martes, 10 de junio de 2014

How would you motivate those students who are not interested in learning English?

I am sure you have come to this trouble anytime: a student who does not want to participate, who is not paying attention, who is disrupting... But DO NOT panic. Here you’ve got some proposals to apply in the classroom.

It has often been said that a student who really wants to learn will succeed whatever the circumstances under which he studies are. Nevertheless, motivation is some kind of internal drive that encourages somebody to pursue a course of action. It seems reasonable to suggest that if we perceive a goal which is sufficiently attractive, we will be strongly motivated to do whatever is necessary to reach that goal.
There are certain circumstances and attitudes that promote conditions which may be favourable to classroom motivation, such as:

When choosing a topic, pick one in which your students feel motivated (dinosaurs, tales, games, countries, food, monsters...). Moreover, the difficulty of the task should not be easy or impossible. Adequate it!

Do NOT punish because of their errors, make them understand that it is not ok, but they have made a great effort to do it. Instead of punishing and humiliate them in front of the class, give rewards to hard workers students. Even something apparently childish as a “Good Job!” stamp or sticker can encourage students to higher levels. You can buy stickers and stamps like this in Dideco


To control their behaviour, you can create a thermometer like this, and every time they do not behave properly, they put their little doll with their name on it down.

You can also create a behaviour chart, and if they behave properly, they get a star. At the end of the month, you count the stars and give them a proportional reward, for example, candies. You can explain that it is like the salary at the end of the moth.
Moreover, you can reward those students who always bring their homework in a chart, and every time they complete the chart, they get something out of the treasure box

Be kind, funny and friendly. I know it seems a little bit obvious, but some teachers do not act like that. Being kind means that you should show interest in your students’ feelings. Teachers can help produce these feelings by sharing parts of themselves with pupils, especially little stories or problems and mistakes they made. By doing this, students see teachers as approachable human beings and not as authorities figures. However, you should settle some distance: you are an educator, not a friend.

Students LOVE participation, so do not stop them if they want to help you or others: let them be involved in activities. One way of doing this is designing a ‘Start Student’ every week. This student is in charge of collecting homework, closing the door, being sure that the class is in good conditions when they leave, ‘personal assistant’ of the teacher... Every students should be in this charge. 

It is also a good idea to distribute students in cooperative learning, where every member of the group has a determined role. You can see further information about cooperative learning in this webpage:

Whenever possible, use the following activities, which are the most enjoyable for students:
Watching videos of graded difficulty
Playing language games
Doing pair and group work
Task requiring the students to collect information from the outside
Singing songs
Acting out dialogues and sketches

And, avoid whenever possible task such as written and grammatical exercises.

Well, if this doesn’t work... Just kill him!
Joking. If none of this works, here you’ve got a really good page: ’10 ways to motivate the unmotivated’. I found it very useful.


martes, 27 de mayo de 2014

How do we select a graded reader that students want to tackle?

Fostering reading habits is one of the objectives of the Primary Stage, and the Foreign Language Area can contribute by using graded readers. Reading for pleasure also enhances foreign language learning, mainly when the language and the content are suitable for the learner. In this post, I am going to examine some criteria in order to choose the proper book first, and then, I am going to talk about the advantages of establishing a reading corner.

Graded readers are book designed for language learning purposes, being adapted. The contents of these books can be stories, descriptions of factual data or adaptations of authentic material.

To make it worth it, we, as teachers, must select them with several criteria in mind, so that the reading would be enjoyable experience for the learners:
  • Appropriateness: The book should be adapted to the pupils’ characteristics, needs and interest. There is a huge range of topics that we can choose:

- Fairy tales, folk tales & films: Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Hansel and Gretel, The Selfish Giant, Cinderella, Up, Frozen, Tangled, Pocahontas, Snow White… This topic has the advantage that students may already know the plot, so it would be easier for them to read it.

- Fables: The Milk Woman and Her Pail, The Grasshopper And The Ant… This topic has the advantage that we can teach values through the moral of the fable, and we can explain with kind of a tale why something is right or wrong.
- Greek Myths: Troy, Penelope, The Minotaur, Midas…
- Literature for children: There are some novels made especially for children, such as Charlie and the chocolate factory, Peter Pan…

- Comics: Asterix, Garfield, Snoopy, Mafalda… This topic has the advantage that every piece of writing is illustrated, so the comprehension will be better.

