Have a great summer!

Vacation at last!

It has been a year full of experiences and has enriched us with a lot of knowledge, especially about the processes behind each learning.

We have talked about the fundamental role that emotions play in the teaching-learning process in this post.

We have given very practical indications on how to make the most of every subject taught in English in bilingual schools in this second post.

We have presented very valuable tools to improve our children's level of English with a view to the official Cambridge exams, but also to enjoy reading adapted classics and more contemporary stories: the 'readers'.

And finally we have concentrated on the processes of acquiring English literacy through the Jolly Phonics method: we have told you how I organized the classes, underlining the importance of the use of fine and gross motor activities, which should always accompany any learning, along with playful activities, since they have the great advantage of capturing 100% of the attention of the youngest; and finally we talked about pre-reading, first with short word blending exercises and then enriching the experience with stories and games.

I hope it was useful and that you enjoyed the process as much as I did.

See you in September!

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Simon Says + Blending

'Simon says' is an action game teachers can use to review vocabulary and action verbs; it can be played anywhere and it only requires at least 3 people. The teacher is usually designated Simon, but you can always pick one of the children if you'd like to work on their speaking skill; the other children are the players. 

Standing in front of the players, Simon tells them what they must do. However there's a trick: the players must follow the instructions only if they begin with the words "Simon says". For example, if "Simon says hop" then the players must jump, but if Simon simply says "hop", skipping the words"Simon says", then players must not hop. Those who do hop are out.

I've thought we can make the most of this game with young learners who are learning English using Synthetic Phonics and are already acquainted with 'blending'. Actually the adaptation is absolutely easy peasy: we only have to substitude "Simon says hop" with "Simon says h-o-p". 

Some examples: Simon says... J-u-m-p
T-u-r-n around
S-t-a-m-p your f-ee-t
C-l-a-p your h-a-n-d-s
Touch your l-e-g/a-r-m/f-ee-t/...
P-l-ay  the piano/the guitar/football/tennis/...
P-oi-n-t to the door/the window/... 
S-i-ng a s-o-ng
P-i-ck a flower/ an apple /...
Ea-t a lolly/spaghetti/...
Drive a c-ar/ a b-u-s / a j-e-t/ a b-oa-t/...
R-oa-r like a lion
Qu-a-ck like a d-u-ck

The only advice I'd give you is to choose your words taking into account the phonemes and the vocabulary we've already worked with our students, either using flashcards or chants, and as always... have fun! 

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I Want to Be a... S-ai-l-or

Hello everyone! 
Today a super short post about the class I gave last week with my Jolly Phonics group of preschoolers because it turned out very well (the children were attentive and actively participating) and I want to share it with you.

Well, it turns out that before Easter we started working on the 4th group of synthetic phonics; we saw the digraphs /ai/ and /ou/ before the holidays, and this week was playing the third, /ie/, whose chant is about a sailor and his captain:

"The captain said, "/ie/-/ie/!"
"The captain said, "/ie/-/ie/!"
"Stand up straight!
Don't be late!"
"The captain said, "/ie/-/ie/!"

So, I thought that, in order to review a little what we did before the holidays and introduce the new phoneme, it would be a good idea to use a story from the OUP collection 'I Want To Be... Storybooks' and precisely the 'I Want to Be a SAILOR' book for the following reasons:

Fiest of all, because it has several short words, some of which we already worked with the children using the flashcards of the method, very useful words to practice blending.

Secondly, because, specifically, it contains the words s-ai-l, s-ai-l-or and b-oa-t which helped me to refresh the digraphs already seen.

And finally, because when the story ends, the kids are so involved in the story that it seems very natural for them to act like a sailor, imitating the military greeting when they hear the chant of the sound /ie/.

In addition the book has stickers that represent the characters, one for each page, and this helps our young students to maintain a good level of attention in order to follow the story, since they ask for the one they want to paste and they have to wait for the character to appear on the page, and on the other hand to review or learn specific vocabulary.

