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


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)


Plant some money and see English appear – Commercial Board Game Edition

family-game-588908_1280I live in a country where English isn’t the native language.  Yet, my workplace is mainly populated by English native speakers.  As my friends start getting children at home, I am often asked, “What is out there that is already made that I can use to teach my stepkids English?”  I’ve given out this advice enough times that I think posting it online will make it simpler for me.  So here is my unscientific but, tested and proven on my own bonus children game advice.

We play Candyland to work on color names and basic number skills.  You can also focus on basic sentence patterns like, “I got a green.  I got two yellows”  In our family we also use different greetings when we land on the same space as another player.  That way we can use all of the different ways we can think of to say hello (hi, how do you do, good morning, etc.) We also use every type of good bye we can think of when we leave the space with the other person.   We also may or may not make the candy figures dance when they land on the same space as another person because as my daughter says, “You can’t just say hello and then leave.  You have to dance before you go.”  Wise words from a seven year old.

We had to ship it from the US but, it is available on Amazon UK quite often.  

Guess Who – This is actually a fairly advanced game as they not only need to know lots of vocabulary, they also need to use deductive reasoning.  My husband and I always split up so Kiddo 1 and Kiddo 2 both have an adult helping them.  You can practice the same basic question format, “Does your person have …” We usually do a quick game of ‘Where is your eye, nose, hair ….’ before we start.  For us, the questioning skills were a bit hard at first, with 2 six year olds, so we played it in their native language several times before we switched it to an English game.

Bonus points for this game as I’ve seen it in every country that I’ve lived in,  It is more often translated into the native language as, ‘Who am I’.  

Twister combines the color naming aspect of Candyland with the body part learning of Guess Who.   You can focus on key sentences such as, “Move your left/right ____ to ____ a (color) space.”  At the beginning the adults said these sentences but the kiddos quickly picked up the pattern and started giving the instructions in English on their turns.

This game is also generally available and even called Twister everywhere that I have lived.  Though the picture makes it fairly recognizable if it is translated into a native language.

Yahtzee is great for larger numbers and for words like, “double, triple etc.”  There are many variations of yahtzee and depending on the age of your kiddos you might want to try a modified version first that takes out the higher numbers.  We often play a Smurf yahtzee with my daughter so that she is focusing just on the idea of doubles or triples (i.e. triple Papa Smurfs) only and doesn’t need to do the additional multiplication or adding. However, if your kids are ready for larger numbers, this is a great way to practice them.

Available as a commercial game almost everywhere.  You can always just buy six dice and then print out yahtzee score sheets online.   

Memory  You need a basic version, not a movie version, unless you are focusing on learning character names in more than one language.  My kids are bored by the basic memory but they quite like Memory scavenger hunt.  My husband and I hide the cards around the house and yard and then let the kiddos go search for them.  They can’t take the card unless they already  know where the match is located.  This gets them moving which is always a bonus for us.  You can follow them around and have them tell you what each picture is in English or you can wait until the end when they show their matches and see who has won.

I’ve seen multiple versions in every country I’ve lived in.  You can usually find it quite cheap at garage sales/boot sales/flea markets or on used resale sites.