"Channeling Children's Energy through Vocabulary Activities"
A n d re a S c h i n d l e r J O R D A N Channeling Children’s Energy through Vocabulary Activities T eaching children is a chal- lenge. They fidget. They mumble. They squirm. They wander off. They babble. They play. Well, of course they do! They’re riences in English classrooms. Many teachers forget the importance of de- veloping students’ self-esteem and self- confidence as language learners and users (Macintyre, Dornyei, Clement, children! Let their energy and enthu- and Noels 1988). It is imperative that siasm work for you, instead of against teachers make the learning experience you. In this article, I will describe sev- both enjoyable and educational. Af- eral of my favorite supplementary fect plays a large role in learning a sec- vocabulary development activities for ond language, and when children are young learners that harness the exu- made to feel incompetent, they cer- berance of youth while delivering tainly don’t feel close to the L2 or the both enjoyable and powerful learning L2’s culture (Brown 2001). One im- opportunities for children of all ages. portant part of language development But first, I’d like to share a few gener- is vocabulary development, and fun al thoughts about teaching children. vocabulary activities can be used to develop a positive affect in the young Make a lasting first impression learner English language classroom. A child’s first English teacher bears The goals of English instruction for a heavy responsibility. The goal of all young learners should be to: early language education should be to • make students feel competent and hook students when they’re young confident while learning English; and keep them interested in learning • provide a safe, entertaining, and English for the rest of their lives. If educational environment; their first experience of learning Eng- lish is unpleasant, they may grow up • create life-long learners of English. with powerfully negative feelings Remember—if your students are laugh- towards the language. ing with you, they are paying atten- Over and over, I’ve seen people tion; they are probably learning some- scarred by their earlier learning expe- thing; and they most likely feel pretty 8 2006 N U M B E R 2 | E N G L I S H T E A C H I N G F O R U M good about themselves. The next section will board’s tray. If your chalkboard doesn’t have a describe several activities to help teachers tray, tape the pictures to the board. Tell stu- achieve these goals. dents to study the pictures, looking carefully at each one and saying the word to themselves. Entertaining and educational activities Then, have students put their heads down on One of the hardest things about working their desks to block their view of the board. with young learners is that often they are pre- “Heads down! Heads down!” you cry, imitat- literate, that is, they have not yet learned how ing the correct posture. Once every little head to read in their home or native languages. is on the desk, you remove one picture, When, as a teacher, you are working with pre- rearrange the others, and then yell: “What’s literate students, you can’t just write letters and missing?” Students look up and then guess words on the board and expect them to be able which item has been removed. The first stu- to read what you have written. However, pre- dent to guess correctly scores a point and gets literate students can orally learn a large to hold the item. Continue until there are only amount of language before they learn to read two items left. The student with the most and write. This is the order in which we learn items wins. our first language (Krashen 1981), so it makes Spin-offs sense to structure language classes in ways that You may want to put students into pairs or take advantage of our natural learning inclina- groups of three and do this activity coopera- tions. Described below are activities that work tively. Also, you could have students take turns well with preliterate learners as well as with performing the teacher’s role. This makes the learners who have developed literacy skills in activity extremely student-centered, which is their native language and English. always motivating. It’s important to mention that for the fol- lowing activities to work well, the teacher has Erase! to be lively and enthusiastic! You need to put fun and energy in your voice (in English, of Purpose course) to get the students in the right frame This activity is mainly for beginning level of mind to participate. If you are excited about students who are at the word recognition the activity, they will be excited, too. level. It allows students to practice their word recognition skills, using vocabulary items in a What’s Missing? specific category. As students become able to recognize words, they can practice their read- Purpose ing skills at the word level. (Note: It is impor- This activity is designed to give students tant to initially teach students words that rep- practice recalling the names of items in a spe- resent a category of vocabulary that they have cific category of vocabulary. Before doing this already learned in realia/picture form. That activity, students should have already been way, there is a clear relationship between what exposed to categories of vocabulary in real they know orally and what they learn in writ- and/or pictorial form, such as food items, col- ten form.) ors, classroom objects, seasons of the year, etc. This is a high-energy activity that includes Now, they can have some fun while practicing short bursts of running and some light-hearted their new knowledge. play. I’ve used this with a variety of age groups Preparation and nationalities, and it has always been a You will need large pictures of the vocabu- great success. However, the teacher (and her lary items in the category or