One challenge that I’ve found working with my youngest students is encouraging them to use English to communicate with each other. They’ll answer my questions, parrot my sentences, and in general express their needs to their foreign teachers using English vocabulary.
However, when it comes to speaking with their peers it doesn’t occur to them to use a language other than their native tongue, especially among low-level learners for whom an “English-only” classroom isn’t a practical environment. While there are certainly plenty of EFL activities for pair and group work to practice common exchanges (“What is your name?” “Nice to meet you.” etc.), such structure isn’t necessarily supportive of spontaneous English.
I thought I’d share a few activities that have helped my youngest learners first begin voluntarily using English with their peers:
Crayon Exchange This activity is as simple as it is practical: sit the kids in a circle and give each student two different crayons. In turn, each student can decide what color they want and should address their classmate to request that crayon. This can start as a simple request (“Andrew, blue crayon please!”) and evolve into a longer structure as it becomes more familiar (“Andrew, please pass me a blue crayon.”). This activity teaches multiple conversation skills: addressing an individual, making a request, and practicing politeness using “please” and “thank you”. It is amazing how quickly students will adapt this skill to other activities and relay exchanges of not simply crayons, but other objects and actions as well.
Game Translations One surprisingly universal topic is children’s games—in most countries I’ve been too there are children playing various forms of traditional hide & seek, red light-green light, and Ro Sham Bo. When I see my kids playing these games I seize it as a teaching moment and give them the game commands in English. The more they play the more easily they begin to incorporate that vocabulary into other games and general play, especially words like stop, go, or hide.
How do you feel? Teaching my students to ask each other how they feel has been a great way to mitigate arguments while using English in a social environment. When my students have a disagreement or become upset, I have the kids ask each other how they feel. While they know basic emotions, explaining to each other how they feel and why takes a great deal of thought and practice—sometimes it demands so much focus that it distracts them from actually feeling angry or sad for very long. This is difficult but challenges students to think outside the box and begin describing abstract concepts. These activities have helped many of my students become more confident using English in a casual manner both in and outside the classroom and can easily be adapted for different levels and ages.