Fest der Kulturen, (Multicultural Festival), Bonn, May 2017

Volunteering with the NGO ACT which helps girls world-wide to get a better education.  What a fun day it was!

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From unconscious to conscious “competents”: how adults can learn new languages as if they were children

 

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Kids are “unconscious competents”. Most learn languages quickly and easily, seemingly without trying. Let’s copy them so we adults can dispel the myth that only children can learn new languages. I learned six languages after the age of 18. I was still “unconscious” of what I was doing to be successful, and it took me years to figure out the rules of what I had done.

Now I am a “conscious competent” 😉 and that is to my benefit. It helps me to teach better – and also to learn. I am now using those “rules” and “strategies” to master Arabic sounds, and have fun pronouncing words in Arabic. Once the basics are mastered, this will be my 9th language. I am not sharing this to boast – but to warmly encourage adults to try a new language, at ANY time in their life. Wish me luck with my upcoming workshops with refugee children in Bonn! I know in advance that the teacher-learner ratio will be 1:1 😉 and that the children will be the the most effective, kindest and most generous teachers, like my 6 – 12 year old “teachers” in Prague. Thanks to my Czech youngsters, I learned the difficult Czech language, and I am proud of myself. And I am grateful. This “two-way street” fuels my mission to serve others in learning languages – namely, to serve children.

Here are some suggestions for the mindset behind learning languages as an adult. They are oversimplified but are true nevertheless. They sure worked for me!

1. Study. But don’t just read and write at home and then stop until the next time you sit down. Think of the words you will use with people in the real world, away from your desk, who speak the target language. Think of the things you would say in your own language, that make you feel good and make you laugh.  Think back to things you have said to others – in your native language – that made them laugh.  Things you knew in advance would make them laugh, be fascinated or simply caught their attention. and so you’ve used them in more than one situation.  – and others too. Just two words here, three words there … plus words that are relevant to the context of a social group you are part of that has people who speak your target language.

2. Not part of such a group? When a child needs new playmates, the parents often find some organisation – like a Facebook group for parents – and at their discretion, make contacts and friends over time.  When you need “playdates” for practicing the language, don’t hesitate to do the same.  Find groups that involve activities and join them, and then go to activity-centred meetings.  Through a clear context, you will have plenty of “homework” – which would be preparation for talking about the activity and verbally participating in the activity. The first way to meet people is the organic way: ask your friends if they know anyone who speaks that language and find ways to meet that person or those people. Also Internations, or expat.(name of country). When I was living in Prague, expat.cz helped me to find a lovely turkish woman who taught me Turkish, while I taught her English. I am in touch with her to this day and also with her friends.

Try Meetup.com in your city.  Now living in Bonn for a mere 5 months, I have made a host of friends on Meetup.com;  one of them is also a German-English tandem partner.  Thanks to him I was able to get my CV and some drama workshop proposals done in perfect German, while he simply seeks a refinement in his English.   Try a Facebook group too – especially one that has members who speak the target language. There is also conversationexchange.com (most people on there are very nice – do practice discretion though.) There are many more ways but I cannot list them here. My first French contact was my penpal, Albane, when I was 18 (there was no internet at the time – I met her through an exchange program in college. We’ve lost touch since then, but to this day, I am friends with her friends, 25 years later. Go figure!

3. Read children’s books in the target language. If you can, take notes on all new words you learned.

Read with a child, if you can – with both of you reading out loud together.  Sound out the words as the child sounds out the words. Depending on the child’s age or, more importantly, the child’s reading level, you will be varying degrees of teacher and student, with that child also taking on both roles.

Let the child be your teacher. Children make the best teachers! They do not over-explain things but only tell you what you need to know, no more, no less.

Be a teacher for that child.  Be both teachers and students, together, reading that book.  Discuss the book with the child.  Practice speaking the words by this discussion.  Use simple sentences to say what you think or to ask questions.  The child will either answer /ask questions using simple short statements or, if extraverted and chatty, longer statements.
Babysit kids who speak the language you wish to learn. Ask for free lessons from the parents of those kids in exchange for your free childcare. You get two lessons for the price of one ;).

4. Listen to kids and their families conversing together in the target language.
Spend time with children, converse with them and let them chat to you in their language. They are so precious when they do this, clueless to the fact that you are struggling to understand. If they are talking about their toys, make the most of it. The conversation is about concrete things. Let them be your teacher. Make them conscious that they are your teacher in this moment. Have them introduce colors, shapes, other adjectives to you, in talking about their toys. Repeat as much as you can. You empower the child and linguistically, you empower yourself too.

5. Pay attention to what your mouth is doing when you are practicing the words. What your tongue, teeth and lips are doing, and what your breath – voiced or unvoiced – is doing as it passes through your mouth. What the relationship is between those body parts in their varied combinations. Kids don’t think – they just do. Same for us, but if you pause and pay attention, you can reproduce it and improve it, until that sound is effortless. If you can imitate an animal or do a funny “accent”, you can learn to pronounce new words – and the sounds to each letter of those words – even sounds that don’t exist in your own language. You literally train your mouth to do it.

6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, make mistakes because not only do you make less of them over time – you also come across as having a sense of humour, openly vulnerable and human, and that makes you disarming, charming and likeable. People work all day and are tired and cynical. Your mistakes (and laughter at them) is a real breath of fresh air!

7. When people say “Oh, just tell me in English”, say “I don’t speak English” in their language. Learn this in advance so you can say it to them. It will require them to speak in their language with you. I did this in the Czech Republic when I first moved there. Also, be “unaware” (or indifferent) to any inner voice telling you that you are taking too long to make your point. Make your point in that language and don’t worry about “boring” anyone. In most cases, you are not, trust me. And if you are, who cares?
It took some cheek (which also helps to learn a language faster.) A little spirit is also youthful – another breath of fresh air! Be cheeky.

