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Now's Co-operative Newsletter
2 March 2000, #05

As I write this it's nearly a month since the last newsletter. It looks like sending something out every two weeks might be a little ambitious. But then again, that all depends upon you. The more I receive, the more I have to include which means the quicker a whole newsletter will be created. I would like this to be more than "hi, hello from Chris". I do have some ideas I'd like to share and I hope you find them useful. I'd also like to here from you. What are you doing, what's working, what isn't. We can all benefit from each other's experiences. All the best,


Looks like my signature is in the right place this time...

An experience with some very Young Learners

I'm not doing so much teaching at the moment but one class I do have is a class of two three year old girls. They come to my apartment with their mothers. Since I teach with an assistant that makes a total of four adults and two children.

It's fascinating being part of the children's learning process. I'm learning a lot from them. They are imaginative and playful, some things they seem to learn instantly, some things they learn and forget from week to week and some things they refuse to learn at all.

Yesterday, for example, I tried to get them interested in learning some nouns. But with nouns I've found they have a very take it or leave it attitude - often they just aren't interested.

Since it is Hina Doll Festival at the moment I thought I would teach them king and queen. One of them seems interested in frogs so I thought I'd try that word as well. I had some flashcards. With most children looking at a flashcard and expressing interest but not showing them the card would be sufficient to get their interest. But not with these two. So I tried using a game that has worked well for me with young learners before:


  1. Mix some 'known' flash cards with the new ones. I usually have more than one of each item.
  2. In turn, present two or three cards (depending upon the level of challenge the child is comfortable with). Ask the child to take the.... and name one of the cards.
  3. If the child tries to take the wrong card, gently stop the child, show that card to everyone and tell them what it is. Invite the child to have another go.
  4. The aim is to let the child hear the new word and chose the correct card. The child can deduce what the new word must be by the context of the game and because the child 'knows' one of the cards. Pre-teaching in reverse?
  5. A variation for older children is to introduce more cards and name them and then tell the child to take a card you haven't just named. Using this method more new vocabulary items can be introduced.
  6. Note: this game isn't co-operative because as it exists there is no need for the children to work together. In fact if the teacher focuses on getting cards it can become competitive.

But yesterday the three-year-olds weren't interested. And it seemed they didn't know the words I knew they knew. So I experimented. I got two boxes. One for them and one for me. The idea was they could put the cards they got into their box and I would take the cards they got wrong. I had in effect created a competitive game. They liked the idea of putting the cards in the box, but not of losing the cards to me. And I saw hesitation and doubt creep into one girl's answers. I had created pressure and tension where none had existed before. I quickly abandoned my idea.

At the root of it competition isn't fun.

But the question remains, why are the girls interested in some words and not in others? It wasn't because I was only using flashcards. In the past I've used realia also without much effect. On analysing it I discovered that for them gestures for nouns seem to work better than the objects themselves. For example, one chant I've heard them spontaneously sing in English goes "glasses, glasses, glasses, hat". This was something I made up for them in the middle of a class. I was responding to something one of them had done. Later I introduced colourful hats and giant spectacles (from the ¥100 shop) but these were less interesting to them than the chant and the actions.

I suspect that both children like to learn kinaesthetically. They remember words and phrases that produce actions. They like to order me to "go there," (pointing to my kitchen) and "come here." They like it when I pretend to fall asleep so they can tell me to wake up. I've also heard them sing to themselves in English. Using Howard Gardner's model of multiple intelligences it appears that they are developing their bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence and their musical intelligence. So I'm going to design some musical and physical activities to teach vocabulary. I'll let you know how I get on.

Go where the learners are.

Comments & questions

Tate Yamashita asked a very pertinent question about "You have dash":

Would you clarify something: When the students are returning the cards to the chair, does the student who guesses correctly get to return the card or does the student whose card has been correctly guessed return his card to the chair? If I've read the example correctly, Student B seems to get to do all the running back to the chair with the cards (both his and the one he guesses) which I imagine all the students probably want to do.

The example was wrong. I meant to type 'Student D returns the duck to the chair'. Students should return their own cards. As much as possible in any game the action should be shared.

Mat White: I agree that lessons should be well planned out in an attempt to avoid setting up situations where students make mistakes from a lack of information. I recently purchased several co-operative board games from you. I tried "Max" with a class that just happened to have only three kids in it. Even though I tried to express that the object of the game was to save all the animals from Max, the cat, the students selected animals to represent themselves and took great delight in watching each other come to their untimely demises. They had fun, so I let it go the first time we played. However, I've found that switching mindsets out of the competitive mode is a lot harder than I imagined it would be.