the actual items supervisor) must be able to tolerate noise and themselves, if they can fit on the chalkboard high spirits in order for this activity to suc- tray or be taped to the chalkboard. If the chalk- ceed. By combining a vocabulary review activ- board does not have a tray, you will need tape ity with physical exertion, students are both to fasten the pictures or items to the board. reinforcing new vocabulary AND burning off Procedure excess energy in a lively way. After this activi- Line up eight or more large pictures of one ty, they will be ready to sit and concentrate category of items, such as colors, on the chalk- (and so will you). E N G L I S H T E A C H I N G F O R U M | N UMBER 2 2006 9 Preparation flyswatters. A flyswatter is a long piece of plas- All you need for this activity is a chalk- tic with a square, mesh-like part at the end board, chalk, two erasers, and the ability to that is used for killing insects. It makes a very move desks out of the way. On the board, ran- satisfying sound when smacked on a bug, or domly write, in big letters, a dozen or more here, on a word or picture. You can use a rolled vocabulary words from the same category. up newspaper if flyswatters are not available. Divide students into two teams. Line them up Procedure at the back of the classroom. Move the furni- Divide the students into two teams. Line ture out of the way to create an open space them up one behind the other in front of a large between the students and the chalkboard. table. On the table, spread out all the pictures Give the first person in each team an eraser. or words from the same category in random Tell students that during this activity they will order. Give a flyswatter to one student from be asked to erase a particular word. each team. Have the two students hold up the Procedure flyswatters as you say, “Elbows up! Elbows up!” After you’ve written the words on the board, Call out one of the items on the table. The first pushed the furniture to the side, lined up the student to smack the item with the flyswatter students in two teams, and given the first stu- wins a point for the team. Remove the item and dent in each team an eraser, stand back. Yell out give it to the team that won the point. Then one of the vocabulary words listed on the board. line up the next two students, and repeat. The The two students race to the board to erase the team with the most smacked items wins. word. The first student to correctly erase the Spin-offs word wins a point for the team. Line up the next Like the other activities, if you have a large two students and repeat. This is an exciting class, you could divide it in half and run two physical activity that lets children blow off steam sections. You could also have students take and practice word recognition at the same time. turns facilitating this activity. The team that correctly erases the most words (and thus earns the most points) wins. TPR Verb Game Spin-offs Purpose You could have students take turns facilitat- In the method called Total Physical ing the activity. Also, if you have multiple chalk- Response (Asher 1977), students act out com- boards, you could divide your class into two sec- mands given by the teacher (or another stu- tions and run two groups at the same time. dent). This is a great way to teach and practice To use this activity with preliterate students, classroom vocabulary and verbs. It does not you can draw simple line drawings of vocabu- require any verbal production. It also encour- lary items on the board instead of writing the ages physical movement, which children who words. Make sure that students have already have been seated for any length of time will learned—either in realia or picture form— the surely appreciate. In addition, the physical words represented by the drawings. During the action of carrying out a command is often very game, students will erase the picture that cor- helpful for learning, especially for those stu- responds to the word you yell out. dents who learn by actually doing. Preparation Smack! Decide what vocabulary and verbs you Purpose want to review. You can pre-teach the verbs The word smack means to hit quickly and right before you start by acting them out and with a loud noise, and that is what students having the students imitate you. will do in this activity, which is similar to Procedure Erase! Here the students are able to review a Have students stand up. Demonstrate the category of vocabulary while playing a simple, verb touch by touching things and saying, fast-paced game. “Touch the door, touch the window, touch the Preparation desk,” while modeling these actions. Give a You will need large cards with pictures or command and have students actually do it. words in a specific category and two plastic “Touch the desk! Touch the floor! Touch the 10 2006 NUMBER 2 | E N G L I S H T E A C H I N G F O R U M window!” I encourage the students to run to leave them there as a prompt. Put students in the item and touch it. “Touch the door!” You pairs. Give student A the card and model how get little bodies hurtling through space to obey to shield it from student B. Have student A your commands with much hilarity and ener- describe the card bit by bit to student B, who gy. This works great with fidgety students who draws it on a piece of paper according to stu- want to move. Let them! dent A’s instructions. Student A can only use As students get more advanced, you can verbal language (no gestures!) to communicate give more complex commands, such as the message. When student B is finished, have “Touch the door, touch your shoes, and then the students compare the card to the drawing. touch the window!” Depending on your toler- Then have students switch roles with a new ance for noise and controlled chaos (or your card and repeat the activity. This is an engross- supervisor’s, more