Play With a Purpose–Projects in Children’s EFL

Natsuru, Iroha, Kokomi 1My students and I love projects. For them, projects are the reward for working hard. For me, they’re the payoff for all the baby steps leading up to them, and a chance to see if my students can use English in “authentic” ways.

My kindergarten class just finished their first project. I’ve had these 5 and 6 year olds since April, meeting once each week for 45 minutes. Our weekly class is their only exposure to English. Play is a big part of our lessons because play is a big part of their lives–and it’s a very effective way of getting them to practice a lot of English.

We just finished learning the names of shapes. We made the shapes with our bodies, drew them on each other’s backs, counted them, combined them with colors and actions, sang songs about them–typical practice activities for young learners. The reward? Getting to play with the shapes to create pictures. Three triangles make a lovely tree, two circles and two hearts become a butterfly, hearts, circles, and triangles can all create colorful flowers.

Along the way, they used nearly all of the English they’ve learned so far–asking for glue, scissors and paper, asking me to cut a shape in a specific color, telling their mothers about their pictures. They also discovered some new words they wanted to learn in English (“flower” and “butterfly” to talk about the pictures, and “chopstick” because they liked their idea of using one for the stem better than my idea of drawing one).

They enjoyed being in charge of the language, and being able to use it to create something they could hold in their hands. I enjoyed seeing them get so caught up in the task that they forgot they were speaking a foreign language. Their mothers enjoyed having something from English class to display at home.

Natsuru, Iroha, Kokomi 2Natsuru and Iroha wanted to show off their finished pictures. Kokomi is one of the younger siblings who tag along to class, and not officially a student. She likes joining the big kids, and they like being her English teachers. She wanted you to see her flowers, too.

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

About Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto has taught English and ESL in the US, and EFL in Japan. An EFL teacher and teacher trainer since 1985, she has conducted workshops throughout Asia, the USA and Latin America. Barbara’s motto is ‘Always try new things’, so these days, when she’s not teaching, writing, or giving workshops, she’s exploring the potential of new technologies for collaboration and professional development. You can often find Barbara online working with teachers around the world as Program Director for International Teacher Development Institute ( or on her new blog for English teaches who work with young learners, Teaching Children English.

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3 Responses

  1. ozge says:

    Hey Barbara,
    I didn’t know that you have kindergarten classes as well.
    Aren’t they so fun, energitic and inspring all the time ? I like doing projects, playing games and singing together with them and they think that they are only playing while we play games but as your blog post says “Play with a Purpose”. They are learning through projects, games,songs and stories while they have fun =)
    I loved Natsuru’s and Iroha’s projects, I would love to draw a big smiley face on their projects. Well done!!!

    • Barbara Barbara says:

      Yes, I teach kindergarten, and community classes for seniors, so I’m working at both ends of the age spectrum these days. I love it!

      I’ll be sure to tell Natsuru and Iroha that you liked their projects. They’ll be thrilled!

  1. December 13, 2009

    […] What I have a hard time with are class parties that use language entirely beyond students’ English level. I don’t have anything against teaching language that comes up spontaneously during activities–that’s some of the best learning. But, bringing in a game that requires 5 year olds to learn 20 low-frequency words (that they did NOT spontaneously request) in order to play is frustrating for everyone. I only see my students once a week–I have a difficult time justifying to myself or to their parents the value of giving an entire class to games or crafts that don’t build on the language the children have been learning. If you read my earlier post about crafts, you’ll know that I’m big on play with a purpose. […]