Teaching English is hard. Like I’ve mentioned a million times before. Motivating kids to speak it when they aren’t giving one word, fill-in-the-blank answers, is even harder. “I’m going to lower anyone’s grade who speaks Spanish,” is another line that doesn’t work except for the biggest of brown-nosers. I’ve already talked about different sites that can kick your classes up a notch if you have access to at least a screen and projector, but not all of us do, or at least not all the time. Some of you may be working in academies or in small private groups elsewhere, or in a school that doesn’t have internet access or much technology at all.
All of the tools I’m about to tell you cost 5 euros or less, and a lot of it could be found around your school and/or house. And I’m telling you from experience they all truly work.
One of the biggest problems for kids to speak another language is that they don’t find it natural. I can speak from experience on this. I never wanted to talk to my friends in Spanish when I was in Spanish class because I felt like I sounded like an idiot, and if I wanted to tell my friend what had just happened with my crush, I wasn’t going to spit it out word for word in broken Spanish. Enter, coffee shop Fridays. I came up with them based on the idea of creating a natural environment for kids to use their English, a place where Americans and Brits go all the time to be with their friends to relax, study, or chat. A coffee shop.
Procedure: The first day I show them a picture of different kinds of typical American coffee shops. I talk about the importance it has for our culture and how much I enjoyed going to them in the States with my friends. Depending on what you’re working on you could find pictures with people and have the students describe them, what they are doing and what they look like, talk about different foods on the menu, different pieces of furniture in the shop, etc.
After explaining it the first day, every Friday when we do it usually looks a little something like this:
- I give the students a set of prepared questions related to the topic we are studying in class.
- Either I make groups of 3-4, or allow them to make their own groups.
- I turn the lights off, (this works if you have a classroom with a window), put on some typical coffee shop music, and put a picture of the inside of a cafe on the screen. If you don’t have a screen, no biggie. You can print one off or have them use their imaginations.
- Students talk about the questions in their groups.
- We talk about their answers as a class.
Why I love it:
- Because they don’t have to write or do exercises, they are able to use their English in a more natural, fluid way.
- Many times new vocabulary or phrases come up that they didn’t previously know
- They are learning about an aspect of youth culture in English speaking countries
- They enjoy themselves and always site these days as their favorite activities
- I can listen to some chill deep house on a Friday with the lights off in class
If you want to be really nice, you can even allow them to make a “real” coffee shop Friday on one of the last days of the trimester, and bring snacks and drinks to share.
Who grew up in the 90s??? You know..the days of Rosa Frank everything, plastic pencil cases that split open whenever you so much as touched them, and BrainQuest? Well, another thing one of my favorite teachers used was whiteboards and dry erase markers. Now, whiteboards that are decent quality and not expensive in Spain are not easy to find. So what to do?
This tool didn’t cost me a dime aside from the dry erase markers, because I used paper and the laminator at school, so it might be worth it to check prices of laminating versus buying one at a “Chinese shop”, but it will be worth your time and money.
Why I love them:
- These are so versatile and I use them in ALL of my classes, 1st grade to 6th grade.
- You can use them in combination with a game on the screen (using one of these websites), or alone.
- They are perfect for spelling work, as an extra time activity, and any number of competitions in class.
- The kids LOVE them
I have to give all the credit on this one to one of my Spanish teachers in high school. That just shows you that kids of all ages will love this one. And believe me, they do!
These ones are extra cute and don’t have many battle scars…yet.
Procedure: There are lots of different ways to use these but the general idea is this: put the class into two teams. On the black board or on the floor, put vocabulary words or pictures. Then, you can either simply say the word, or describe it, or even have a student act as the teacher and describe it. The first team to slap the correct word, picture, or phrase, wins.
Why I love it:
- It motivates them A LOT
- They word on their listening, comprehension, speaking, and sometimes reading, skills
- Everyone participates
- They can be active
- Just the simple addition of a flyswatter somehow makes everything more fun
These next two tools are not so much classroom activities as they are ways to help gently “force” your students to speak English, without having to say, “In English, please,” twenty times an hour.
The idea of the magic English potion is simple. When you are sprayed with the “potion” you can only speak in English and IF YOU DARE to speak in Spanish, the potion will tell me immediately and….(insert something here–in my class I have a point system so I tell them I won’t give them a point or something like that, or that they WILL have a point if they only speak in English, if you want to be a little more positive).
Procedure: Take a spray bottle and fill it with water. I put in a drop of essential oil of some sort, (lavender in this case), so they don’t think it is only water. Decorate the bottle and make it look legit. I’m sure you can do better than me, but hey, it works.
Now, of course what is the problem here. 1) This only works for small children, I would say 2nd grade and lower, and 2) your students need to have enough of a base of English to be able to more or less comply with the rules of the “potion”. I use this in my first and second grade classes and it seriously works. Am I super strict with it? of course not. Poor kids are doing their best.
Why I love it:
- Their faces when I explain it are hilarious.
- They really make an effort to speak in English and use the resources they have to speak to each other in English, which is the first step to making it seem natural.
- If you use an essential oil, it makes the classroom smell better after one of the little buggers inevitably lets one rip.
These are another tool that you will need a printer, and if you want them to last more than a week, a laminator. But they are probably my biggest success on this page, so they will be well worth your time.
Ignore the random game chips in there. That’s just my fantastic organizational skills on display.
Procedure: Find a printable dollar format that you like on Google images. Print lots of them. Laminate and cut them. You are ready.
In practice, they can work in many different ways, and depending on your class size and motivation, one way may work better than the other.
- You can give five dollars on Monday, and any time you hear them speak in their native language, you take one away. Those with X number of dollars at the end of the week get X. The prize can be a small candy, a small amount of extra credit on an exam, or simply go towards their speaking grade for class.
- You can have them start with zero dollars on Monday and have the possibility of earning one dollar each day. The longer I do this, the more I think this is the better option because it allows for you also to take into consideration their participation, (if they don’t speak at all, but they don’t speak in their native tongue, should they get a dollar?), and their behavior. It also means you won’t have to interrupt the class every five minutes to take a dollar away. You can simply give them out to the deserving ones as they are finishing up an activity at the end of class.
Why I love it:
- They seriously work
- They seriously work
- They SERIOUSLY work
I don’t think I can put enough emphasis on the fact that kids love these. I started doing this in my classes last year and it was an instant hit. Kids who I literally thought couldn’t speak a whole sentence were carrying on entire conversations with their friends, even when they didn’t know if I was listening. The dollars, (or pounds or any currency you wish), make speaking English suddenly cool, which means everyone who’s anyone is gettin’ dollars. I would recommend using it with 3rd graders and higher because the younger ones are bound to lose them. Or eat them.
Well, kids, that’s all I’ve got for now! I hope that something here may help you or inspire a new idea. I LOVE hearing new ideas for the classroom so please tell me your favorites in the comments below! Thanks, milkers!