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									Meeting Middle School
students’ needs through
a theme-based approach

Sheila Brannigan
Elementary M2 Theme: Space (lesson 6/8)

Learners have just watched a video clip of the 1969 moon
Tomás: “How do you say ‘pegada’?”
Teacher: “It’s footprint”
Tomás: “In my book ‘Fisicoquímica’ I have this picture.”
(He’s talking about the moon landing footprint)
Rita: “Nikki, why they put the capsule in ocean?”
Teacher: “Yes. Why did they put the capsule in the ocean?
   Can anybody say?”
A theme-based approach:
   Aims to get learners using English ‘in a
    purposeful way to find out things and do
    things which have meaning and interest
    for them and to communicate the results to
         Jayne Moon Children Learning English
In theme-based teaching
   …many different activities are linked
    together by their content; the theme or
    topic runs through everything that happens
    in the classroom and acts as a connecting
    thread for pupils and teacher.
      Lynne Cameron Teaching Language to Young
Benefits of a theme-based
 enhancing language learning by providing
  motivating topics to communicate about
 enhancing language learning by providing
  meaningful, purposeful language practice
  opportunities drawn from a variety of
                              Myriam Met
Topic web: Spies Beginner level


            maths               stories

        technology                     art


         Stories: Spycat

Write a story about a spy character

                            Lexis related to spies

                             Present simple and
                              continuous tenses


Find out about CIA K-9 Corps
         (Spy dogs)

                      Reading (website)
                          Info swap
                       Lexis: spy dogs
                      Process language
Hi, my name is Arno. I am a Belgian Malinois.
I was born in the Netherlands. At the CIA, my main job is
to find explosives, but I am also trained to find bad guys.


Read and write messages
   using secret codes

                Consolidation of alphabet
                 Lexis related to codes
theme: subject areas: tasks:
language outcomes

             maths               stories

         technology                     art

                         INTEGRATION (Myriam Met)

Content-Driven                                                         Language-Driven

Total and        Subject             Subject          Language           Language
Partial          Courses Taught      Courses Plus     Classes Based      Classes with
Immersion        in L2               Language         on Themes          Frequent Use
                                     Instruction                         of Content
                                                                         for Practice

                                                      Theme-based        Multi-
                 Sheltered           Adjunct model    courses            disciplinary
                 classes (Brinton,   (Brinton, Snow   (Brinton, Snow     activities used
                 Snow & Wesche)      & Wesche)        & Wesche)          to improve

                                                      Thematic units     Content-related
                 Foreign             English for                         FLES (Curtain &
                 language-           Academic/Soci    Area studies       Pesola)
                 enriched            al Purposes,     (Leaver &
                 university          Business         Stryker)
                 courses             French
                 (Jurasek, et al.)
                 LxC (Straight)      enriched FLES
                                     (Curtain &
                 Content-based       Pesola)
                 FLES (Curtain &
Benefits of a theme-based
 enhancing language learning by providing
  motivating topics to communicate about
 enhancing language learning by providing
  meaningful, purposeful language practice
  opportunities drawn from a variety of
                              Myriam Met
Researching 10-12 year old
learners’ wants and needs
What things do you want to do in class?
 We want play games, listen music and see a
  film; songs; school work; never, never read!;
  group work
What other topics do you want to study?
 Animals, the UK, favourite food, ‘Dog hotel’,
  sports, ‘Brainiac’, football players, countries and
  nationalities, celebrities, ordinal numbers and
Meaning in YLs’ language learning
Language learners develop their language by:
 accumulating memory-based chunks of
  language which they then combine to build
 inducing underlying rules from the language they
  see and hear (gaining implicit knowledge of the
  language rules), or become consciously aware
  of rules by studying the language (gaining
  explicit knowledge of the language rules).
Meaning in YLs’ language learning
   …older elementary age learners still tend to rely
    strongly on a formulaic system (using chunks to
    understand and get their meaning across).
   Skehan’s theory helps to highlight the
    differences between adult and child SLA, in
    particular children’s greater reliance on the
    formulaic system, and their subsequent need for
    a rich language use environment.
Theme: Adventures in the Past
Beginner level (Week 1/5)
The class were looking at a page from a factual authentic book on the
    first people (show page)
Diogo: How do you say ‘extinto’?
T: It’s ‘extinct’.
Diogo: The mamuth (Portuguese word) is extinct.
T: Yes, that’s right Diogo. Mammoths are extinct. Which other animals
    in the picture are extinct? … (No responses from students) OK, are
    elephants extinct?
Various learners: No.
T: What about tigers? Etc. through the animals. What about sabre
    toothed tigers?
Gonçalo: Extinto
T: Yes, they are extinct, aren’t they.
Two weeks later:
T: Who are they? (Showing an image of
Ana Rita: The cavemen live in Africa and
  they espalhar for the rest of world.
T: They spread to the rest of the world.
  That’s great Ana Rita.
Language in a theme-based
   Language is used to explore content, and
    language growth emerges as students
    need to comprehend or produce language
    related to content.
                                  Myriam Met
                  Ancient Egypt
      Create a                   Read:
      classbook              the first people

                     In the
    Film clip         past           Order
Night at Museum                   past peoples

         Make a map:
         the American
The first people: Reading
Read and complete the sentences         Ancestor = antepassado

The first people lived on the continent of ……………………………..
Other animals have ……………………. and …………………… to
   protect them. Other animals have ………… to keep them warm.
The first people didn’t have …………………….. or
They had to use their brains to …………………………. things.
The first people invented ……………………., ………………,
   …………………….. and ways of making ……………………………

Adapted from ‘Wow! People and Places’ by Gerard Cheshire, Salariya
  Books 2008
The first people: speaking activity

Student A: Look at the map. Talk about the
  animals to your partner. Try to say a lot.
The bear has got fur. The tiger has got … and ….
Student B: Look at the map. Talk about the people
  to your partner.
The people have got clothing. That man has got ...
  and …
Theme: Space              Elementary M2
Create an invention for an astronaut

My invention is a special cooker that prepares and
  cooks food for the astronaut. The astronaut puts
  ingredients in the cooker. The cooker prepares a
  delicious meal. The ingredients don’t float away.
  The astronaut puts her face inside the cooker
  and eats the meal. I think you will agree it is an
  excellent invention.
 Draw and describe your invention
Theme: Up in the sky (4/6 lessons)
Pre-intermediate level M3
 Children learn about Daedalus and
  Icarus and reconstruct the text in
  groups through dictogloss.
 Children learn about wings, flying and
Theme: Roald Dahl project term 1
Intermediate level M4
 Roald Dahl
 Find out about Roald Dahl
 Class reader: Fantastic
Mr Fox
 Term ends with
a project related to
Dahl and Fantastic Mr Fox.
Input in relation to Intake
How much of the language learning that
 goes on in a classroom is in the control of
 the teacher?

                                  Dave Willis
Input in relation to Intake

  …students learn a great deal directly from
  exposure to language through reading
  and listening, without the need for the
  teacher to impose a description on what is
Dave Willis The Lexical Syllabus Collins ELT iv
A theme-based approach requires:

 Knowledge of a wide repertoire of activity types and
  resources for planning
 Avoiding children spending too long on activities like
  drawing or making without using English
 Time to find or create or adapt materials
 Process language which is essential for a large number
  of activities
 Language outcomes suitable for level and a language
  rich environment giving learners sufficient exposure
Good idea to plan with other teachers – experiment, learn
English for the future

 Learning how to communicate in English
  in meaningful ways drawn from a variety of
  discourse areas is essential for our YLs’
  future use of English
Sheila Brannigan

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