I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only person who teaches primary-aged children who gets annoyed with expectations about English lessons. The expectations of parents, in turn passed on to the children themselves and then perpetuated by other teachers. Fun is not the opposite of learning but it can be. It can be a right bloody pain to take over a class where kids are used to faffing about in L1 with about half a minute dedicated to language use.
Anyway, here are some of my most hated aspects of some YL lessons. (I may have been guilty of some of these in the past.)
Next to no reading or writing
Reading a bit on one flashcard is not really reading because there’s hardly any other reading in the class, not even shared reading (teacher reading a book with the children). There is often a simple homework exercise matching a word to a picture. It’s not even too easy, it’s so easy as to be pointless. And it doesn’t reinforce learning because it’s either done straight after the lesson before the kids forget, the parents do it the night before or morning of the lesson or it’s forgotten about. But reading and writing aren’t the priority…
Speaking and listening to what?
There are really good kids classes where children acquire basic communicative English skills. I have a feeling this tends to happen when the official syllabus is paid lip service to and the teacher talks to the children about their lives.
Unfortunately there are lessons where ‘Getting around town’ is ‘done’ for 4 weeks, involving a lot of slapping each other’s hands, half-arsed flashcard games and halfhearted singing of songs about things not understood because of a lack of attention, attendance and progression through the syllabus at all costs.
This is not the fault of teachers: it’s the fault of Industrial ELT, with pacing to allow makeup lessons and easy substitutions and replacement with a warm body and a pulse with no training.
Have fun, or else!
Kids lessons must involve movement, games, dancing, singing and touching things. I’m inclined to believe that this is less to do with multi-modality and more to do with hiding the absolute lack of substance in the lessons. I’m all for teaching a little bit of English and doing it well. What games of throw the paper in the bin and shout the name of an animal have to do with anything is beyond me. And synchronized flashcard dancing, mimicking the teacher’s ‘I like carrots!’ might get children to notice the ‘I like’ construction, but quite possibly only for taking the piss out of the teacher behind their back.
OK. Any solutions, Johnny Angrythumbs?
Yes. Do a bit of writing. Write on mini whiteboards, bits of paper, card, whatever. You can make your own flashcard games. The children can copy down the sentences that might have been pre-printed gap fills.
Ask basic questions. Ask absolutely simplified questions. But ask real ones at least sometimes. “What did you do last week?” is nice. The children then see that there’s a communicative need: someone is actually interested in an answer they have been asked for.
Play games but why bother if it’s too tenuous. Make a game together, or read, or talk, or listen to something. But unless your learners like the Hokey Cokey or are interested in vegetables out of context, I don’t see the point of putting “the onion in, out, in, out and shake it all about”. Role play cooking or find out everyone’s favourite foods. But don’t squander the opportunity for about an hour of actual learning happening just because Snap and Old McDonald had a Hospital are set for that week.