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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!

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