Also, if you want to go a little deeper into the subject of aquatic animals, the book has a few pages to work reading comprehension, some mini flashcards and a very cool action-song.

In short, we liked the story a lot and it provides a lot of different levels of interaction.

More about reading and writing in English, here.

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Emotional education and meaningful learning

"Every time you hear Emotional Intelligence, shot" writes Maestra de Pueblo on her FB page. It's funny because when you study the scientific papers that have been written on the subject and then you read how the theory is put into practice in the classroom in those schools which claim to work it, I wonder if the human race would not be destined to unhappiness and frustration forever.

Until very recently, students were seen as passive receivers of knowledge. A teacher vomited notions from a platform and the students tried to retain as much as possible in order to vomit them again in a test, and so on up to the finish line.

However, we have known since the '60s of the past century, (mind it!) that everything we do, think, imagine or remember is possible because the rational and emotional parts of the brain work together, depending on each other. For this reason the emotions, both of children and their teachers, must be taken into account in the pedagogical act.

When we hear that 'There can be no knowledge without emotion (Arnold Bennet)' they mean the same thing, and it is scientifically and widely proven, even if it has been ignored for practicality. As Cesar Bona states, "Every child is a universe. All children are extraordinary and it is not enough to fill their heads with data, but it is necessary to provide them with tools such as knowledge, empathy, sensitivity and resilience so that they can emerge strengthened from adverse situations...".

What is emotional intelligence? According to Goleman, emotional intelligence involves five basic capabilities: discovering one's own emotions and feelings, recognizing them, managing them, creating one's own motivation and managing personal relationships.

Emotional education, therefore, is linked to the emotional intelligence since, in order for a person to be emotionally intelligent and resolute, he must have received an emotional education. And as incredible as it may seem, it has a lot to do with learning and therefore knowledge. In fact, nowadays, whenever we talk about learning, we overlook significant learning, that is, useful learning which makes sense to the student, and which awakes such interest that he wants to learn more every day. However, if you look at the three circles of the graph, there is a fundamental aspect that has nothing to do with notions and previous knowledge, and it is the availability of the student to learn, in other words his motivation, which depends on his self-concept and self-esteem. 

A student who knows how to recognize and accept his emotions will be able to learn to decide which behavior is the most appropriate to be handled according to the circumstances, in such a way that they contribute to a positive social and personal constructive interaction, capable of contributing to the elevation of his quality of life. In practice, one third of a student's chances of success or failure depends on their emotions.

Currently, emotional education in preschool and primary classrooms is given to students as if it was just another subject: in most cases children have to work  with cards, activities, games, stories, roleplay, drawings, etc. so they can recognize and name their emotions". It's all very interesting, all very nice and probably very useful.

But, what about the teacher? Let's repeat it again: emotions, both of the children and of their teachers, must be taken into account in the pedagogical act. This statement implies the whole amount of hours spent at school and not only a little dedicated time.

I wonder if it makes sense to talk about emotional education in the classroom when the first piece of advice we get when a student misbehaves during a class is to sit him on the thinking chair, punish him, or rather ignore him?

What message do we communicate to them? "The tale of the Colour Monster is a very nice one, but right now, whatever you feel, it's the wrong moment, so either you stay still or I'll set you apart, because we have worksheets to do and a program to continue with without wasting time.

We are fine with the fact that, in the end, what does it matter if out of 28/30 students, 4 or 5 can not handle their emotions properly? After all, they will learn to control themselves they like it or not, otherwise they will spend the rest of their school days being punished, victims of the mocking of their classmates, unmotivated and wanting to run away from school asap. An avalanche generated by a small snowball that, day after day, gains speed and mass to run over us with the second place in school failure among all the countries of the European Union (I'm talking about Spain).

I give you good news: we can make the most of the snowball effect. If we spend those 3-4 minutes talking to our students and asking them how they feel and how they think they might feel better (sometimes there's nothing more to be done than that), letting them clear up with a classmate who has unintentionally upset them, or just sitting them close to us, instead of continuing with the class as nothing is happening, perhaps at the beginning of the year it will slow us down a bit, but as they feel comfortable in class, they will stop expressing discomfort and we will have earned their trust in such an overwhelming way that they will become our most attentive and participative students.

