) states that there are seven different areas of intelligence. He names them “multiple intelligences”. The reaserch shows that they are not inborn gifts, but we can work them out by purposeful promotion in our work with children. Intelligence is undoubtedly connected to learning process. We, as teachers, can facilitate the development of the intelligence in many ways. All the multiple intelligences appear in the process of acquiring the foreign language. They are linguistic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, kinaesthetic intelligence, visual-spatial intelligence, musical intelligence, and mathematical-logical intelligence. All of them may be catered and cultivated in the sophisticatedly elaborated environment of English lessons. This point of view illustrates the access we should put into our approach not only to teach language, but to deal with teaching process as a whole.

In all this work we need understanding and support of the children’s parents. All engagements with them are always beneficial and conducive for learning functions as children see the importance of their aim at both sides.


2. Methods and activities
Before we start to teach a second language, we should define what activities we can use to make lessons as attractive and enjoyable for children as possible. There is a big advantage in teaching English to children of that age in them having their teacher available during the whole day. This is a very positive aspect because such teachers know all their children very well, they can reflect to their individual specialities, supply their demands. They can easily spread the activities into some other programmes, they can practise the language not only in the English lessons, but anytime during the day; they can make some preparatory work in other lessons, which both saves the time in English lessons and enables children to consider English as an essential part of their life.

Practising the language cannot be separated in isolated moments with no linkage to everyday situations. Children must see the necessity of using the language, its purpose, its advantage, its challenge. They must experience the positive aspects of the knowledge of the foreign language. It is not possible to achieve it by memorizing the individual words or sentences. As language is the most important means of communication, children must see the strength of its predicative power. Language is not an isolated element; we must see it as a link between all everyday situations. There is a tendency to incorporate the language into the whole area of perception. In teaching English in higher classes we speak about CLIL – Content and Language Integrated Learning. However, we can use this approach in younger classes as well. (s.t. Phillips, Burwood, Dunford, 1999)




    1. Oral activities

We can plan to teach language in meaningful context, either situations, or texts. Situations of everyday life show children how to cope with them, how to express their requirements, what to say in proper situations as well as what it brings to experience it in a different language. Learning through a model is very important at that age.(Ur, 1996)

Many texts provide a model situation and moreover, they provide fixed language structures that are so easy to follow by means of rhythm and rhymes. Very often these take the advantage of constant repeating. It all helps children’s memory to keep the text for a longer time and to recollect it after some time without any problems. If the children are exposed to different voice models, for instance by using audio recordings of the text, they can recognize the language chunks in different contexts quite easily. Children can practise their pronunciation by repeating the texts; they stabilize their promptitude in language. Moreover, the texts are attractive to be worked out in various other situations. However, a danger may appear in their feeling that they can say the text after a very short time quite well, which mostly is not true. Thus we must bring children to more repetitions of the text, but without them getting bored of it. Teachers should know a lot of strategies of making children repeat without realizing they are in fact repeating. The best known strategy is to offer a different attitude to the activity saying: “So you know the text well, don’t you? And do you know it so well that you could say it once again as a very hungry lion? But don’t forget, the lion must be very hungry!“ Then we can attract their attention by other invitations – a very busy bee, a sleepy bear, a very sad cat. The child concentrates on performing the correct expression and forgets that they have been repeating the text even if they “know it really well“.

2.2 Musical activities

Musical activities provide other support to the language acquisition. Children have been surrounded by music since they were born. They were listening to lullabies when they were small babies. They experienced rocking in the rhythm of songs as well as rhythmical movements to join to the songs. Songs have not only the rhythm and rhymes but also the tune that helps children remember the text. The children love songs as they are very often lively and funny. To strenghten this positive side we may ask children to provide additional rhythmical exercise while singing, for example accomplishing the song with tapping the wooden sticks as the sound of the rain, banging the cymbals for making the thunder, or we can simply employ all the children by body-playing – clapping hands, slapping legs, tapping knees, stumping feets and other activities providing rhythmical movement. The children immerse into the required activity and forget that they use a foreign language, which helps them use the language naturally. Another contribution to the musical perception of language is through songs with fingerplays. They bestead to small muscles exercises and develop coordination and fine motor control. The positive moment of these fingerplays is that they are relatively quiet activities as children are involved in the singing and movement rather than disturbing and looking for other noisy actions. We can even turn profit of it by arranging it as a calming-down activity after a more active game.