8. Celebrate the fact that your language is very simple. Imagine how much more direct you are because you don’t have a full arsenal of words at your disposal. Imagine how cute you sound – and how much people respect you and admire you for your bravery. It’s true. Plus, not knowing a language well makes you strain to understand – and THAT makes you a very good listener, which is very charismatic. It is another way to make people feel good. They like you for it and invite you out more. They find you open and disarming, not to mention gutsy. You make friends fast and strangers are happy to help you. By being a good listener (for language purposes amongst other things) you are very present, which is both wise AND child-like. We all know how “present” children are. You make people feel good to be around you and they want to do more for you. I’d say that not knowing a language well is anything but a handicap. It’s a PLUS. Be like a kid – and you will entertain others by being “natural” and funny. You will charm them (sometimes without them even knowing why) and you will make friends fast. And you will have all the support you want and need to get better at that language. Thrive on your mistakes; relish them!

Kids do all these things and that is why they seem to learn so quickly. Be playful in life and in your communication approaches and practice. It definitely pays off. Enjoy the process!

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Top Ten Benefits of Global Kids Through Drama and English

“Highly intelligent play!”
Sarka R., parent, Prague, Czech Republic

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Top Ten Benefits of Joining Global Kids Through Drama and English

1. Global awareness: Globalism is a defining feature of the 21st century world in which we live. Global Kids Through Drama and English intensifies children’s consciousness of the world as a whole, and inspires them to take an active part in it by learning, speaking and performing in English. For groups of children who already speak English at home, the global themes experienced in the workshops are still a huge benefit. Additionally, for such groups, there is a strong emphasis on Spanish, French, German and non-European languages as well.

2. Social communication and connection skills in English – or in the target languages internalised in the workshops. The future is brighter for bilingual children. How about the future for children who are exposed to the most widely used foreign language, so that they can quickly break social barriers ANYWHERE they go ? Be a stronger candidate for admission to university ? Be more competitive in future job interviews careers ? In future networking ? There will be many opportunities for children to develop their public speaking skills.

3. A sense of familiarity and “being at homeANYWHERE in the world. Language associated with FUN gets results in record time. Children make friends quickly ! They ask for help in tricky situations and get it ! They can know more than their parents ! They can help their parents when traveling. They make connections quickly, even help their parents to do the same! (And feel great about themselves !)

4. GAMES WITH AIMS: If play is a child’s “work” then toys are the tools. The workshops are structured but the children have no idea that they are actually working! I am an avid collector of funny toys, many Famous People dolls, good quality, realistic toy animals , theatrical backdrops, scores of costumes (including traditional clothes from around the world), souvenirs both natural and man-made from my travels … and then there are the diverse methods I employ to make sure no one is bored and everyone is included: (music, drama and art, with a Montessori approach) and multiple resources for learning languages, geography, history and world culture. Children will have authentic, hands-on materials, as well as access to technology, for learning the continents, countries, cities, nature, climate, history, famous people, food, clothing and customs of the languages taught in this course. I have scores of costumes, hundreds of props, and lots of materials taken from real life and from many countries. My students use them all in their language games, theatre rehearsals and final performances. They love to learn through them !

5. Your child is an amazing actor! Most children look for any chance to be the centre of attention. The 2nd half of each 90 minute workshop (45 minutes) is devoted to putting together into theatre practice everything that has been learned in the first half of the workshop. Your child is shy or an introvert? Drama (and drama production) offers roles and activities for every type of child, including those who do not wish to be the centre of attention but still take part. There is the role of cameraman/camerawoman, director, scriptwriter, stage designer … During the workshop and the performance, it is impossible that this child does not also internalise the target language. Lots of choices for involvement guarantees the child’s feeling of safety and acceptance. This also guarantees that every child will “own” his or her education.

6. An experience both authentic and practical: Drama practice and performance allows languages to be taught in the context in which they will be used, which makes students aware of the languages first and foremost as a means of communication. A child will never forget the words when there is a gesture, a character and a JOKE behind them ! Every lesson includes the use of materials that have been taken from real life, including airplane tickets to use for making flight reservations, real life jackets donated from airlines, every day items from supermarkets from around the world, flyers from museums, authentic souvenirs and much, much more.

7. Speaking skills – projection, clarity and resulting confidence: Frequent theatrical performances in English or in the target language(s) for parents and friends, will cement what they have learned. Moreover, as actors and story-makers, they prove to themselves – and their families – that they can not only speak English and other languages, but also entertain  in English or in other languages. Their self-confidence SOARS. Public speaking at an early age will pay dividends later in high school, college and beyond! Many of my students, now grown into successful adults, have returned to tell me how much more prepared they feel to speak in public, and the benefits that they enjoy professionally, socially and in their private lives.

8. Essential skills, disciplines and subjects are covered in the instruction, practice and performance. This includes increased literacy (children learn to make distinctions between English and Czech phonetics), visual arts, maths, sciences, geography, geology, topography, Earth history, meteorology, zoology, evolution, world history, and of course, communication skills. It’s a perfect complement to school and preparation for any child’s higher education. Children as young as first graders will already know sophisticated words that they would otherwise learn at a later age and grade.

9. While leadership thinking and skills are inspired here, the greatest foundation for success in engaging a child is LOVE, CARE and HUMOUR. Children – especially those in prestigious, “high end” schools, are often pushed to their limits, and after school, they need to feel that they are free to to play without a sense of “working” under any obligation. Here, children can push themselves intrinsically, without external rewards or punishments – but from curiosity, inspiration, engagement, and intelligent FUN. A frequent feedback which I hear is “when I ask my son what he does with you, he says he doesn’t work on anything. He says everyone just plays.” Luckily, the mother knew better than to take her son literally. Excitement and laughter are key experiences of every Global Kids Through Drama and English workshop. In the first half of each workshop, the new vocabulary – from even the most “academically serious” subjects – is introduced through theater, followed by play. The past vocabulary is reinforced in imaginative, quirky and comic ways, so that children not only remember the English words but also the concepts. Once inspired and incited to play themselves, the children practice towards a performance. The end result, per child, could be two minutes, or twenty. It is up to them. It is extremely rare that a child does not wish to perform in some way and most perform as much as possible. In any case, they learn the vocabulary, the expressions AND sophisticated topics, disciplines and ideas, in a global framework, with quirky, entertaining, real life examples from around the world. The content-rich plays and songs have a humorous twist or outcome. Guaranteed laughs, guaranteed fascination, and even for parents, a chance to learn something new from from their own children: life before the dinosaurs – so many fascinating animals preceded them; how Van Gogh lost one ear; why Da Vinci never finished the Mona Lisa; how to become a knight in modern England.

