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Formative Assessment (by Matthew Spira)

I was thirty-two years old the first time I stepped into a kindergarten classroom as an English instructor. Because I previously had fairly extensive leadership experience as a military officer, the general manager of a multi-million dollar software company, and as an operations manager within a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, I just didn’t think teaching children was going to present all that much of a challenge. How hard could it really be?

As you are probably guessing, those were indeed famous last words.

What do you mean children don’t instantly do what you tell them to do? What do you mean they don’t sit still? What do you mean they don’t want to do the “fun” activity I meticulously planned? What do you mean they have “accidents?” What do you mean they cry… all of them at the exact same time?

My first month as a functionally untrained and unprepared “teacher” was as disorienting as the first few days of military basic training had been, which was the only other time in my life I’d felt so lost. However, something I’ve always understood is even when you don’t know what to do, you still have to do something. So I did what made the most sense to me: I researched. I sought out advice. I observed other teachers. I experimented with different combinations of methods and materials, and I tried to pay attention to what did and didn’t seem to be working. After a teaching session, I reflected on what had happened and worked to understand why. I continued to voraciously research, prepare, apply, assess and try to improve.

Once I got out of absolute survival mode I started to realize that I was, in fact, applying skills and techniques I had picked up in my previous professional lives. My approach to lesson planning was essentially the Army’s “operations order” and “after action review” combined together. It might be surprising to hear, but once I adjusted to the frame of reference of their concerns and needs, I found the dynamics of classroom management of children in a number of respects to not be all that different from what it takes to lead a platoon in the military or supervise teams of technical support agents and customer service representatives in a call center. It’s still leadership, which has many different styles but a fairly universal set of key characteristics. How I was defining and measuring what I was observing in my classroom, and then the effort to create a coherent narrative from the data to understand performance was for all intents and purposes what my job description had been as a manager of workforce planning, forecasting and analysis.

Six months later, just as I feeling like I was settling into the role of teacher, and even enjoying it, (but at the same time looking forward to the summer break scheduled to start the following week,) we were called into the academic director’s office and informed that the school was closed, effective immediately. So instead of being on vacation that next Monday I was in a new environment and starting the process of mapping what I thought I knew about teaching to an entirely new set of students… only to discover what I thought were my key hard-won “lessons learned” didn’t completely translate from one school to another.

Fast forward another eight years, and while I don’t by any stretch of the imagination feel like I’m an “expert” teacher, I now have around 12,000 classroom/teaching hours under my belt. I’ve taught kindergarten to adult, from 1:1 tutoring sessions to class sizes ranging up to 70 students. While I haven’t taught every type of English class, or every kind of student, I have covered a fair chunk of the ELT territory. I do feel like I have my proverbial legs under me. At the same time, I often get the sense I’m still just scratching the surface, and it’s absolutely a case of “the more I learn, the less I know.” Consequently, in many respects I’m pushing myself harder now then when I first got started.

It is that last point which is really the key to my theme. Recently, the professional basketball player Ron Artest had one of the biggest moments of his life: he made the winning basket in a crucial, hard fought game. What did he do to celebrate? He went to the gym and exercised. He prepared for the next game.

You can do internet searches for “formative assessment techniques” or “informal assessment,” “continuous process improvement, “principles of leadership,” or any number of relevant topics to what I’ve discussed. However, without the personal desire to try and get better on consistent basis it just doesn’t mean very much. It is a truism about leadership that it has to be demonstrated by example. Applied to EFL, this means we teachers need to genuinely model the behaviors we expect from our students.

I am going to finish this post by offering one specific formative assessment technique I find to be extraordinarily useful. If you have a young learner who isn’t a true beginner, but is consistently struggling with comprehension, simply ask him or her to write the entire alphabet from A to Z, big and small letters, and observe as he or she does it.

I’ll let you discover for yourself what you can learn about your young learners from this task.

My intention when I started writing this post was to discuss and make specific suggestions about “formative” assessment techniques for use with young learners in the classroom or other educational context. Formative assessment covers the range of diagnostic things a teacher, tutor, mentor or parent can do to assist and improve the process of learning by his or her young learners on an ongoing basis. As I kept thinking about my topic, and about my personal approach to continuous process improvement–which is what formative assessment essentially is–what I started to realize and come to strongly believe to be something “all EFL teachers should know” is that analysis–the steps taken to understand something–is more of a mindset and attitude, and not just a collection of techniques. (more…)

Siklot: Reinvention of a Traditional Game for EFL Classrooms (by Marco Brazil)


“Flick a card.

Flick a card.

Start the game,

And let’s have fun!” (more…)

High Tech Ideas for Low Tech Classrooms: VoiceThread

Is this what Internet access looks like at your school?

Some time back, Anita Kwiatkowska encouraged me to start a new series. I’ve actually been thinking of this idea for a few months, when OUP asked me to do a series of presentations about using technology in teaching young EFL learners. (more…)

How to Create a Jazz Chant by Carolyn Graham

Part of the series: Stuff All EFL Teachers Should Know

Last November, Carolyn Graham did a workshop at the JALT National Conference in Shizuoka, Japan, on how to make a Jazz Chant. I taped her workshop, and with her permission am sharing the part of it where she demonstrates her technique.

One of the many things I love about Carolyn is that she spends most of her time giving away her secrets. In this short video, Carolyn shows teachers how easy it is for them to create their own chants to reinforce vocabulary or grammar. (more…)

Music and Movement for Young English Learners (by Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina)

Matt Richelson makes some excellent points about the power of music in the EFL classroom in his recent article, “Teaching Young Learners With Songs.”  I use music and movement daily with young learners in the English classroom. Let me add a few more suggestions that can assist you in using these powerful tools to teach English to your students.

