You may find in your primary English class that you have children who struggle with the school language in their first year of primary school because they have a different home language. How will this affect your classroom when teaching English to 1st year primary? How can you cater to their needs? How can you simplify the language so that all your 6 year olds can learn?
With a culturally rich class like this I believe it's especially important for the children to be aware of their cultural differences and the value of having difficult cultures represented in one class. Children should respond positively if you make them feel lucky for having differences. The following tips will help you move towards a positive multi-cultural learning environment.
- To promote cultural differences
- To create a safe and positive learning environment
- To encourage collaborative learning - i.e. working together and helping each other
- Map of the world
I have seen two examples of maps being used with young learners.
- The first situation was a map of Europe and was being used with 4 year olds. They followed an imaginary character as he travelled to different countries in Europe. Every 4-6 weeks he would go to a new country and ‘take' the children with him. They learnt about Big Ben and London being the capital of England. They sat in their homemade gondola and they tasted foods from different cultures.
- The second classroom where I saw a map being used was with a mixed class of 4 year olds and 5 year olds. Here the map was stuck on the lower half of the window. When I asked what the teacher did with it the answer was: ‘The first day I put it up because one girl came from China and we wanted to know where it was on the map. Otherwise I've left it there because it stops the children waving to their parents as they arrive to pick them up.'
Having a map in a primary English class is a first step towards having opened minded children. Using it effectively however is extremely important.
- Children can learn from a very young age what the different shapes on a map actually represent.
- If there is a mix of nationalities in the classroom the concept of different countries is even easier to grasp.
- Start simply by marking where you come from and naming the country.
- They can mark where they come from and name the country too. You will probably need to guide them here.
- Ask them what they think their country or your country look like. Does the shape of the country remind them of anything? Relating an abstract picture of a country to something that is familiar to a child will help them to remember the country and its name.
- If you have a large majority who come from the same country then give them individual maps so that they can all mark where they come from.
Creating a classroom community
It's important to create a sense of community in the classroom.
- To do this all the children should have the same level of understanding.
- I am not referring to their understanding of English but their understanding of what they are meant to be doing.
- Use non-verbal communication such as gestures, mimes and visual images to help them all reach the same level of understanding before starting an activity.
- Always demonstrate with at least one child or a model of your own, if you are asking them to cut something out for example, so that they can actually see what they have to do.
- Try to avoid talking in the school language. This will simply isolate those children who don't speak the school language and won't help anyone with their English. Imagine that you are in a context where you don't speak the school language. You may actually be teaching in this context. Just remember the more English they hear the easier it will become. In other words on week three or four of hearing you say ‘Sit in a circle' they will understand without needing a demonstration.
- However, keep an eye on everyone and continue to demonstrate as long as there are some children who haven't understood.
Use copying as a way of getting simple classroom management messages across.
- You can make it into a game similar to Simon Says where half the class are paired up with demonstrators.
- By splitting the whole class in two you are not singling out the children who have a different mother tongue.
- Ask the demonstrators to stand up and the others to sit down and cover their ears. This way they can still see what is going on but they can't hear very well. What they can hear will be muffled.
- Show the demonstrators four actions and number the actions as you say them such as ‘1. Open your books', ‘2. Close your books', ‘3. Draw', and ‘4. Cut'. They should repeat and do with you a few times.
- Then they teach the four actions to their partners.
- You say 1. and the demonstrators say and do action number 1. Their partners should copy.
- After doing this a few times you can let them try it on their own.
- Repeat the activity for other important classroom language and let the other half of the class become the demonstrators.
Include all the children in the class community by making them feel important.
- If they can teach the class how to say hello in their own language they will feel valued rather than isolated.
- You can display the different greetings on the wall and during the year add to this display with different ways of saying please and thank you.
- They can teach the words by playing Chinese whispers in teams.
- The winning team is the one whose team members can all say the new word. This will promote working as a team.
- When they are playing Chinese whispers they can shake hands and whisper the greeting at the same time to help them understand the meaning.
- This activity can obviously be recycled using English words and accompanying mimes to again help with meaning.
During the year you'll teach your children about some of the major festivals that we celebrate in English-speaking countries.
- I wouldn't expect in a 30 minute English class with 6 year olds to teach them about all major festivals from all cultures that are represented in the class but when you do start a festival lesson or project you should ask the children if they have the same celebration in their culture, if they don't then do they have a similar one?
- This is a simple move towards recognizing their differences and showing interest.
Google maps you can print
A lesson plan for introducing maps to English speaking children - to be adapted to the EFL classroom.
One of the best UK based resource sites created by a school
A selection of multicultural festivals celebrated in Britain. They are organised by season.
By Jo Bertrand