10. Drama has something for EVERYONE. Every child is unique and joins the workshop with his or her own level of language skills, experience, personality and learning style. There is a job for everyone. Drama accommodates ALL levels, learning styles and personalities !

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The Power of Play

“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori

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Kids love to play.  Playing helps them to be happy, to explore, to create original thoughts and to express themselves without guidance.  Most importantly, playing helps children make sense of the world around them. 

The first independent learning that  a child will ever experience, is through play. Playing is a such a powerful thing!

Obviously, I have been watching children play all my life.  As an educator, I have been observing children play for as long as I can remember being a teacher (nearly 17 years to date 🙂 ).

Yet I never fully appreciated the POWER in their playing – until I started teaching English (with Spanish and French as occasional lessons), in a Montessori school, seven years ago.  It was in such an environment that I finally “got it” about why play is so important and so powerful.  For the first time, I started to see children playing with new eyes.  This was not just play I was observing.  This was work.  

Have you ever taken care of a child (or spent time with your own child or students), and said something to that child, while he or she was playing – only to find your words falling on deaf ears? Have you ever had to physically interrupt your child from playing – a tap on the shoulder, for example, because, lost in the deep focus of the play activity, that was the only way the child could “hear” you?

 

If your answer is yes, then that is not surprising at all, because what you observed was far more than just play.  A child working on an art project – whether devised by the teacher, parent or by the child, is using the hands to create something first devised by the mind, or to realise something tangible without having a goal initially, but to “see what will happen”  with the materials once the work is done.  According to philosopher and pedagogue Maria Montessori, the child “does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 25.)  And if a child’s play can be considered by its own, intrinsic value, as a means to identify and solve problems, experiment with data and formulate questions (responding to the world around him or her as experienced with all five senses)  and indulge in his or her curiosity about the outcomes of his or her play, it is work in a child’s eyes.

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This is true even if the child is not highly conscious of the fact that he or she has actually done anything that is work in the conventional sense of the word: it can be guided or it can be 100 percent agenda-free.  There is fantasy play with dolls and toy animals that are given a voice, where life is breathed into them through the voice and hands of the child.  I am talking about a child mesmerised by the feeling of various materials (modelling clay, sand, mud, different types of paper) between the fingers.  I am thinking about the quirky things that children do when they are given funny toys and told to simply create stories with those toys, and how they enjoy making a doll character “smell the breath” of a “dead [toy] dinosaur”, or tickle the feet of a “sleeping” plush toy gorilla to “see” (or decide 😉 ) what that great big, fearsome animal will do to the “tickler” when he wakes up.

Then there is also fantasy play that does include an agenda – an academic one  that includes real people from our time or from the past.  I use lots famous people in my English workshops-  and the learning of culture they represent or contribute to the world.  Encouraging make-believe not only  “involves multiple perspectives and the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions that reflect a critical feature of the child’s cognitive and social development” for the normal development of a child (Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., Beautiful Minds, 2012), but gives a teacher a chance to engage children in learning about the great minds of scientists and artists and the work those masters did which, like children, was “play ‘at work'”:

Below, a second grade boy impersonates Leonardo Da Vinci.  His contemporaries complained that he took ages to complete a task or never completed it at all, in addition to abandoning it to take up something else.

Below,  Degas, played by a third grade girl, is grumpy because his “work is interrupted” by the curious class members.  They are happy to learn about impressionism and art history, through make-believe:

Kaufman also talks about “the important concept of ‘theory of mind,’ [as]  an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable, is closely related to  imaginative play.” (Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Leslie, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1990; Singer & Singer, 2005).

Play is what children do best. We have all done it, and our children do it too. It is a very special kind of work that gives pleasure and therefore motivation.

Back in the 5th century B.C.,  Confucius said:  “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”.  If this is true, then play is every child (and adult’s) opportunity to do something that is both pleasurable and useful.  Play gives children the chance to practice what they are working on, the chance to practice what they are learning.  “Play is the work of the child”, said Maria Montessori at the start of the 20th century.  By extension, she continues to say that “a child’s work is the man [or woman] who he [or she] will become.”

The Power of Play:  What are the benefits that the child (and his or her family) get to enjoy? What are the powers?

  1. Problem-solving:  Play helps a child to develop all these wonderful and necessary life skills.  How about the child that understands how frustrating but necessary it is to do something over and over again in order to produce a result, despite countless failures?  Below, a “scientist” is given a gift of two robots for his birthday.   When the robot does not follow his commands properly because it is not yet “programmed properly”, the “scientist” must keep trying to fix the problem, the way he sees his parents do, in the adult world.  And when the robots are finally programmed, the scientist discovers the irony of the statement “Be careful what you wish for …” :

2.  Practicing empathy and tolerance: how many times have we seen children pretending to be a mother comforting a child? Or pretending to work in a zoo, “washing and feeding” the animals?

Or practicing what they are taught regarding loyalty and kindness to those who love them?As wisely stated by Scott Barry Kaufmann (Beautiful Minds, 2012): “When children use toys to  introduce possible scenarios or friends, the representation of multiple perspectives occurs naturally.”