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Children are Always Cute (by Esra Girgin Akiskali)

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”  Forest E. Witcraft

Children are always cute and eager to learn but unfortunately they have very short attention spans and affect each other very quickly. Sometimes you may lose their attention (even if you are playing a game) which means also losing the control of the class. And once you lose their attention, it is really hard to get them to concentrate back on what you were doing. To prevent this, I have ten tips to share with you!

1- Whenever I change activities or the students need to change place (from the table to the cushions for instance) I count slowly up to ten and everybody gets ready. In addition to counting up to ten, you can also rhyme or use a musical instrument (mine is maracas) to make sure they are all ready to start the next activity.

2- When a student wants to go to the toilet, some others also want to go to the toilet not they need to but because it looks fun to go all together. This is also the same for drinking water. When one wants, some others want, too.  So before each class, make sure you have “toilet and water” time.

3-Small children have conflicts, disagree and argue a lot and make complaints about each other. After listening to the problem, make sure they apologize to each other. A simple “I’m sorry!” may be the solution most of the time.

4- Be sure your kids are not hungry, sleepy or thirsty during the class hour. Any of these will detract attention and may spread to all students.

5- Keeping the kids in a row is sometimes really hard. In my class, I take my imaginary magic wand and make a spell that keeps all the kids in a line with imaginary magical glue and it really works!

6- Most of the kids like group work but some may like to work alone. It’s better to let them work on their own for they can disturb others if you force them to do group work. And also, when grouping the kids, take into consideration that kids have different ability levels.  Try to group them as equally as you can.

“My childhood may be over, but that doesn’t mean playtime is.”    Ron Olson

7- As a teacher, you should choose the activities you enjoy as well. If you like what you do in the classroom, your kids will, too. Also be enthusiastic when you are doing your activities. Always keep in mind that a teacher is like a mirror to her/his kids.

8-Immediate feedback will increase the motivation for your lessons. Don’t hesitate to praise your kids with bravos, well-dones, good jobs and fantastics!

9-Balance the energy level in your class by playing both settling and stirring activities during the same class hour. For example after a very exciting  activity ,  I  rhyme “Two hands clap, two hands lap, right click, left click, concentration (eyes closed, take the lotus position), concentration,  concentration… Wake up!” And suddenly, they are quiet and ready to listen to me.

10-Be sure you raise the curiosity especially when you start a new unit.  When children are curious, they explore the language and come up with new ideas.

Above all I mentioned here, the most important thing is to LOVE and RESPECT your kids. Don’t forget that even though they are small kids; they have their own thoughts, personalities and feelings. Let them feel your love and you will see it will return back to you like a boomerang!

As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.” Dr. Haim Ginott

I have been teaching English to “Very Young Learners” for 7 years. I love teaching children as they are always enthusiastic and fun to teach!

Visit me: http://www.esraakiskali.com/

Read me: http://esraakiskali.edublogs.org/

Follow me: @ekamin

Teaching Young Learners with Songs (by Matt Richelson)

Barbara was so kind to ask me to write about how to use songs with young learners.  I have learned a lot from teaching English using songs, and I am happy to share what I know.

I have a background in music, and bringing music into the classroom has been very natural for me.  What if you don’t have a musical background? Don’t worry!  You do not have to be a great singer, or musician to use songs with kids. Just be enthusiastic!

If you are new to using songs you may think, why songs? Songs are great for many reasons. The melodies help the words stick into children’s heads. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head you couldn’t get out? The rhythm of the songs helps the children speak in a natural flow.  Simply put, they are great practice! Also, many ESL and EFL songs nowadays have built in actions and activities.  So when we sing “I brush my teeth”, then we can do the action while we sing. This combination of singing, and doing actions really helps stimulate the memory of the child. Oh, and it is fun! (more…)

The Foolproof Lesson

Most teachers have a short list of foolproof activities they can build a lesson around in a pinch–and this is one of mine.

It’s foolproof because it works for all levels, all ages, and with or without prepared materials. It’s deceptively simple, so beginning students are able to expand their existing language skills and strategies without feeling intimidated. Students control the difficulty, and discover the language they need in the process of completing a task. I’ve done this successfully with with both children and engineers (at extreme ends of the language skill spectrum), but will demonstrate it with a class I currently teach of beginning adults. (more…)

Sometimes Less is More (by Anita Kwiatkowska)

I can still remember my first Christmas lesson seven years ago. My 3rd graders were making little Santas from red paper and we were chatting about the presents they expected to get that year. Foolish as I was back then, I suddenly asked ‘Of course you no longer believe in…?’. No, I didn’t finish that question with ‘Santa’ as the bewildered look in my students’ eyes prevented me from doing so. You see, they still believed in Santa and if I hadn’t hesitated I would have made an irreversible mistake. I would have taken away their dreams.

(more…)

Moving Your Kindergarten into Web 2.0 with 5 Different Tools (by Özge Karaoğlu)


“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow” John Dewey

Kindergarten has always been the place to make friends, paint pictures, tell stories, play games and have fun while learning. Wooden blocks and legos have always been favorites in kindergarten classes. Today, the world is undergoing a digital change, changing our children digitally as well. Marc Prensky says “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” in his Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants article. I agree with him wholeheartedly. (more…)