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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

August 15, 2001

Teaching Children - Have a Long-Term Perspective

by Greg Cossu

KidsAs we enter the new millennium, there is a great emphasis being placed on the need for children to learn communicative english. Many schools across Japan have already begun teaching English conversation. In so many areas, for example, sports and music, the younger one starts to learn something the better. Tiger Woods is a good example. He is a famous champion now but he started practicing golf when he was just 3 years old.

It is exciting to see more and more children learning the speaking aspect of English education. At this early age, they can acquire the fundamental foundation that will enable them to develop into competent and confident speakers of English. Who is going to help these young students learn to speak English? People like you and I -- teachers. It was this need to help children learn and teachers teach that I co-wrote SuperKids, a communicative English course for children.

The Importance of Recycling
As teachers, I think it is important to have a long-term perspective on the acquisition of language in the EFL situation. The reason for this is that in Japan, most students study once a week for about one hour. The rest of the time they are thinking in Japanese and speaking Japanese. The materials we use to teach should contain a syllabus that progresses gradually and takes into account the importance of review, review and review.

For a multi-level course it is important to recycle between 30-40% of the previous level. This provides a realistic progression and one that will help students to retain and use most of what they learn. I often expect too much from my students and get frustrated when they can't use language that they have just recently learned. I have to stop and remind myself that most of their world is Japanese. It is not how much we teach but how well our students can use what we teach. Teaching small amounts with lots of practice and review leads to success for both the student and teacher.

The Teachers' Manual
As a teacher, for me, the teachers' manual of any course is very important. I have been teaching for 18 years in Japan and for every text I teach I use the accompanying teacher's manual. It helps me with lesson planning and gives me new ideas and activities to use in the classroom. Teaching children requires thorough preparation and the manual makes lesson planning easy. I would like to suggest a lesson plan format that can be used in almost any teaching situation.

Begin with a Warm-up activity to review the previous lesson and to help students shift from Japanese into English. Next check any homework that has been assigned. Checking homework is another good way to review. Next introduce the new target language. This involves modeling by the teacher. Cassette tapes are very useful at this stage. Having students listen to the target language makes production of the language easier. After students have heard the target language I then have them produce the language orally by repeating after me and/or the tape.

Next comes practice of the material through a wide variety of games and activities. Children like to learn when they are having fun. I try to choose activities that personalize language. This usually involves realia and lots of picture flash cards. When doing fun and games try to keep in mind the purpose of the activity. Our goal as teachers is to help students speak English and the activities we choose should help students become more communicative.

I have had complaints from parents after their children told them they only play games in class. It seems the children only remember the games which is only one part of the class. I now stress to my students the reasons for games and fun activities. They are playing a game but the focus of the game is to speak English. The last part of the lesson plan ends with a Wrap-up of the target language followed by optional activities for further practice.

Using Games and Activities
Perhaps the most popular feature of any TM is the Games and Activities section. For children's classes, we need to do several activities per class to keep the students focused. Two activities that are very popular with my students are the Picasso Game and the Bye-Bye Game, both from SuperKids.

To play the Picasso game, decide what language point you want to practice or review. It could be vocabulary, daily expressions, verbs, phonics words or a grammar point. Divide the class into two teams. For large groups, divide the class into 3-4 groups. Divide the board into sections. One section per team. Have one student from each team stand at the board. Give each student a marker to draw. Show each student the same picture of the item you will have them draw.

I use either the SuperKids flash cards or point to the picture in the student's book. Say Go and each student draws the item on the board. No numbers or letters are allowed. The first team to shout out the answer gets a point. The next student from each team comes to the board and the game continues for as long as you like. When using phrases or sentences, make sure the students answer completely and not just in one or two words. This game can really help students learn to use complete sentence patterns.

The purpose of the Bye-Bye Game is to help students remember the main point/s of the lesson. We do many things in one class and sometimes students do not know what the focus of the lesson is. This game helps to answer the question, What did you learn today? At the end of class, have students line up by the door. Using the flashcards or the student's book as a cue, have the students produce the target language of the lesson.

For grammar points that involve a question and answer, have students work in pairs. If students produce the language accurately, they may leave. If students cannot produce the language, they have to go to the end of the line. An added benefit of the Bye-Bye Game is that it helps students to focus during class. Just tell them that today we will play the Bye-Bye Game and suddenly all eyes are upon you.

Once the lesson plan format is established you can then use it to teach whatever language items you want. Language items include vocabulary, functional dialogs, TPR(verbs, commands), grammar, phonics/reading and writing. One way to teach phonics is to teach letters that have the same mouth position. For example, b/p, f/v, and s/z. This is also a good time to teach letter recognition.

The topic "International Awareness" seems to be a popular topic among many teachers today. One idea for teaching culture is to use a calendar. Choose from among the holidays. For example, halloween, Christmas and mother's day and father's day. Holidays from various countries will help children develop a more international perspective.

And Finally…
When teaching children, prepare yourself as much as possible. A good teacher's manual, a gradual, realistic syllabus, a lesson plan format, and a set of language items you want to teach should provide you with the resources for successful classes. Add a lot of fun, communicative games and activities and enjoy the success of being a teacher. In the EFL situation, maintain a long-term perspective. What our students learn now they will be able to use many years from now. Just ask Tiger Woods.

Greg Cossu

Greg Cossu has been teaching in Japan for over twenty years, the last fifteen years of which have been teaching children. He currently teaches at his own school in Takarazuka where he teaches both children, JHS, SHS, and adults. He is the co-author of the popular series for elementary school students, SuperKids, published by Longman ELT.

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