However, as I said before, we should take into account the maturity and interest of our students: For instance, fairy tales would be great for 1st graders, or even 4th graders, but for 6th graders students would be child-like. They would prefer books with everyday-life, adventure or fantasy.
  • Language level: The book selected should include language items (functions, structures and vocabulary) both known and new. A good balanced between them will allow for new material to appear interspersed throughout the reading, but not too often so that comprehension is impeded and thus motivation for continuing reading stops.
  • Language content: The story should be relevant, interesting and include elements for the target language society and culture.
  • Book layout: The design and use of visuals must be attractive. Pictures that illustrate concepts should appear in the text, so that it will help bringing the text to life, and students will follow the storyline more easily.
  • Audio: A book including audio support will offer learners the chance to improve pronunciation and assimilating new vocabulary. Moreover, dialogues would help to the improvement of spoken interaction.
  • Availability: The book should be easy to find in the bookstores and not very expensive.

I am not going to talk about how to teach reading, because my friend Sara explained it very good on her blog, you can see it if you want (

However, it is not enough. The biggest enemy to successful reading is the lack of motivation. So, how do we encourage our students to read? A good idea would be the reading corner.

The reading corner is a particular corner of the class where we place the books at our students’ reach. Here, they can come and read a book after having finished the task assigned, having received the consent of the teacher. Other times, students will be asked to take books from there to read for a specific task (finding words, pictures…).

The use of the reading corner comes with the follow advantages:
- The reading corner provides access to authentic materials, belonging to English-speaking countries, so students will come into contact with the real English and its culture.
- It will help creating and maintaining reading habits.
- Students can improve their general knowledge, not only vocabulary and grammar, but expressions and cultural knowledge.
- It provides additional practice of reading skills.
- We can use the reading corner to break the routine of the class, to change the pace of the lesson, maintaining the students’ interest and motivation.
- Students can provide any material (in English) they consider appropriate for the reading corner. In this way, students are given more responsibility.
- It is a good task for those students who finish soon their duties and have nothing to do.

Nevertheless, stablishing a reading corner has its drawbacks as well:
- Discipline rules: Students should be taught some rules, such as total silence.
- Students’ use of materials: We should tell our pupils that they have to be careful when handling the books. -- They have to be responsible and take care of the books. One way of doing it, is nominating a different learner every week as the ‘Reading Corner Monitor’. His duty will be picking up the books, writing down any disturbance and ordering the books.

And... Do not forget...

lunes, 19 de mayo de 2014

How can we develop creative writing in our FL classroom?

As we all know, writing is one of the four skills necessaries to achieve Communicative Competence, which is the main aim of teaching English. Some people think that it is the most difficult to work on, because our students are young and they are not as able as an adult when it comes to write an essay or a summary. Moreover, writing is the most boring part of an English class: lots of repetitions, working on your own predictable things…
However, it shouldn’t be like that. What could we do to develop writing in our classroom? Let’s see… What is the main characteristic of children? CREATIVITY.

Kids are creative by nature: they live in a world of fantasy, imagination, playfulness and freedom. So, why don’t we take advantage of their strongest point, and use it to develop writing skills? By working on creativity, we stimulate the students’ imagination, helping them to express their own ideas in forms that are different from the usual writing tasks.
Before starting with creative writing, it would be good to get our students used to write, so here you’ve got some examples of activities to develop writing:

  •      Freewrite: Students write on a given topic for 2-5 minutes without stopping. They are not allowed to lift their pen or pencil from the paper or make corrections. The intention is just to write anything. Freewrites can be used at the beginning of a class session to focus attention on the topic or at the end of a class session to help students process what they learned. Initially some students might be insecure about freewriting, but it wouldn’t be a problem once they become accustomed to this exercise.
-        Example 1: At the first-year level, freewrites can be used to generate vocabulary on basic topics such as describing one’s self, family…
-        Example 2: To prepare the class to discuss cultural topics, students can write about their own experiences.
-        Example 3: The students can be asked to write on their reactions to character in a story they have read or to predict unfinished story.
  •     Word fields: —Students are asked to write associations to a given word or topic either individually or in groups.   Example 1: Students in small groups generate word fields around sub-topics associated with the chapter being reviewed for a test. For example, in a chapter on life in the city, groups might be assigned sub-topics such as: in the train station, asking directions, lodging, restaurants, etc.
  •     List making: Students create a list of words, ideas, tasks or priorities:
         - Example 1: Students can create lists around any topic, for example, grocery lists, lists of what needs to be done before leaving on a trip, packing lists, etc.

Now, I am going to explain some activities made to develop creative writing:
  •         Change lyrics: Students can create new song from another one. Of course, it should be easy, especially if we want to do it with young kids.
-        Example 1: They have to change words in a traditional and easy song, for instance: ‘London Bridge is falling down’ -> ‘teacher Laura is having fun, having fun, having fun’. They can also use ‘one little finger’, ‘neck, shoulders knees and toes’… Anyway, songs whose rhythm is already known.

  •        Poems:  Writing poetry at the beginning levels allows students to realize that they can function imaginatively and express sophisticated thoughts with a limited vocabulary. Writing poetry also encourages students to think about the sounds of words. It looks like a difficult task, but it isn’t. As in the previous one, students can start removing some words. For instance, in this poem, the italics words are the ones which will be missing:
To London I have been
The Tower I have seen,
Postcards I have sent,
To all of my friends.

