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( TEACHING YOUNG LEARNERS ) ************* acquire around six to eight words per lesson would be through memorisation based on endless orai repetition. The mere thought of pointing to pictures accompanied by whole-group and then individuai repetition for even ten minutes made me feel faint. And what about thè concept of plurals? Not only would this mundane memorisation and repetition process challenge my own limited patience, these young children would surely hate English for life if I did not devise something more interesting. As my own son was in this group, ; and I had always believed that logicai ; reasoning skills would get him further i than memorising thè multiplication i tables before first grade, I decided to ; kill two birds with one stone and merged thè challenge of vocabulary Yen-LingTeresaTing makes vocabulary repetition fon i! learning with thè cultivation of logicai i reasoning skills. I drew a series of her pre-school pupils purposeful and painless. ; vocabulary 'clotheslines' upon which a i sequence containing three or four items approach. For example, for those of us ne of thè challenges in i was organised. These item sets were teaching English as a foreign living in non-tropical Italy, it is quite ; repeated in sequence along thè entire language to young children amazing when a four year old says \h of thè clothesline, which snaked is that they receive so little 'Ananas per favore , since pineapples, if i along thè page, with thè problem being exposure to English outside thè lesson. available at ali, are found in thè exotic i that many sets were missing different Unless they are English-teaching produce section of thè supermarket nannies or run an EFL kindergarten, and are a rare occurrence on thè Italian ; items. Figure I illustrates a very simple i three-item set, which clearly shows thè dinner table. And if thè child can also most teachers meet with their young i children that thè target sequence is learners for only a few hours a week, add in thè please, parents can brag about this utterance for years to come. i scarf,jumper,coat, and thè unfortunate making it difficult to establish thè \t that some items have been blown highly-contextualised continuity by Imagine my surprise, then, when I : off thè clothesline. Fortunately, thè which children learn their LI. It doesn't examined thè handbook of a popular i teacher has braved thè wind and take a linguist to understand that four and very valid lower Al-leveI English hours per week of learning English, certificate for children and found more ; collected ali thè fallen items. Each child i has a copy of thè clothesline and must spread over two lessons, is not exactly than 600 nouns in thè 'should-know i first figure out thè sequence within thè thè same as learning an LI through list', among which was pineapple. If we '- three-item set and, using thè request, Constant and authentically purposeful are amazed to hear thè LI ananas, we ; 'X, pìease', ask for thè items they need language use. Another challenge in will surely be entered in thè book of ; to complete thè other sets on their teaching a foreign language to preAmazing EFL Teachers if we get fouri entire clothesline. Once a child has year-old Italian children to learn literate children is exactly that: they ; obtained a missing item, they must glue don't read yet. Much of our teaching p/neapp/e! \t in thè correct piace. In thè example with older learners is reliant on thè i in Figure I, thè numbers under thè first fact that they can already read and ; set indicate how many scarves (4), write and, more importantly, that they The following activity was developed in : jumpers (5) and coats (4) thè teacher are familiar with thè concepts they have thè context of an intensive programme i needs to have ready for each child. already met in their LI, and must, ! Since ali thè children receive thè same offered over two months (eight 90therefore/just' learn thè L2 equivalent. minute lessons), which aimed to teach a ^ clothesline, thè teacher knows group of 18 kindergarten-aged children ; beforehand how many items will be ; missing and can thus have these about 40 words, plus thè concept of i organised into separate piles or Since thè average pre-school child has plurals. With such little learning time ; buckets.To avoid accidents, it is best to had limited life experiences, we cannot (which amounts to only 12 hours), thè i have thè children seated at desks rely on this 'just learn it in English' only obvious way for thè children to

Pineapple, please!

; : : i • i i ! i ; i ! ;


The solution

The problem


• Issue 71 November 2010 • ENGLISH TEACHINGprofessional • www.etprofessì •



arranged in a circle, with thè teacher sitting on a chair with wheels in thè centre but as dose to thè desks as possible.

Noisy, but necessary I should warn you that this activity involves a lot of loud young voices repeating 'X, please!' innumerable times as thè teacher attempts to roll from desk to desk to give each child their requested item. The classroom can become quite noisy as thè children compete for thè teacher's attention in order to obtain thè items they need. However, teachers should realise that this loud repetition is necessary for learning. Contextualised repetition and instant feedback/reinforcement is exactly how children learn their LI. EFL teaching needs to devise contexts where authentically-motivated repetition is necessary, and thè urgent desire to complete their clotheslines prompts ali thè children to repeat their requests, either individually or in chorus, until thè item is obtained. If thè teacher recognises thè necessity of repetition and finds thè courage to survive 20 minutes of 'Scarf, please!', 'jumper, please!' and 'Coat, please!' uttered simultaneously and at ali volumes, thè children will have repeated each target item at least 33 times by thè time they have got ali thè

items and completed their clothesline. And 'please' will be engrained for life. Those children who finish first can colour in their clothesline — silently — while thè ones who finish later can do thè colouring as homework. Having expended their voices, thè children become surprisingly quiet when they settle down to colour in their clotheslines, and teachers can use this as a moment of rest if they wish. Although thè clothesline completion part of this activity is not exactly quiet, if thè stoic teacher can see beyond thè noise and 'hear thè learning', thè end definitely justifies thè means!

Simple, but adaptable This activity can, of course, be adapted to suit various learning targets. For example, I used a four-item sequence covering three words: strawberry, strawberry, pineapple, appiè. Strawberry was repeated in thè sequence because it is quite a mouthful for Italians and is also quite different from thè Italian equivalent, fragola. The adjacency of pineapple and appiè was also not coincidental as pineapple is a mouthful to pronounce. Although pineapples are exotic, thè word was similar enough to thè familiar appiè that just one appearance of thè word pineapple was sufficient to allow thè students to acquire it.