In short, as they conclude, in this scientific article on the subject:

"Cognition and emotion constitute a dialectical whole, in such a way that the modification of one irremediably influences the other and the whole of which they are part of. Therefore, in the classroom, learning often depends more on the emotion than on the reason the learning objectives are worked with. All this leads us to point out that if the heart of the student is won, learning is practically assured.

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Graded readers: adapted stories for any level, age or interest

I've wanted to write this post about 'readers' for a long time, since one of the pillars of learning (as I'll explain in my next book) is reading, even though we live in a somewhat complicated time regarding this subject. 

As you know, reading is the number one source of independent access to knowledge, and it is no coincidence that the first years of compulsory education are devoted to learning this basic skill. Mastery of any language, mother tongue and non mother tongue, after a first approach made of listening and speaking, passes through the acquisition, use and practice of new words, or vocabulary, and grammatical expressions.

In the practice of teaching English as a second language, ESL, (or Foreign Language, EFL) in addition to the school's grammar and vocabulary textbooks, it is fundamental, in my opinion, to use graduated readings for these different reasons:
 - First, because they present vocabulary and grammar in context, which allows an almost osmotic assimilation of them.
  -  Second, because these books always come with a CD or an audio track that helps learn the correct pronunciation of words as well as get the ear accustomed to different accents and speed of speech.
- Third, because they provide a wide range of conversational topics: from summarizing a chapter to practice verb tenses and vocabulary, to expressing opinions on events, passing through an analysis of the differences between the social and historical context described in the text and the current one.
   - Fourth, and finally, because each reader also proposes reading comprehension exercises similar to those found in the most important official exams such as Cambridge and Trinity.

I personally tend to use them quite a lot, from the second/third year of primary school if my students attend a bilingual school or from the fourth/fifth year of primary school in the case of students attending non-bilingual schools, because at some point the conversation topics start to be always the same and, secondly, to avoid spending an hour translating* what children can't express for their lack of vocabulary when I want to work on their speaking skills.
Naturally I have a couple of favorite reader collections that I usually use depending on my students' tastes: the Oxford Read and Imagine collection from level 3 (Cambridge Starters/Movers), which provides the audio tracks in British and American English, and CIDEB's Green Apple adapted classics collection.

I usually use them for their aesthetic attractiveness, because they come with many images that at the same time support reading comprehension, and for the exercises that they propose, because in addition to questions about the text, they deepen other aspects such as the life of the author or the socioeconomic context, they propose research projects and interactive online activities.
But the most important thing is that depending on the level, they propose topics that coincide with the English, social and natural school textbooks, and therefore they become another tool for strengthening language acquisition.More than once it has happened to me that, reviewing the lesson of the day, I have come to ask my students: do you remember that we saw this in that book? This circumstance seems of little importance, but, in fact, getting a student to connect the concepts of one book with those of another means leading him to reorganize his previous knowledge with the new one and therefore to generate significant learning, which is the ultimate goal of any teaching.

*The effectiveness of having a human translator when learning languages has not yet been scientifically proven ;)

More about reading:

Reading as a game
How to make children love reading

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Blending: first steps towards reading

Hi there! The public examination to become a Primary school teacher is behind the corner here in Spain. That means that studying along with working leaves little free time to write blog posts. However today I have decided to take a break and here I am to tell you how the Jolly Phonics course proceeds.

Back from the holidays we finished the second group of sounds /c/ /k/ /e/ /h/ /m/ /r/ /d/ and started the third. At the same time I decided that it was time to start blending and I'm going to tell you how I decided to introduce it. But first I'll explain what blending is and how it influences the acquisition of reading and writing skills.