2.3 Art and craft

Drawing and colouring are the favourites among the children’s interests. This is a particularly useful feature that enables us to offer drawing or colouring activity after a very demanding part of a lesson. It also helps children to revise vocabulary or structures that they have just learnt as well as to recall them from the memory after some time. Drawing and colouring take time that we use for highlighting important words, revising and repeating sentences important for later use, practising pronunciation as the children often repeat everything while drawing as an unconscious activity with a big impact on their competence.

There are many ways to use drawing in the process of learning. We can establish the routine of keeping the records of all activities carried out in the lessons. It is wise to make the children bring notebooks to the lessons, so that they can finish the lesson with drawing of what they have just learnt in it. It has several positive aspects; it serves as a proof of what they went in for during the lessons and it can show the parents the amount and kind of activities. The children are very often proud of their illustrations and it allows them to demonstrate all they have done in the lesson. It can also help teachers to go back to old activities or texts with new tasks; they can revive the vocabulary as well as introduce an additional target to a mastered text.

Drawing can be done as a work of the entire group. In the collective drawing we can show some output from learning, such as in a shape of a project. A good example can be letting the children draw an imaginary animal with all parts of the body that they can name after a period of learning about exotic animals. The children revise vocabulary they are familiar with by naming the different parts of the body while drawing. They very often ask for being provided with other words that they have not done yet, which is a very challenging and positive aspect. Another contribution to the children’s successful development is a factor of spreading out social skills in cooperation as they have to negotiate their work.

We can make use of children’s interest in drawing by using them in revision activities, namely in drawing dictations. We check comprehension in drawing tests, we can practise colours, vocabulary, ability to combine more than one task in one phrase, such as number plus colour, and we can evaluate children’s achievements by checking their drawing projects.

Hand in hand with drawing and colouring we can see craft activities. Children can use cutting, sticking, folding, forming plastic dough into different shapes and using them in other work with language, making masks for storytelling, various objects for application in different activities connected to learning the language. Besides developing the handiness and fine hand-eye coordination we can extend children’s vocabulary by using instructions which are clear to follow and very often do not need translation as we demonstrate the activities anyway. (s.t. Hanšpachová, Řandová, 2005)

2.4 Activities based on cognition of simple scientific rules

As children like manipulating and experimenting with objects we can introduce some activities connected to exploring the science, such as making musical instruments out of various objects, preparing the glasses with water to play music on, making the seeds germinate in a bowl with wet cotton wool, measuring and weighing the objects and comparing their qualities and sizes with drawn recordings, making the objects move by operating them by means of a certain strength, and many others. Children may be interested in the results of those experiments as well as the process that is involved in them.


2.5 TPR activities and action games

Among kinaesthetic activities we can recognize all TPR activities. They are based on listening comprehension skills. The children listen to the instructions and act the movement and/or the action. It would be very useful to collect a list of instructions available for this language stage.

However, we can further use instructions for movement in action games, exercises, warm-ups and similar activities. Children like to follow the commands that lead to some attractive result. This is very obvious in action games. The children are able to learn quite a difficult text to be allowed to chase, hunt or catch the other children, which is often the aim of action games. The important aspect of this kind of activities is that children are immersed into the game and they do not realize they are dealing with foreign language; they use it without fear of failure, cold feet. What they repeat with hesitation at the rehearsal, they are able to shout out to the partners before chasing them. All these circumstances contribute to the natural use of language.

