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Primary Education News
News My Spanish students write their own plays to improve their English vocab
Role play and interactive technology helped primary teacher Jeremy Dean increase his foreign students' English vocabulary at a language immersion school in Spain
I work in Spain and teach English to Spanish six and seven-year-olds. No, I don't just teach them English, I also teach them science, numeracy, history, the whole primary curriculum, in English. Vocabulary is my number one priority, so I've started writing plays with the children to develop their spoken English. I choose the topic carefully to encourage them to learn words and phrases that they will find useful. This week our activity is called playtime.
I have 22 children in my class so I write an 11-page skeleton, each page having a narrator's opening statement. The rest is blank for them to fill in the dialogue in pairs. I choose three or four 'victims' to be the characters. Let's have Miguel, Sara, María and Pablo this week. As I load the first page on to my interactive whiteboard, their hands wave excitedly. If their enthusiasm could be bottled I'd be Euros richer. I go through each page of the story, pulling suggestions for dialogue out of them and massaging their words into English. Page four starts with the narrator informing everyone that: "The children decided to play football". Pablo is on his feet first with a suggestion. But not only is he up, he's also backing away with his hands outstretched screaming, "pasa, pasa".
I write the word 'pass' up on the board and ask María for a suggestion. María is sitting glum faced now, having already contributed enthusiastically on page three when the narrator informed us that the children swapped stickers and cards together.
Sullenly, she informs us she's not a football fan. It's can be a bit of a train ride trying to get through 11 pages before sending them off to write, so I don't want any delays at Zaragoza Central. But, suddenly, I have a brainwave. "What if the football knocks all the stickers over? What would you say to the footballers?" It took a bit of cajoling and insisting answers were given in full English, but eventually she replies: "I say, go away you silly boys".
I roar the sentence at Pablo, making María suddenly smile again. She shouts the sentence back at poor old Pablo, pointing venomously. I scribble "go away" on the board and flick to page five.
When I've revved-up every page, it's their turn to write the dialogue. I hover around the class correcting it and encouraging them to practise saying it with expression. María needs no encouragement.
We finish the first part of the lesson by reading our pages out loud in turn. María is the star, and her "silly boys" sketch almost results in a fictional fist fight. The story ends happily, although Pablo is forced to apologise for his imaginary actions.
I send them out to playtime and get to work. I spend the next 30 minutes typing up their excited scrawl into the master copy. I add a few extra common phrases which didn't come up in the lesson. A quick slug of coffee and they're already coming back in for act two.
This is where new technology shines brightly. I connect a €10 microphone to my laptop as the children sit down in front of the interactive white board. The desktop publishing software I use for this lesson called Textease has a priceless feature - you can select a word, sentence or picture and link a recorded voice to it. When you subsequently click on the selected item, you hear the recorded voice. We make it to page four and it's María's turn to march to the microphone. I select her sentence and she reads it aloud.
"Do you think María read that with enough expression?" I ask the class, innocently. "Nooooo" they roar back, knowing exactly what I mean. María blushes a little bit, but she's game and this time screams her line back with quite worrying intensity. As she bawls it out, I can see most of the class mouthing her words as they read the text on screen. Every week there's a favourite page in our play. Page four is destined for stardom this week. Pablo's expression as he gives his apology is Oscar winning.
When we've finished it all, I print out copies to send around the school. But more popular is the IWB version complete with sound. We've created our very own talking book. The children have regular activity times when they can choose something which encourages their spoken English. Reading the plays on our IWB is always hugely popular. The rule is simple: the children have to read each page themselves before they can play the recordings. I thought I was being a bit mean when I first imposed this rule, but although they do love listening, they often get more fun out of yelling the lines themselves.
There's always a crowd around the IWB whenever one of our plays is aired at school. The amount of repetition each play gets is wonderful and I feel I've really done my job as a teacher when so much learning is raucous fun. And I know more than most how important repetition is when you're learning in a foreign language.
Jeremy Dean moved to Spain from the UK six years ago to teach in an immersion school, teaching Spanish primary children in English. The language barrier has forced him to use play, games and other creative methods to help his pupils learn core subjects including maths, science and history. He blogs about his lessons here.