Manoeuvring between the content and language with lower primary – “Autumn”
How often do your youngest students take a quick look to see what is happening outside the windows? The fi rst snowfl akes? A fi re engine passing by? Grade IIb in the school playground? There are as many reasons to get distracted by the outside world as there are lessons in the year. It seems that this other world is much more engaging than another exercise or another page in the course-book. This endless battle to catch their attention might be won if we join these two worlds and prepare lessons which would be linked to everything we see outside the windows of our classroom. This article will give you a handful of practical ideas how to satisfy children’s curiosity and build English lessons around the world young learners would love to discover, the world of the changing seasons. Today, we will have a look at possible projects and lesson activities which can be done in the autumn and in the winter; whereas next month, we will focus on spring and summer months.
The first days of school seem to pass so slowly. The weather is usually quite warm; and in the middle of the school day, students start to wriggle around dreaming of going outdoors and having some fun. Actually, it may sound like a good idea to take your students out for a walk and let them observe the surrounding world. It doesn’t have to be a long walk to a local park or nearby forest; you might as well spend some wonderful time in the school playground. To make sure your students benefit the most from such a walk, introduce the autumn words such as leaves, mushrooms, apples or pre-teach the autumn colours.
The walk itself won’t make an engaging and eff ective English lesson. So, what can we do with our students during an autumn walk?
Give each student a paper bag with their name written with big letters. Explain that this is their special bag and they will have to put there everything that they fi nd precious, beautiful or unique. Young students usually have this collector’s spirit and enjoy fi nding things and bringing them home or to school. So as you can expect most students will come back with bags full of… dirty and crushed leaves. There will be also students who have found only one perfect red leaf. You might also hand each student their bag and ask them to fi ll it with autumn treasures on their way home. I am also certain it will be one of the best homework assignments ever! Then all those precious leaves, chestnuts, rowanberries that children bring can be later used for various art projects, for example, creating colourful autumn trees. Students make hand and arm prints with paint and decorate them with leaves. Such trees can be a great revision of all autumn colours.
You might also make a sellotape bracelet around each student’s wrist and tell them to decorate it with leaves, rowanberries and other things they collect in the park on in the school playground. To make this task more challenging divide students into teams of autumn colours so that one team would prepare red bracelets, another brown or yellow.
I-spy walk is one of the simplest activities you can do with your students outdoors. Choose a closed area such as a school playground. Give students fi ve minutes to walk around wherever they want observing and remembering everything they see. Blow the whistle to indicate that they must all come to you. Then sit together on the blanket or on the bench and hand each student an I-spy worksheet that you have prepared before. Children analyse the list of things on the worksheet and put a tick or cross next to each picture depending whether or not they have seen this thing around. The person who has ticked most boxes should take the rest of the class and show everyone where the hidden mushrooms or berries are. If you fi nd it impossible to have twenty colour copies of the same worksheet, hang the colour version on a tree and give each student a simplifi ed worksheet consisting of numbers and boxes to put ticks or crosses only. Students will have to check with the version hanging on the tree to learn what each number means.
If you have class puppets which you often use your students will be delighted to take them for a walk to a park or to a school playground. It is great fun to ask children to “teach” the puppets the names of things in English as we walk past them. Children also enjoy taking pictures of their puppets with a bunch of red leaves, on a swing and so on. As a weekly reward a person who has deserved it most can take a class puppet home for the weekend. Students may take pictures of their puppets at their homes or when they go for a walk to the park with the whole family. Prepare a special board in your class where you would hang the photos of the places your puppets have seen. These pictures can become handy when you want to revise diff erent vocabulary sets, such as rooms in the house, clothes, furniture, etc. If you are worried that your puppets will not come back use a set of puppets drawn by your students and attached to wooden sticks or chopsticks.
Autumn is also the time when animals get ready for winter. Most of them collect food for long and cold winter days. In the class you can bring a plate with various food products such as apples, nuts or mushrooms. Use soft toys or fl ashcards presenting diff erent animals, spread them around on the fl oor or on the desk and give each animal a plate. Sit with your children in a circle and place food you have brought in the middle. Ask students, one by one, to put something suitable for each animal on its plate. Such an activity might be followed by a homework project where children make preserves for winter from plasticine either for their animal friends or for their family. They need to put them in small jars and you can display them on the window sills in your classroom. They will look fantastic!
