Back-to-school fluency enhancing activities

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Fluency refers to how well a learner communicates meaning rather than how many mistakes they make in grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. Fluency is often compared with accuracy, which is concerned with the type, amount and seriousness of mistakes made.

I personally, don’t believe that  fluency is a goal worth striving towards only with students who are at a fairly advanced level. I firmly believe  that the learning of a language is about communication, and I  feel that fluency should be the main goal in our teaching and that it should be practiced right from the start.

More traditional teachers may tend to give accuracy greater importance;In my classes, I tend towards fluency.

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Of course, we learn a language for communication, so I think that if a student is fluent but not accurate, it is still important to check whether the mistakes or errors can not block communication. Otherwise we need to correct any mistake that can be an obstacle to communication. I just want to stress out that being fluent without being accurate is not the issue we should focus on if communication is taking place effectively.

Let’s be honest: in terms of preparation for the world outside the classroom, fluency is sometimes even more important than accuracy.

Why I am more interested in fluency than accuracy in the early stages of language acquisition? Because,  I think back to my own elementary school days… I disliked teachers who singled out students for correction. I think correcting speech is counter-productive to learning. I think some students are initially going to have a difficult time learning English due to not comprehending what is being said and also due to vocalizing new words. So, if I correct everything said, students might feel that English is too difficult. They may perhaps tune out and/or become embarrassed and may develop a negative attitude to English.

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The most important thing for me has been to recall the wonderful teachers I have had in the past with a view to modeling them as much as possible in my own classrooms. And I have found reflecting on the outcome of my lessons brought me closer to the ideal. This I found was a positive way for me to improve my teaching and create an ever more joyful atmosphere for the learning of English as a foreign language for my young students.

Actually, I have realized that, it’s usually easier to become more accurate in a language!  Fluency is harder to master, so that’s what we should focus on at first, even  in the beginning of the school year! Especially, then!

An example I can give, comes from a close friend of mine, who loves learning languages. This is what she has told me…:”A long time ago when I learned French in a “Frontisterio” (  private Language Institutions in Greece) , the language teachers believed that the most important thing was grammar. So I learned French grammar very well—even to this day I am proficient. But I can hardly speak a sentence of French because no one cared about my fluency—only my accuracy.”

All in all, quite an important factor in education towards  cooperation, is the teacher’s attitude. If she favors a cooperative style of teaching generally and does not shy away from the greater workload connected with group work or projects, if she uses activities to increase fluency, then the conditions for learning to cooperate and develop fluency,  are good. The atmosphere within a class  can largely be determined by the teacher, who – quite often without being aware of it – sets the tone by choosing certain teaching methodology and practices.

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Activities that help to develop fluency focus on communication- for example discussions, speaking games, presentations…..

Here are just few ideas for icebreaker and fluency activities, suitable for a wide rage of students, which have worked in my classes.

a) Start with a ball of yarn.Say your name and an interesting fact about yourself.Then, holding an end, toss the ball to a student.The student will say his/her name and an interesting fact , then holding on to part of the yarn,toss the ball to another student.By the time everyone has spoken, there will be a large web of yarn that can be displayed on the bulletin board with thumb tacks, if you want!

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(This activity is excellent as a review tool, too.Each student says something about the subject, , then tosses the yarn)

b) Split the students in pairs. Each pair will have 30 seconds to find 5 things they have in common.At the end of the 30 seconds, put two pairs together and give the four a minute or so to find something all four students have in common.

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Finally, each group can present the list of things they have in common.(You can use this activity, to form student groups, too)

c)Pass around, a bag of M&Ms.Tell the students to take as many as they want.Once all the students have M&Ms, tell them that for each M&M, they took, they have to say/write one thing about themselves. For instance, if a student took 10 M&Ms , they would have to say/write 10 things about themselves, different for each color.

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Examples:

Green: something about school

Red: something about my family

Blue: something about my hobbies

Yellow: something about my future plans

Brown: something about my friends

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(Variation-use a roll of toilet paper, instead of M&Ms)

 

d)Me in a bag, has been one of my most favorite activities, for many years now…

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I put a few items that represent me in a large paper sack.I put a paintbrush because I love drawing, my favorite book , my favorite CD, a cookbook etc

The students, guess the significance of each item as I pull it out of the bag.This discussion helps the kids to know me as a person.

Each student then, has a turn to bring in his/her own ” Me in a Bag”, giving everyone in the class the chance to shine!

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e)Another fluency activity that I love, is “My timeline” or ” My numbers”.

I start the lesson by drawing a line on the board and and write important dates of my life on it.

Students ask me questions about my life to get them as answers.

For homework, students draw their own timelines.and they talk in pairs about them. I walk around listening…

Brainstorming!

Students playing and having fun, while learning new languages!

f) Music mingle , is also one of my favorite fluency activities.