We know that the main objective of the synthetic phonics methodology is to teach how to associate phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (graphic sign). At first, they are taught one by one, and then they are joined together to form words. For example, once the vowel phonemes, such as /a/ /i/ /e/ /o/ /u/, and some consonant phonemes, such as /p/ /n/ /c/ and /t/, are seen, students are presented with words formed by the combination of these phonemes: pan, sit, ant, cat, cap, net, pet, nut, and so on. Blending is the process of pronouncing the sounds of a word individually and finally bringing them together to pronounce the whole word. That is: /p/, /a/, /n/ and children have to say the whole word -> pan.

At first it may be difficult for them to recognize the word, but with a little practice during every session their ability improves, and each time they gather the phonemes faster.

How do I do it? As my little group is very lively, at the moment, to be listened to for more than 8 seconds, I'm using Jolly Phonics Read and See books. They are small books where there are words followed by a flap that I only lift once the children have guessed which word they have just heard, underneath there is the image that corresponds to the word pronounced. It's a trick that keeps them attentive because of the surprise effect, which always works with younger children, and thanks to the attention they naturally pay, they learn.

Another material that I use are the Jolly Phonics flash cards and some cards that I have cut from the activity books I had at home. I do try to make sure that the word is always accompanied by the corresponding picture; first of all because it develops reading comprehension and then because the drawings are pretty and, as Maria Montessori said, children have to be given pretty things to create an affective link with learning.

And now, the big question... why do we teach them blending?
I suppose the answer has already been guessed right: once the children have learned to recognize the words broken down by the teacher, they will be equipped to start synthesizing words on their own, which means they will be able to read.

More about reading and writing.

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Fine and gross motor skills with Jolly Phonics

Today I am going to show you some of the activities we have been doing in class with my students. As recommended in the manual, it is very important to go over the sounds throughout every sessions, however it is also necessary to look for ideas so that this part of the lesson will be enjoyable and varied even though we are always working on the same concept.

Here you have 4 activities which can be performed in two ways:

1) At the beginning of the month, when we reached 3/4 sounds, we began to practice auditory and visual recognition with a quite amusing activity: I divided my group of students into 3 rows, and they had to jump, from behind a line of Sellotape (which they insisted on removing 2 seconds after spotting it on the floor) over the card with the letter sound corresponding to the chant, or the gesture associated with the chant, that I was indicating.

2) For the second activity I adapted the game 'Change places if you have…' which in our case consisted of sitting the children in a circle holding one of the sound cards in their hands; when calling one of the sounds, all the children who had it represented on their card had to get up and move around and change places. To make it a little more 'exciting' a student can be positioned in the center of the circle to steal the place from those who have to get up. Finally, in order for all students to handle more than one sound throughout the same activity, it is necessary to take a few moments from time to time so that each kid passes his card to the classmate beside him.

After a few sessions, when I noticed that they were already familiar with the method and controlled the single sounds, we began to do these same activities using words that began with s,a,t,i,p,n: if I told 'ink' they had to jump over the card with the i, or in the case of the circle game, those who holding that 'i card' had to change places.

3) The third activity was that of the pom-poms in the picture: in order to stimulate phonological awareness we started using words straight away. The task consisted in recognizing the first sound and was designed to associated a third sense, the touch, to those commonly implied in this kind of exercises: 6 children kept the paper cups showing to the others the letter and the drawing that each one carries; the remaining 4 children sat opposite them and took a pom-pom each. I showed a card and said the corresponding word, e.g. 'net': The four children holding the pom-poms had to get up and put them in the right paper cup, in this case the one with the 'Nn sound' on it.

I think it's a nice activity because they like to manipulate the pom-poms and they also help each other to identify in which paper cup they have to put them. Naturally this game can also be done using 'single sounds'. 

A fourth activity consists of building a fortune teller so that they discover the letters, say them and make the associated gesture. It's an effective activity because they pay a lot of attention all the time since they also like to discover what's under the flap chosen by  each one of their classmates.

Overall, the truth is that it has been quite an intense month and I have to admit that there has been a lot of trial-and-error work, but the best thing is that the children are learning even though they don't realize it... at least until they get the right answer at the first  attempt. 

More about Phonics here

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