Tuesday, July 26, 2011

English Language Activities… Keep the Simple!

The role of any language teacher is to come up with language activities that allow a student to develop their skills and comfort with the language being studied(1).

Just 4 things to consider in deep!
This simple and obvious statement means to consider many variables, thinking a lot, extra time and full dedication. And we do not forget either that communication is important for the social construction of the individual, for acquiring knowledge and for constructing thinking skills.We've got a hard job in here!

What are the necessary "premises" to design good activities for learning a foreign language in primary school? What should we consider to be successful in the goals we set?

Designing a language activity to be a competence activity is not a difficult task.

The fact is, that language, communication and processing information are part of the general mind development. So, any carefully well planned activity drives students to learn the language, to learn the content and to develop the thinking processes needed to solve any question or activity.

The Mind map that comes below was the product of a research carried out among more than 100 English as second language teachers. The questionnaire asked:
What things do we have to take into consideration when planning an activity (an activity with the presence of languages) to become a competent activity?

Musts of a competent activity

The result was a set of 6 guidelines:

To be "competent" a language activity must...
  • Use the language in any form or skill, oral or written; using different language register and with a good linguistic model.
  • Promote interaction in the class through collaborative and cooperative work.
  • Be challenging but feasible.
  • Bear in mind cognition and low and high thinking processes such as understanding, reasoning, classifying... (Bloom’s taxonomy).
  • Involve children in the process of learning the language, with different strategies such as defining assessment criteria or having clear outcomes.
  • Be content based or interdisciplinary.
How do we teach? -The question to ask

But don’t forget: what we develop as language teachers will really depend on the level of our students (both in terms of language ability and age), as well as exactly what it is that we are currently teaching.  And one very important thing: Teaching a language is more about how do we teach than what we teach.

Finally, I suggest keeping in mind three simple concepts as you develop language activities for your students. If you follow them you will make simple what it seems hassle and you will do more cohesive and coherent lessons:
  1. Try to design language activities that you can recycle and use again, either with the same students (in another time) or with a new group of students.
  2. Try to develop activities that link all language skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing, and don’t forget interacting, as an “umbrella” term.
  3. Try to think about different uses you can give to an activity. They should be easily “convertible” from a speaking activity to a writing one, for example.

"Curiosity killed the cat" (not always!)
Paraphrasing Javier Zanon in his article “Como no impedir que los niños aprendan inglés” (How do not prevent children to learn English), what it is really difficult is that children do not learn it!

References and links
  • (1)    http://teachers-call.com/2008/03/language-activities.html
  •  BRUNER, J. (1983) Child's Talk: Learning to Use Language, New York: Norton. ISBN-10: 0393017532
  • CANALS, R (gener 2008) Un currículum per a l’adquisició de competències. Perspectiva Escolar, 321. Pp 75-85. Barcelona: Publicació de Rosa Sensat. Veure també el seu blog: http://rosercanals.blogspot.com/ 
  •  CARRETERO, M. Reyes (27 de maig 2008) Competències bàsiques: què i com ensenyar i avaluar-les. Conferència a la Universitat de Girona en format en Power Point.  http://intercentres.cult.gva.es/cefire/03402231/scripts/archivos/Carretero.pdf
  •  MERCER, N. and LITTLETON, K. (2007) Dialogue and the Development of Children's Thinking: A Sociocultural Approach. Oxon: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-415-40479-2
  • SANTMARTÍ, N (Febrer, 2008). Qué comporta aplicar un curríulum orientat al desenvolupament de competències? Barcelona: UAB http://antalya.uab.es/ice/portal/competencies.pdf
  • ZABALA, A and ARNAU, L (2009) Como aprender y enseñar competencias. Barcelona: Graó. ISBN: 978-84-7827-500-7
  • ZANON, J (1992) Como impedir que los niños aprendan inglés en CL&E (Comunicación, Lenguaje y Educación), núm 16. Pp 93-110

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