A right way to learn English?

I just had a baby so I’m not currently in my own classroom.  I am however, still a mommy and I just went to the parents’ information night at my kids’ school in Denmark.  I think that parents who are teachers have the hardest time accepting academic decisions of other teachers and they live in a constant struggle to support their kids’ teachers and yet wonder how they would of done something differently.  This describes my relationship with my kiddos’ school in a nutshell.

At the meeting, they pointed out that English is now taught from the earliest grades but there isn’t really curriculum to help them teach effectively.  Now when they mean curriculum, they mean workbooks.  In Denmark, teachers do not search for their own materials, they are not expected to ever buy products to use in the classroom, and they do not print, laminate, and cut things to be used in their classroom.  I teach through games and dramatic play at all grade levels and use worksheets as a reinforcement only.


This leads to a dramatic cultural clash but, every Dane under 50 speaks fluent English – I struggle to think that their system is wrong if it works so well.  I’m currently partnering with the English teacher at my childrens’ school and not only am I creating resources for her but I am slowly coaching her on international teaching methods of center based learning and how to use games as both instruction and repetition.  Yet, even as I mentor her in my methods, I’m learning that there is something to be said for the boring but thorough slow workbook method.

I will still advocate for getting students to talk to each other and feel like they are in real-life speaking situations in a safe dramatic play environment.  I still believe that games do what worksheets do but in a more engaging way.   However, grammar is a beast and worksheets and their repetition are blessings to help grammar become more automatic.  Perhaps there is merit in old school methods.  Do other EAL teachers struggle with this intersection of ideals?

Little Vikings


Summer Literacy and EAL Fun

I’ll admit I had grand EAL-at-home plans for summer learning.  Except, this year in Scandinavia, the sky is all about rain.  So we’ve been playing lots of card games that we’ve played with all year.  We have plans for an English water balloon war on the next sunny day that we are blessed with.  We’ve taken balloons and written words or phrases in Danish.  The kids can’t throw them until they translate them into English.     I’d rather just get them talking but my kiddos currently need a confidence boost in their ability to speak and understand English so we’re going this way.  (Come on sun so we can post pictures!)

We’ve also got a candy store role play set up at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  The kids are the shop owners and are trying to sell us some candy.  This is because one: candy is their greatest love in the world and two: they are very convincing in Danish about why people should eat it.  We thought we’d give them a chance to translate their love of all things sugar into speaking English.  Plus: there is candy at the end for them!  (Pictures forthcoming)

To see some of our rainy day activities and others posted by great teachers, check out this week’s linky party.


Adventures in Elementary



Stop the Summer Slide Linky Party

Summer is about fun and rest both for students and teachers but, a little interaction with some basics is important. At my house we have a strict limit to the amount of screen time that each child can have. This worked brillantly on sunny days. Rainy days… well ….we discovered could use a little bump up in screen time. Our solution was to make the kids earn extra time by choosing to write, read, or do math. They surprised us by loving being back to the routine of some school work.

My kiddos are still learning English and the art of writing, so the prompts have pictures and words to make it easier for them.  Pick it up for free in my tpt store.

summer writing

Click on the picture to be directed to tpt link.

If you like this, check out more summer freebies to help with the rainy days from other teachers at both of these  linky parties.  Just click the pictures below to be directed to each one.

This one is for teachers

Adventures in Elementary
This one is for parents.

 photo Summer linky button.png

Little Vikings

Plant Time and See English Appear- Online Edition

My dear friend has decided to follow my footsteps and become an EAL step-mommy.   She’s suddenly learning a new language and trying to help a kiddo find fun and non-stressful ways of learning English.  We talk a lot about what it is like to come into a new situation with only one parent knowing both languages.  Here are some online suggestions for both the new language learning parent and the kids.

For the kids: 

Muzzy: yes, seriously the old BBC tv program from the 80s.  My kids love it.  Today it also has some computer games attached to it.  I’m not in love with the games because, truth be told, they are pretty lame.  However, Muzzy is as endearing as ever and my 8 year olds will act out dialogues between the characters.  They prefer Muzzy to almost any other online option.  As a parent, I appreciate that it starts with assuming that the kids have no knowledge of English and works up from there.  –  ($10 a month)

Anglomaniacy: This functions as online picture and spoken dictionary. It does have worksheets, games, and stories that can be printed.  It isn’t as easy to follow as Muzzy but it does give the kiddos the option of learning the vocabulary that they want in the order that they want. – (free)

ESL Games +: This is definitely more of a teacher site than a parent site, but if you stay within the games section you can choose vocabulary and games that the kids can play.  They have a lot of online and printable options so play around a bit and see what suits your kiddos.  – (free)

For the adults: 

Duolingo: I swear by this one.  Use it on the computer or download the app on your phone.  The phone version will make you listen to language and transcribe it as well as gaining a lot of vocabularly.  The computer version gives you short grammar lessons and pronunciation practice.  It paces the learning in a non-overwhelming way and it teaches you in sentences.  Which means it teaches how you use the words in context.  Honestly, this app is amazing and it is free.  (I used this in my classroom as a free choice activity for my 10 year olds students.  They loved it and competed against me.) – (free)

Memrise: This is a user uploaded app and site.  I love the variety of the vocabulary you will encounter but word to the wise … it is straight up flash card memorization.  It doesn’t do more than increase your vocabulary but, it can give you more vocabulary than duolingo. – (free)

For both of you: 

Youtube – if your child has a favorite character or tv series, odds are in our globalized world that there might be an English (or the other language) version of that show.  The younger the audience it is geared for the better, since the characters will repeat words a lot and use a lower vocabulary.  Even though my kids are 8 and well past Mickey Mouse Clubhouse days, they can take on the challenge of short snippets in English.  Sesame Street clips are very useful, as well.  Honestly, their stamina for the new language works better with the short clips that are available on youtube.  I challenge myself back by watching Phineas and Ferb in Danish.  They love the back and forth of learning that this creates. Little VikingsGood luck with your family’s language learning!


