16/04/2018

STEP 3 - SOCIAL GAMES (learning language items)



It is the step which takes up most of the children's learning time. It is also a challenging step for the teacher if he/she wants to address the language beyond isolated vocabulary learning, turn it into a social event and find some use in it.

There is an abundance of language items that can be incorporated in gamified and cooperative activities. 

The terminology 'language items' refers to chunks of words that are used beyond 'isolated vocabulary memorisation' but preferably used in its function.

Traditional YFL teaching places almost all of the language focus on memorising isolated words. What usually happens is, that by the age of eight, children cumulate tons of words (on different topics) but are rarely able to use them functionally. In best case scenarios, children can reproduce fixed sentences (I can/ have got), which are used/practised for the sake of practice.

To be able to go beyond isolated vocabulary, we need to use the language in its function.

Here comes a tricky part; to be able to use the language in its function, we would need to use it in a natural environment. Sice we cannot go to, let's say New Zealand, to practice our English, we try to make it as close to the 'natural function' as it is possible in a classroom environment. One way to do it is a 'role play' activity, the other one is through 'projects'.

Since our young children's language knowledge is still inadequate to execute complex instructions and tasks, we need to find some middle way. The PBA approach brings language learning as close to the 'projects' as possible.

What makes social games any different from the games teachers are already using?


Social games are those games/activities which teachers are already familiar with and already have a wide variety of them in their store.

The paramount difference is the embedding of those activities. 

Whatever activity used, it is part of the learning process, of which the beginning is its origin (WHERE the activity is tailored from; its context, the story) and the end is its use (WHAT are we going to do with the learned language items). The entire PBA process gives children a context/connection (under the roof of the project (the covering theme), many topics are entwined together), because our brains are not designed to store information but to make connections.

In other words; social games themselves are not that special, and their learning outcome is not that specific if they are practised isolated from the entire PBA process.

That is why it is essential for the teacher to know what the 'big learning picture' is (the aims). More specifically, to understand what support (knowledge) a particular activity gives to be successfully used/embedded in the PBA.

With more topics entwined together, activities can get as close to 'real-life-situations-as-the-classroom-environment-allows', and a certain amount of language items can be used in their natural use.

I have been raking my brain to come up with the way how to convey social gams to you in such way that you could get the idea of what a context situation is. It is going to be a challenging job, but I will do my best to give you the big picture.

To understand the activities in all their complexity, I invite you to explore and try to understand:
  • children's point of view, its potential and their way of thinking;
  • the importance of being a confident and mature adult;
  • types of social games;
  • entwined topics.
Step by step, I will gradually address all of the above.

The point of view


Up to the age 12, children are unable to understand the concept of 'value'. They do not comprehend that knowing a foreign language will benefit them later in their life. Some children may actually say 'I learn it so that I will know how to communicate ...', but in truth, those are just repeated words from their parents' 'nagging'.

What children do understand is 'fun' and 'meaning'. 

Regarding fun, that is easy. Everyone can see if children are having fun.

The meaning ... well, children and the adults have slightly different opinion on that.  

Adults' 'translation' of meaning is usually 'value'; whereas children's is 'What do I do with it? How can I use it? What's the point? ... NOW!!!'

Here is, where games come in handy. To combine fun, value and meaning, we use serious games

I often bump into a wall with the teachers, who believe that games are not serious enough to be placed in a classroom. 

Well, that's adults' point of view. 

Perhaps some of them have already forgotten how much they have learned through games in their youth. According to developmental psychology, children learn through games. Unstructured games prevail up to the age six, and from the age seven/eight to twelve, the games with rules are more interesting for them (Marjanovič-Umek).

Since children's brains are not yet developed to the point to understand adults' way of thinking and providing we would like to teach them something, the only way is that adults address the matter (learning) from children's perspective. If not, they are obstructing children's learning.

So, those who understand that the only way children can learn is through games, and they gamify the learning process (curriculum), they take their job VERY SERIOUSLY.


If the adults persist on children following the adults' way (sit and listen, and write it down, and memorise), it ends up in children's memorisation and repetition without thinking and/or understanding. And the learned knowledge soon evaporates ...