In the “sequel” to the above video, evil does not ultimately triumph; the young student chooses, in his subsequent English workshop, to have a natural catastrophe kill Darth Vader – using the same meteor that fell on Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs! See below: 

3.  Play allows for what psychologist Sandra Russ (2004) calls divergent thinking (the ability to come up with many  different ideas, story themes, and symbols) and reinforcement of previous learning  – including the learning of academic subjects, historical notions and cultural practices from around the world.  Given a bunch of toys, and breathing life into them, a child can both internalise and integrate elements of a teacher’s lesson (the culture content which I always include in my English lessons) into his play.   I tell a second grader who loves Star Wars about the tradition of English knighthood, both medieval and modern and this is what he comes up with:

The above video also shows another component and benefit of the power of play – laughter and creativity – which lead us to #5, below:

5.   CREATIVITY! I call it “a child’s magic realism“. I love the oxymoron of the words “magic realism”.  And I love its definition by Merriam Webster. “a literary genre or style [associated especially with Latin America] that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.”  Watch the video below for an example of  a child’s magic realism – putting Frida Khalo, Mozart, Beethoven, a T-Rex and a Firefly together into a Mexican jungle and creating a story.   Pure creative genius that comes from the power of play: 

There is also Magical Realism that involves other Famous People : Take Gandhi, who lost his sandal, for example – a cute little improvisation entirely thought up by a first grader, on the spot!

Or the toy lobster (“Mr. Lobster”) who has committed some “crime” and is now in “court”. What will be the final verdict?

Sometimes play is too much fun for me not to get involved. I love toys as much as children do! I want to play as well. In English, of course!
Our class restaurant is irresistible:

Watch the five year old waiter in this video improve his service skills as he progresses through the role play, and how well he (and the others) learn English expressions for use in the restaurant – and the kids’ spontaneous improvisation throughout this little video. I love their creative “in the moment” contributions, mixed in with my suggestions.

Long live the power of a child’s play … and the power of the imagination!

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Culture, Star Wars, Dinosaurs and a Child’s Imagination in the English Classroom

paleozoic-mesozoic-cenozoic-eras-animals-and-christopher-second-grade

A second-grade English learner practices story-telling across four Earth Time eons/eras: Hadean (pre-Cambrian) with our paper-mâché volcano in the background, Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras color-coded (matching mats with pictures and information not in this photo.)  The student has to put animals in their respective times.  He will then choose some Famous People and have them interact with some of these animals in a time travel story –

As a parent or teacher, you tend to “go along” with the play-acting of your child.  If you film it though, and replay the “lesson” you had with him or her, you see all kinds of things that go  far beyond chance comdedy. You see all kinds of brilliance!   And you see, in many, many ways, exactly how your child’s work is brilliant.

Take Christopher, an 8 year old boy, for example.  He is precociously conversational in English, even though his parents are both Czech and speak mostly Czech at home.    As progressive and caring parents, they wanted him to be in an English speaking environment where he would be challenged, given the means to do his best and also have fun in the process. So he did just that, and more.  How? Well, I gave him

  • some Famous People dolls. (I suggested Queen Elizabeth and Leonardo Da Vinci; he chose Sherlock Holmes and Barack Obama.
  • some plush-toy Star Wars characters from both sides of the Force  (they’re so funny and cute, even Darth Vader!)
  • an element of adventure (a Time Machine) –  endless in possibilities for story-making.
  • a taste of prehistory – with toy dinosaurs (carnivorous and herbivorous), giant spiders (mesothelae), various mammals, a jungle setting and colored mats to represent the different Earth Time periods that the Time-Machine might land in.
  • some facts about the Time Periods, their Earth and atmosphere characteristics, what kinds of animals, if any, are in them, etc.  The student then chooses which Earth times he or she prefers.
  • some facts about the Famous People we chose together.

christopher-second-grade-and-his-movie-series-cast-famous-people-star-wars-prehistoric-animals

Christopher with the majority of his chosen “cast”: Star Wars characters to the let, some mammals behind him, in front of him Leonardo Da Vinci, Queen Elizabeth the 1st, President Barack Obama, composer Beethoven (who puts dinosaurs to sleep in one of our little episodes), and detective Sherlock Holmes.

Left: Leonardo Da Vinci cleans some mammoth bones. Right: Christopher poses with his “Cenozoic mammal/people friends”.

Any child can entertain himself with Star Wars and dinosaur toys –  and entertain his peers and his parents, too.   Maybe even teach or enlighten someone about something previously unknown!  For such a presentation, all the teacher needs to do is

  • make sure the child plays and performs in English only
  • make sure the child incorporates some of the cultural or scientific facts learned before the play-session or during the play-session.
  • “go along” with the child’s improvised dialogue and play, working with his or her ideas as he or she has them.  The teacher must then support the child’s choices as much as possible and interact with them, staying in character.
  • give the student a few historically or scientifically-based ideas.
  • find a comic way together with the student to express these ideas. (Children will quickly find a way, trust me.)
  • leave the rest to the kids, and have fun!

Here are some compiled clips of what we produced together:

Do you find them funny? I sure do. I knew I was going to have a good time teaching and learning alongside of my young student.  What I didn’t know is just how much he would end up contributing on his own.  It’s not so much because the Famous People, the plush Star Wars characters or the T-Rex are cute.   It’s because of what the boy does with them.  With engaged play there is the opportunity for the added learning of facts, and the child’s incorporation of those facts in the play.  Done in ways that only the child could devise.  Always turn to a child for good ideas, or for how to put good ideas to use.  Here are some of Christopher’s original contributions to our “film series”:

  • making R2D2 the computer part of the Time-Travel machine, and DaVinci the inventor and the pilot of the machine.
  • the traditional dubbing  (making someone a knight) by every English/British monarch.  In our little film,   Christopher has Elizabeth the 1st pronounce to the robot R2D2, that he is now a knight.  It’s a reward for saving her from being eaten by a T-Rex.
  • using a giant spider toy to be Darth Vader’s “walking robot”, reminding me of the AT-AT Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back.
  • making the Famous People  + Yoda, Chewbacca + R2D2 go back in time to the birth of the Earth “by mistake.”
  • producing great visual special effects, appropriate to the Hadean Eon of Earth; responding appropriately to to facts given to him spontaneously as we play along. (Hadean heavy meteor bombardment ? He grabs some orange rubber balls and drops them on to the characters who he moves out of the balls’ way with effortless coordination. )
  • making the characters start choking, as soon as he hears me telling him there is no oxygen in Hadean Earth’s atmosphere.  But he doesn’t exaggerate the choking, or forget to make his characters speak (always in English).   He continues the dialogue of his characters, and the appropriate actions too,  while they escape to the next Earth Time.
  • turning Darth Vader into a fossil.   What an original kind of fossil – a fossilized robot.  Is that possible?  It gave us both food for thought about how long it takes to make a fossil, and who would be the one to discover it.  Human or post human? Deep questions, which we addressed briefly.  Then my student decided to use a Barack Obama doll, and have him make a cameo appearance, discovering the Darth Vader fossil with Queen Elizabeth, Da Vinci and Sherlock Holmes.  Detective Holmes  comes late to the scene, having previously wandered off to inspect another dead dinosaur’s tongue, and smell his breath (Christopher, you are so funny.)

It is Christopher’s fast reaction and original (and hilarious) interpretation of information that make his performance on videos so brilliant.  Through toys, some facts and a story-line, he practices three out of the four areas of language learning: reading, listening and speaking.  But this student doesn’t merely learn to use English better.  He entertains.  He entertains himself and,  if there are …

  • enlightening facts
  • adventure
  • comedy

… he entertains others, too. Imagine what that does for a child’s self-esteem 🙂

What possibilities there are for learning a language (and everything else), through play and  imagination! The originality of a child’s ideas gives you food for thought. Ah, children … give them some of their favorite toys, a few basic facts, and leave the rest to their fertile imagination. The results are amazing!

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Christopher and characters from the Future –

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Characters from the deep past (Hadean, Pre-Cambrian, Paleozoic times), from the dinosaur times (Mesozoic times), the present (Cenozoic times and today), and also characters (Star Wars) in the Future.

Queen Elizabeth and Leonardo Da Vinci discover a fossil … of Darth Vader, who almost killed them in a previous episode!

But wait … there is more.    By chance, this 8 year old created “dramatic devices” which I could not fully appreciate while we were playing and filming.  I caught them when I watched our work together on video.  They explain just why these “Sci-Fi series” make me laugh, every time I see them:

  • Tongue and cheek leitmotifs –

“We need to look”Christopher repeatedly makes the characters go peer into the jungle, in every Earth Period they land in.   The viewer also gets to enjoy some dramatic irony.  It’s obvious that the impetuous Queen Elizabeth, the nosy Sherlock Holmes and even the wise Yoda will pay a price for their recklessness.  And which child does not delight in setting up a dramatic ’cause and effect’?

“Oh, this is just a T-Rex” Yoda nonchalantly and effortlessly zaps to death every T-Rex he sees and saves the life of his time-traveling friends.  He does this with every dangerous animal that crosses his path, in every Earth time period.

  • Slapstick – 

The impetuous and bossy Queen Elizabeth is always fainting at the first dinosaur ambush.  Well, who wouldn’t faint at the sight of a T-Rex?  Whenever I watch certain clips from the film Jurassic Park, my heart almost jumps out of my chest!

Here, Sherlock Holmes is curious detective who then loses his cool in the face of danger, fainting frequently, contradicting his image of a character with self-control and intelligent foresight.  Who would have thought? I suggested we have Leonardo Da Vinci improvise some natural “smelling salts” from the environment  to ‘recovers’ the detective.  Instead, Christopher grabs the Queen Elizabeth doll and makes her give the detective a few smacks in the face. I can only imagine the real Queen Elizabeth doing this ;).   “I have the body of a weak and feeble woman” the real Queen once told her troops, “but I have the  heart and stomach of a King, and a King of England too.”  I don’t think Christopher is making a feminist statement here, but he is seems to be using role-reversal slapstick – AND making a compelling rendering of the famous monarch.

  • A sense of irony –

Such a grown-up thing, and so important when it comes to adding  depth of character to a story. Here, an 8 year old child does it randomly and effortlessly, through make-believe play.  Sherlock Holmes is traditionally famous for his  intelligence and sang-froid in the face of danger; yet here, the student makes Sherlock Holmes  comic and subtly self-ridiculing.  You will see Sherlock Holmes inspecting dead dinosaurs’ mouths and smelling their breath  (the same with the meteor-barbecued Darth Vader’s still-smoking mask) with all  the seriousness and pragmatism of the “real” Sherlock Holmes, yet his findings are completely useless in preventing or averting danger.  And as Christopher previously suggested, the detective turns out to be a coward! Always fainting at the sight of danger.  A typical “Christopher touch” :).

We finished our series with a filming of Christopher’s explanation of the dinosaurs’ extinction.  I let him know that the meteor that crashed into Earth 65 million years ago is one of several possible reasons.  He then reported back –

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A Child’s Language Learning Through Performance

A Teacher’s Message to Parents On Their Child’s Learning Through Performance:

       As a parent, what better way to KNOW you are getting results with your child’s learning?

Most children are not too camera-shy. Some are, and I make sure from the start, that they know they don’t have to be in the “spotlight” – or in the range of the camera. Sometimes I omit using a camera all together. In every lesson, however, one thing I always use, that I never forget, is performance. In every part of every lesson there is some performance.  It can last two seconds, or it can last two minutes. Even two hours. By the middle or end of the lessons, we are piecing together the “parts” and making a longer performance. If possible, it is filmed, but not always. The key is that the children show what they learned through some performance. A performance can be a “reporting out” of a city, a four-minute comedy, a story using puppets of Famous People, dinosaurs, their favorite toys, or themselves. A performance can be a dance or a song. Or showing their families how they operate a restaurant, a Jungle Hospital, or a Fortune Telling business.

      Children inherently enjoy make-believe. By extension, children quickly get used to performing and they all love it!

