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Teaching Young Learners

Posts on the ins and outs of Teaching Young Learners

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Creating a Safe and Fun Classroom Environment

Teaching English to Adults was new to me, so when I first started I was a bit nervous. I knew that many Spanish Adults although they might have a high level in reading and grammar did not feel as confident in speaking and listening. Therefore I relied on what I knew about teaching children and decided to use some of those same concepts to create a safe and fun classroom environment where they would be comfortable taking risks to speak.

Establish an atmosphere of Mutual Respect
Being prepared for my classes was essential to showing my students that I respected the time they took from their busy schedules to come to class. Respecting their time to answer questions.  Sometimes we are in such a hurry to cover the material we have prepared that we don't give our students enough wait time for them to formulate their answers. Correcting them respectfully and knowing my students enough to know who I could correct publicly and who I couldn't.  I also let my students know that they have a say in what we cover in class. I have them turn in questions on a sheet of paper the size of a post-it note and then go over the answer with them at the beginning of the next class or if it is something the whole class can benefit from I do a short lesson at the beginning of the next class.

Establish Goals from the Beginning
At the beginning of the term I have them establish goals for themselves and celebrate with them when they have reached them.  One of my students goals was to be able to go on a trip and rely on her English speaking abilities to get around.  This past week she went on a trip, she told me that it was the first time that she had gone on a trip where she had to be in charge of the communication and that she was able to do it because her friend did not speak English.  She shared it with the class and we all congratulated her.

Modify Your Lessons
They also know that I am willing to modify lessons if the lesson is not working for them.  I was teaching ed endings for regular verbs one time and they were just not getting it I told them we would go on to something else and I would go back to the drawing board and we would try another time.  When we tried again with some manipulatives where they had to figure out what patterns determine what sound to use the lesson went a lot smoother and I have seen some definite improvement.

Laugh
Laught at yourself when you make mistakes.  Make it OK to make mistakes. I was teaching the prepositions "in, at and on" and I misread a sentence and thought it said "The roses are in the field", it turns out it was Horses and not Roses, so the proposition should be on the field and we all laughed.  One of my students the other day said "my girlfriends" and I asked "Does your girlfriend know you have more than one. He started laughing and said "Oh, I am glad she wasn't here to hear me," and then we all laughed with him. We have fun together and it makes it easier for them to let go and make mistakes because they are practicing more.

Go the Extra Mile
Finally go the extra mile.  Since the class started I have been emailing them different links for them to improve their listening and comprehension.  Directing them to resources that are available to them, so that they continue to make progress.  I also push them to do their best to improve their level and constantly make comments on their improvements. My greatest reward is to see them make progress and they know that.

The other day when my boss came to observe, she said that they were speaking a lot more than she expected for an Lower Intermediate class, I thought about it and realized how far they have come.


Improving Response to Literature for YL

When I taught 4th graders they had to prepare for the California State writing test. Since the genre of the test changed every year we had to make sure students where prepared for Narrative and Response to Literature.  The test was in January and I knew that the students wouldn't be ready if I just did a unit on Response to Literature.  So what I did was to teach each them part of a good response to literature and then created a form that covered all the areas of a good response and distributed each part for each weekday.  Students had to read 30 minutes per night, so I had them do a short response every night.  We first practiced with the form in class for a week and then I sent it home with them.  This really helped them be prepared when we finally did the Response to Literature unit and they were ready for the test.

Later when I moved to 1st grade I adapted it so that it could still target the same RL parts but at their level.  This was really successful it not only helped with their comprehension, but as time went by, their responses got longer and their writing improved.  Their confidence when we did read-alouds also improved because they new what character traits were, setting, connections, what they like or not about the reading and were able to do a retell of the story.

On Monday I had them work on Character Traits. I simplified it by having them draw what the character looked like, then I taught them different adjectives they could use to describe a character and each time we read a book they chose one character trait and made a sentence explaining why they thought the character had that trait.  I taught them setting, so on Tuesdays the form asked them to draw the setting with as much details as they could draw and write about the connections they could make to the book they were reading. Wednesday was the day to draw a picture of their favorite part of the book and write what they liked or not about the book and explain why or why not.

Then on Thursdays they wrote a Summary about what had happened in the story.  At the beginning of the year I would have a space for Beginning, Middle and End of the story.  Then as they got better at it I took that out and had them just write a Summary.  For more advanced students who were reading longer books I had them adapted to the part they had read so far that week.

Now I am using it with my bilingual/binational students who are 2nd and 3rd graders, but since they do not attend an all English school and we only meet once a week I am using the simpler form, but they have been making great strides although they had not worked with any of the RL parts in the past.

I have the students keep them in a binder so that we can go back and see the progress they have made in their writing, drawing and responses.  If you are interested in getting a PDF of the file please email me.

Best of Youtube for ELL classes

My adult students had been asking me for more resources to practice their listening skills.  I found some but they were for more advanced students.  So in my research I found that many Youtube videos of American TV series have the option for subtitles, others have the text available and yet others are available with Closed Caption.  You have to be careful with the Closed Caption because sometimes the translation is way off, but a lot of them are pretty accurate, you just have to see the episode before you use it.

Teach your students to do a search for their favorite American series on Youtube like "Big Bang Theory with subtitles in English" the search will list some with the following: CC for Closed Captions, but others will have subtitles and not have the CC icon.  The other option some of these videos have is Interactive Transcript which has all the story text in a small window.

I use choose some videos to show with my class that have the different options so that they can see what is available.  I then can assign them as homework.  The day I assign them a video as homework I front-load the vocabulary by giving them a list of words and definitions that they might not understand in the video.  If there are any idioms or phrases I think they might have trouble with I include those also and I have a small quiz the next time we meet.  In this way they are able to enjoy an English video with less frustration and more success and some students start watching these on their own.

For those videos that have the Interactive Transcript, I provide my students with the transcript and ask to look for phrases, idioms or grammar we have been working in class.  These are some of the ways I use Youtube subtitled videos I would love to hear if you have any other ideas.

Read Write Think-Excellent Young English Learner Site


I am always looking for ways to use online resources to teach English to kids. I discovered the Read Write Think website when I was teaching my 3rd grade English learners.  The first section I started using was their Letter generator because learning the parts of a friendly letter was a 3rd grade standard in California.

Read Write Think has many such online activities that are easy for kids learning english to practice their English language skills. One that I have also used effectively with my ELL's is the Comic Generator to practice Dialogue.  My students also used it to practice different grammar exercises.  For example we used it to practice have to, must and have got to.  When they finish kids can print their comic strips to share with the class or save them as a PDF’s and email them to you.  These are just two of the many interactives that are available in this site.

For teachers teaching English the site also has Lesson Plans and a wonderful section for Professional Development with Guides for Persuasive Writing, Choral Reading, Making Connections and many more.  Additionally the site has webinars and E-workshops for many strategies.

Check it out it is a wonderful resource for teaching English to kids and come back and share some of the ways that you or Young Learners have used it.