Move with the music, stop when it stops, grab a partner and talk about a happy memory ( or anything else, eg holidays, favorites etc) until music starts again….

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g)True or False activities ,have always been my favorite ones!

I write 4 facts about myself and read them to my students. 3 facts are true but 1 is false.

Students take my little true-false test.Then, I survey students to learn the results. We go back over each question to see what they  thought about each statement.

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That gives a chance to tell them a little about me.

Then, on a sheet of paper, students write 3 interesting facts about themselves that are true and 1 that is false. A class discussion starts.

h)Open questions session: Sometimes, just a simple opportunity to ask questions, can benefit our class. When I have a few minutes, I open the floor for my older students to ask me questions.,They can be about anything! They just love it!

Learning a foreign language is not just a matter of memorizing a different set of names for the things around us… it is also an educational experience.

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Whatever the activity, think through the language they will need to complete it and include some kind of post-activity focus on form slot. Variety is important as anything can become dull if it’s done too often and is thus predictable. Vary the task, the seating arrangements, group size and materials used.

Good luck!

9 All about me: this is another favourite project of mine! We spend at least two lessons on it.First , I start by asking them to play the guessing game "Me in a bag": I take out of a bag several objects which have to do with my life and interests and ask the class to guess how they are related to me! I ask them to do the same during our next lesson for themselves and challenge their classmates to guess about them! Finally, they are assigned to write everything they consider important about themselves on this paper figure which is displayed on the classroom walls!

A touching Skype meeting with a school in Turkey

To start with, that  Skype meeting, is an example of how languages promote Peace and Friendship !

mos15skype10Teachers do not need to find notable people to benefit from using Skype. Simply connecting with another classroom provides an educational experience that cannot be found in a traditional classroom setting!
Skype meetings have been  the most powerful experiences for my  students , as Skype enables students to connect, collaborate, and communicate with other students across the globe.It creates an opportunity for students to learn from each other, to have authentic audiences for their work, and to meet others who can further their learning.

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Classroom-to-classroom Skype conferences have also proven useful in teaching english. Students are afforded the chance to practice speaking the language with other ELT  speakers.

We didn’t  have a laptop and wifi access at school, until two years ago!…We have taken part in several Skype meeting with partners abroad, since then.

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Generally, the one-on-one Skype video chats provided my students  with not only valuable grammar and pronunciation practice, but also improved the conversational skills, such as negotiating meaning, that are essential to excelling in a foreign language.

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A few months ago, me and my facebook friend and PLN member Nese Alkan, decided to have our students work on a language exchange project. We actually thought that, if we proved to our students ,how many words our languages share , they would realise how much we share as people, too. Politicians, never seemed to promote peace and friendship among our people, in both countries ! We are educators, and have a different role, of course!

My most favourite moments during our recent Skype meeting, with a private primary school in Instabul:

1. When we exchanged words in the Greek language of Turkish origin and Greek words in Turkish!It was touching when my students shouted the Greek equivalent – translation , each time the Turkish students read one of their Turkish words to us! Our students realised then that we have so much in common! That, language brings us closer! That actually, our languages prove how much we have in common and there is so much we share!

2.The moment when we sang them a Greek song about friendship and Peace and they danced to our music!

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3. The moment when they started singing an English song to us and we suddenly joined in singing all together and dancing at the same time!

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4. When we decided to add the words ” We are friends” on the map of both our countries . The sign was placed in the Aegean Sea, the sea which unites us and at the same time, seperates us!

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5. When students in both schools, used their hands and fingers to send LOVE to their friends across the screen!

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6. When the meeting ended and my students said ” Miss, they look just like us! They seem to be ….ordinary people!” Stereotypes were there at the beginning of our Skype meeting but seemed to vanish by the time it was over!

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Favourite activities to promote speaking

Super Mario in our english class!

Super Mario in our english class!

Speaking is a crucial part of second language learning and teaching. Despite its importance, I believe that  for many years, teaching speaking has been undervalued and English language teachers have continued to teach speaking just as a repetition of drills or memorization of dialogues. However, today’s world requires that the goal of teaching speaking should improve students’ communicative skills, because, only in that way, students can express themselves.  Communicative language teaching and collaborative learning serve best for this aim.  Communicative language teaching is based on real-life situations that require communication. By using this method in ESL classes, students will have the opportunity of communicating with each other in the target language.  In brief, we should create a classroom environment where students have real-life communication, authentic activities, and meaningful tasks that promote oral language. This can occur when students collaborate in groups to achieve a goal or to complete a task.

Interviewing ...the Minnions!!

Interviewing …the Minnions!!

I love both role-plays and simulations in my class!