  •        Picture story: Students are given a set of pictures into a sequence, and they have to order them and tell what happens and why, organizing the story into a narrative. It can be done in groups.
  •          Comic strips: A comic strip is handed, but the contents of the bubble are removed. Students have to write the dialogues and the narrative of what happens.

  •        Snowball: One student starts a story, writing one or two sentences. Then, he covers the story, leaving only three words. The next one should continue the narrative, and do the same. Finally, we will have a non-sense creative crazy story.
  •         Mixing two stories: We can ask our students to mix to fairy tales, or two characters, such as Aladdin and Cinderella, Pocahontas and the Little Mermaid or Rapunzel and Belle.

Finally, I would like to add a project to develop creative writing: a newspaper. A picture will be given to every group of students, and they have to invent a story, a new, and write about it as if they were journalist. Then, we will collect every story and create a newspaper. This should be done with the higher levels, like 6th grade of Primary.


sábado, 10 de mayo de 2014

AMCO Method

I have decided to write my first post about the AMCO method. Some of you may have already heard about it. Personally, I was not familiar with this methodology until I came across with it during my internship in Montpellier school. I was confused at first, because this method is completely different to the method we are used to. In this post, I want to talk a little bit about this methodology.

First of all, saying that AMCO is an American company, headquartered in San Diego (CA). They developed an innovative method in which students would learn a second language at the same level and in the same way they learned their primary language. According to its website, “it is based on the emotional, intellectual and social development of each student. This goal is embodied in an integrated system that emphasizes the acquisition of communicative competence in English through comprehensive academic areas, which directly pertain to the student’s development.”

 Even though it is in Spanish, this informative video is good to see how AMCO method works in schools. Actually, one of the schools been shown is the school where I am doing my internship, and I assisted to some of the classes this teacher did. By the way, in the video also appears my 1st grade students!


The material of AMCO method consists of 5 books. Depending on the hours of English per week, there are 3 modalities: Rocket II, rocket III and rocket V. Each book is generally divided in 4 sections: grammar (yellow section), pronunciation lab - spelling (green section), reading comprehension (blue section) and depending of the year, the last section could be memory tasks or listening and speaking. On the first section, pupils study grammar points, even though in the lower levels they do not specify the rules and what it is, it consists in practice throughout repeating a pattern. On the second sections, some vocabulary is introduced, whose sounds are related, and they work on listening, spelling and writing. Here there is also a reinforcement activity called ‘homeschooling’, which requires some help from parents. On the third section, some stories or pieces of information are displayed, with questions or matching. Finally, the last section is focused on oral skills.

 I thought that it would be great to take some pictures of the book to show it to you, but I am not sure how illegal is this because of the copyright thing. Moreover, I have the feeling that with my explanation it is not very clear, so if you want further information on the sections, have a look at this website. From page 31 you can find how an AMCO class is made:

AMCO is based in some pedagogical fundaments:
• Emotional intelligence (the identification of feelings and behaviour, automatic control, self-motivation, empathy…)
• Multiple intelligences: I do not know if you are familiar with this theory. It explains that there are 8 multiple intelligences, which are seen as personal tools each individual possesses to make sense out of new information and to store it in such a way that it can be easily retrieved when needed for use. Here it is shown a chart of the 8 multiple intelligences.

• Theory of the Generating Voice: This theory, developed by Martorell Angel, founder of AMCO, explains the process in which our brain acquires a second language in the same way as it acquires our mother-tongue language. The most vitally important process in this theory is called the “switching process”, through which students eliminate the Spanish-English translation process, allowing them to learn a second language with the same spontaneity and facility with which they learned their mother-tongue language. You will visualize it better with this drawing:

• Mind maps, which helps to organize the information in a simple and creative way , in order to be remembered by the brain. It helps when it comes to visualize a concept and link it with others, personalizing the learning.
• Daily routine
• Cooperative learning

Anyway, all this was theory. Before I show you my conclusion, I would like you to see how an AMCO class is made. I took this video from a blog. In this blog, the teacher told us that she recorded this class after they had worked with AMCO method all year. As you will see, they will start with Daily Routine, asking questions like ‘what’s the weather like today?’, ‘how do you feel today?’, ‘what day is it today?’… Secondly, they go throught the spelling section, doing different activities, including one with the interactive board. Thirdly, they work on the grammar section. Then, they go through the reading section. Finally, they sing a song.

As you will see, the level of the students is quite high, so the main advantage of this method is that is very effective to learn English.
However, there are some drawbacks. For instance, the price of the books is very high (around 110€ per year), so some families will not be able to afford it.
Now, what do you think? I’m looking forward to read any comment you may have.
See you!