Friday, May 27, 2011

How can a school web become an ESL workspace in Primary education

Today I would like to recommend a website that a fellow from our working group at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, uses to work with their primary pupils.

Antonio Orihuela is an elementary English language teacher in the school Pins del Vallés in Sant Cugat (Barcelona). Like many other English teachers he set a website up to show his students' language outcomes made in the school.

What is exceptional in this page is that Antonio uses it to "work" literally with the students. It has become an online workspace for both homework and reinforcement activities.

I think it is a wonderful way of bringing the school work at home, and involving parents in the learning of a new language (as well as taking the language out of the school, of course!)

Among other things, children can find extension activities such as “listenings”, readings, songs and games. He recommends these tools and sites for reinforcement:
Motivation is paramount!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

12 Ways to Keep Kids Motivated at the End of the School Year

This is just an abstract of the article: 12 Ways to Keep Kids Motivated at the End of the School Year, by: Laura Candler. This article has been published in
Now, that we're getting at the end of the school year, I' would like to recommend you this article with suggestions on how to keep children involved in the learning activity (don't you think it is, sometimes, a headache?)

Laura hits on the nail when mention that "keeping kids motivated at this time of year is actually much easier than you might think." Children are more relaxed, communicative and "chatty" than at the begining of the school year, and it is a very good opportunity to do great and "constructive" things in language (ESL). I like her proposal of activities, tasks and games as a way to reinforce and "use the language" in a contextualized way. Most of the time teachers don't know how to do during this "end of school year term", in wich
" Learning is still the name of the game"
You can read the complete article by clicking the above image.

12 Ways to Keep Kids Motivated at the End of the Year"Keeping kids motivated and on task at the end of the year is challenging at best" (...)

"Each of the twelve suggestions below is meant to spark your creativity rather than to provide detailed instructions. If you’re not already familiar with the strategy, you may need to do a little more research before you begin. To save you time, I’ve included links to helpful online resources from my website and around the web". 

"Class Scrapbooks
Class ScrapbookCreating a class scrapbook is a terrific way to wrap up the school year. Let each student design his or her own special page. The front of the page can include their name, a photo, illustrations, and other personal touches. Have each student write you a letter about the school year and glue it onto the back of his or her page. Add a student-created cover, laminate all pages, and bind the finished product with plastic comb binding. 

Learning Centers
One of the easiest ways to keep kids on task is to create some simple learning centers and allow students to rotate through the activities with a partner. If you haven't used learning centers before, you might be surprised at how easy they are to implement. Here are some additional ideas and strategies on my learning center page.


Cooperative Learning
Cooperative learning activities are naturally motivating to students. Being able to discuss ideas and interact with other students is a sure-fire strategy for keeping kids involved. The key is to establish clear guidelines for classroom management so the fun doesn’t become chaotic.


Fun Friday
A weekly incentive can work wonders to keep kids on task at the end of the year. Try to involve at least three teachers on your grade level in this weekly activity. Set aside a 30-minute block of time on Friday for “Fun Friday.” Each teacher signs up to host a different activity: Inside Games, Outside Play, or Study Hall.

In order to participate in Fun Friday, students must complete all homework and other assignments for the week. Those who don’t do their work spend the time in Study Hall, while the others can choose between Outside Play and Inside Games. You can find a Fun Friday sign-up sheet to use with this activity on my Odds N Ends page.

Scrabble Tournaments
What could be more fun than a board game tournament that’s educational as well as exciting? Many families have Scrabble boards in their closets that they can lend to your class, and setting up a tournament is easy. You can find complete Scrabble Tournament directions and printables for the event on my Odds N Ends page.


Team Challenges
From Egg Drop Challenges to Tower Building, team challenges motivate students to think creatively and work together in order to solve a task. You can find many such activities that integrate math and science at the AIMS Education Foundation website. One of my favorites is to have kids create Puff Mobiles from straws, large wooden beads, and paper. Go to their website at and search for the Puff Mobiles activity.

You can also find these types of activities at the NC Science Olympiad website.

Ed Tech & Online Learning Games
I’m amazed at the number of free and inexpensive online learning games available. If you have a computer in your classroom, you have access to all sorts of online games such as the skill races at Arcademic Skill Builders or the stories read aloud on StoryLine Online. I’ve also begun to research iPad and iPod apps for kids, and I’m excited at what’s already available.

Take a look at the 11-page alphabetical list of educational apps compiled by a group of teachers in North Carolina.You can also check out 20 Amazing iPad Apps for Educators or Online Learning Games Kids Love.

Multimedia ProjectsMultimedia Projects
Challenge your students to work alone or in teams to create multi-media presentations. Possible topics include anything from a recap of the school year to their dreams for the future. If you think "multi-media" means PowerPoint, think again. Check out Prezi, Animoto, and Slideshare for some exciting alternatives". 