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Above: Czech second graders expressing the future tense in English: “At the Fortune Teller’s“– Only 100 crowns (4 euros) per question! There are all kinds of roles for such a big Fortune Telling business to run successfully! Pre-set questions and answers are provided for children to practice their literacy and inspire them to think of their own questions and answers, which they write and add to the list. 

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Above: commands, in the affirmative (“Do it! Take the money!”) and negative (“Don’t do it! Don’t take the money”) and Opposite Words: “It’s good / It’s bad”, “It’s all right / It’s wrong” and “You’ll be happy / He’ll be sad”, etc.) in our mini-play “Good versus Evil”. Here to the right, the Devil is winning, but it’s not the end yet. There is a morally sound (and happy) ending to this little play and the kids really learn a lot of words – as well as making the right moral choices, and coming up with reasons why – on their own :). 

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Above left: I love when parents attend a workshop and remain throughout the workshop, to see for themselves what kind of fun their child is having. It also adds to the dynamic!  Plus the parents can improve their English by being there, and continue the fun at home.  This is a dress rehearsal but really like a first performance. The scripted lines which the kids use for literacy practice, as well as for the play, were taken away later 😉

Above right: Performance of “Red, Yellow, Green!” (an ESL play for children by Shelly Vernon), which involves a first-time bus driver – who doesn’t know what the colors mean on the traffic lights! The passengers explain it to him.

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Above: First graders draw a picture carefully, thinking about what they are drawing, and why. Then they tell me and each other all about it. Everyone also learns how to ask questions in English about each others’ work. I encourage the children to ask questions to do with nature and science,  world history, art, Famous People, geography … or improvised story-telling questions with words like where, when, how, what happened, etc… A video recording is sent home, and parents can ask the child further questions. They will reinforce the child’s sense of ownership, and make him or her an expert.

As a parent, I would want to know as much as I can about what is going on in my son or daughter’s class time. I would be curious to see and hear what they see and hear, what they play with, and see how they react to their experience in “real time”.

I would love to see my child in the actual process of learning.  I would be curious to know:

  • What they are doing, and how.

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Above: Comic skit – identifying and locating human organs.  The surgeon is new and it’s his first surgery! He got so nervous that he forgot where the organs are on the human body.  The others in the picture “take time off their job” and come to help him :).  Many parents and the classroom teacher are also there to observe the operation.

  • How  kids are able to remember and say so much about the city of Prague and the customs and history of the Czech Republic … in English! They can talk about their native country as well:

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Above:  A wonderful third grader, taking part in a presentation on Prague and the Czech Republic, and who loves my Famous People dolls, asked me if I had one of the Czech President, Miloš Zeman.   When I said no, but to find a doll that looks like him, she delved into my huge collection, and chose the presenter of “the Muppet Show” to represent him.  I must say, she made quite a good choice!  🙂

img_4714  Talented Czech-Dutch and Czech-Syrian and straight-up Czech third graders pose for  photos after giving a wonderful English-language presentation on Prague and the Czech Republic. They are the perfect “home ambassadors”!

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A first grader, half Czech, half Japanese, shows Japan on the map, introduces herself and shares some of her international origins in English.

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A first grader of Indian and Czech descent does the same.

Any parent knows full well how it feels to not be sure what is going on in the classroom of his or her child, and to wonder if the teacher’s word is enough.

Yes, there is parent-teacher communication by phone, email or in person. There are parent-teacher open house afternoons, and there are conferences and consultations. Some parents bring their children to such meetings.

But as a parent, you already know that the teacher’s word – while presumably sincere – will never FULLY reveal to a parent how a child is doing – not in every detail – unless the parent is IN the classroom while the teacher and the child are doing their job.

And even when your own child tells you things, you don’t always understand the full context behind the “wild” and “fantastical” things that he or she shares with you at the dinner table one evening. Wouldn’t you be curious to see what your son or daughter means when he or she tells you that “Queen Elizabeth made R2D2 a knight?”

As as a parent, you know that being present in the classroom on a regular basis is not possible for many reasons.

 All the more reason to see your child on stage or on video, reporting or performing! HAVE THE PROOF in front of you.  

The proof that your child can:

  • Listen and focus –

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Children in character, listening to others performing, and waiting their turn to speak

  • Impersonate others

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Second grader role-playing as Frida Khalo doing a self-portrait.

  • Learn, then SHOW others some scientific concepts, through a true story in American history …

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Above: Benjamin Franklin’s very dangerous experiment with a key, a kite and a storm, proving to George Washington that lightning is made of electricity.  Dramatized by first grade boys.

  • … or explain a possible true story in Earth’s history.

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A second-grader explains, through words and dramatization, how the dinosaurs went extinct.

  • Get a basic understanding of the public transport routes of a foreign city

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Above: Third grader explains the basics of getting around London’s Underground.

  • Do role play with a sense of humor.

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Kids enjoy make-believe even more when you give them some real data and facts to work with.  They love make-believe when they feel what they are doing is authentic:  knowing about hygiene and disinfection, germs, a cold operating theater, etc. … More anatomy practice … the kids must name the organs, say where they are using prepositions (“The stomach is under the lungs, the heart is behind the left lung”.  (Well, it is, using the paper models. )  In particular, children love performing transplant surgery :). 

 Performance: what better way to KNOW in advance that your child’s time – or yours – is NOT being wasted?

That:

  •  he or she is having FUN while learning something useful?

first-graders-and-world-map-puzzle  Playing Geography Professors

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A first grader describes tastes: this one is pomegranate syrup from her home country – which she describes as “sweet, sour and a little bitter”.  Sooner or later, everyone in the class wanted to take a turn, take a risk, try something, and say what it was like, in a kind of “taste survey”. (I kept them away from extremely spicy tastes, however, sticking to mild sweet chili sauces, pomegranate syrup as pictured above, mustard, dark chocolate, soy sauce, sesame seed oil and a few other non-extreme flavors of food.)