Another sequence (sock, socks, shirt, skirt) worked on thè pronunciation of thè similar-sounding words skirt and shirt, but also incorporated thè concept of plurals with sock and socfcs. A clothesline using foot and fèet along with shoe and shoes also worked well to provide an intensive exercise on plurals. I should add two suggestions, plus a note of caution regarding plurals. In thè beginning, it is best for thè children to ask for one missing item at a time so that they must repeat thè lexis as often as possible. However, later on, you may encourage them to ask for Two apples, please', so they learn about thè plural s. The second suggestion is that irregular plurals, such as feet, should be introduced at thè same time that children are mastering thè 'add an s' rule, before they have a chance to say foots and have it fossilized into their young brains. For Italians, and I imagine ali children who speak languages with irregular plurals, foot/feet is not shocking at ali and just one of those things people say. The caution is with regard to regular nouns which are not only irregularly spelled but also irregularly pronounced, such as scarf, which requires Two scorves, please' and not Two scarfs, please'. In a previous article (ETp Issue 54) I offered a simple rule about how thè suffix s on plural regular nouns and even thè ed suffix on regular verbs is a matter of minimal mouth movements, and children find this 'lazy mouth rule' quite easy to apply. However, as they are pre-literate and cannot see that thè word scorves has more to do with 'add an s'than 'irregular noun', we should treat it like an irregular noun and provide single pictures representing two scarves rather than have thè children ask for two separate 'scarfs' to fili two gaps on their clothesline. The clothesline in Figure 2 shows how thè activity can be made more challenging, since thè sets of items are divided by a big dot on thè line but thè sets can continue onto thè next line, rather like words in a sentence. To add variety from lesson to lesson, thè clothesline may also be presented in a spirai.

• • ENGLISH TEACHING pt'ofeSSÌOnal • Issue 71 November 2010 •



Pineapple, please! > \ ; i i

focus attention on one particularly difficult item, thè sequences may contain LI cognates such as thè sequence banana, orange, kiwi, watermelon,

-• where banana and kiwi are thè same in ; Italian and orange sounds like thè Italian ; arance, thus concentrating thè children's : attention on thè word watermelon.

I Common features \n important point to consider is that : people tend to learn new information : by categorising, where possible, novel • input with familiar items. This activity is, ; therefore, most effective when items of ! a set share common features, as in thè ; examples above (fruit, clothes, etc).This \s some pre-planning on thè part ! of thè teacher. So, for example, if thè i first four words you have to teach are ; appiè, arm, armchair and baby, these will ; be difficult to learn together as they ; don't form an obvious category. Spend I some time dividing thè target words i into meaningful sets. Another thing to ; | i ; ; ; i i i i i

remember is that thè item-limit of our working memory is around five to seven items. Therefore, sets containing fewer items are easier to learn than sets containing more than seven items. In fact, a three to four item set is more rhythmic and easier for young children to learn: appiè, banana, kiwi, orange is almost a poem while appiè, banana, kiwi, orange, coconut, pear, watermelon sounds more like a shopping list.

| 'Reading' I Once each child has completed their : clothesline, they come to thè teacher I ! ; ! '-

and 'read' it aloud by saying thè words. Although these children are pre-reading age, their ability to 'read their clotheslines' gives thè teacher thè opportunity to evaluate if each child has


Figure 2

indeed figured out thè sequence and

words hung on thè clothesline can be

learnt thè words on thè line. A child reading my completed fruit clothesline would say 'strawberry, strawberry,

acquired in only 12 hours! And, amazingly, thè children are not at ali bored with thè repetition because it serves a purpose. Moreover, thè activity serves thè equally important function of developing thè children's ability to recognise patterns, an important logical-deduction skill which will serve them well.

pineapple, appiè' six times. However, after having said 'Strawberry, please!' loudly at least 33 times during thè completion of thè clothesline, these last six utterances of strawberry as they 'read in English' is not really for thè purpose of learning but to boost thè child's ego — they were smart enough to figure out thè sequence and now also know that fragoìa is called strawberry in English since they can 'read' their clotheslines correctly. English is easy!

Recognising The clothesline activity is most suitable for learning concrete nouns, and I have successfully hung out less healthy food sets, such as pizza, chips, burger and hotdog, as well as dislocated body parts in singular and plural options, such as eye, eyes, ear and mouth. Although nouns such as address, cinema, forni and farmer are difficult to represent through simple drawings, animals, household electronics (fridge, toaster, cocker, iron) and furniture are quite suitable items, as are many dreaded vegetables (broccoli, carrots,

* ** I have had opportunities to meet up with thè parents of some of these children five years later and hear them brag of their children's politeness and eloquence. One couple even told of a visit to New York where their child answered a waiter with 'Pineapple, please' when offered a choice between orange and pineapple juice. Knowing that I have helped children learn vocabulary through intensive repetition without them hating English (or me) is very satisfying indeed! CUf&

onions, tomatoes). What is effective about this activity is its ability to elicit so much repetition that any and ali thè

• Issue 71 November 2010 • ENGLISH TEACHING professional • •

Yen-Ling Teresa Ting is a teacher at thè University of Calabria, Italy, and uses her PhD in neurobiology to render neuroscience research accessible to teachers so they can improve their classroom practice, be it to enthuse learners about science via CLIL or enable young learners to become eloquent tourists.


EFL vocabulary learning in young learners