2.6 Storytelling

Storytelling plays an important part in teaching language to very young learners. This is to say children love listening to stories very much. Some teachers do not like storytelling, saying that stories cannot be simple enough for children to understand. This is not true. There is a vast quantity of stories which are very, very simple for very, very young learners. The repetitive nature of the stories enables children to grasp the meaning and to remember chunks of language. And moreover, children enjoy this kind of activities. If the stories are accompanied by some movement, it may often be very easy to work them out with very young children. The good motivation is essential for the children. We can also let them speak the words together with the story first and then reproduce it. We can say that acting out stories makes the children feel success in their performance, which is extremely important especially for shy and non-self-asserting children. Even longer stories, if well motivated and well performed by the teacher, can be understood with no difficulties. Good mime, expression, and body-language are highly valuable for successful dealing with stories, as well as telling the story instead of reading it, keeping eye contact with children and the support of illustrating pictures. The children can make use of sequencing the pictures according to the story that can show us whether they have been able to understand it or not. Stories are considered to be a rich source of culture awareness for young children and provide great effect in the language classroom. (s.t. Wright, Maley, 1997)


2.7 Drama based activities

Drama is considered to be producing and expressing inner thoughts, feelings, and the immediate reaction to various impulses. At this point it could hardly be considered as the effective way of learning the language to very young children with their limited vocabulary and little experience. But using drama in a classroom has another perspective, namely putting oneself into a position of somebody or something else. Little children are experts at feeling well in another identity, the make-believe is a base of many an activity they devote their time to. A very important feature in children’s drama is getting into someone else’s skin and performing as they would do. In practice, this means that it is essential to give everyone a role to identify with, even if we have only a few serious characters. An evident example of this can be traced in practising the song “Five Ducks“ (Miroslav Žbirka, 1993).

The idea of the song is that there are five little ducks that go swimming in a distant lake. Every evening their mother calls them to come back, but every time one of the ducks stays at the lake and does not come home. In the sixth strophe there is not any duck left to come home, so their mother comes to the lake herself and it is time for father duck to call them back, which they obey. If we count the characters, we get to the number of seven – five little ducks, their mother and their father. But we still have a lot of children who are not involved. We can invite boys to pretend to be hills lying on the ground, so that the ducks may go “over the hills and far away“. The ducks will have to step over their bodies, which makes the song more attractive. The children with colourful clothes may perform flowers blooming on the bank of the lake. Other children can pretend to be trees around the lake. All those children have the biggest role – they are the main “singing choir“ without which we “would be lost“, as the ducks forget to sing in the fast sequence of actions. (In fact most probably they will all forget to sing, as the song is interesting and they simply forget, but they feel important having the role). And as we do a lot of such activities, drama has an irreplaceable position in English language classrooms.

3. Classroom management

There are many things to say about the classroom management. We may need to speak about setting the space provided for teaching English, which can turn as a real problem in some schools. We should consider the role of a teacher important to be mentioned here. A place to think about both visual and audial aids as well as other materials needed for teaching to very young learners can also be anchored in this chapter.
3.1 Setting the classroom

Young children learn through listening, speaking and doing. This means they need to have well arranged space where they can do all these things. We need some open space for songs with action and games, for sitting on the floor while listening, a quiet spot for “reading“ pictures and picture books, some space for displaying children’s work, such as a  blackboard and a table. We have to think about places where to put pictures and/or objects that help children to remind items of vocabulary, texts or situations connected to learning the language. A very effective way of this may be displaying children’s work, such as a big poster with a lot of language items, a series of pictures that can illustrate some essential language points as well as decorate the space. This helps children to keep contact with the language not only at the time dedicated to learning the language; it becomes an integrated part of children’s life. It very often encourages children to consult the language with the other children outside the lessons.

Whatever we plan to arrange in the classroom for very young learners, everything must be well planned to keep the place safe and neat with the concern for good hygiene.