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Welcome to the Tasting Festival! Here, first graders can taste a variety of flavors ranging from sweet, sour, salty, bitter, even spicy.  The tasting is optional; no one is forced, and with free choice come many volunteers :).  The children taste from a variety of sauces using tiny amounts on disposable wooden sticks.  We added a telephone to call for an ambulance because their teacher (me) tasted wasabi (I told them it was too spicy for them and if absolutely necessary, to ask their parents if they can taste wasabi at home in their own time.)  They loved watching me pretend that my mouth, ears and nose were on fire, and willingly got into role-play to call the ambulance!

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A Czech third-grader plays doctor at a “holistic clinic” where only natural medicine is allowed and where “patients” are given advice on living a healthy lifestyle, as well as targeting specific health problems with holistic solutions. We discuss the problems (as experienced by the students themselves or vicariously through their families and friends) and we research the solutions together as a class. Extension:  the children get into character (doctor, nurse and patients) and we make a dramatic premise: a group of people stranded in the jungle after a plane crash.  Until help arrives, they must make the most of the natural resources there, including for matters of health.

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First graders playing at paleontologists, museum curators, professors, inspecting and cleaning “mammoth bones” (from a 3D puzzle) or describing other artifacts (I use real fossils such as trilobites, ammonites, petrified wood, animals trapped in amber, and more geologically recent items like lava rocks and giant pine cones from the Sequoia Park area of central California).

The 3D mammoth puzzle comes apart easily, so she had to be very careful with her brushing ;).   It never hurts for us all to practice being careful with things! There is no hurry, just a job done properly :).

Children must look on the other side of the fossils which are documented with their age (in millions of years), and answer my questions (I play student and they play the experts.)

  • he or she is becoming more confident – with English reading, writing and REPORTING OUT  “from” any place in the world? Like LONDON …

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Third grade girls posing proudly after completing a detailed presentation of London.

Second grade boys show off a 3D map of London, a London pop-up book and a Queen’s Guard visiting the Tower of London.  The custodian of the Tower is on the right, the Beefeater teddy bear with the flowers in his hat.

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What is old and what is new? A child shows and explains that “the doll is new”, the person is “very old” (from the past, not living), and that the book is “very old too. Published in 1813!” “What is the name of the book?” “Shakespeare’s Theatre”.

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  • he or she can do a presentation on the famous English Henry the Eighth, or on USA presidents, USA history and geography … and practice ordinal numbers as well as learn the country’s history and culture.

danny-third-grade-with-george-washington-and-the-declaration-of-independence-usa-history  Left: third grader explains the beginnings of US political  history as an independent nation.

Above right and below right: first graders learning ordinal numbers (“the first president, the sixteenth president, the forty-forth president”/ “Henry’s first wife, second wife … last wife”, etc. ) and a bit about US history, before introducing the President dolls and reporting out. first-graders-misa-louisa-and-tania-and-the-usa-famous-people-misa-michael-louisa-and-tania-with-obama-washington-lincoln

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Above left:  second graders complete a 3D puzzle map of the USA.  The final touch = the great Rocky Mountains! First the girls will fit the mountains in the indicated area.  Then we remove them for a moment, to see how many states they include, and which states those are. Later in the lesson, they will report back to me (and everyone else) what they learned and practiced to say.

  • you are making a worthy investment in your child’s multidisciplinary and global education? And in their and social development?

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First graders match text to the planets, practicing literacy, then answer questions out loud.  Finally, they present the planets and their characteristics on their own, sometimes using puppets as the “presenters”. Note: the text strip “I am not a real planet” was moved to the paper strip with the word “Pluto”, but only after the photo was taken.

  • your child is making efforts to learn, without knowing it, because his job is to make his favorite toys “come to life”?

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Above: Third grade boys blend real life 16th century samurai Myamoto Musashi with Star Wars characters, and create a story. I help them with the words but the plot is their creation. Here, Myamoto Musashi, a famous 16th century samurai, goes to the Future and meets both Yoda and Darth Vader. He must choose between the Light and the Dark sides of the Force. We use ideas from reading selected pages of this Star Wars book, or from any book!

Below, a second grader recreates the story of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” with modelling clay, and then tells the story in English, showing the pictures one by one to match them to the words she speaks. I also emphasize connectives – words like “and”, “but” and transitional words like “first”, “then”, “finally”, etc.

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  • and reading (in English and in the home language too) becomes a PLEASURE, if it is part of a script or a “zombie restaurant” menu –

img_4553  Left: a first grade Zombie chef can read out the menu, and help the customers to read it as well, if they need help.  Kids learn how to read very quickly, on average.  Especially if reading (and calling things out loud) produce hilarious results: like getting a roasted monkey for dinner and it comes to life!

  • Perhaps your child loves getting to know the funny Famous People dolls in every English class …

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Second grade girls create a little performance using Carmen, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Mozart, the latter playing his music while the the famous opera character and famous authors dance to his music.

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We’ve been having so much fun! da-vinci-and-his-mona-lisa-nikola-first-gradevan-gogh-doll-painting-picture-margaret-first-grade margaret-first-grade-and-einstein-by-his-name-on-board-famous-people-lesson

Above: Children and adults alike love the Famous People dolls, which include painters Frida Khalo, Monet and Van Gogh, leaders Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth I, presidents George Washington and Barack Obama, samurai warrior Myamoto Musashi, composers Beethoven and Mozart, writers Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, shakers and movers like African-American W.E. Dubois, and scientists Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.

Indeed …

There is no better way for your child to learn English or anything else – than through performance.   There is no better way for YOU, the parent, to know, to empirically see and hear the RESULTS of your child’s learning, like performance.

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Above:  a successful end to a great performance for parents and loved ones –

Because, when a child acts out the words through play, and prepares for a performance, he or she will never forget those words! Or the concepts behind them. Ever.

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Above:  First graders as Camerawoman, Mozart, Professor of Letters, “Mini-Mozart”, and Film Director for the class production of The Alphabet Song.

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Foreign languages, drama and children: A winning combination!