Friday, May 20, 2011


© Enric Calvet
Most of us learnt our first words in our native language sitting down on our parents knees and singing a song with the help of some movements or actions. Those words were learnt in a natural and funny way without anyone being conscious of it and, what's more, our parents weren't making a point of teaching the language.
In primary schools songs have been used in any teaching-learning process as an important and widely-used educational resource for many reasons. It doesn't work, of course, exactly in the same way as it does for babies, but we are benefiting from some of the strategies that we used with them: a combination of methodologies (Constructivism, Natural Approach,...) and a combination of activities and resources such as games, rhymes or songs.

What we call Action Songs (songs with movements for miming and role-playing the words and the language structures), have been used in the foreign language classroom to help in a lot of different aspects. Maybe the most important ones are:

  • to learn and enjoy English at the same time,
  • to introduce, repeat, practice and produce many items of language, such as structures, vocabulary or pronunciation in an indirect and non stressful way,
  • to lose inhibition and fears of communicating in English in front of the rest of the class,
  • to do a different TPR activity,
  • to give a natural approach to the language by using it in a real context.

There are many different ways to introduce and learn new vocabulary and structures.
Teachers use flashcards to associate words with pictures, real objects, family words,... Action songs also allow the possibility of associating words with movements, and this increases the understanding and the use of these new words in a full sentence.

Action songs are very popular among children in the school and, it is not necessary to say that they are always ready to sing a new song or to repeat an old one in a new version. As teachers we have to take advantage of this because they can be used in many contexts with different aims:

  • Practice all four skills. Songs are basically oral activities but they have a component of reading for understanding and writing in a word or structural level.
  • Reinforce the rhythm, intonation and pronunciation without being tiresome it. Is a very good way to implement word stressing, rising and falling tone, similar and different phonetic sounds, etc.
  • Extend language: songs are a wonderful real context to introduce, practice and revise language, filling it with words or structures with a lot of repetition. This is a powerful capability that helps language teaching.
  • Encourage children to take their English outside the classroom. This is the best way of checking to see if the song has been successful among children. When the English class finishes children should sing the song outside the classroom, in the playground or in their way home.
  • Begin, extend or end a topic. It is a very good resource to introduce a topic. And what's more, songs can fit perfectly into the general syllabus and help to reach the objectives.
  • As a memory aid. With action songs we are working with the three memories: visual, auditive and senso-motorial memory and this improve a lot the short and long term memory.
  • To create a relaxed environment. Nobody is afraid or inhibited singing a song (if we sing in group) and everybody talks out loud, uses and enjoys English.
  • Support other class activities.
  • Starting or ending a class as a warm up to change from one subject to another, for exciting or for settling them down in some cases.

How can we exploit songs in the English class? There are many ways to do that, and here you are some of the most well known:

  1. Inventing a new strophe. As songs use a lot of structure repetition we can continue the song with new strophes including vocabulary that children already know
  2. Follow instructions or use the song as a TPR activity. Songs as "Head and shoulders" and many others teach parts of the body and can be used as a Total
  3. Physical Response instruction activity.
  4. Changing sentences to facilitate comprehension. There are a lot of songs that teachers like but they don't use in Primary because they find the vocabulary too difficult. Why don't you try changing the sentences with words and structures that students know? Be careful to maintain stress and rhyme.
  5. Inventing actions or movements. Songs about animals, habits, skills or sports include movements showing the actions and improving comprehension.
  6. Using onomatopoeic sounds. Onomatopoeias are very useful for practicing pronunciation and difficult English sounds for foreign learners. Some songs can include onomatopoeias to express the sounds of objects or actions; working in this way makes phonetics non boring exercise.
  7. Acting-out a song. Songs such as "The wheels of the bus" allow acting-out by giving "characters" to children: some are the wheels, some are the people on the bus, one is the driver,... and they act with the proposed movements of the song.
  8. Translate and adapt an action song from L1. Probably the most difficult one, but if you can get it, success is assured. There are a lot of songs that children know from nursery school: melody and words are worked out and the translation facilitates faster learning.

Final suggestions we have to take into account when using songs:

  • Songs must be suitable for the English level of the students group.
  • In Nursery and Primary the topics of the songs must be close to children's interests: nature, habits, sports,...
  • The melody has to be "sticky", to pop into students heads very easily.
  • Don't introduce too many items of vocabulary in one go (five or six are enough)
  • The recording has to be clear and understandable.

And remember: the most important thing is that...  
You must like the song!
©Enric Calvet. Barcelona APAC ELT Convention, 1996

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I am a teacher

This PowerPoint has made me think a lot! And it is not because I am a teacher. It is because I FEEL like a teacher. 

After 30 years of teaching, after this long time living among these “little creatures”, after suffering incomprehension by some people ... It still surprises me how happy I am being a teacher!
If you know the author, please send a post!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Lion is coming!

"The lion is coming" is a story from the ESL course book Bugs 1 by Heinemann. I told the story to my pupils of Year 1, in the school Els Convents (Martorell - Barcelona). Then we played with the animal toys just to re tell it and practice it orally. Afterwards, we decided to make a diorama. I took some photos while children were playing with it and Irecorded the voices. And, that’s it! The video is here!

