Friday, October 10, 2014

Literacy and ESL young learners: how to plan activities?

    Teaching a second language to young learners may be scary to some new (even to some experienced) teachers, especially when your task is teaching those children how to read and write. Many parents have been enrolling their children in English courses before they can even read and write in their own native language. That means that they will learn how to read and write in English right after they have been introduced to the alphabetized world, which means we will be faced with many specific characteristics when teaching them. Being aware of these characteristics is very important in order to succeed. Therefore, this essay aims at giving tips on how to plan effective activities for young learners that are being introduced to reading and writing in English as a Second Language.

    When teaching kids, the first thing one must have in mind is on which of their motor and social development they are. Kids aged seven or eight are still in the concrete sensory stage of their development. That means that abstract ideas, explanations and thoughts are not accessible to your students. For example, if you are presenting them with new vocabulary, you can use realia, flashcards and pictures to activate their previous knowledge, while developing new knowledge in English. Moreover, when explaining activities to them, try not to do it only orally, but also find a way to model what you expect them to do. Besides giving concrete input to them, you should also be prepared to explain more than once.

   The reason why repetition is needed is another aspect of children's development that is important: their attention span is limited. Not only must we repeat explanations, directions, vocabulary and grammar chunks, but we must also plan accordingly. The activities in each class should be varied and short, for they cannot endure long activities. If you must do an activity that is longer, break it down into smaller pieces: give one direction, set a time limit, finish it, only then move on to the next step. Basically, be thorough when planning your classes, so you can scaffold your directions carefully and effectively.

    A third characteristic to keep in mind is: kids are not as mature as teens or adults when learning a new language; they will not start producing the language fluently as quickly as desired. The grammar taught must not be complex, instead, teach them in chunks. They will not understand exactly why the grammar is as it is, but they will grasp how and when to use it.  Since chunks are being taught, controlled exercises are the way to go, with many examples, images and previous knowledge being elicited. Repetition is too very important, but don't rely only on drilling, try teaching the same point in many different ways. In summary, be realistic when setting expectations, and surely you will meet them.

   Finally, the last and most important, in my opinion, aspect to be attentive to is that, although kids learn fast and almost effortlessly, they can be very self-conscious and anxious when it comes to learning a new language. We might not remember, but being in an environment where you don't understand most of what your teacher says is quite nerve-wracking, thus,  be patient. Not only plan and teach accordingly, but always provide a safe environment where your students feel like they can make mistakes, have doubts, and not understand. If their timing and limits are respected, they will able to learn and produce.

    The tips that this essay refers to are just some simple guidelines to be remembered when planning activities to ESL young learners starting to read and write in English. These guidelines may seem a lot to think about, but once you are teaching your students and you start perceiving how fast they develop and learn, it also feels effortless. Hopefully, this essay can make teachers more eager to and less scared of trying to teach ESL young learners. I do believe anyone is able to teach them and, like me, love doing it.

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