Language learning and teaching is a great experience for students, for their teacher, for everyone. Why? Because, by its very nature, as a means of communication, language is not only a subject but a medium. As such, teaching English, for example, allows for the teaching and learning of many subjects, in a fun and innovative way, for everyone’s pleasure. There is no reason why children cannot learn English and world geography, English and world history, English and some science, such as biology, chemistry or physics, encased in the wonderful world of Earth History or the origins of life and Evolution. When a teacher is teaching English to his or her students, there is the opportunity to teach every subject under the sun, and to find ways to make a subject or theme fascinating.
The workshops I conceive and teach are often multi-disciplinary; they include several subjects or disciplines all inclusively in one lesson. Hence my love of Maria Montessori’s Great Lessons, for example, which involve astronomy, chemistry, physics, meteorology, biology, the origins of life and evolution, zoology, prehistory, history … and methods which give both children and and adults a perspective of their (our) place in the Universe. There is a wonderful moral behind all it all: learning and respecting the past because of its contributions to our present which is all around us – and what kind of “history” we are responsible for creating in order to provide benefits to those who follow us.
Here are the subjects that are often included in an English lesson, whose fundamentals inspire children to learn about the subjects in more detail at home, or with their main classroom teachers (and with their “specialist teachers” in upper elementary school / high school and beyond):
- Zoology (animal classification game – very active!)
- The Story of Evolution
- Earth Science and History
- World Geography (physical)
- Weather, Climate and the basics of Meteorology
- The Solar System and Astronomy
- Arithmetic (for the younger students – taught using concrete-to-abstract methods, the Montessori way) with Montessori materials.
- PEOPLE AND PLACES
- World History and Culture
- World Geography (political)
Games With Aims: here are some examples of the activities that I include in my workshops. They get children’s attention and they provide children with the means to really internalise the concepts. They are games which include every type of learner – the reader and/or writer, the speaker, the visual learner, the kinesthetic learner, the extraverted children and the more introverted ones. Sometimes these games end up having a theatrical basis. Then they become performances. The children and I add fiction to the concepts. At the very least, there is a premise:
Famous People Impersonations: Why use traditional premises – each other – to practice questions and answers to do with personal identification? Of course, I use these – but children love role-play and they love painting – or pretending to paint – so one class favourite is impersonating a famous artist. I have students sit down on a stool, put a poster or good quality copy on canvas of a famous masterpiece. The student pretends to be this artist and the class asks him or her questions about his name, his country of origin, what he is doing right now, and even what kind of painting style or movement is involved. The same can be done for impersonating a scientist, a musical composer or a leader like Gandhi or Queen Elizabeth I. Not to mention the potential for comedy in these role plays :).
Physical Geography Games and Activities: matching biome pieces to a large world map in a puzzle type of activity; adding labels to name the biomes, then adding animals to the biomes from an answer key. I show the children what to do, and then leave them to do it, coming back to check on their work and to help them with anything they need. At the end, they tell me (out loud, in English) what they did, and how they did it. They end up knowing the major biomes and ecosystems of the world and what kinds of animals live there. They can also tell me features of the animals that allow those animals to live there; hence the Siberian tiger is often white, to camouflage himself in the snow; the polar bear has a shape of face and body that is more “projectile” than his grizzly cousin to the south, because the polar bear must use his projectile shape to swim through dense, cold water; the individual hair of his fur is “transparent” in order him to better “blend in” in his snowy white habitat.
Animal Classification Games: I create a line of life species and animals (plush toys made of cloth) that represent the basics of each stage of our Evolutionary history. I start with a big blue bacteria plush toy, then a sponge, then a jellyfish, then a trilobite, a fish, some insects, some amphibians (a frog and a salamander toy), reptiles (with some dinosaur toys included), one small mammal (which I place in the same space together with the reptiles), and finally, a larger group of mammals. At the end of the mammal group, I include a plush toy of an ape, and then some Famous People dolls of the children’s choice.
For more advanced children, I add a time-line which includes the billions/millions/thousands of years ago that the different species are thought to have appeared.
For all levels, I include labels with the name of the animal classification.
I explain the characteristics of each animal group (if the children are young, I do not explain that bacteria is a separate species of life and technically not an animal, unless someone asks first, showing previous knowledge of this distinction.)
Then children, divided in half, sit on each side of the “Evolution line” of animals. Based on the animal group called out (by me but also by individual children in turns), the children sitting down must stand up, grab a representative animal, and run to the other side. When all the animals have been picked up, the children return them to their correct position on the Evolution-Animal Class “time-line”, and we start again.
Solar System Games and Lessons:
Together as a group, I present and we discuss the planets and the Sun of our Solar System. I do a brief introduction with models and sometimes also (briefly) use media (slideshows and videos) for this purpose. Then we do a simple song together, with the melody from “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” that involve the planets their basic differences (rocky versus gassy), and the order of their distance from the Sun. Then we discuss each planet (plus the Sun)’s characteristics, including text/image matching activities plus listening activities. We also include kinesthetic learning, acting it out, with each student taking the role of a planet / the Sun. This final activity may be in the middle of the lesson or even closer to the beginning, depending on the mood and pace of the class. Students often make the labels and short textual descriptions / characteristics for the planets and Sun.
A standard World Geography lesson can involve the students taking on the role of “professor” while I am the student. I am a demanding student, and keep interrupting them during their “office hours” with my many questions.
Then there are the geometry lessons for kids as young as 4 or 5, which I always teach to first graders in cooperation with their classroom teachers: shapes both 2D and 3D, identifying them in nature and in our environment. I also introduce monuments from around the world and students identify the 2D and 3D shapes in these monuments – and where these monuments are located (city and country) – tying maths to world geography, culture and history.
Sometimes a lesson can be pure performance, where the students spend the entire time rehearsing for the single purpose of performing. Performances can be on a “stage” or they can be videos. They can be during class, at the end of class, or for a special event in the school calendar. The “performance on video” can involve the students themselves, doing a fictitious story, a “talent show”, a collection of mini-plays and songs, or using toys. In the case of toys, the students breathing life into the dolls and toy animals of their choice.
Clips of various performances can be seen on the Performances page. Below are basic descriptions of the performances that children have done in English (as their second, non-native language).
- the classic grade school performance – made up of mini plays, songs and dances
- documentaries of cities and countries – including 3D maps, visual media, souvenirs, foods, pictures of historic buildings and the destination’s history itself.
- fantasy stories created from Famous People dolls and other toys, sometimes with sound and visual media for background effect. Facts provided by the teacher; the story created by children.