3.2 Teacher’s personality

In the process of acquiring the foreign language the teacher is a prominent element. Teachers convey linguistic input to their pupils and are the important specialists for dealing with the language. They decide what methods, materials, activities should be used within the classroom, so a demand of creativity is inevitable. They must plan the activities well, so that the lessons are balanced, easy to follow, and as enjoyable for children as possible. The teachers establish useful and potential routines. This is quite important for the learners: to feel safe in transparent, well-arranged atmosphere. Teachers should be positive in all aspects. They must support and encourage pupils in using the language and react carefully to the learners‘ mistakes, so that they do not draw them back. Patience is a considerable value in the process of learning with very young learners, as these often seem to be busy with unrelated matters, not paying attention to what is significant in the learning process. The teachers should be able to attract attention by telling stories instead of reading them, using eye contact with pupils, using miming and appropriate facial expression, good voice control with excellent pronunciation, as they are the most frequent source of the language sound and intonation for their students, they must be able to play in a role to increase the children‘s motivation, willing to do some crazy activities together with children.

The question of teachers’ competence for teaching English has been widely discussed recently. There is no legal condition under which teachers can teach languages. The basic focus should be laid on perfect pronunciation as well as a certain level

of grammar and fluency. It would be providential if they were asked to reach at least B2 level according to the European Language Portfolio. Even better sounds the idea of appropriate training programme in schools where they are trained to be kindergarten teachers.
3.3 Classroom language, classroom routines

Hand in hand with classroom routines we can think of a special classroom language. The moment we decide on a teaching programme, we should consider using the corresponding register. Very often this is done by means of TPR activities. These are very suitable for training structures needed for other use, which is very natural and also required by children themselves from time to time. Before we start teaching the language, it is advisable to follow the most frequent sentences used in all kinds of activities and putting them in a list. By this we get a range of common instructions and/or commands. Then we add special language requirements, such as: “Say after me,“ “Repeat,“ “Say it once again,“ “Can you say it in English please?“. We must not forget a wide scale of praising expressions as young children of that age need to be promoted in their attempts.




      1. Using mother tongue in a classroom

It is time to mention using mother tongue in the classroom. From time to time we can hear about teachers who come to the classroom and flood children with English sentences, quite simple, but providing no translation. Even if they say they demonstrate all the sentences, so that they are clear for children to understand, and for so long that they seem to understand, there is no doubt the children are stressed being lost in unknown surroundings. There should be something like an easy start for them to feel comfortable with first new English words. Exposing children to language does not mean to daunt them from the very beginning but to involve them step by step into a conscious learning process. There is no rule how much of mother tongue should be used in lessons. In first weeks of the children’s contact with the language we cannot avoid it while giving instructions and/or explanations, as the children could feel puzzled and uncomfortable if we do. However, the proportion of English should increase in the following lessons. It is possible to say that we may use mother tongue in explaining new instructions, words that cannot be made clear with pictures or mime and by using gestures, especially when the children are exposed to them for the first time. “Use as much English as possible and only as much of the native language as is absolutely necessary” (Puchta, Herbert and Gerngross, Gunter; 1998, p. 27)

3.4 Materials to be used in the process of learning

The younger the children are the more visual and audio aids they need contributing to the development of their cognitive and social skills, and their basic and fine motor skills. Children are not able to stand still and absorb the knowledge doing nothing. Bearing this in mind we must prepare a lot of things for them to see, watch, listen to, follow, manipulate, re-arrange, sort, list, colour, turn, work out – all kinds of activities that can make learning English as joyful as possible.


3.4.1 Textbooks

The first and foremost is the question of which textbook to use. There is a growing number of textbooks suitable for children who cannot read and write yet. Among good examples of such textbooks are: F. Hopkins: Get Ready!, Oxford University Press, 1993; G. Gerngross, H. Puchta: Playway to English, Cambridge University Press, 1998; P. Hancock: Pebbles, Longman, 1999; C. Shelby: Hippo, Cambridge University Press, 2005, and many others. Spending considerable time over textbooks, we can see both advantages and disadvantages in implementing them into our classes. A clear syllabus progression makes using the textbooks comfortable for teachers and easy to follow for children. Yet the children may become bored with the regular routine, especially the smart ones, as they can browse the pages in advance and they know what comes next beforehand. The textbooks also limit teacher’s choice of activities as all activities are stated in the book and there is hardly any time left for additional work unless the contact time is extended. Very often it is also the price of the textbook that plays a significant role in the process of choosing, especially in rural areas with less well-to-do people and high unemployment rate among parents. If the teachers decide to do their own syllabus, they should be very careful with planning the balanced activities with appropriate amount of listening, speaking and doing, with applicable multi-sensory motivation, suitable topics, logically selected and regularly recycled vocabulary.