You know your son or daughter is an extraordinary child. Now it’s time to make your son or daughter a GLOBAL child. How better to do this than introduce them to a foreign language – or even three? And what better means than through drama?

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It is widely accepted that children are “open” to learning new languages. It is also no secret that most children are excited at the prospect of performing and being at the center of attention. Global Kids Drama brings together English (or Spanish and French, depending on the group), multi-disciplinary lessons using Montessori principles and methodology, with a dramatic expression.  Every workshop involves public speaking, performance, recording on video (upon agreement with every child and with every child’s parents), for an experience that no child can ever forget!

Global Kids Through Drama and English workshops help children to become sophisticated, worldly individuals.  They can do more than just speak a few words in English, (or any target language of the class: Spanish or French may be included or taught exclusively.)  Through diverse methods (games, songs, dances, mini-plays and art projects), children will have the opportunity to learn about the colorful history and culture of nations in six continents and to talk openly about the world. As part of the Global Kids Drama Workshop experience, children can learn to integrate into any company, anytime and anywhere – by having the confidence to not only to converse but to entertain others – in a language not their own.   Globally minded, multi-lingual children – including children who just started learning a new language –  confidently make connections with people and places in countries or cultures different from their own.

Global Kids Through Drama and English workshops also aim at teaching  practical skills for every day life – all mini-plays, comedies, songs and fun, active or artistic word games involve telling the time, reading (and making) weather forecasts, finding ingredients on labels, or for tricky travel situations.   Children learn how to help their parents in tricky travel situations:  choosing a destination, booking a flight, how to pack, airport rules and procedures; they can help their parents navigate a map of London’s Underground, or New York City’s subway … Oh, and of course, they know what to do (because we practice this in class) if they get separated from their parents, and must turn to the right stranger to get help … in English!

The most important thing of all?  The children become presenters, and by extension, experts and teachers – to their own parents who are watching them perform Every kind of “expert” can be found in the drama classroom:

  • paleontologists and curators of a Natural History museum, using my collection of minerals and rocks from my many trips in nature around the world.   Some children put on an ” Indiana Jones” costume and show artifacts that presenting the phases and details of life on Earth LONG before the dinosaurs, as well as during the dinosaur era and our modern era.

(add compilation video of “paleontologists” here.)

  •   They might role-play as Picasso getting into trouble with his teachers and being sent to “detention” – where they can comically show a happy artist “in the making”, who does not mind so much that the teacher punished him, because he can now draw in isolation and silence :).

(find and add picasso role play video here)

  • Children can play the role of  “art critic”or “apprentice”too, standing next to the famous artist.  They have a great role to play as well as the “artist”.   They can tell me, or a parent who is watching: “Be quiet!” and not to disturb  Leonardo Da Vinci , because “he has been working on this painting (the Mona Lisa) for three years. He is concentrating.”

It is a common enough occurrence for a parent to attend a Global Kids performance or watch a video of the children, and say:That was enlightening! I actually learned something that I didn’t already know.

Thus, the children, seeing themselves passing on their learning to adults, fully own their education.   And THAT does wonders for the child’s self-esteem, like NOTHING else!

Both language practice and theatrical performance help children to work together, solve problems, achieve fun, worthwhile goals, and develop empathy and tolerance.

What makes Global Kids Through Drama and English Workshops an  extra-special experience?

  • The CONTENT (funny, every-day situations set in many different countries or cultures around the world – or in different periods of history) the method (art, music and drama).
  • The unique – and incredibly FUN MATERIALS (authentic materials from around the world, food, currency, scores of costumes and clothes – some from the target language country – and literally hundreds of props)
  • The PERFORMANCE.  Every moment of Global Kids workshops contains some level of performance.  The children learn new concepts and the English words for those concepts with holistic Montessori-style practice (Montessori materials, methodology and philosophy) and work towards a performance which takes place in the last part of the workshop.   I encourage lots of comedy because, as children inherently know, laughter is the most important way to know that you are happy – and it makes others happy, too!

This rich combination – (interesting content  + original materials + Montessori-style learning + performance (with a comic twist)) – guarantees that children experience the world from different perspectives.  It guarantees that they will be far more confident in “foreign” or “out-of-comfort-zone” situations. 

Another benefit to including drama in every language lesson is that it improves a child’s abilities in many academic and life skills.  It has been shown that drama  increases literacy skills in ANY language (including their own).   Drama increases a student’s skills in the  visual arts, in the learning of sciences, in geography, in world history, and of course, in communication skills.  Here are some sample videos of young students “becoming experts” even while they are learning!  All through play and performance 🙂

In the grown-up world,  confident communication skills increase positive outcomes in  networking with others, in business and travel, in creating positive and useful connections and relationships.   Combining drama with English helps children to what to do when one of life’s  challenges appears unexpectedly.  Drama helps us to be “psychologically ready” and to “know what to say”.

(find and insert video on children training for “On holiday: I lost my parents.  Which stranger do I ask for help from?” lesson.)

Drama and is a perfect complement to school and preparation for any child’s higher education.  Make the child the expert and that child will NEVER forget the words that he or she learned in that “play-session”, nor the content of the subject or discipline in question.  I asked some review questions to the “presenters” of the video below – three months after we made the video together.  They remembered nearly everything they presented about Paris and France – including the English words!

 

Most importantly, foreign language through drama allows EVERY KIND OF CHILD to confidently enjoy visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile experiences, which are inevitably include every kind of child into the lesson: from the most outgoing to the the most introverted and even the shyest of children.   Hearing the lines, speaking or responding, seeing the actions and reacting,  feeling the props, acting out the movements and using unique learning materials, funny toys, authentic souvenirs and realia, will inspire EVERY child to make his or her unique contribution to the stage … and then to the world.  And not only as a successful foreign language learner – but as a sophisticated global citizen!

To paraphrase the one and only Shelley Vernon, an international speaker and author on ESL/EFL for children:

Foreign languages, drama and children: A winning combination!

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