Racing Through The Alphabet

The kids were getting restless at the starting line. As the volunteers called out the student’s names, two came to life with excitement and rushed over to receive the ball they would use to complete the relay. The stakes were high— if the students didn’t remember what they were supposed to shout when they reached the finish line, they wouldn’t be allowed to pass the ball to their teammates. Beforehand, we reviewed the magic words and practiced how to enunciate them; however, apple and ball are not easy to remember when you’re running full speed ahead and being cheerfully encouraged by your teammates! The more we played and practiced, almost every student was able to pronounce and associate “A” for apple and “B” for ball. They had passed the “test” and their second week of English! Children play a lively game as they learn their ABC's.

There are many different ways to retain information, but are some teaching techniques better than others? It doesn’t take a particularly astute teacher to notice when students do not enjoy a lesson. One of the challenges I’ve faced teaching ESL in TYO’s Early Childhood CORE Program has been to figure out ways to engage many different learning styles in one lesson. TYO’s non-formal education curriculum strives to incorporate creative ways to approach the valuable subject matter without sacrificing one crucial aspect: fun. What better way to do that than structured play? There is a large body of research in the fields of education and psychology that suggest learning through play does not confine the material being taught to a classroom, and ultimately helps foster a love of learning. As summarized in the New York Times article “Let the Kids Learn Through Play”, research suggests that traditional, didactic approaches to learning may end up hindering a student’s overall progress. This is terrific news for the work I am doing here at TYO because the ultimate goal of the program is to keep the students mentally and physically engaged, and having fun!

I have found that the more the students’ bodies are active, their minds’ are more active too. It has become clear that between the two different age groups: 4-5 and 6-8 year olds, physical activity not only helps them remember the material by keeping them on their toes, but also teaches them to listen closely to directions, to wait their turn, and to speak up. Working with both the AM and PM programs, I recognized one-on-one time was going to be tricky. I decided to dedicate the beginning of each class to roll call and a mini conversation with me, and then dive into the new lesson. At first, there were a number of students apprehensive about coming to the front of the room and repeating after me. English is a foreign language after all, and I was a strange face. However, it has been extremely rewarding to see students becoming more familiar with the material and building confidence in their English abilities. Now almost every student comes to the front of the room with a big grin and assuredly repeats my salutations and answers my questions. I’ve found high-fives are a great incentive to encourage participation!

Ultimately, as our exploration of the English language expands out of the traditional classroom, I expect to see continued academic and personal growth in these students. We have spent the past two weeks building trust in one another, setting the class structure, and finding our rhythm. I am excited to have some more fun as we continue to run through the building blocks of the English language: the ABCs!

-Sarah, Fall 2015 Intern