Early last month, I facilitated a series of teacher training workshops for True Thailand Communications as part of the group’s corporate social responsibility initiatives. “Plookpanya” is Thai for ‘growing wisdom’ and this project provides teacher development tailored specifically for 30 primary English language teachers working in rural schools.
The True Corporation decided to offer this crucial support to help meet the future language needs Thai primary English language learners. The future goal is to enable them to participate in ASEAN, made up of 10 countries from the region, where English is the common language. I was asked to craft a range of stimulating workshops to help the primary teachers develop their learners’ creativity in English through fun and physical age-appropriate approaches.
As a major believer in the power of authentic children’s literature for language learning and as a trainer who’s passionate about storytelling, I based the workshops around a children’s picturebook as an engaging ‘entry point’ or ‘thread’. The activity and task cycles which I demonstrated during the workshops were particularly inspired by Carol Read’s IATEFL YLTSIG newsletter article, ‘Scaffolding children’s learning through story and drama’
So, out came my magic carpet and storytelling hat and the teachers and I went on a magical journey into the jungle with one of my all-time favourites, ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ by Gilles Andreae (Orchard Books). Before taking on the roles of children and coming to listen to the story on the carpet, we created the atmosphere of the jungle with some enchanting drama activities. We also played some flashcard games to introduce the names of the jungle animals and the dances. The teachers had great fun doing the dances to my musical extracts and the splendid Scottish reel was a real hit!
My next workshop was all about creative ways to help children act out and retell the stories using simplified English to show understanding. This was a great opportunity for even more drama and we played a ‘hot seating’ role play in groups with the teachers taking turns to play the main character and give advice. I demonstrated lots of fun and physical drilling techniques to help build a dialogue between the two main characters which they then acted out in pairs. The teachers’ favourite affective drills were the crocodile mouth and the football fan wave for sentence stress, intonation and rhythm! Then came the time to get arty! I demonstrated how to make a zig zag book to give the children writing practice and retell the story in their own words with teacher support. Hands on really was minds on! The teachers were fully engrossed in telling the story in their own individual way and then illustrating beautifully. We displayed their mini books around the classroom and then had a carousel activity like in an art gallery where they got to read each other’s. This also helped to show an idea for making reading active and dynamic for primary children.
For the final practical workshop, I helped the teachers to ‘transfer’ the language and theme of the story back to the communicative context of the primary English classroom. One of the most creative and engaging ways to do this in my experience is through music and song! As children move through the primary years, they often become too ‘cool’ for coursebook songs and want real songs in their English lessons. With this in mind, I started the session with a demonstration of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ with actions created by a colleague and I, including our very own rendition of the New Zealand Haka for the chorus – see if you can match the moves to the words at home or in your classroom! This really got the teachers in the mood for more singing and so I took the opportunity to help them to personalise a pop song for upper primary.
Feeling especially inspired recently by Joan Kang Shin’s excellent work with songs in primary ELT, I brought in Joan’s recommended Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. In case you don’t know the song, it’s about New York City, and all of the references in the rap and chorus refer to places and people there. I had the now highly engaged and super creative teachers work in groups to adapt this song to their learners’ hometowns around Thailand! They said they loved rapping and even sang and recorded their versions on their mobile devices using the app Red Karaoke! The best part was that they all said in their feedback that their upper primary learners would be really motivated to practise using English by singing and rapping about their own city and people. If you are interested in finding other songs about cities wherever you are in the world, you can search for them on Spotimap by Javier Arce http://javierarce.com/spotimap
Wishing you as much creative enjoyment in your classrooms as I had during the workshops for True Plookpanya!