Simulations are very similar to role-plays but what makes simulations different than role plays is that they are more elaborate. In simulations, students can bring items to the class to create a realistic environment. For instance, if a student is acting as a singer, she brings a microphone to sing and so on. Role plays and simulations have many advantages. First, since they are entertaining, they motivate the students. Second, they increase the self-confidence of hesitant students, because in role play and simulation activities, they will have a different role and do not have to speak for themselves, which means they do not have to take the same responsibility.

Interviewing ...an alien!!

Interviewing …an alien!!

There are two ways a role play can go: scripted and non-scripted. With a scripted role play, the teacher might use an example in a text book. This is a good idea for a warm up exercise, by getting everyone to split up into pairs and allow them to speak to their partner, taking on different roles. Non-scripted ones are when students are given a role each and must use whatever knowledge they have in order to speak with that partner or to the class! Non-scripted ones, are my favourite!

Interviewing a famous athlete.

Interviewing a famous athlete.

When it comes to role-plays , it is all about the creative use of language. The student must put what they know to the test. This doesn’t mean they have to list off a boring dialogue. I allow them to be as creative as they can. I put them into challenging situations, and this will allow them to think of new ways of saying things.

A class survey...moving and talking around...

A class survey…moving and talking around…

Body language is just as important as spoken language, so in their role plays I try and let the students get into the role.

A simulation activity: at the mini market

A simulation activity: at the mini market

I also have my students conduct interviews on selected topics with various people. It is a good idea that we provide a rubric to students so that they know what type of questions they can ask or what path to follow, but students should prepare their own interview questions. Conducting interviews with people gives students a chance to practice their speaking ability not only in class but also outside and helps them becoming socialized.

 

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Presenting their project work in class….

 

What I  regularly do is ,to  have my students report to the class about their group project work! They report to their friends what they find as the most interesting thing in their project research. Students can also talk about whether they have experienced anything worth telling their friends while working on their projects.

Interviewing Messi!

Interviewing Messi!

I also love debates! I often have groups of students work  on their topic for a given time period, and present their opinions to the class. It is essential that the speaking should be equally divided among group members. At the end, the class decides on the winning group who defended the idea in the best way.This year, we have been working on a British Council project called “LIfe Skills”. This activity fosters critical thinking and quick decision making, and students learn how to express and justify themselves in polite ways while disagreeing with the others.

The winners of the " Life Skills " priorities pyramid " competition   holding their...lollipop awards!

The winners of the ” Life Skills ” priorities pyramid ” competition holding their…lollipop awards!

Rather than leading students to pure memorization, providing a rich environment where meaningful communication takes place is desired. With this aim, various speaking activities such as those listed above can contribute a great deal to students in developing basic interactive skills necessary for life. These activities make students more active in the learning process and at the same time make their learning more meaningful and fun for them.

 

A class debate on life priorities!

A class debate on life priorities!

Once the students are having fun and speaking English, there are no limits to their own learning!

Teaching their classmates their favourite sports!

Teaching their classmates their favourite sports!

An amazing language exchange project, with Taiwan

Spelling in Greek! How cool is that?? Language ambassadors in action...

Spelling in Greek! How cool is that?? Language ambassadors in action…

 

Alexiana , holding her flashcards!

My daughter Alexiana , holding her flashcards!

When an English speaker doesn’t understand something, he would say “It’s all Greek to me.” But have you ever wondered about the origin of that phrase? Why Greek? Why not, say, Urdu or Aramaic?

I have looked it up in  a dictionary and found out that, it comes from the latin phrase Graecum est, non legitur or Graecum est, non potest legi (It is Greek; it cannot be read). Medieval Latin scribes in monasteries would write that phrase if they had trouble translatin

The Alphabet flashcards

The Alphabet flashcards

 

The phrase probably entered modern English usage when William Shakespeare used it in his 1599 play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Here it is in Act 1 Scene 2:

Cassius: Did Cicero say any thing?
Casca: Ay, he spoke Greek.
Cassius: To what effect?
Casca: Nay, an I tell you that, I’ll ne’er look you i’ the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me. I could tell you more news too: Marullus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs off Caesar’s images, are put to silence. Fare you well. There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.

Beautiful artwork!

Beautiful artwork!

In this context, an educated and wealthy aristocrat in the Roman Republic should be able to read and speak Greek. Casca, who speaks fluent Greek, is probably just playing dumb because he doesn’t want to repeat a remark that is unflattering to Caesar.

Obviously, when a Greek doesn’t understand something, he doesn’t say “It’s all Greek to Me.” Rather, he says, Αυτά μου φαίνονται κινέζικα, or “This strikes me as Chinese.”

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Chinese is rated as one of the most difficult languages to learn.The Kangxi dictionary contains 47,035 characters!!!