Being able to bring children's point of view in a classroom means letting children have some control over their learning process. That, however, inevitably brings up occasional children's failure, searching for consensus, smoothing out their different opinions (socialisation) and conflicts. 

The teacher, on the one hand, needs to let go of her 'absolute control' (and give some of it to children), but on the other hand, needs to know how to address conflict situations to demonstrate children how to solve problems, cooperate, persist etc.

By going through conflict situations, raising up from the failure and learning to listen to the others, children are ACTIVE in their learning process, they EXPERIENCE the process and therefore LEARN. They are not bored by constant 'lecturing and nagging' and learning what they've been told to do.

To achieve the above, the teacher needs to be a confident and mature adult.


How to become a confident and mature adult? 


It's a million dollar question. 

The way it works for me is following the path to becoming my own master. This is what I do: 
Nothing of the above has a direct connection to teaching, but to WHO I AM. Because I believe that I TEACH WHAT I AM.


Types of social games


No1 - Learning the language items in 'role play' situations

These types of activities cover learning vocabulary in combination with sentence structures which are used in meaningful situations. Let's say if you are at the store (buying whatever), the frame for the activity should be:
  • How do you address (a person) when you enter the shop (many options!)?
  • What different situations you may encounter when buying/selling (many options!)?
  • How do you say goodbyes (many options!)?
  • The buying items vary and are only one part of all the language items presented, of which all language items have equal value and importance.
Children are given the loose frame, with many variations, and they explore different posibilities.

No2 - Learning the language items in their function

These type of activities are used in natural situations. 

Let's say we would like to each children clothes items. Instead of 'opening a theme' clothes and dictate all of the clothes items, colour the pictures and connecting words with the pictures, we only sing a song.

Every time, before you go out with children (through the entire school year), you gather them in the wardrobe. 

Children collect all the items of clothing they need to put on.

Then you sing:
  • what you are currently wearing first (I'm wearing);
  • what you're going to put on (Now put on my ...)
When you come back, you sing again:
  • Take off my ...
  • Hang up my ...
  • Place my shoes ...
Through the course of the year different items of clothing are addressed, the ones that are currently in use;
Different structures are used (I'm wearing, I put on, I hang up ...);
The process of dressing up has a function/meaning - children go out, they return, put their things back in their places ...

I have tailored the song to according to my needs based on the song Put on My Shoes.

In traditional teaching, one may 'finish' with the topic clothes within a couple of weeks and check out the learnt vocabulary (isolated from their use) and move on to the next topic. 

In PBA approach, what motivates children (has meaning) is going out. Items of clothing are only 'tools' they learn/memorise 'as they do it'. Because they make connections!

Which approach do you think has more permanent learning effect? 

No3 Cooperative structures

One of such is described in the post gamifying my classroom.


How to entwine the topics ...


I will address this once we've covered all of the steps.

Are you still with me?


As a treat to your baring with me, I'll give you the reading activity I recently came up with when I bought Usborne's Phonics Readers.  

I was genuinely thrilled seeing my eight-year-olds queueing for the books to read that I have decided to share the idea with you. 


READING WITH 7 to 8-YEAR-OLDS


The ingredients:

  • One book with rhymes which is focused on phonics
One original book. 


  • One pronunciation chart (homemade and mother-tongue colour-coded)
Home-made, laminated pronunciation chart.


  • One book for practice made from the original one
The letters are coloured the way they are pronounced.

How to execute the reading task:


  • Give a child the book for practice and the pronunciation chart.
  • Let the child take the book home for a week and read it on her/his own.
  • After a week, give a child the original book and ask him to read it to you. 
  • Ask him/her some question about the meaning of the text (global understanding as well as focused questions).
  • (give him/her a treat)

It works wonders with my school children.



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If you want to be introduced to my step by step approach in practice, you can sign up for my workshops

If you're not from Slovenia, there are other options:

  • workshops at different international conferences;
  • afternoon workshops at Pilgrims, the second week in July 2018;
  • I can come to you - for more information, contact me at info@c00lsch00l.eu.
  • If you believe the presentation of the PBA approach could benefit your teachers, I would be happy to hold a plenary at your conference ... just drop me a line.

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