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Primary Education News
News Primary teachers' best tips for language lessons
Primary teachers share their top tips for turning younger pupils into linguists
Lisa Stevens, primary languages educator and consultant
Finding links between a child's own language and others is a really useful activity. This is particularly interesting when there are learners who have languages other than English as their mother tongue as it allows comparison with a number of languages and also gives value to knowing another language.
When I first started teaching languages in primary, pupils were reluctant to talk about their home languages but when other languages were celebrated in class, children would come to lessons with items in their home language and volunteered information. A favourite activity was 'Teaching Señora' words in other languages; it put me in the position of a learner, and demonstrated that it's OK to make mistakes – I made many of them.
Technology brings the world into your classroom and making links with other countries makes learning real. Exchanging work, asking and answering questions and sharing festivals with our partner school led to learners seeing a real purpose for learning and this was cemented when classes spoke via Skype to pupils and were able to use their Spanish.
Puppets are another very effective way for encouraging speaking as it gets over self-consciousness. Likewise, tools such as Voki and apps like Puppet Pals or Sock Puppets allow learners to rehearse, record, review and re-record their speech. And hearing a recording of their speech can be a revelation to learners. "That's not me. I sound Spanish," was the comment of one year 5 when she heard herself played back. Having been a reluctant speaker, she began to volunteer answers in class and her confidence soared.
And making language learning a part of everyday life is valuable too. Carrying out simple tasks like changing a Spanish calendar, filling in a French weather chart, or singing happy birthday in Mandarin so that subject knowledge is reinforced in a variety of ways, ensure that languages aren't a 'bolt on' but something integrated and valuable that supports other areas of the curriculum and enhances the experience of learners.
Sophie Lynch, modern foreign languages co-ordinator, Belleville Primary School, London
I've been teaching French focusing on the use of gestures for four years and the actions for the words are all agreed by the children before we adopt them. So we have actions for words, phrases and phonics. I did some research with year 3 pupils as I wanted to look at a way of making the learning as fun and interactive as possible and came up with this as a way of using actions as memory triggers.
For instance, we'll perhaps look at nine or 10 different actions for a word but in the end we settle on the one that is the most fun. It could be chosen for a personal reason but it has to be something that the children are physically comfortable with. So when you say the word "Mardi" your cheeks squeeze out so we pull our cheeks with our hands.
I don't use textbooks; it is all interactive and it is done throughout the school and it has had a monumental impact on their phonics and pronunciation. As we are a teaching school, I have run some workshops on it too and have built up quite a video library to use.
Conchita Fuentes, English and science teacher, Eiris International School, La Coruna, Spain
Recently, I embarked on a project with my year 6 students in which we created a collection of digital fiction books on iPads using the Book Creator App. This app is very simple and easy to use and after my initial instruction, the students quickly got to grips with designing and compiling their books.
The objective was to create a collection of short stories on a series of themes which were elected by the class at the start of the project. The order of themes was specified and each week students prepared a draft for their story and sent it to me via their school email. I then checked it and made any necessary comments or corrections, before sending it back to them and once the text was ready they were able to insert it into their book. The design and format of the book was left to their own creativity and here they experimented with colours, fonts, images, video and audio, all at the touch of a button.
This is where the digital aspect is emphasised because the students were able to record themselves reading the text and incorporate their recordings into their books. The outcome was a collection of books that were then compiled as a class collection. Writing fiction in a foreign language is very difficult but through this activity, the students were really stimulated by the freedom they had to express themselves.
Pippa Bennett, assistant headteacher, Oldway Primary School, Paignton, Devon
Our pupils have been involved in a project called Spanish Leading Lights where 15 sixth formers took Spanish workshops for pupils in years 4, 5 and 6. They have loved the experience; and so have the teachers. The pupils went for one day each half term to the workshop; we chose three pupils in year 6 to take part.
Some children are natural linguists while some are natural teachers and so we chose a combination to attend the workshops. The pupils were taught in the mornings and then the teachers went in the afternoons so they were brought up to speed with what the children had been doing. The pupils then came back to school and led the class.
All the children have grown in confidence, they really enjoyed being taught by their peers and the teachers have improved their own knowledge of the subject in readiness for 2014. It has certainly generated a lot of excitement among the teaching staff; I've had three key stage 1 teachers come to me to ask to be involved. We've found it to be a really effective way of driving language forward in the school; both for pupils and teachers.
Clare Seccombe, Spanish and French primary languages teacher and consultant, Sunderland
If you're after a new way to introduce or practise language and promote pairwork, have a go at a Tarsia puzzle. Tarsia was originally conceived for maths, but has taken the language world by storm. It's free to download and easy to use. Just input the pairs of words, phrases or pictures that you want to appear on your puzzle, then the program will randomise them and give you a puzzle to print out and use straightaway.
To make writing more approachable and I enjoy using mini-books which come in many different formats. Most of them can be made from a single sheet of paper and allow children, and teachers to unleash their creativity. They also make a great display.
A school languages blog or wiki gives you the opportunity to provide information and activities for the children to access at home, and is also a great way to celebrate and share the children's work. An online program that works well embedded in a blog or wiki is Padlet, formerly known as Wallwisher. Padlet gives you a virtual wall onto which you and others can stick virtual posts. It's good for crowdsourcing, plenaries and feedback. Posts can be moderated so that you don't get any inappropriate comments.
It's sometimes useful to have a story in the target language which you can read with the children, though it's often hard to find stories that are appropriate and which offer the exact language that you want to practise. Create your own stories with online tools Storybird and Storyjumper. Storybird provides many beautiful pictures with which to illustrate your story, while Storyjumper offers the option to upload your own photos or artwork.
Deborah Buttery, modern languages teacher, Bromley High School, Kent
For teaching our youngest pupils languages I often trawl French teacher websites for ideas and I have used a French story book about a little bear who is starting school and then we do things like counting in French and singing. To reinforce what's gone on in the lesson I put things on the portal for them to do at home; so they can follow a French recipe and make bear-shaped biscuits for example.
Lots of the pupils in school also have other languages so we have created little videos of the children saying basic phrases in Swedish, Russian, Mandarin and Cantonese which the pupils then have fun learning and trying out.
Trish Fay, international co-ordinator, Bowburn Infant and Nursery School, Durham
Our school teaches pupils from the ages of three to seven so we don't have language lessons as such but we have been involved twice with the British Council's Comenius project and through the contact we have with the partner schools our children have lots of exposure to different languages. We do simple things like teaching them songs in different languages. At the moment the school is partnered with other schools in Latvia, Germany and Belgium so the children all get to meet visiting teachers from those schools and hear them speaking.
One of our colleagues in Latvia has produced a brilliant wiki dictionary for the children to use which has words spoken in all the partner languages and so the children can hear the proper pronunciation. Being part of the project means we are able to bring the world to the children and we've also recently had a Comenius week when we focused a day on each partner country so the children got immersed in the different languages and cultures.