To complement these strategies it is useful to use another important strategy, specifically paralinguistic information which works on stress, volume and language intonation. However, linguistic strategy and paralinguistic strategy is sometimes not enough. In this case, I use extralinguistic information to make English comprehensible. This includes the use of body language such as gestures, movement, facial expression or on some occasions the strategy can be complemented by pictures and objects, toys and games. In addition, I consider that, bearing in mind the young age of my students (seven years old) it is necessary to concentrate, in English class, on the use of simple structures and the avoidance of complex structures.
For many children a favorite strategy is role- playing which can help children to use English in specific circumstances. In my class this is a strategy which I use frequently and which I find to be extremely effective. Every day I demonstrate, for instance, how one makes an apology, a polite request, how to ask for permission to do various things, how to express simple opinions and ask simple questions and I believe that these simple strategies motivate the children as they can relate to the relevance of these structures, and thus feel motivated and proud when they can recreate them themselves.
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Another aspect which I considered to be extremely important is the presentation of new contents in a familiar context. That is to say, I feel it is important that the material is presented in a context where a child can determine the results. At the same time, children need a routine because, as far as I am concerned, it is not possible to work in a disorganized environment, where children do not know what is going to happen. Another strategy which I frequently use and which I have found to be extremely useful is to vary the sentence when giving simple orders. An example of this is when every morning I ask them to open their book at a determined page. I may say "Open your book on page 18" but I may also change the sentence using another expression such as: "Now, letÂ´s open the book on page 18" or "Can you all please turn to page 18." In all these circumstances the children understand the meaning perfectly well, and they respond accordingly by following the instruction.
Others strategies used in class are to make up questions whereby the children must answer with either yes or no. I use this type of question because my pupils are 6-7 years old. At this age, these questions are easier for the children to understand and answer that questions with where, how, what, when or why thus we are aiming at a success-oriented outcome. Finally, when I need to check if my pupils have understood my explanation, a listening exercise or task can provide the necessary feedback from the children.
Apart from these strategies, it is necessary to take into account the different approaches in the English learning process. According to Hernán and Garcés (2003), there are several approaches, such as: the Silent Way in which the aim is for pupils to achieve independence and the teacher will be a silent guide, Suggestopedia created by Lazanov who believes that the mind receives orders in a consciousness way, Total Physical Response (TPR), created by Asher, who believes that language is learned better through bodily movement and the Natural approach, developed by Tracy D. Terrell in 1983. In this approach, the teacher creates situations which provide motivation for the children to communicate. One must also remember the strategy of immersion which uses L1 and L2 to study subjects for the first time, Aprendizaje por tareas, in which pupils manage to attain competence on their own.
I must stress that my research is focused on listening. According to Penny Ur (2012) "the main goal of teaching listening is to enable our students eventually to cope with the natural listening situations that they are most likely to encounter in real life". (p.102)
Nowadays, this goal is easily achievable because there are factors such as communication development and international contacts which have greatly increased the need to learn English in our country. So, this is an area which must be addressed by our Educational System. Nonetheless, it is necessary to take into account some aspects of difficulty in listening skills. According to Pinter (2006) there are several factors which add to difficulties in the area of listening. These include the type and length of text the children listen to and the familiarity of the person who they are listening to. Pinter (2006) claims that "The teacher can also repeat messages and use gestures and facial expressions to help children to work out the meaning." (p.46). For this reason, when I do a listening activity, I take into account the research of Madrid and McLaren (1995) and the following basic points:
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- Listening should be taught systematically, in varied ways and regularly.
- The importance of distinguishing "pre-listening", "while-listening" and "after listening" phases.
- The need for motivation: if the student understands, he/ she is happy. For this reason, wherever possible, the task should be success-oriented.
- The mere quantity of listening the learner does is of importance.
- The insistence that the students do not (usually) have to force themselves to understand every word.
- The importance of "success-oriented" activities. The task should be basically simple
- The importance of a task, which should be explained to the students before they do the exercise, so they know why they are listening, as we do in real life. (p. 40)
Apart from this I would like to explain the three different types of exams used for evaluation:
The first exam consisted of:
â€¢ A writing activity about the weather.
â€¢ A listening activity in which pupils had to fill in dates about children's birthdays.
â€¢ A reading activity in which children must match the season with its picture.
â€¢ A writing activity about the month of the year in which pupils must write the twelve months of the year in correct order.
â€¢ Finally, a reading activity about the weather, in which pupils had to choose the correct word in relation to a picture.
Initial exams are useful to see students' levels, as they identify very clearly the learners' strengths and weaknesses regarding a specific area.
The second exam had five questions:
â€¢ The first question involved writing the correct word under each picture.
â€¢ The second question was a listening exercise about numbers and vocabulary.
â€¢ The third question involved matching sentences with the correct pictures.
â€¢ The fourth question was to fill in the gaps with short words.
â€¢ The last question was to translate Spanish sentences into English phrases.
By emphasizing listening skills, I believe we are also improving the rest of students' academic abilities and this has been borne out by the way in which the results improved in an overall way.
The third exam consisted of:
â€¢ The first question was about writing,
â€¢ The second question about to fill in the gaps,
â€¢ The third question to match different words with different pictures,
â€¢ The fourth question about reading
â€¢ The last question involved matching sentences with their appropriate pictures.
In spite of the fact that there are less listening activities in the exams, my pupils practice listening frequently in class in order to learn about the topic, vocabulary, grammar, structures or, in the majority of cases, to learn all of these together. Personally, I use listening activities to evaluate the students' success independently from the exams. For instance, a simple example is this type of exercises:
Aquí pondría un ejemplo sobre eso
In addition, the day after the exam, I do individual speaking exams. In these exams I assess the students' pronunciation, their listening comprehension and their speaking ability. For this reason I have based my research on it. From my point of view and according to my experience, in the process of teaching and learning English it is essential to use listening activities which provide input because this input is necessary to create future output.
As we can see, my experience has had positive results that can be seen on the following tables. At the beginning of the course I set an exam to evaluate childrenÂ´s English level. The results are shown in the following graph below:
Three months later, the results are:
These graphs show a significant change in the two student groups.
Whereas most students were placed in the 'bien-notable' area of expertise in September, they are now in 'notable-sobresaliente' area at the end of the year. Their oral skills have visibly improved, as have their marks and, perhaps more importantly, their overall motivation in class.
It is clear that there has been a considerable improvement in the comparatively short space of three months. As far as I am concerned, this has proven to be a positive result and I feel that the strategies used, which I have previously outlined, have demonstrated their relevance in encouraging and motivating young learners to become proficient in and enthusiastic about the learning of a second language.
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