Just some words about storytelling taken from The Story Arts website (created by storyteller & author Heather Forest)

Storytelling is a learning tool. It is a very special communicative learning tool that “encourages students to explore their unique expressiveness and increase the student's ability to communicate thoughts and feelings in a lucid manner”. 

Some reasons...

Gaining Verbal Skills
Becoming verbally proficient can contribute to a student's ability to resolve interpersonal conflict non-violently. Negotiation, discussion, and tact are peacemaking skills. Being able to lucidly express one's thoughts and feelings is important for a child's safety. Clear communication is the first step to being able to ask for help when it is needed. 

Both telling a story and listening to a well-told tale encourages students to use their imaginations. Developing the imagination can empower students to consider new and inventive ideas. Developing the imagination can contribute to self-confidence and personal motivation as students envision themselves competent and able to accomplish their hopes and dreams. 

Passing on Wisdom
Storytelling based on traditional folktales is a gentle way to guide young people toward constructive personal values by presenting imaginative situations in which the outcome of both wise and unwise actions and decisions can be seen. 

I suggest you to explore this site about storytelling. You will find more reasons to use stories in your classes. And not only in ESL classes but also in science, maths or social studies classes.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A site full of resources

I would like to recommend a site with lots of sharing useful downloadable resources for ESL teachers in Foundation and KSI (Nursery and Primary education)

In Sparklebox you can find printable banners, displays, flashcards, writing frames, signs and labels, class management (organization and routine displays), and a wonderful photo gallery with samples of displays from other teachers.

One of the things I like the most is its fundamental aim of sharing. Every resource on the site is free to download and, what’s more, you can connect and share with other people your resources. 

Have a look at this Power Point I found in the Sharing Zone of the site. It is made by Cathriona Mernagh and it is about old and new toys... It is worth it!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A blog for Kindergarten ESL teachers

I would like to encourage you to visit this site about Nursery English Teaching, managed and posted by Roser Casas Bou:

It is a blog with resources for teachers and parents teaching English in Kindergarten (also called Nursery education or pre school). The school is called Mare de Déu de Montserrat and it is placed in Súria (Barcelona-Spain).

It is full of songs, stories, books ... links to other webs or blogs with resources to teach at these early ages, popular posts, and lots (and lots!) of tips and ideas for teaching English to very young learners.

Do not miss it! 
All I need to know
View more presentations from rosercasasbou

About the author Robert Fulghum:

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Many years ago, when I started teaching English in Primary without a course book, I also started using something similar to a scrapbook. In that time, some people called “profilers” to the folders organized to keep the different materials and worksheets done (the same we call “albums”).

But as the time passed I needed to collect some evidences of improvement and keep records on that. One of the best ways to do it was using “portfolios”. The only problem I found when working with young learners was that they wanted to keep every single thing! And not only the best!

 “Logbook” was another option. Like a sailor children need to keep records of their learning and write about their feelings, pros and cons, comments... like in a diary! But, again in primary, this was quite difficult to carry on as children had to reflect on their own learning and, at the age of 6-10, they are not mature enough to do so. 

But thanks to Theresa Zanatta I found what I was looking for: scrapbooking. According to Wikipedia “a scrapbook is a book where people can keep pictures, newspapers articles, recipes, letters and similar things. It is often used to keep memorable things or a collection of things... It is a way to preserve pictures and memories in a book that can last throughout a person's whole life”.

I attended to a seminar with Theresa and she argued different reasons to use a scrapbook in the English Language Teaching classroom:
  • For children to express themselves,
  • For collecting things related to the English language and, what it is more important, for collecting evidences of learning,
  • For preserving and organizing memorable things,
  • To keep records of their improvements
  • For showing their works to colleagues
  • To get parents involved in the ESL first steps to literacy, like a travelling folder (school – home) or an English agenda,
  • For sharing whatever they do!
But I have found some other reasons and perhaps they are not the last (some of them are from Amanda Cant):
  • Personalization: it’s a very simple process to connect children to the language
  • Mixed ability: it’s a great opportunity to approach slower students to the standard
  • Variety. Different types of class activities.
  • Language. Lots of language used in a natural context
  • Topics. It is a good starting point to introduce topics in a non dramatic way (cross curricular)
  • Sense of achievement: everybody has something to do, to produce, and to finish.
  • Motivation:it is fun and it is stimulating.
  • Self assessment: showing interest in what children do, “Making learning visible”
  • Learning by doing: do, do, do, do, and always do!
  • Oral production and communication = Interaction!
  • Individualization: everybody participates in some way.
  • Collaboration: cooperative learning.

You can have a look to one of my student’s scrapbook (Portfolio)

And, this is the way I use it!

Scrapbooking from Enric Calvet on Vimeo.

Hope you enjoy it! Please, share comments! 

If you want to learn more about portfolios, logbooks, metacognition and all that stuff, you have got lots of sites in I’net to surf! Soon I’ll post some good ones!