Part of getting one’s message across is using gestures, eye contact and facial expressions. And that’s what we’ve been working on in my class, with a little help from Ms. Susan.
The game below, called “Do you know your neighbor?” is an awesome way to have my English learners use non-verbal communication in a non-threatening situation. But how is that learning English? Because gaining confidence (“willingness to communicate” or WTC in the research world) helps break down what language teachers call the affective filter. Researcher Stephen Krashen was the first to name negative emotions associated with language learning and production with that term.
Here’s more explanation from a site called ELD Strategies:
When the affective filter is high, individuals may experience stress, anxiety, and lack of self-confidence that may inhibit success in acquiring a second language. On the other hand, a low affective filter facilitates risk-taking behavior in regards to practicing and learning a second language.
In this game, there are one fewer chairs than people. The person in the middle asks, “Do you know your neighbor?” The response is always, “Yes, I know my neighbor.” While this exchange is happening, others sitting in the circle exchange glances, nods, waves–whatever it takes–to exchange seats without the person in the middle noticing. If s/he does notice, the person who is “it” tries to intervene and steal a chair from the two trying to exchange.
But to play, the people sitting have to be brave and take risks–exactly what teachers want to see from their students who are learning a new language.
It was hard to get my students to speak in complete sentences. It’s something we’re still working on. But it’s getting better. And these kiddos need to laugh.
A lot of teaching English is just getting people comfortable in their own skins. My voice is foreign to me when I speak in German or Chinese. I had to work to make it sound like my own. And these are the battles my students are fighting as well… So anything we can do to just make them interact with each other and feel comfortable in the group is helpful, such as creating a handshake:
…Or doing silly things to teach opposites, such as dancing HIGH and LOW. Teaching them movement in this way not only teaches language, but elements of dance and movement.
We also have been working on using ordinal numbers. We learned that when giving the date, we have to use them. And they are tricky to say. So Ms. Susan brought an idea for us to sequence three events in our mornings. Again, full sentences are called for. So it’s an exercise in remembering patterns.
Next week, we’ll be playing with Susan and friends from Vermont Commons School.