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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Mark Richards, Teacher – James Lyng Adult Education Centre, Montreal, Quebec

A teacher asked, “I have this one learner in my class who cannot understand one word of English…How do you reach this child?”

I only work with zero beginners. Start with survival English. What does this kid need to be able to say to survive day to day in your school? In your community?

Think old school: function/notion. Be physical, use your whole body as a means of communication and encourage him to do the same. Make a game of stand up/sit down and Simon Says.

Involve other kids in the teaching process. Use some simple American sign language for the deaf (with pictures) and then speak at the same time.

The motor cortex is located in the same general area as Broca’s and I find that encouraging students to use sign as they speak helps them assimilate and retain vocabulary faster. (For example, look up the signs for apple, banana and milk on the net and you will see there is a visual connection between the sign and the word). If you do the sign for go, repeat the word and then physically leave the room and he will understand. And then have him do it and have other kids do it.

And if you don’t have the time because you’re too busy managing the other students in your class, get some other kids to help out thereby creating a cooperative and inclusive learning environment. By having him repeat the sign with the words, he can start to communicate in telegraphic speech. Hanging around the other kids will help him fill in some of the gaps.

Here are some verbs which are very easy for students to learn using sign and they are basic everyday survival vocabulary: go, come, eat, drink, see, have, give, buy, help, show, forget, teach, learn, read and write (and don’t forget washroom).

I understand that this may seem a little weird for many people here, but most of my zero-beginner students end up understanding close to 30 verbs within the first three days of class. There is a little resistance at first, but we have a deaf student in our program and after the first few days I have him come to visit my class.

Once the students understand that they are actually communicating with him through sign, they really get interested. Remember VAKT – visual, auditive, kinetic and tactile. The more senses you involve, the more the brain is engaged and the more likely info will be transferred from short term to long term memory.

Simultaneously, you create multiple pathways back to the information so there is more chance he will be able retrieve it later (Whole Brain Teaching). For phonics and sound/letter correspondence: Dr Seuss (Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, The Foot Book, etc.)

Draw pictures on the board and use a ton of pictures in the class. I agree 100% with Mert on this one: pictures, pictures, pictures and repetition, repetition, repetition. Furthermore, anything you say, write it on the board and anything you write on the board, number it. Within a short time he will be able to use the numbers as a reference to what you are referring to. Use music. In another thread, there is a discussion about music in the classroom. Here’s a little reworded version of Frere Jacques that my students enjoy:

Easy English

Could you give me a paper please?
May I have a paper?
I would like a paper please.
Could you repeat that?
I didn’t hear!
Could you speak more slowly?
Thank you very much!
I am looking for the office.
Where is it?
Could you tell me where it is?
I don’t know!

R. Michael Medley, Ph.D. – Eastern Mennonite University

I have recently drafted a content-based textbook for English learners that teaches principles and skills for coping with difficult situations in life.  It is called resilience and is based on materials developed by my university’s program of Strategies in Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR).  The materials are premised on the idea that we need to appeal to and stimulate learners’ multiple intelligences.  To this end, I have included some music in almost every chapter of the book (there are 14 chapters).

In a content-based course like this one, it is important to use songs or instrumental music that are thematically related to the course content.  Some of the language may be beyond the range of students’ ability to (re)produce it, but in the context of the course, students can still work on comprehending the music and lyrics, taking them as matters for discussion.

For example, in a chapter that focuses on what trauma is, I have chosen to use a hopeful song, Ben King’s 1961 hit “Stand by Me.”   One interesting thing about this song is its longevity.  Not only was it a theme for the 1986 movie (Stand by Me), it has recently been recorded in bachata style by the US Latin pop singer Prince Royce (2010) and most  movingly by Playing for Change in a version performed by a team 35 musicians in about ten countries on their CD/DVD “Songs Around the World” (2009).

This way of using music seeks to insert several important effects into the classroom beside the fact that there is a simple chorus that is repeated many times, which even beginning level learners could reproduce (practicing the simple imperative “stand by me”).  These other effects include (1) the stimulation of positive, hopeful emotions, which is something language learners need in order to persevere in their long march to proficiency; (2) the theme of solidarity: we can accomplish these challenging tasks of language learning and surviving in a messy world if we stick together or stand by each other; (3) the realization that as language learners we are involved in a multi-cultural endeavor: no matter which cultures we belong to or attempt to bridge, we can harmonize and we can appreciate music in new and refreshing flavors.  As learners are encouraged to reflect on how the various musical styles convey the message, those class members who are already musically inclined will feel that they can make some important contributions to the class discussion.

Those whose musical sensibility is not so strongly developed will have a chance to develop their musical intelligence.