3.4.2 Picture materials
Pictures and picture cards are essential materials. The teachers’ ability of drawing the pictures themselves is enormously valuable. However, even if we do not possess such gift, we can still compile a great selection of suitable pictures for classroom use. Pictures must be either large enough for all children to see, or small but in sufficient amount for looking at and manipulating in groups or individually. There is an endless amount of activities based on manipulation with pictures. A proper set of cards can help revise vocabulary as well as support using particular sentence structures needed for other work. A series of pictures from stories can help children reconstruct the story. Many textbooks provide sets of flashcards but wise teachers collect their own pictures taken from magazines, calendars, colouring books, and old picture books. A wide range of small picture cards (Pexeso) is available at the market nowadays. The teachers can take advantage of the convenience of downloading various suitable pictures from the Internet.

As paper pictures are quite short-life matters, we can give them a special treatment to prolong their service life, for example by laminating or inserting them into plastic bags, so that they do not get dirty or torn.

3.4.3 Real objects

However, far more important than pictures for children of this age are real objects. As children’s imagination and perception does not allow them to generalise perception, manipulation with toys and real objects may be more convenient for them. Beside the range of toys available in the classroom, they should have the opportunity to bring their own toys to the classroom to demonstrate their language skills on them. This extends the language competence beyond the classroom walls. We should not forget puppets and marionettes, as well as masks for pretending. It is a well known fact that children speak more freely when they speak in a role, or behind a mask. They are not afraid of making mistakes, because these are not their mistakes, but their dolls‘ or characters‘. This is extremely important to remember when we deal with shy or quiet children. Such children more likely respond the other puppet than the other person.

3.4.4 Audio-visual material

A good supply of audio recordings is also essential in teaching a foreign language. Especially for very young learners we must gather a fine collection of songs, chants, stories, dialogues, sounds to provide audio representation of natural English. We can incorporate video or DVD recordings as a valuable source of exposing to authentic phonetic examples of foreign language.




      1. Keeping and organising the materials

In the flood of all the materials needed for teaching the language, the teacher can get lost after some time. It is essential for them to know how to handle so many materials. Sorting it out thoroughly either by age and classes, or by topics is an urgent requirement. A good database saves time as well as enables to choose the most suitable materials and activities.

3.4.6 Lesson plans

The most important area of the teacher’s preparatory work is, however, based on sophisticated lesson plans. They should incorporate every aspect of the teaching process. The less experienced the teacher is, the more elaborated the lesson plan should be. At the beginning of the teacher’s career it is advisable to work out and store lesson plans with various methods and activities, sources and procedures. A proper lesson plan should contain sections determining vocabulary range, phrases and structures to be practised, linguistic skills, for example using –s in plural, cognitive, motor and social skills, materials. A desirable moment is to add teacher’s comments on how the lesson went on, what was the children‘s achievement, what effect the lesson had on the children’s knowledge, weak points of the lesson, if there were any, to avoid them in the future, what to change, what to add for further work and so on, so that we achieve retentive educational benefit. A broad database of lesson plans makes teaching more effective with better impact on learners.

II PRACTICAL PART

Further we will state some examples of areas of the teaching interest and lesson plans suitable for very young learners with emphasis on varieties of methods and activities.

The activities either follow certain teaching tasks or provide some guidance for enjoyable work.

As teaching English to very young learners is never an isolated activity, they will be presented in a context, together with other related actions.


1. Linguistics based lesson
Children at an early age do not learn grammar purposefully. They absorb the model sentences with simple modification.

In this activity we will see how the plural is presented to the children in their very early stage of learning English – the second or third week.




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