• Anita Demitroff

7 tricks to help align your English teaching with Pre-primary projects in the first language(s)

Up until recently, many teachers thought that CLIL started in Primary and that there was no

place for topics like outer space or Egypt in English sessions for children of three, four and five.

However, change has come from below and more and more English practitioners are plugging into the projects chosen by their Early Years specialist colleagues so that the language session is an extension of these projects. Indeed, for me, that is pure CLIL, as the younger learner classroom doesn’t have such a strong sense of subject boundaries and a cross-curricular team reaches the whole child through a well-designed project.

The example below shows a castle-painting activity facilitated by Puri Gutiérrez of Learning Space, a collaboration betweenYou First Language Centre and Escuela Infantil EDAI.

In your role as an English teacher, if you do decide to take the content input offered by the

Pre-primary specialist and run with it, you may find yourself having to pull rabbits (or

dinosaurs) out of a hat when it comes to finding material. In one class you could be looking at

Egypt or mountains; in another, penguins or castles; and, in the third one, dinosaurs and then


How can you cope?

Here are seven tricks to help.

1. Find songs that can be adapted to the topic.

The classic counting songs based on “Ten Green Bottles” can be “Six Fat Penguins” or “Eight

Green Dragons”. “Sleeping Bunnies” can be “Sleeping Dinosaurs” (that stomp, stomp, stomp

instead of hop, hop, hop). And you can adapt "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" to whatever voyage you are going on, a pilgrimage or a woodland visit.

2. There’s a picture book for every topic.

Watch out, however. Sometimes the desire to match a topic-related story with a project can

make you choose a book that is age-inappropriate or that may not appeal to a certain group. I

usually find Barefoot Books a good starting point as they cover so many topics, from farming to

marine animals.

While I really hope that you have a book budget to get material for the library or reading

corner, you may have to make due with a downloaded video or a homemade translation over

the mother tongue version. Alternatively, basic puppets can allow you to reintroduce a

simplified version of a story done in the first language(s). Fold-ups (see Blog 4) can also

substitute a book and give something for the children to manipulate.

3. Find the correct balance.

Few schools offer the luxury of coordination time, so be careful of finding the right balance of

activities when you do your sessions. You don’t want to follow another teacher’s dynamic

activity with something else that is lively. Perhaps the solution is to define what kind of activity

you will focus on when to ensure the overall balance is right.

Nor do you as an English teacher have the luxury of having the time to get into a serious craft

or messy play activity. That said, a little bit of coordination can mean that you step into part of

a longer activity. Or that you ride the coattails of your specialist colleague’s larger

undertakings. If she or he has taken the children into the garden to learn about planting, you

can make up a song about the experience before enjoying "Driving my tractor" (Barefoot


If your L1 colleague has brought snails into the classroom, then you can imitate their

movements in an action rhyme in English before looking at “One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab”. Refer

to what you see in their normal classroom; get further mileage out of what they have already

done. Invent a story or song. Get them to present their artwork (in English) in very simple


4. For three- and four-year-olds, assemble Loose Parts collections.

For example, if the topic is dinosaurs, then you can pack plastic toys into boxes that they have to open, a task that challenges fine motor skills. Perhaps you can add a few building blocks to the package so that the dinosaurs have somewhere to explore once they are out of the boxes. If the topic is water, then you can do work with “Incy Wincy Spider” and provide all kinds of tubes (even Boomwhackers) and beasties for the Loose Parts session. Children adore sending their toys and even slimmer tubes down other tubes.

The teacher places the material out, singing or talking about what’s in the bag or box, and then invites the children to play. As they are engaged with the objects, she or he interacts with them. It’s a welcome contrast to the teacher speaking to the whole class.

Five-year-olds can progress to stations.

For example, if the class is working on day and night through the Solar System, you can make separate areas for them to play with torches and colanders, shadow puppets, coloured lights and the light box.

5. Motor skill development can be topic related through yoga and dance programs.

A good place to begin with this trick is the BBC’s Boogie Beebies. If you can go into the motor skills classroom of your school, you can adapt it to the story you are working on or make a circuit in the classroom with a little imagination. As you can see in the next photo, a big box serves as a cave for the dragon or the house of “Little White Rabbit” (photo: Learning Space).

One of the most rewarding activities I have done was to get four-year-olds to do a “sword” routine (as part of their castle project) with the toy foam versions found in many summer camp programs.

They bowed, raised the sword up to the sky and then touched the floor while they recited a rhyme (I could easily have used pool cues or even branches). For helmets, they put boxes on their heads. No painting was required: we just used our imagination.

6. There is always a science or technology activity related to the topic.

For instance, penguins are birds, so we can do egg experiments and then act out the chick hatching from the egg. You can draw penguins with non-permanent felt tips and then splash them with water to see the colours run. Alternatively, matching skeletons and animals can be an activity for any topic as animals often come into play.

Any material can be converted into a mat for the children to use in class so that they practise robotics with the school equipment.

7. You’re not abandoning the basics of the English curriculum; you are simply lending it a topical edge.

Hide penguins or dinosaurs in the classroom to practise prepositions in a treasure hunt. Pin the tail on the dragon. Throw the die to build all parts of the castle or complete the body of the camel.

Finally ...

Things don’t always go swimmingly, but that’s part of the creative classroom: to chart new territory, you have to take risks.

And, when you do get it right, it’s amazing!


By Ana Demitroff

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre