The Teaching Craftsmanship: My Experience Teaching English in Russia
Imagine you are a teacher of English, working in Russia. Your students are a small group of preschoolers starting their educational journey for the first time. It's September and the first day of school. All the children are dressed like little dolls. Parents quietly placed flowers on your desk in the morning, a traditional act of respect. Autumn is in the air, days are getting shorter, and the native birch trees are itching to turn golden yellow. Many Russians know this is the calling, the calling of long nights and snow-filled landscapes.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Lauren A. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
How to accumulate a prescribed theme into your teaching syllabus
Your direct supervisor wants you to teach an Autumn-themed sub-lesson for the next two months in addition to a prescribed Cambridge syllabus. The children have to learn vocabulary that is meaningful to Autumn. Fortunately, dense native forests are abundantly growing throughout the city. The stage has been set, words will likely resonate in the children's minds well after the end of a school day, especially with proper planning and using the right materials.
Autumn is probably one of the hardest seasons to teach to young children. Most teachers will likely agree the new language points are surrounded by tree leaves changing colors, and windy days blowing everything down to the ground. This presents the foundation for some children's songs related to falling leaves. Songs are great but more often than not, children need more than just songs; they need visual references to understand things in context. If done correctly, video in the classroom can make language points relevant and assist in teaching skills to young learners.
Using modern tools
Currently, there is a children's video on YouTube that has three verses of the song with karaoke subtitles. This video with simple song enables students to count to three, to learn nouns (leaf, leaves, tree), to learn three colors, (red, orange, yellow), to learn verbs (do see, look), to learn a present participle (falling), and to learn two prepositional phrases (in the tree, on the ground). In this case, the video enables students to use their receptive skills (listening, visual) and a productive skill (speaking) during a lesson. This will be the foundation for performing some additional lesson activities such as coloring, number tracing, and chanting vocabulary. The video becomes a reinforcement tool to see the words in action. During the video presentation, a teacher can hold three printed colored leaves in the air, as if he/she is the tree losing leaves. The teacher points to any relevant objects as the video plays, miming some of the actions as well.
At a precise moment, the teacher should drop a corresponding colored leaf to match the audio and video timing. This action demonstrates the participle, “falling", making it relevant to the children. Later, the children will be able to demonstrate the act of falling colored leaves in perfect timing with the song as the video is played to them, and to make it verifiable, the three colored leaves should be given to three students in random order as they stand in the front of the classroom, which is indifferent order with the video. This shows the students know their colors, and that they are not just dropping leaves based on student position. Also, the teacher touches the ground as each paper leaf lands in timing with the video. This 3-minute video is a perfect example of teaching difficult language points.
Further ideas for activation
Now that children are aware of the meaning of leaves on the ground, more videos can be used to demonstrate other language points and to help engage students. Several family videos exist on YouTube of parents raking leaves in a pile and the kids can be seen and heard playing and jumping in leaf piles. Here, the teacher focuses on key language points such as jump, rake, raking leaves, run, etc. Kids are naturally drawn to videos when they see other kids having fun, and jumping into a pile of leaves will most likely be a new experience, increasing their curiosity. The teacher narrates alongside the video as the kids begin to run towards a leaf pile.
Also, the teacher can demonstrate a colored picture of a child in midair who is about to land in a pile of leaves alongside the video. Initially, the narrated stress is on “run". Then, just before the kids jump into the pile of leaves, the teacher says, “jump" (with increased volume and excitement). The kids all smile and the language becomes relevant. To test the language the teacher should pair with a student holding hands and run from one side of the room into a fictitious pile of leaves. The students will be able to say, “run, run, run, jump" in perfect timing with this activity.
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Teaching listening and speaking skills to young learners can be greatly assisted by video. Of course, the video would be lost without the audio (in most cases), and an action print may be too difficult to understand without a video showing the action. Young children love to color, and surrounding activities should not just complement the lesson objective, they should all be working together in balance. In short, the methodology of ESA works wonderfully with young learners.
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