likely), this works great, ing activity and will hook students of all ages. even with very young children. You can use all It works particularly well with shapes (circle, kinds of verbs, such as open, shut, tie, untie, square, triangle, etc.). throw away, pick up. This activity burns a lot of Spin-offs energy, is great fun, and is educational, too! For homework, students can make the Spin-offs cards for the next round of this activity with a Students can take turns facilitating this activ- different category of vocabulary. On the day of ity. In addition, you can put students in groups the activity, collect a card from each student of two or three to do this activity and have and then redistribute one card to each pair. them take turns facilitating the small groups. This kind of student ownership of an activity is always exciting for students. Listen and Draw Lexical Sets Purpose This activity is for a more advanced group Purpose that can produce speech, unlike the other This is another student-centered activity activities that require little or no verbal pro- that allows students to review and critically duction. This activity allows meaningful prac- evaluate vocabulary in categories. Students tice of prepositions of place and categories of must analyze the relationship between items, vocabulary. In addition, students must compe- thus using critical thinking skills while review- tently communicate with each other in a realis- ing vocabulary items. Again, this takes some tic manner, which always increases motivation. preparation on your part. The novelty of drawing pictures in the English Preparation class is also interesting for students, and the First, pick a category of vocabulary, such as action of drawing often aids learning. things found in a school. Next, make a list of Preparation 25 to 30 words from this group. Then, arrange This activity takes a little bit more prepara- the words into subgroups, such as furniture tion on your part than the previous activities. (chair, desk, table), things you write with (pen, First, you need to choose a category of vocab- pencil, crayons), etc. You should make four to ulary that the students already know. eight different subgroups of vocabulary. You Second, get 25 or more large index cards. can organize the subcategories any way you On each card, draw a different set of pictures want, but make sure there is some logic! Now, using the category of vocabulary. For example, make sets of little cards with each word on one to make a card illustrating the category fruit, card. Make 12 to 15 sets of the 25 to 30 in the middle of the card draw an apple. Above words, depending upon how many students and to the right, draw a banana. Below and to you have. the left, draw some grapes. And so on. Use Procedure your imagination! Divide the students into pairs or groups of Procedure three. Give each pair a lexical set. Tell them On the day of the lesson, teach or review that they have to put the pile of words into the words top, bottom, right, left, above, below, categories. That’s all. After they’ve worked for next to. Write the prepositions on the board and a bit, tell them the number of categories. E N G L I S H T E A C H I N G F O R U M | N UMBER 2 2006 11 They will moan and then rework their ANDREA SCHINDLER is the Regional English groups. After another bit, tell them exactly Language Officer at the American Embassy how many items are in each different catego- in Amman, Jordan. She promotes English ry. They will groan and then reanalyze their language teaching and gives English subcategories yet again. This activity focuses teacher-training workshops and seminars their attention on the vocabulary and makes throughout the Levant. She has taught them critically think about hierarchy and English and trained teachers in the Middle East, Asia, and the United States for over grouping, which are higher order thinking 20 years. skills than mindless, decontextualized memo- rization. This activity will engage your class until you put an end to it. Remember, more time-on-task equals more learning! Spin-offs With preliterate young learners, you can use pictures of items already learned instead of words. With advanced young learners, you could have pairs of students create the lexical sets and then use a different pair’s set each time you run the activity. Again, a sense of being a stakeholder, a part-owner of the learning process, is incredibly motivating for students. Conclusion All of the supplementary activities listed above aim to channel the boundless energy of young learners towards enjoyable and educa- tional learning experiences. Laughter, move- ment, and noise are fine in the classroom! It’s completely unrealistic to expect young learn- ers to always sit in chairs in rows and silently, individually complete worksheets. It’s much more effective to incorporate their inex- haustible supply of enthusiasm into activities rather than try to stifle it. When young learn- ers are laughing, moving, and playing while learning, chances are good that they will have positive feelings toward the L2 and will look forward to English class in the years ahead. References Asher, J. 1977. Learning another language through actions: The complete teacher’s guidebook. Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions. Brown, H. D. 2001. Teaching by principles: An inter- active approach to language pedagogy. White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. Krashen, S. 1981. Second language acquisition and sec- ond language learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press. MacIntyre, P., Z. Dornyei, R. Clement, and K. Noels. 1998. Conceptualizing willingness to communicate in a L2: A situational model of L2 confidence and affiliation. Modern Language Journal 82 (4): 545–62. 12 2006 NUMBER 2 | E N G L I S H T E A C H I N G F O R U M