Friday, October 28, 2011

Designing a T-shirt as a prompt for writing

© Enric Calvet

One of the most troublesome things in the teaching of English as a second Language is to push students into writing.

Every time you do an activity that implies some thinking and writing you get a “long” collection of complaints. If you ask them…

“I don't like writing. My teacher is always asking me to do some writing. I think she is killing me”.

“My English teacher made us write thousands of worksheets. You always have to write something… I hate writing”.

“Some days I could right no problem. Most days it was a struggle to write, but I had to. Even if you just fill the page with "blah-blah-blah”.

In some other cases you only get a nice set of sounds or noises like “bah”, “aw”, “humph”, “phew”…  (I cannot translate the “other” words students use to express their feelings about writing!).

Learning how to write in English, especially in upper primary and secondary levels, is one of the most frustrating and annoying task for most students.

It requires knowledge about different topics and about different types of texts. It also demands creativity and organization of the content. The students who lack these basic writing qualities encounter many problems while presenting an essay.

And what’s more, many students do not have good control over their own speech and language. They make lot of errors in grammar, usage, punctuations and spelling even in their mother tongue. This makes writing tasks boring and lethargic!

We as teachers have the idea of examining the writing aspect because we are trying to promote something and get traffic to. Since the students clearly hate writing I don't see much point in trying to convince them to change their mind on that.

However, I do think that they should learn to write something.

The question is: Is there anything that will make them feel writing is something interesting?

Of course! They like to write about their things, their routines, sports, hobbies, likes and so on. But the important point to remember is that the writing exercises we design should be to develop the basic habit, not to create stellar content.

We have to look for alternatives. We have to use prompts!

And here there is one: Designing our own t-shirts.

At the beginning of the school year, still summer, still hot, everybody is wearing t-shirts. And almost every single t-shirt has got a message written in English. Some are just words, some other short statements or questions, feelings, suggestions… Some, of course, are bad grammar constructions, but even with these you can take benefit of them to do some correction activity.

I proposed to my students of grade 5 (10-11 year olds) to design their own t-shirt. I provide them with a large photocopy with the silouette of a T-shirt (DIN A-3) and I suggest them to follow these instructions.

  • Observe different T-shirts: messages, colours, drawings, size,…
  • Think about something you want to express with your new T-shirt as if it was a real one. Make a draft, check for spelling in the dictionary (paper dictionaries or and correct the grammar with the help of the teacher. I help them with some scaffolding, especially when they want to express complicate messages.
  • Draw, write and colour the T-shirt.
  • When they finish, they have to write a short description of their own T-shirt to be presented (orally) in front of the class. I plan different levels of description according to different learning rhythms.
  • Of course this is an activity that you can easily adapt for primary or secondary levels.
But, better to see the final results. I scanned the T-shirts in .jpg and the students made a word document with the picture and the description, in order to make a short magazine and post it in the school blog. Have a look and imagine what can you do with it!

Open publication - Free publishing - More efl
I will be pleased to know any other writing prompts for writing in upper primary. let's share!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Time for Time: What time is it?

Time for Time is a free site resource for teachers and students to learn everything you could want to know about the concept of time.

You can find games, quizzes, worksheets and lesson plans to help you teaching children to tell the time.

It is extremely practical the interactive learning clock to be used in an an Interactive White Board (click on the image)

You can also find some history about the time concept and a World time zones map, a talking clock and some activities for fun
World time zones map in Time for Time

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Can we do a song?

“A song is not just a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down”.

Yesterday one of my students in grade 4, came up to me with a CD in her hands and said “Enric, can we listen to this song, please?”

It was a really well done request, very spontaneous and, what’s more, with a perfect grammar construction. I felt very proud! But behind this polite question, I had to take a decision. How should I respond?

And then, I remembered an article written by Bob Hastings entitled Can we do a song? 
I couldn’t find the reference in Internet. But, here you are a summary of it.

Can we do a song?
Bob Hastings

...”You could, of course, explain that you have far too many important things to get through this term, and suggest politely that if she wants to listen to music, she can do it at home. But is that really the best way to respond to your student's enthusiasm for one aspect of the English language? Might it not reduce her motivation?

Alternatively, you could say, 'What a great idea!' and put the song on immediately. I mean, you do want to keep your students happy and motivated, don't you? But this is a risky course of action. What if the lyrics are totally unintelligible? What if they are all too intelligible but consist almost entirely of foul language and fouler thoughts? What if you play the song only to discover that it isn't even in English? Or worse, it's an instrumental, and you all spend three and a half minutes waiting for words which never come!

