This blog entry from 2011 responds to a thread on the forum. It is by Catharina Greenberg on teaching elementary kids:
The very talented Leslie Davison is presenting this year at ACTFL in Colorado and I noticed that her workshop is called “Six to Sixteen: All are preschoolers in foreign language.” Leslie is a master teacher, and an excellent presenter. Lucky are you who will go to learn from the very best!
Since my students are basically preliterate, I hesitate to contribute on the blog, having never taught older kids. Now, based on that interesting premise that our students are all to some degree preschoolers, I thought I would share some of what I do to help my very young students learn French, with only 1 hour of instruction per week, and also share some of the challenges we face. I have borrowed many tricksfrom The Leslie, and some I’ve had to invent on the spot to survive.
Only recently did I understand how to put it all together into a story. At NTPRS we were told that with the very young, true beginners we should avoid “parking” and not add too many details. The story should be simple, straightforward, and we could skip the 3 locations and the “problem”. 3 sentences or 3 events (beginning-middle-end) would be enough. I hope I got that right (?) but that was HUGE to me.
This, at its very, very bare minimum while staying inbounds, means: “Charlotte is thirsty. Charlotte drinks a lot of coke. Charlotte runs to the bathroom”. The “skeleton story” was suggested in St Louis, and is actually stimulating – enough – for my little ones. I can not forget that French sounds to my students like Creek to me. Less is more.
Charlotte in this story is the little well known spider running to Wilbur’s bathroom. That is enough to make my 5-year-olds roll in laughter. The word “toilette” in of it self generates 2 minutes of giggles, time after time. Never gets old.
To practice with “is thirsty” I offer them each a cup of water, which we pretend is “du coca-cola”. Est-ce que tu as soif? Est-ce que tu veux de l’eau ou du coca?Are you thirsty? Do you want some water or some Coke?” (“tu veux/you want” being inbounds). I was sure I’d get a call at night asking why I was serving soda in school.
I also sort out the kids into 3 “corners” or rather groups : a très soif, a un peu soif, n’a pas soif/is very thirsty, is a little thirsty, is not thirsty. Reps,reps,reps. In our 3 groups we pretend to drink … a lot, a little or not, and my bear cubs open their mouths wide open as I pretend to be pouring.
I may also show them a picture of a camel that “boit beaucoup/drinks a lot”. Visuals-Circling-Reps-TPR, and classic TCI skills I try to remember to use. I have some written on those yellow sticky notes, to remind myself 1 new skill per day or week. Merci Ben.
“Court aux toilettes/runs to the bathroom” gets them crazy, so I have to use shark-infested waters. Everyone stands on THEIR own island (mini carpet), as I spread out my army of cardstock sharks. While practicing the structures TPR style, they are not to fall into the water, or they lose and have to sit down. At first I had a lot of “victimes” (casualties) but after a while the children learn through the game to have more self-control and to LISTEN!!!
We also act out the “story” à la Leslie. I may choose a kid with black sneakers to be Charlotte, or maybe just stick a note “araignée/spider” on their shirt, let someone be a coke bottle, or maybe have 10 spiders at once? No one wants to be the toilet. Ever. Too much teasing. I use erasable markers, socks and plastic-sheet covered card stock to have the kids draw what I say. On the flip side, I may have them circle pictures of what I call out.
If possible, I try to make connections with the kids’ core curriculum- i.e. Charlotte’s Web – and a little culture (grenadine instead of coca). Standards covered, ouf! I let the children guess what the little spider drinks, but ultimately decide on the answer, certainly if I planned on serving them “grenadine” which we taste and vote on “bon/good” ou “mauvais/bad”.
I may bring in a tiny roll of Scott’s toilet paper from my daughter’s doll house. I tell the kids it is Scott’s Spider toilet paper (that in hush hush English) bought from the very special spider supermarket. Si si si!! Tout est possible dans la classe de français. Many actually believe this part. They may not touch only look at it, and that if they have had their listening ears on and their volume/nose button turned off. I never stick to that, and everyone gets to see it regardless.
Most of the kids can retell the story after some hours of reps at what point they take home a mini book , illustrated with stick figures, no words, that we color in à la TPR. Every single word, every question word, even oui, non, merci beaucoup Madame, has to be taught one word at the time. I check so many times for comprehension that I often feel too much English creeping in….
I have had to work hard at classroom management. My little bear cubs get easily excited. They like to touch, smell, move, talk loud, make noises, tease each other, tie their shoelaces, you name it. They are always hungry, thirsty, tired, loosing teeth or must go to the bathroom(“specials” are often mid-day while teachers eat lunch, or at the end of the day). They have so much to say that has absolutely no connection to what we are learning. And with my adult eyes I try, but cannot always see the snake that swallowed the elephant.
Everything has to be “Even Steven” so for the most part I have to remember who did what? when? with whom? That stuff they remember. Games have to be “fair”, everyone wants a turn, everyone wants to be noticed, everyone wants to act , everyone wants to help clean up (really???)
I had to rethink the “listening” part for my little learners. That is not their strength. They would rather do the talking. Also “hands-on”?? Make it experiential??? I am starting to understand what that means. They would much rather “do it” than listen. How was I going to help the kids learn a foreign language with all those strange sounds that mean nothing, while “doing” it??? Their attention span is short. You have to respect that, and use those few quiet minutes with the precision of a surgeon. Get to the point fast and then let them “do it”.
With little kids we get instant feedback, and they just say it as it is: Are we reading THAT book again? We did this already! This is soooo boring! Did you bring a baguette today? Can we pleeeaaaase do Am Stram Gram? The first years those comments got to me. Now I know better. Kids are kids. Qu’est-ce que tu veux?
What’s fun is how playful they are. “Classe” point to (invisible) Mr.Krabs yelling at (invisible) Spongebob. They get it instantly.
Little kids love to give hugs, and scream out loud “Bonjour Madame” when I am a couple of football fields away from the playground. No inhibitions. So much affection.
They keep you on your toes, and most often lesson plans are useless, more like Plan B when hell brakes loose, or a tour group comes to observe. No worries here, they will give you clues on what you should teach them. You listen to what they say and teach those exact words (Leslie again).
If the idea is to make them feel successful (thank you Susie) I have to be very careful not to go out of bounds. There is no such thing as a cognate. Ok that’s not entirely true, when it comes to food they’re quick on their feet (pizza, banane, baguette, croissant). We cannot do free-writes, so I am trying free-retells. My little bear cubs don’t seem to have a very strong affective filter, and any chance they get to talk, their hands are raised. Output – I know, I know. It only takes 2-3 minutes before dismissal, right before I show them the spider toilet paper. The rest is mostly input.
We sometimes start class with a compliment to each student. I will go around and simply say “J’aime les baskets de Hayes/I like Hayes’ shoes” etc…i.e. complimenting each kids clothing.
I want to go around to all of you BRILLIANT teachers complimenting each one of you on your talent, your dedication to teaching, integrity and search for excellence. I have learned so much from you all. This blog is pure joy. Thank you Ben.
P.S. Husband of mine: “Are you wasting your time again on that blog?” So just to say I cannot forget my husband and own kids, or I’ll end up a great, but –single- teacher of French.