In September I always give a welcoming letter to my 3rd grade students. They are the ones who are about to do English for the first time at school. What I try to stress in this letter, among other things, is the idea that learning English IS fun (of course we all know that it can be dead boring sometimes, but this is something I omit on purpose!). And this is somehow a promise to them and a reminder to myself to try incessantly and make it fun for them. I believe it is crucial to make a good start when you start learning a language. So throughout the year I am trying to put my words into practice and maintain their interest for the language as keen as possible! Here are some ways I rely on-everyone has their own, and there is always room for trying something new!
- Vary the way of starting and ending a lesson. Ken Wilson in his plenary in Tesol MT, March 2015 said that apart from teachers we are human beings and we might (just an idea) start a lesson differently, for example by narrating something funny that happened to us before we leave home. Or we could start with a saying, a statement or an opinion, which can be linked to the lesson afterwards, for the students to discuss. We can use a visual and elicit ideas and so on. Ideas can be infinite! It's not necessary, actually it should be avoided, to start the lesson in an abrupt or boring way such as:"Open your books and let's do some reading"! Giordana Popovic recently gave us some very nice ideas to end a lesson (http://themanyhatsofateacher.weebly.com/home/ideas-for-ending-a-lesson).
- Have classroom helpers. It is very important especially for young students to feel responsible and have a certain duty to do during class. Although it may seem strange it is something they look forward to at the beginning of the week. This is why I prepare a poster with different jobs that I assign to different students every week. This is what our poster looked like last week. (I plan to make some changes this year.
- Teach songs. All young students like songs. TPR is always popular with these ages. They particularly enjoy dancing while singing or taking part in song contests-where they compete in teams or individually for the best performance. It is a fun way to learn new words and it is certainly very effective in also remembering them for a long time!
- Read stories (actually dramatize stories). Stories are another favourite thing of young learners. When you read a story properly(with making voices and all), students are emotionally involved, they respond with entusiasm and they can learn through repetition. They can be asked to retell the story in their own words afterwards, role-play it, or they can create drawings of what their favourite part in the story was or make cards with words they have learned.
- Make lapbooks. Lapbooks are an artistic way of organising what we have learned in topics. The topic is common but the way every student creates the lapbook is unique. Each one is different, this is what makes lapbooks so interesting. There is much free printable material on the web and you can also create your own little books to put in your lapbook.
- Let students teach.They say the best way to learn something is to try to explain it to someone else. This may sound difficult or not feasible when you first hear it, but students can take it very seriously. You just have to be very clear on what you want them to teach ( a rule, some new words, a short text) and you may have to give guidelines on how to do it with less competent students. Otherwise, it can be a challenge for them-don't forget that they have plenty of role models for teaching-not only you-and the outcome may surprise you!
- Have students work in groups. Working in groups can have many advantages. However, groups should be of mixed ability so that students can help each other and each group has both more and less competent students. In my opinion, you should change the members of a group, but not very often. Students have to be given the time to learn how to cooperate with different people. Moreover, roles should be assigned in a group, e.g someone who writes, someone who collects and organises data, someone for technology-if technology is required for a task, an illustrator-if there are drawings to be done etc. This way, everyone contributes something and feels an equal part of the group. But members of a group should change roles, too, so as not to have the same people always do the same things.
- Play games in teams. Games are motivational, anyway. They should be played for a reason apart from just having fun so there must always be an objective. When played in teams, though, the incentive is stronger. You have to do the best for your team. When a team wins though, remember to stress some positive points for the other team as well, so that they also get a feeling of achieving something and reassure them that they can try a different strategy next time in order to achieve more for their team.
- Teach students how to use tecnology- and use it! I love technology. It's not that I can't teach without it, but I enjoy using it when I teach. I have found out that my students love it, too! Our students grow up in a world of (online) connection-they use social media, they play games online, it's just a way of living for them. So why not use this to our benefit? I love teaching them digital tools and it's really crazy to see their reactions when they create something with them! My students love Padlet, Voki and Google Docs and I am sure they are going to love every web tool they can use to create something with the language they learn!
- Ask for students' ideas, when you want to alter an old boring activity. Children can have these amazing ideas to vary an activity you've been using for a long time and they got bored of it. You only have to give them the chance to use their imagination and listen to them! You can even make it sound like a competition and have their classmates vote for the best idea! Your students can give solutions to many problems if you only let them and show them you trust them!
To sum it up, the important thing is to show your students you care enough and you really want them to have a good time while learning. They have to feel this is a genuine feeling and an honest try! Then, they will feel free to contribute their best and make an honest try as well! It goes both ways!