Here are a few tips for introducing co-operative games:
  1. Play a game where the students are all on the same team against you, the teacher. For example, I used to have a Snakes & Ladders board about 30 spaces long. Before I switched to co-operative games I used to divide the class into two teams. Usually girls against boys. I'd read a story they knew and make deliberate mistakes. The team that spotted the mistake got to roll the dice and move. Then I made myself into a separate team and moved myself when neither team spotted the mistake. That way I always came last and regardless of which team won all the students had the satisfaction of beating the teacher. It was a simple step to leave all the students on the same team and have them play against me.
  2. Play a game against the clock. For example how many animals can they say in two minutes? Get the students to agree on a target before starting the clock. Write the words on the whiteboard. Then repeat the activity the other way. Get them to read the words. Point to a word and when it is read erase it. Can they clear the board? Record both their target and their score for future reference. Repeat the activity every week. Can they make the target more accurate?
  3. When playing co-operative board games in small groups make sure that the number of playing pieces is different from the number of players. That way there will be less likelihood for the students to identify one piece as their own.
  4. When and where possible, ask for direct feedback on any new game introduced. Was the game easy or difficult to understand? Was it fun? Was it challenging? I think there is a relationship between fun and challenge. A game which is not challenging is unlikely to be fun. A challenge may be mental or physical but should be appropriate to the players.

What's Next - a CD for Teaching English to elementary aged children For those of you who don't know I'm currently putting together a CD of musical games and activities to teach elementary aged children English. The working title for the CD is What's Next. The question I would like some help with is what to put in it. The idea I have now is to produce a CD to help teach functional language within the classroom, and in particular, communicative strategies. The aim is to give children enough language so that they can talk to each other in English in the context of an English class. The big wide world comes next.

I believe that the more English children can use the more English they will want to learn. When they realise that they can express themselves in English and get practical results the more likely they are to experiment and create their own sentences. When children start to play with the language that is a clear sign that they have learnt it.

I teach a couple of brothers. In the past I got them to understand the verb conjugation for the verbs be, do and have through a song. A few weeks ago one of them began singing "I cockroach, you cockroach," so I joined in with "he cockroaches". They thought it was funny and I thought it was great they had got the concept. We sang a few other nouns.

Go where the learners are.

Below is a list. Imagine you are making a CD and you have run out of room. What five items would you exclude, either because they don't seem important to you or because you want to save them for your next album?

No. Concept (in alphabetical order) Notes/Questions
1. Basic Classroom vocabulary Should this include the idea of plurals?
2. Be, do, have (present tense) Included because it's the basis of so much
3. Don't! Used to stop a physical action, e.g. in a game
4. Do you have... To the tune of Camptown Races (see below)
5. Do you have a ... I can borrow This builds on top of do you have
6. Done it? Not Yet Includes Finished & Are you ready?
7. Goodbye/speak English Speak English every day!
8. Hello Used also to teach say, whisper, sing, shout
9. How are you? Teaches a variety of replies
10. Let's... Focusing on making suggestions in class
11. Look With the idea of look at my work.
12. May I leave the room? Use to go to the toilet. Too formal?
13. Pardon Used when the speaker is too quiet
14. Pass/Here you are Get someone to hand/pass an object to you
15. Say that more slowly, please Used when the speaker speaks too quickly
16. Show me! Used when you want to see something...
17. Sorry... Apologising in English
18. What do you mean? What to say when you don't understand
19. Where's my....? Here, there, includes reply that's mine!
20. Who's next? Focusing on tthe idea of turn taking

Are there any concepts that you think should be in the list but aren't? My plan is to create a CD in game format. The songs will be co-operative games in their own right. The final format will probably be a package complete with some bits and pieces useful to play the games.

Copyright Blues

As part of the process of making What's Next? I began checking what and what is not in Public Domain. I was pleased to discover that Camptown Races is in the Public Domain. But you might be surprised at some of my other findings. Would you have imagined that copyright exists on B-I-N-G-O ("Bingo was his name-o"), Itsy-Bitsy Spider, I'm a little Teapot or Even Happy Birthday? That means if I wanted to include these songs I would need permission. And as far as I understand it, if you use copy righted material in class you could be on legally dodgy ground (though I assume if you've bought a tape or CD to go with a textbook you must be OK). Here is a list of what you cannot do with music under copyright:

This also means that technically playing BGM in a class could infringe copyright rights. This is something that I have done a lot! I'll be writing about the uses of BGM in a future issue. Obviously I don't think that practically you are ever likely to receive 'a cease and desist' order (or it's equivalent) but it may be food for thought. If any of you know more about this I'd love to hear from you.

If you'd like to check the site where I got this information from, please go to the Public Domain Information Project at http://www.pdinfo.com/default.htm


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Note: Now's Co-operative Newsletter used photos to link to other sites. Some links have been replaced as the original websites have disappeared. Accordingly notall photos lead back to the sites they came from. Spelling has been left as was - ouch!

For the record:

What's Next? has not been produced. It's still sitting on my computer. Perhaps some day. If experience is anything to go by then I guess I know a lot more about working with very young lerners than I did when I first penned the above. Sometimes, time tells.

last updated: 5th August 2005

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