Young Learner courses are most often associated with fun and games. What about the more serious stuff? How do we bring in the ‘boring bits’ without killing the life and soul of the lesson? Spelling is a topic which definitely falls under the ‘more serious’ department. However, it does not have to be all bore – there is a way to get fun and games out of spelling.
Given the nature of children, it is inevitable that Young Learner classes contain some element of fun – most usually a game of some sort. Lessons with my younger learners (under the age of 12) always contain games. In fact, lessons are structured around revision + game and new input + game. Due to the consistent presence of games as well as to avoid regrouping the learners every lesson to create an atmosphere of comradeship and team spirit, the learners belong to a permanent group: The Koalas, The Tigers, The Pandas. Throughout everything they do in class, regardless of who they are working with, they represent their group: if they misbehave, their group loses points, if they score in a game then the whole group is rewarded with points.
Lessons always begin with revision from the previous lesson and quizzing the homework. By this point the vocabulary is usually well-learnt, with only the most challenging words being struggled with. Due to the low level of my YL courses (between A1 and A2 according to the CEFR) almost all of the vocabulary can easily be presented as an image. As a result, there are lots of flashcards which are regularly revised at the beginning of the lesson.
After showing some cards and getting the learners to discuss in pairs what they are in English – after which they frantically raise their hands and stamp their feet in desperate pursuit of points for their team – I choose a random flashcard and pass the class mascot (a soft toy) to a learner who has to say the first letter. Provided he or she gets that initial letter correct, the mascot is then passed on to another learner of their choosing, though not from their own team. The spelling of the chosen word continues with the passing of the soft toy until the final letter has been reached. The team of the person who says the final letter is rewarded with two points.
Initially, this may seem a bit odd – why award points for the final letter? However, there are two main effects:
- The learners remain focused on the spelling until the bitter end when the rewards are reaped.
- They strategically plan the passing of the ladybird in line with the spelling: in order to know which way it should be passed and by how many letters they need to have thought about the spelling first – a wrong letter could kill the team’s strategically thought-out plan.
At first it might seem like nothing more than throwing a soft toy around the room and saying letters. However, there is a lot more cognitively involved than meets the eye. And the best bit? Completely back-door learning – they don’t even realise they practising vocabulary.
* Image courtesy of Scott Thor: http://www.scottthor.com/use-your-abcs-to-drive-lean-six-sigma-performance/