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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.

broken-english

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

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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

 

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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!

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How Big is My Shadow?

Kids are naturally inquisitive and shadows are endlessly fascinating.  I needed to 1) help students inquire into how the light changes throughout the year 2) how this affects both living and non-living things and 3) cover measurement, time, and data objectives at the same time.  Whew!  Plus I needed to make sure my EAL kiddos understood all of these ideas, which meant it needed to be a hands-on-activity.  I decided that we would document our shadows at several points throughout the year and then inquire into why they change.  I had to pat myself on the back for such a great idea.  Inquiry into time and measurement

Except, hmmmm, I forgot an important thing.  Scandinavia hides the sun behind thick clouds most of the fall and winter.  For two weeks I would walk around outside to determine if the sunlight was clear enough for the kids to outline shadows.  It took two weeks, but we finally had a clear day.  We quickly ran outside with our roll of paper, scissors, and markers.  Word to the wise: I forgot to account for wind- take things to weigh the paper down with.  1st grade measurement
A day later we measured the shadows using both standard and nonstandard units.  We recorded our findings and compared them to our earlier shadows that we had taken at roughly the same time of day two months before.  Even though the kids knew the basic science about how the earth moves around the sun this activity led them to ask more in-depth questions.  It also gave them a purposeful reason to have ACCURATE measurements.  kindergarten measurement

The journaling pages we used along with other time investigations and games are available in my store at both Teachers Notebook and Teachers Pay Teachers.  Though this activity can easily be recorded in kids own math journal that they normally use in class.  Telling time games
Jenny (banner)

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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)

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Discovering Addition Patterns

Memorizing addition and subtraction facts is universal and math is often an area where EAL kiddos thrive. (Because in the words of my sister when she was 7 years old and a fresh immigrant to Sweden, “At least the numbers don’t change.  They might call them something else but I still know what’s going on.”)  As a teacher I want to give them strategies to group their number facts (make a ten, +1, doubles) and as a mom I want to see my daughter not have to continually use her fingers.  This is a game that I use mostly to reinforce the idea of “counting on” – the idea that you start with the bigger number and add the second number by counting it out.  (5+3 becomes 5+ 6,7,8)1st grade addition game

I created this game for my kiddos at home to practice addition,  They are obsessed with cake and if I could combine cake and math we would have a winner.  I then discovered that it was such a hit at home that I should try it in the classroom.  My own kids being EAL made me pretty sure that all of my students, including my special needs and EAL students would benefit,  addition games to 12

It was In the classroom that  I discovered that we could explore probability.  It also naturally led itself to an investigation about all of the addition facts that can make up a sum.  So I created a journal for them to write down their findings and an experimental probability tally chart so they could gather data.  They were able to practice basic addition skills and explore more advanced probability.  Oh, and they loved the game as much as my own kids.  I’m marking this one down in the win column.  1st grade addition and probability

Jenny (banner)

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The PYP Learner Profile and EAL

The PYP Learner Profile runs through every classroom and is part of the core of an IB education.  I love the focus they bring to the whole child and kids, in my experience, often start to live up to what the Learner Profile asks of them. However the words themselves are long and it takes some time for those words to stick. For EAL students they can simply be a mystery.

On Friday, I started training teachers new to the IB and one of the questions I head from the new 6-7 year olds teacher was, “How do I make the Learner Profile engaging and child friendly?”  I’d love any comments you want to add but here is what I suggested.

It does not have to be pre-made posters that you put up.

  • Use literature– When I taught 5-6 year olds we went through the literature we were using as read-alouds and tried to find characters that were demonstrating Learner Profile traits.  We then made signs and the kids drew pictures of these characters to remind them.  (i.e Sam from Green Eggs and Ham was a risk-taker, the Berenstain Bears were caring, Franklin the turtle was a thinker…)
    • This was probably the best for young EALs as they could at least use the picture to help define what we were talking about.

mosaic

  • Let them define it– one year I simply wrote each of the Learner Profile traits on a piece of paper and as we focused on each one of them the kids brainstormed ideas of what each one would look like in action.  They wrote or drew what they thought it looked like.For EALs Google Translate is your friend.  We would often talk to parents and use Google Translate to determine the right word in the students’ home language for each word.  They would then do the same activity.

noticing

  • Let it grow– I’ve seen several colleagues have sentence strips with each Learner Profile trait written on one.  As students saw another person in their class exhibiting a Learner Profile trait they would add a sticker to the sentence strip.  I’ve also seen this with scoops of sand into a jar and puzzle pieces that go onto a tree. The bottom line is give the kids the power to reward each other and it can take on wings from there.thinkers
  • Charades – Whenever we had five minutes to fill, we used to play Learner Profile Charades.  Put the traits in a jar and let one child come up and draw a trait.  They act it out while the rest of the class guesses which Learner Profile they are demonstrating.  This was a favorite activity!caring
  • Make your own posters.  The kids started telling us when to take photos and what Learner Profile Trait they were displaying.  I would basically do something like this and quote them.  We would display in the hallway and in the classroom.  Parents loved this one!

Update: Here is my personal poster for the Teacher modeled Learner Profile Board.  The kids think it is hilarious.

lpHope your start of the year is great!  //Jenny Jenny (banner)