So perhaps the best response is to find the lyrics, listen to the song and decide if and how it could be used to help your students improve their English.

After all, there are some very good reasons for using songs in class.

Songs are memorable.
The words in songs stay with us. Even songs we don't particularly like lodge themselves in our memories, and we find ourselves singing them months later, complaining that we can't get them out of our heads. As for songs we like and consciously listen to, most of us still remember their lyrics years after first hearing them.

Songs motivate.
If a student asks you to play a song in class, it is because he is motivated by something about the English language. And if our students are motivated, they learn better and work harder.

Songs are enjoyable.
Of course, not everyone likes the same kind of music. One boy's meat is another girl's poison, and it is unlikely that those students who ask for a song by Green Day are going to be tapping their feet along to Britney Spears' latest. However, most students will still enjoy a song more than another reading text or grammar exercise. And disagreements among students can lead to some interesting speaking practice. "Britney can sing a lot better than Eminem!" "Yes, but at least his lyrics mean something!"

Song lyrics contain all sorts of grammatical structures and vocabulary.

Very often song lyrics are texts which tell stories or provide interesting topics for conversation.

Songs can help improve your students' pronunciation.

Without doubt, there are some good arguments against using some songs in class.

You can't make out what they're singing.
This is typical of heavy metal and grunge in particular. Now thanks to the Internet, we don't have to listen to songs until our ears bleed in order to work out the lyrics, but is there any point in using a song in class if it sounds as if it was recorded in a high wind near a motorway?

Maybe not, but check out the lyrics anyway. Even lyrics which are mumbled, grumbled or yelled in rage can make excellent reading material.

The lyrics don't seem to make sense.
Of course they don't. This is because very often they don't make sense. However, this is not necessarily an impediment to using them. We don't always understand every aspect of a poem, but that doesn't stop us from speculating on its meaning.

The grammar is not even correct.
Songs are authentic. They show English as it is really spoken, with all its irregularities and imperfections, not as some artificial sanitised model. They allow students to learn about the varieties of English and may even prepare them for the shock of hearing a native Londoner say "He don't know nothing". (anything)

Anyway, isn't incorrect grammar ideal for error correction exercises?

It's full of slang words no one's ever heard of.
This is especially true of rap songs. Again, this can be an opportunity - to show students that you don't need to understand every word to understand a text, and to give them practice in the skill of working out the meaning of words from the context.

It's full of taboo words.
Obviously "bad language" must be dealt with carefully. You must take into account the school where you work, the age of your students, and the feelings of both your students and their parents. But remember that swear words are ubiquitous in song lyrics, in films, on the Internet, and in real language use. So, rather than pretending they don't exist, we should perhaps give our students some guidance about when they are appropriate and when they are not.

It's full of taboo ideas.
Many songs deal with controversial topics, and rap songs in particular can be homophobic, misogynous and racist. Great care must be taken so as not to reinforce prejudices or to offend students' sensibilities. But perhaps some students, for example those in “Batxillerat”, can benefit from discussions on such provocative topics as domestic violence, terrorism or drug abuse. Those issues are prevalent in the media, on the Internet and in conversations in the playground at school, so should we ignore them? Or try to talk about them in a responsible way?

Of course, it is not recommendable to indulge every musical whim of your students. Some songs may be totally inappropriate for use in the classroom. Sometimes you might have to tell your student that you'd rather not do the song she loves in class. However, rather than dismiss her request out of hand, thereby killing a little bit of her enthusiasm for English, why not check out other songs by the same artist or ask if there is another artist whose music she enjoys? And other times?

Well, find the lyrics, play the song, motivate your students, and let them learn with music.

And remember: “a song is not just a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down”.

Bob Hastings is the author of Take Note (Pearson Longman, 2004), has previously written material for Fun English and English Zone and has more than 20 years of experience in ELT and teacher training in the UK, France and Spain.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bloom's taxonomy and English language teaching in primary education

Bloom's taxonomy revisited for ELT in Primary Education
Our English language learners should be developing thinking skills as they acquire English.

English language teachers should ask suitable thinking questions from all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy adapting, the language, the age level and taking into account children’s multiple intelligences. Some of the tasks on the taxonomy are difficult for learners in primary because they lack the language and vocabulary to work in English. But, even very young children can work at the Evaluation and Creation levels if we plan appropriate activities.