How about teaching children to do a magic trick of lifting an ice cube with a piece of string? To perform this trick, you need an ice cube, a piece of string, a bowl with cold water, and a pinch of salt. Place the ice cube in the bowl with cold water, sprinkle it with salt, and place the string on top. The salt will immediately melt some of the ice; but if you wait a minute, it will freeze again and you will be able to lift the ice cube. What’s the point of doing such an experiment in class? Defi nitely, these are quite motivating and interesting lessons that your students are likely to remember for a long time. It is also a perfect activity to practise simple instructions such as put the ice cube in the water, put some salt on the ice cube, and so on. Children will understand the whole phrases because you will be showing how to do it at the same time. At home, ask them to prepare a page from the book of magic (for future wizards and magicians) with step-by-step instructions how to lift an ice cube with a piece of string. When students bring their picture instructions, give them strips of paper with written instructions which they either copy or stick next to their illustrations.
In the autumn warm and sunny days tempt us to explore the world outside. Winter, on the other hand, seems to be an excellent time to stay indoors and do various experiments and projects, for example with ice. These can be really simple things which will help children understand the winter world better and will give us a chance to introduce a few extremely useful everyday words such as ice, salt, water, etc.
Divide your class into teams and give each team a toy frozen in ice. The task is to get it out as quickly as possible. Off er students a few things which might or might not help them to perform the task such as hot or cold water, sugar, salt, baking powder, and so on. Children must work it out which things will make the ice melt faster.
In my school, children bring a lot of seeds for birds. Why don’t you use these to make ice ornaments for birds to eat? First, children arrange nuts, berries, and seeds on small saucers or plates; then they use water or lard and leave the ornaments to freeze. I can bet these would be the most stunning bird feeders the local sparrows have seen!
Carnival time is an excellent moment to teach or revise clothes vocabulary. Dressing up and trying out costumes for a fancy dress party might be equally entertaining for girls as for boys. The simplest option is to use a doll template with a set of clothes and accessories. There are many websites where you can find black and white printable worksheets; personally, I recommend http://familycrafts.about.com/od/paperdolls/ tp/paperdolls.htm. You might colour, paint, or decorate the clothes with real scraps of fabrics or buttons. Later, organise a fashion show giving students a chance to show and describe what their dolls are wearing.
When students revise the names of clothes in English it is a good idea to ask and talk about what we wear when we are at home or when we go for a walk on a winter day.
Students may learn to classify the clothes we wear when it’s cold, when it’s hot, or the ones which we can wear year round. The best way is to draw a Venn diagram on the board and ask students to complete it by attaching flashcards in the right places. An even better option is to make the same Venn diagram on the floor using hula hoops or by arranging two huge circles with ribbons or pieces of string. Then give each student a flashcard or even a real piece of clothing and ask them to jump into the right circle saying a sentence such as, I wear a T-shirt when it’s hot.
As a follow-up set homework which would involve students in preparing a small suitcase and a set of clothes. During the lesson tell students to quickly pack their suitcase on a trip to … Zakopane in winter, safari in Africa or summer holidays in Italy. Students throw appropriate clothes into their suitcases. Check by asking someone to show and tell what they have packed.
Do you remember hot or cold, a popular kindergarten game? I often play the updated version which entails that your students will repeat one word twenty times without even realising it. As in the standard game ask one student to leave the classroom and in the meantime hide one fl ashcard or one object. When the student comes back all the students will direct him or her where to look for the missing fl ashcard by saying this word, for example a T-shirt, louder and faster as the student gets closer to it or more slowly or quietly when he or she is further away.
When the temperature drops outside we go only for short walks and spend most time at home. Why don’t you revise or introduce the names of rooms? You might add the concept of hot and cold and organise a plasticine ball fi ght between two teams. One team is the blue team, and it must fi nd all cold places around the house or outside The other team is the red team looking for hot places. Display the book next to the board or in other central part of the classroom and ask students from each team to come one by one, take some plasticine in their colour and stick it in the place they have spotted, for example, next to a fi replace or on the fridge. Of course, in the fi rst grade we can’t expect them to use words like fridge or oven, so explain that they have to make sentences such as It’s hot in the kitchen while sticking a plasticine ball to a cooker. The game continues this way until they run out of ideas.
I believe there are three questions which we teachers of young learners often ask ourselves: How to prepare motivating lessons which our students would truly enjoy? How to extend the topics in our books when our students learn fast or get bored easily? How not to get lost in the vastness of extra activities? Creating a connection between English lessons and the changing seasons makes it so much easier. We can organise the whole year around this concept teaching autumn colours or school objects in the autumn and the names of rooms or clothes in the winter. With a system like that all projects and experiments seem to be linked logically. And last but not least students will feel safer when they know what to expect and when they can look forward to the fi rst signs of a new season coming together with a bunch of fresh activities!