The Magic Land of English – how to motivate young learners to inhabit it
Teaching young learners can be regarded as a fl at, undemanding part of the ELT landscape. Simple constructions, no abstract vocabulary to describe – the only hills to climb there might be fl ashcards and producing colourful worksheets. However, anyone who inhabits this land and understands the needs of young students can prove how wrong the assumption is. The highest mountains to climb for teachers are making students engaged and involved. To reach the top of these mountains, it is important to develop intrinsic motivation as well as building up the desire to have a great command of English. This can be done using imagination, fantasy and drama – and it can transform the fl at landscape into something magical.
Tricks to make young learners engaged in the classroom – meaningful and fun drilling
Students’ lives revolve around playing games and having fun. When they visit The Magic Land of English, they expect to encounter a similar atmosphere. If teachers give them fun time, they will visit this land with great pleasure. But interesting and clever contexts may not be enough to keep students’ attention throughout the whole lesson if we forget to focus on making drills engaging. Many teachers fi nd it challenging to conduct this stage of the lesson in an eff ective and interesting way for the students. Including conventional drills in the context may sometimes prove to be too diffi cult or unclear for the students to follow.
The solution is to introduce involving, meaningful and fun ways of drilling. The students need to feel the need to speak during drills: there must be a clear reason for them to take part and use English. Furthermore, the biggest challenge is to conduct repetition drills in an engaging way. Typically, the teacher produces the target language a few times, followed by chorus repetition, group repetition, individual. Even with voice changing and whispering it does not appear to be highly appealing. The key to success is to make the students associate it with a game. Here are some tricks for conducting repetition drills with young learners that will have them wide awake and smiling:
- Orchestra/ choir gameThe teacher is the conductor, the students the orchestra or the choir – variety is always welcome. The orchestra follows the instructions of the conductor who uses the hands as the baton. When the conductor points the baton at themselves, the orchestra doesn’t play – doesn’t repeat. The students remain silent and they get the exposure. When the conductor, right after presenting the model language, points at the orchestra or at individuals, they must react. It is very important that students try their best to follow the instructions correctly, which demands concentration. When they are all involved, the chorus repetition sounds like an orchestra playing or choir singing. It is important to highlight that the conductor needs to give clear instructions with the baton.
- On/off mike gameWhen the orchestra is overused, the on/off mike game can help. Students have invisible microphones in their hands – or use pencils – and they repeat the target language when the teacher tells them to turn the microphones on. When some individuals are not involved, they may be asked to change their batteries or use some spare microphones from the teacher’s bag or pencil case. With brand new mikes they cannot refuse to join the group. It is a great idea to take advantage of drilling lyrics as they quite naturally sing or chant the words into the mike. It makes them feel like artists. What is more, students may be asked to prepare their own mikes or bring toy ones from their house. You can encourage them to make headsets which they can wear during the whole lesson and turn on only when requested. What’s more, if there are any drama projects in the school, it can be a great way to motivate students. They need to be masters of the mike as well as members of the orchestra or choir in order to take part in school plays!
- ABRACADABRA gameIt’s really helpful when students feel the need to produce the language while drilling. Fun may not always be a suffi cient spur for them to get involved. Meaningful and purposeful yet fun-oriented tasks are often the best solution. In the Abracadabra game students are invited to enter the world of magic. By using magic wands and casting spells that repeat the target language, they change the teacher into animals, they create food, they change the mood of other students and so on. This task can easily be turned into substitution drills and drill-like games. These may involve TPR tasks as well as drama. Moreover, students can be encouraged to bring or make toy wands and use them during the drilling stages of lessons.
Learning takes place when students are fully engaged. What is more, drilling is a crucial stage of the lesson, especially in The Magic Land of English. That is why it needs to be conducted in a purposeful, meaningful and engaging way so that the language thought stays in students’ brains. Repetition and memorization of meaningful language in a fun, contextualized and engaging way leads to eff ective learning.
One of the keys to the door of students’ motivation – writing drama scripts with your students
Every teacher wants their students not only to enjoy and visit but to inhabit The Magic Land of English. However, making students motivated enough to do self-study is one of the biggest mountains to climb. It involves helping students realize that English is used in various real life situations and, above all, that they are able to use it. It is not suffi cient to explain and demonstrate – they need to experience it. One way to motivate students is drama. Engaging students in school plays provides plenty of advantages such as building confi dence in terms of English language production, mastering pronunciation and fostering interaction between students. There is a huge number of plays on the internet as well as in various books for teaching. It is essential that learners are satisfi ed with the choice of play they are to take part in. However, it is a challenge to fi nd a script that lives up to the expectations of all of the students. This is why a project that involves a teacher writing a script with learners is a very benefi cial idea. It may appear to be a very challenging and out of reach task but with clear guidance it becomes more down-to earth as well as tempting. To start with, the needs and expectations of the students need to be recognized. It is paramount that students’ voices are heard and their ideas taken into consideration. This can be achieved in various ways:
- oral exchange of ideas – if students are eager to express their opinions in open discussion;
- writing down thoughts to be collected by the teacher and read out loud afterwards;
- individual meetings with students.
The best idea is open discussion as it generates more creative ideas. Students decide if they want to play big parts, serious or funny ones, and they are encouraged to choose the names of the characters for themselves. All of the young artists have diff erent needs, some dream of dancing and singing on the stage, others want to move the audience or make them laugh. Their ideas, expectations and needs lead to the creation of the topic and main theme of the play. It may be a comedy with witty dialogues or a play to move and touch the hearts of the audience. However, it is essential to be aware of the message the play is to convey because the needs and expectations of the audience matter equally. There must be clear reasons set for staging the play. The members of the audience need to be left with ideas to consider after the curtain goes down. They should take pleasure in watching the performance – have fun and learn at the same time. Exposure to various kinds of input must be taken into consideration as well. The scenery, appropriate music, lights and costumes should all be chosen and designed in advance so that the actors can prepare them on time. The teacher should be the main scriptwriter with the fi nal voice. Furthermore, the level of the language in the script should be slightly above the students’ level. During the work on drama projects students are challenged to learn new language items so that there is no room for potential boredom as well as misbehaviour during rehearsals. Needless to say, accurate pronunciation of the lines is crucial which entails plenty of practice to prevent students from creating bad language habits. Moreover, the teacher should act like a director and guide the young actors, demonstrate and help them fi nd their way of playing the part.
Becoming a little princess, a famous singer or any other character that can be created from the learners’ imagination is an experience they will remember for a very long time. Moreover, students remember not only their lines but the words and expressions spoken by other actors. If they are involved and responsible for the script, scenery and choreography and they are successful, they will have a priceless feeling of achievement. Students with love for the target language in their hearts are eager not only to visit but to inhabit The Magic Land of English.