Level 1: Knowledge/Remember. Questions of this level are the most frequently used in the first stages of primary ELT, because students are at the first level of English language acquisition. Answers to the questions can be made using yes/no or embedded answers. Flashcards, drawings, and realia will help students give the correct answer. Remember (recognition), match, list, sing, colour, chant... are typical activities at this level.

Level 2: Comprehension. At this level students can understand the facts. In primary we use this level of questioning a lot. We ask students to describe, complete, illustrate or draw.

Level 3: Application. At this level students might need scaffolding and word banks to solve several problems by using previously learned facts in a different way. We ask students to choose, construct, explain, organize, plan, select, solve, and identify.

Level 4: Analysis. At this level students have not got enough vocabulary and language to express responses in English. So they will need teacher scaffolding to classify, contrast, categorize, sequence and interpret facts.

Level 5: Evaluation. At this level teachers have to modify the language of the questions to be simplified, but the task should remain the same. Some tasks at this level are giving opinions, making judgments about stories, comparing and evaluating the work of classmates in English.

Level 6: Creation/ Synthesis. Students will need lots of support and scaffolding to answer questions at this level, because they are asked to compile information in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern. Synthesis is particularly difficult. Some tasks at this level are to combine, create, design, develop, imagine, make up, predict and solve.

But, apart from cognitive questioning and responses, we also have to take care of affective and psycomotor aspects. 

Bloom's taxonomy: not only revisited but also implemented. Coming soon!

Enric Calvet, 2011. Adapted from Haynes, Julie “Bloom’s taxonomy and English Language Learners”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Songs full of energy

Oh, c’mon, teacher! This song is too childish!

Some of our upper primary students are fed up with some infant songs that teachers use to reinforce basic language learning, such as ABC, numbers from 1-20, days of the week, months of the year....  

Our 12 year olds prefer (and so does the youngest in the school!) to hear songs they like from famous pop or rock groups or singers. And you know what happen? They are not the best to learn standard English!

You tube is a wonderful resource to find songs to learn almost every single thing. And it is not necessary to look for nursery rhymes or songs to “feed” our pre-teenagers in the ESL classes. 

Let’s try with some songs “full of energy”!
ABC ROCK By Greg & Steve

Days of the Week Rap Back- Jack Hartmann song

Hip Hop Around the Clock (telling time to the hour w/ Jack Hartmann)

The Number Rock by Greg & Steve

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Alphabet song by Fred Penner)

You can find lots of lively songs in Harry Kindergarten's You Tube channel and in English Karaoke icnelly's channel

Friday, October 07, 2011

Barefoot books: books that opens the hearts and minds of children

Most elementary English language teachers know Barefoot books very well.

I discovered them by chance in St. George church, In Barcelona, during a back yard sale, many years ago.  I immediately, became fascinated about these gorgeously illustrated picture books, not only for their visual treat, but also for celebrating the many cultures of the world and diversity.

Children waving If you're happy and you know it, from

I recommend you to have a look at Barefoot books website especially the Children's crafts and activities section  with lots of worksheets and materials to develop and work creatively the fantastic stories of this publisher.

I also want to recommend the Barefoot books channel in You Tube. There you can find the video version of the books, as well as the audio.

This is the last video uploaded just few hours ago. The Shape Song Swingalong. Learn how you can draw almost anything with four basic shapes! Sung by SteveSongs. From the book and CD illustrated by David Sim.

The Barefoot books company began as a home business in 1992.  It was started by Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland, two working mothers who shared a similar passion for children's literature. Many books come with "sing-along" CDs, many of which are sung by children's performer Fred Penner. Fred Penner is particularly noted by Barefoot Books for his work on their best selling sing-along book the Animal Boogie. It focuses on "themes that encourage independence of spirit, enthusiasm for learning and acceptance of other traditions".

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How to teach ... global education

"In 2000, world leaders promised universal primary education by 2015. At that time more than 100 million children were out of school. The number has been reduced to 67 million, but there are only four years to go to meet the pledge. More than half of the children missing school are girls – it's expected that 50 million girls will be out of school 2015".
Children attend class in a makeshift primary school in the Makoko slum, in Lagos, Nigeria. Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP

Read the full article in The Guardian  writen by Emily Drabble,, Monday 3 October, 2011

Apart from the Steve Sinnott Award, that can be interesting for UK schoolchildren aged 14 and 15, there are several links with resources, videos and plans aimed at KS/2 and KS/3 to workcitizenship, geography and history lessons.

Here you have one of the videos you can find surfing a little bit...

"In February 2011 our Young Ambassadors, Navdeep and Yasir, travelled to Guatemala to investigate the barriers to achieving education for all".