Authentic Ways to Write in English at Home

As a teacher and as a parent I know that writing is hard.  You have to first know what you want to say, then hear the sounds in a word and lastly match the sounds to a letter.  Whew!  No wonder kids find it hard.  EAL kids need even more support as they rarely are taught the phonics of English and they are thinking in their native language first, then translating, and finally spelling their memorized translated word.   That is a lot to do and the more we can encourage authentic, non-worksheet driven writing at home the better.authentic writing PYP

On a  recent visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house we decided to set up a family pizza parlor.  We figured the kids could practice English, writing, math, and responsibility.  We started by going through the fridge and cupboards and writing down all of the ingredients we could find.  We eventually wrote them in both Danish and English, though this pictured list also has some Swedish environmental print thrown in.  early writing at home

We then went to everyone and asked, “What do you want on your pizza?  We have …..” and they would read the list.  They had to listen to match the spoken word with the written word in the ingredient list.  We made tickets of everyone’s ingredient lists so we could make their pizza correctly and set to work.  The kids had to measure out all of the ingredients and though there may have been a few eggshells in the dough, the pizza turned out delicious.  English at home

We’re always looking for ways to get them to write and to practice English in a way that makes them think they are playing.  We’re thinking of running some other family restaurants so that we can try out other menus and practice more writing.  Just beware of letting your kids write restaurant reviews.  My daughter wrote a review of tonight’s dinner that I made and while I’m proud of her initiative to write and her sounding out of new words ….. let’s just say my meal only got two stars out of five.  Jenny (banner)


Language learning is hard so, give your kids a few things

My 10 year old students made this wlcome mat reflecting their languages for this year's PYP exhibition.

My 10 year old students made this wlcome mat reflecting their languages for this year’s PYP exhibition.

“I just wish everyone in the world spoke Danish; it would be easier.” Insert any language there and you can sympathize with the frustration my daughter felt in learning another language.  The frustration is part of  language learning and if you put your kids in an environment where there are surrounded by the target language for hours a day, they will pick it up faster, but you have to be prepared to give them a few things.

1) Make your home a haven for their native language.  Let them watch TV in their native language and read to them in their native language.   They often need a chance to mentally rest and know that they will be understood.  They also need a STRONG first language.  I’ve met many kids who speak three or more languages but are not actually fluent in any of them.  Help them gain vocabulary, grammar and sentence fluency naturally in their native language.  This knowledge will be the base that they use for all other languages.

2) Their personality in the new language will be different, at least in the beginning.  They might be significantly quieter, angrier, more frustrated, or more playful.  One child I taught abandoned all language when she entered the English language environment.  She just used physical signs and made up sounds to speak to the other students.  Soon the other kids would respond with made up words as well.  We had to actively encourage the class to use English with her so she could keep hearing the sounds of the language.  This from a student who was very vocal and expressive in their native language!

3) Keep talking to them about how they feel and listen to their frustrations.  Little people usually let us know when they need a break from a language or activity. We just have to be ready to respond to them.  Kids learn the best when they think something is fun and necessary; if it has become a chore you will be fighting an uphill battle to make learning happen.  In the times that they don’t want to speak a target language, ask them why.  There are quite often big things that they want to talk about.  Listen and act accordingly, you may need to take a week off of language learning but they will come back much more willing to learn.  My own kiddos have proven this one many times.

My husband and kids being silly in English.

My husband and kids being silly in English.

4) Encourage them to feel free to be silly in the new language.  Many kids (and adults) do not want to use their new language until they are fluent because they know they will make mistakes.  This is a hurdle that has to be overcome.  They have to use the language and the more they do, the quicker it will come.  In my home and classroom, we pretend the whole family or class are robots/aliens/pirates and then no one is worried if they can’t make a full sentence or their sentence is missing words…. because robots/aliens/pirates always make mistakes.  If a child is uncomfortable using a language, making a safe play environment can do wonders in helping them become a language risk-taker.

5) Let them know some of the feelings they will probably feel before they start.  Full language immersion is always hard.  It is hard as an adult and it is hard as a kid.  Whoever is encountering the language has to brace themselves to not be understood, to have trouble expressing their needs, and in a global way not be able to do the same things that they can in their native language.  It is much easier to deal with this if you know it is coming and that it won’t last forever.  When my own bonus-kids go to Grandma and Grandpa’s they know that they will be in a full immersion environemnt so they prep themselves by thinking of how they use can body language, what toys or games they can teach Grandma and Grandpa and what English words or phrases they really want to know.  This way if they get frustrated in the situation, they have tools to use to express themselves another way.