Is your YL lesson well planned? Has it got all the building blocks?
What makes a good lesson plan for our very Young Learners' classes? Teachers new to Pre- and Early Primary have to get their heads around the plan's overall shape, but may instead fall into the trap of only thinking about a range of unconnected activities. And, while their more experienced colleagues may have a good instinct for this balance, they can find it difficult to make their principles explicit. However, the trick shown in this teacher-awareness exercise is about making sure we have the right balance. This is particularly important in 50-minute sessions.
What does that mean? There are many factors to take into account. A good Pre- or Early Primary lesson has lively activities and quieter ones too. A common mistake dynamic teachers make is that they know how to make classes lively and fun, but we have difficulty lassoing them back in.
Another concern is that there should be teacher-directed activities and a chance for children to work more autonomously. Here is a visual system that helps us see at a glance if we have the right balance. To do this, we need three sheets of paper; a red, blue and green felt-tip pens and construction blocks (three blue, three green and three red).
First of all, make menus of activities in three different colours: blue, red and green. That is, on one sheet, list the blue activities. These are the more controlled, teacher-directed ones normally associated with circle time. Among these are story-telling, songs, question and answer sessions, vocabulary games or Total Physical Response (Listen and Do).
Also included here are experiments that the children watch while the teacher does them much in the way that he or she tells stories: like an interactive performance. With all of these, the teacher is leading, but he or she is providing opportunities for children to participate.
The heat of physicality comes into play with the next set of activities, the ones on the red list. These are games, physical challenges like relays or bean bag and Hoola Hoop activities, a gross motor skills circuit, yoga, dancing or aerobic sessions like Boogie Beebies.
Or it may be a question of accompanying the children into the play area for a short period on the swings or down the slides. Apart from the needed brain break that physical action gives, the teacher's interaction in English often has as great or greater impact on the children's language intake than more “formal” learning situations.
Green activities contrast with the more dynamic red ones. They are more about the child engaging in something as they make a craft or draw a picture, for instance.
However, teachers often have difficulty thinking about alternatives to crafts. We recommend getting them to manipulate construction toys or Loose Parts, as seen in our blog post on this topic); work on their fine motor skills with a challenge (spinning objects, for instance); cultivate plants; build a puzzle or participate in symbolic play. The children are busy with what they are doing and the teacher moves around to interact with them.
In what order should these activities be done? Blue activities come at the beginning, during traditional circle time, and also at the end, in what is like a plenary. In one centre, the children sit on a blanket while they listen to a second story before leaving, lighter than the one presented in assembly. At another school, the children finish the class by manipulating the craft that they made, showing that they understand the language chunks they picked up in a song or story.
Whether we go from the dynamic red activities to the green ones or vice versa in the middle of the lesson depends on how children feel on one day or the next. The particular profiles of the learners also come into play; some children need calming over time and others need to be more confident as they move.
To get a bird´s eye view of your lesson, represent each type of activity with coloured building blocks. Think of four from each colour for a class (two to three per class and one just in case). The blue blocks go at the beginning and the end of the lesson. Then the green ones go in between.
Getting the right balance of activities in your Pre-and Early Primary classes is as easy as playing with blocks. Remember: blue (teacher-focused), followed by green (more calming) and red (more dynamic) or red and green and then blue again.
Have a go and let us know if this works for you!
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.