• Anita Demitroff

First Steps in Learning to Learn in Early Primary

Lots of teachers use animal guessing games in their classes. Here's one for younger learners (5 to 8 years old). It's different to its classic counterpart because it boosts the learners’ powers of deduction and willingness to listen before they shout out an answer. Moreover, it can be easily adapted to a CLIL class.

Imagine we have already seen the story, The Big, Wide-mouthed Frog, and done several activities around it. This picture book is a lovely introduction to animals and their diet as it repeats a core question: “Who are you and what do you eat?”

It also provides an opportunity for learners to see creatures from a habitat that may be very different to their own: Australia. The characters include a frog, kangaroo, emu, koala, possum and crocodile.

Setting the scene is a crucial step. We can do a drill in which the children chant the names of the animals in a sequence (on picture cards or in toy form). However, with each round, we hide one of the animals in a big shopping bag until, in the last round, we have to work from memory.

This simple activity already captures the learners' attention. However, before moving on to the next stage, we may want to put the names of the animals on the board or put up pictures with a partial view of the characters (just their ears, for example). These will aid memory.

Learners need to stay focused for this part of the lesson. While the toys or cards are still hidden in the shopping bag, we surreptitiously take one toy or card and put it into a smaller bag. That is now secret animal number one. At this point, we can recite the detective's chant: Quiet, quiet. Look, look. Listen, listen. Think, think. Shhhh! The danger of guessing games is that children blurt out the answer. In this one, they have to listen to all the clues and then draw a picture before the secret answer is revealed. To remind us of the importance of quiet observation, we often take out a toy Pink Panther. When he is in the classroom, we cannot talk. We are too busy being detectives.

It's a question of deduction. The first clues can relate to two of the animals. Here for example, we may be describing the frog or the crocodile.

1. It’s green.

2. It's in the water.

3. It has got a big mouth.

4. It has got a long tail.

Once the last clue has been read, children draw what they think the answer is. They can quietly look at their classmate's pictures. Only when everyone has a picture is the animal revealed: the crocodile.

The same procedure is carried out for secret animal 2.

1. It has got two ears.

2. It is grey (show grey crayon).

3. It is soft. (touch your arm to transmit the idea of soft).

4. It has got a long tail.

As in the first part of the activity, the answer is not given until everyone has drawn a picture. The answer is obviously the possum, as a koala hasn’t got a long tail. This activity is brief because we can only ask our learners to focus so intensely for a short period of time.

We can now tell the pupils to check their answers. We look at the original clues for each and check that they relate to our animal. Checking our answers is a learning to learn habit. Perhaps at this point we can also take time to revise language points and, say, look for other examples of soft objects or think why the possum is soft (because it is a mammal with fur).

Thus, by re-thinking how we introduce a classic activity, like a guessing game, we can reinforce good habits. By doing this activity in a controlled way, we get learners to think about how we do it: slowly and thoughtfully.

Of course, for the sake of a balanced lesson plan, we should then go on to a more dynamic activity, like a physical game or a dancing session. However, in the long term, we can contemplate tackling simple riddles or brainteasers in another class. These are easier to do in English if your colleagues teaching in the first languages have already done them in their classes. It’s a question of training learners how to do them over time.

What tricks have you got to focus your learners? We'd love to hear and so listen and learn ourselves!

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.