Limited content, maximising skill practise!

Above are the numbers 1 to 10 in Swedish.Today working with a group of primary teachers with a range of language competency and different target language knowledge, we considered how a little content can go along way to exploring skills of language learning and primary approaches to learning in general.

Sometimes we get tangled up in content and quantity of content. Progress in language learning is surely also about the development of useful learning skills. Just how do we, as the grown ups in the room, know which language our young learners may use in the future? What we do all know though, is that the skills of learning a language are transferable and no matter how extensive or limited our own skills are, it is these skills that have allowed us to access language and communication.we can set up activities with limited content that support the development of language learning skills.

Today with a new group of coordinators we set about exploring this and how this could be taken back to school, shared in a staff CPD and  how members of staff could be encouraged to try oout the activities and allow for embedding of language learning as a natural part of the class learning time.

Initially we were exploring "listening attentively and responding by joining in"(a DFE learning objective).You see, when it is new language you need to listen and physically respond before you want to speak on your own.I decided to look at Swedish, firstly  because I know some numbers and secondly because I hoped none of the others in the room would know any Swedish ! It worked a treat!. We discussed engagement of the learner  too - just why should a learner listen? How we need to give purpose and reason to a simple activity such as listening and responding and then repeating the sounds.Well in this instance the listening was necessary to participate in the games that followed. We also discussed how so many learners need to see the words too - so we wrote them down on the third time of listening and there was relief on some faces! I understand this perfectly as my hearing isn't that good - and probably never has been, but I love words and the look and shape of words!  

This led to a pair activity where I just asked the delegates to talk with a partner about any links whatsoever they could see between the Swedish numbers as both sounds and words with other languages.Brilliant - they were now trying to recall,to say and to read the words ....without actually realising how many times they were practising the Swedish. I added a twist by asking the teachers to look for and say the nubers that had two consonants at the start of the numbers.To only say the numbers that were CVC words at the start, to only say the numbers that had the "oh" sound in them etc! Links with literacy etc etc .....

Hopefully here you are getting the drift that a limited amount of teacher knowledge, input and content was taking these learners of Swedish on quite a journey .Now we were in to reading and recognition of familiar words, looking for hooks to recognise and remember words too and saying the new words independently for a partner in  non-threatening activities!

There were quite a few light bulb moments  in this session about limited content and maximising skills but the best one was when we started tapping on the table! (It works every time!) Firstly in pairs all they did, was one partner tapped out the number of taps to represent a number they had learned and the other partner had to really listen attentively and then identify the number and say the number in Swedish. Then the challenge was increased- tapping out two numbers practising the word for "plus" and asking the partner to say the sum but not the answer.Sometimes the answer to the sum was beyond the 1- 10 they knew so we  discussed how a written response as figures on whiteboards would work here. It also led to one group identifying that at this point some children would realise the power of the dictionary to find the new number that they didn't know and to attempt the pronunciation with prior phonic knowledge from 1-10! 

And there's more! A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about Revisiting numbers and physcial listening and responding. . This activity works so well here! We began to consider how this could be a PE activity , how we could make this a drama activity for example each number could be a different shape in a spooky Halloween wood or it could be table activity led by one of the children on each table......

What we  had explored by this time in the session was the skills of listening, speaking, reading , the use of the bilingual dictionary , links between sounds and letter combinations and ways to take 10 simple numbers out of the language curriculum silo and across the whole school curriculum! Limited content, maximising skill practise and hopefully engaging staff not only in delivery in their own classroom but also in discussion about the skills of learning a language