Well, this language exchange  was Annie’s idea ,with which I agreed at once !   Annie and me thought that, we could both try to….help  solve this misunderstanding!! Or just, try to help our students get more familiar with another alphabet or characters which might have seemed weird to them till then…therefore, promote multilingualism and multiculturalism! mosaic taiwan greek4

 

To start with, Annie came up with the idea of using  flashcards, for our language exchange project! I asked my  students to produce the flash cards for me. I gave each one an item to draw. I also asked them to make a second flashcard with the one letter of the Greek Alphabet and a third one with the word of the item they had drawn on their first card, in greek !They were all  later mounted on card to make the set. There were  3 different piles: one with the alphabet , 24 letters, one with the words only and a third one with the words in picture cards, both in Greek and English.

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We also, decided to send our partners in Taiwan ,one of the books teachers use to teach Greek  language to the first graders in all Greek schools..she was asked to  show it to her  students and tell them it was  our first graders greek language book!

Word flashcards

Word flashcards

My partner teacher in Taiwan, Annie Tsai did something similar: She asked her students to make flashcards of some basic/interesting Chinese characters and they ‘ve recorded a few simple greeting language video clips. They also created beautiful and very artistic picture  flashcards , and a sepearate pile of word flashcards for each one of the picture flashcards!The words on them, were written both in mandarin and english!

The activities we did in my class using the mandarin flashcards, were the following:

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Memory Activities

Memory Tester

I placed a selection of  word flash cards on the floor in a circle.

Students had five  minutes to memorise the cards.

In groups, they had two minutes to write as many of the names  they could  remember as possible , on the board.Too hard to do  for most of my students…but, working in teams, made it easier!

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Matching Game ( old time classic) 

I spreaded  all the cards ( both picture and word cards ) on the floor .  Students took  turns flipping two cards and calling out the cards that they flipped ( in english) .  If  it was  a pair then they kept  it and got  a point.  If they didn’t  call out the card then they couldn’t  keep it.

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TPR activities

Point or race to the flash cards

I stack  picture  flash cards around the class.

I showed  their word flashcard match    and students pointed  or raced  to the right picture card.

Again, we played this game, in teams.

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Bring me 

I placed a selection of  picture cards and word on the floor  at the far end of the class. Students stood  behind a line at the other end. I shouted, ‘Bring me a shirt- one of the  flashcards words, which was both written in English and in Mandarin!’ The first student who handed  in both the word and the picture shirt flashcards,  won  the cards.

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Search Game

I gave all students a word card. Then, I hid  the picture cards around the classroom, on things, under things, and in things.  I had the students look around the room for one or two minutes to find the word card that matched their picture card! I awarded stickers to all students who finally managed to do so. I made sure, the fastest students got bigger stickers…

This is what our friends sent us as their language delegates! Cute!

This is what our friends sent us as their language delegates! Cute!

Spelling activities

Spelling Game

That was the last activity we did, on day two. I asked the students to take one pair of flashcards ( word card and its matching picture card ) at home.

They had to try to learn the mandarin spelling of that word and recall it, the very next day we had a lesson. In turns, students had to come to the board and try to write that word in mandarin without looking at their flashcards!

That was a team game , too! They got so excited that they asked me to play it , again and again…! Teams , were awared points and both winners and…not winners,  special stickers!

Amazing delegates! My students, took them home! They were so excited!

Amazing delegates! My students, took them home! They were so excited!

Checking spelling...

Checking spelling…

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The Search Game

The Matching Game..

The Matching Game..

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The Matching Game..

 

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The Matching Game..

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The Point or race to the flash cards game

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The Point or race to the flash cards game

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Spelling Game

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Spelling Game

Happy his spelling was right!

Happy his spelling was right!

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Spelling Game

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The Matching Game

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The Bring me game

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Spelling Game

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The Memory Tester game

 

Now, I’d like you to have a look at some of the photos from Annie’s class which show   similar activities she did with her students, using our own  flashcards!   These photos say it all…I’ll ask Annie to comment on them later….

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Our flashcards in Annie’s class! Soime of them are placed upside down!! They were as familiar with our alphabet as we were with their mandarin characters!..

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Our partners’ first effort to put our letters flashcards in alphabetical order!

They sent us these photos to help them solve the...mystery concerning these particular letters which seemed confusing to them!

They sent us these photos to help them solve the…mystery concerning these particular letters which seemed confusing to them!

Their effort to spell in Greek! This is touching, isn't it?

Their effort to spell in Greek! This is touching, isn’t it?

One more photo where they seem to say " It's all greek to us"!! haha

One more photo where they seem to say ” It’s all greek to us”!! haha

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Our Greek Language book, in Taiwan!

One of Annie's students flashcard! Amazing !

One of Annie’s students flashcard! Amazing !

A gift spinner- which I later used in my class to teach feelings- and some of the delegates which Annie sent to my students!

A gift spinner- which I later used in my class to teach feelings- and some of the delegates which Annie sent to my students!

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