Monday, 15 July 2013



You don’t see kids bounding upstairs 3 steps at a time like you and I do on a good day. Their legs are too little. The same consideration applies to language learning. You can’t expect 6 to 11 year-olds to absorb big chunks of new language and retain it much beyond the end of the lesson. The language needs to be taught little by little, step by step. It’s something that writers of Children’s EFL text books often overlook, which places the responsibility on the teacher to break the language input up into small chunks. Think of yourself as a kitchen vitamiser, reducing the language to ever smaller, easily-digested bits.

OK, so it’s the ‘At School’ unit. The first page of the unit has a three-quarter page illustration of a school yard, and under it is a list of new vocabulary: ‘school yard, playground, soccer field, principal, swings, slides’, etc.) Now’s the time to switch on the vitamiser. There’s no rush, so take your time and do it properly. First, make sure the kids have looked at the picture in detail; not just given it a cursory glance. “Oh, look at this. A school! I can see lots of children. How many are there? Count them. They’re having fun, aren’t they! Two girls are going ‘swish’.” (Make a downward sliding gesture.) “They’re on the - - - - - - .” (Silently mouth the word ‘slide’. Those who have already checked the word-list, or those who know the word already will come out with it. “Yes, that’s right: ‘slide’. I’ll write it on the whiteboard. Uh oh, help me. Does anyone know how to spell ‘slide’? Right. Now everyone repeat. Again.” Do the same treatment for ‘swings’.
“Now, there are 14 students, but look at these two people here. They’re not students. What are they? Yes, ‘teacher’ and…. What do we call this man? The man with no hair?” Continue in this manner, eliciting as many words as possible, and writing them on the whiteboard, following up with lots of group repetition. Once you’ve got the new vocab list on the board, (write the words on the lower half of the board, for a reason that will become apparent in a moment) there are two more activities to do with it. Number one: check they’ve retained the meanings. Do this by the pointing exercise. (Do they already know the word ‘point’? If not, do an introductory exercise. “Point to your ear, your nose, the door, the teacher….”) Once that’s out of the way, move onto “Point to the slide, the principal,” etc. Number two: erase a letter from each of the words and get students to come up and fill in the gaps. When they’ve got into the swing of it, erase a couple of letters from each word. Step by step. Little by little.

Some time during the above activities, you’ll probably sense they’re getting tired or bored. That’s the time for some light relief. Try to tie this in with the unit. For example, after drilling the words ‘soccer field’, produce a balloon and let them play balloon soccer for five minutes. Then, back to the book.

Applying the vitamiser method slows up the lesson, but does achieve a superior rate of retention. And, anyway, what’s the big hurry? It’s far better to lodge the language in the children’s heads, rather than give it an airing and find that it’s forgotten by tomorrow.


If you only read one book this year, read 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James. But if you’re casting around for a second book, EFL minus the B.S. ain’t half bad.

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