Teaching languages to young learners relies heavily on interactive lessons – singing, dancing, using resources and using objects to teach vocabulary.
During the pandemic, though, doing much of this has required some serious ingenuity – not least because we have had to transition from working in a dedicated classroom, where the walls themselves were a learning resource, to teaching nomadically from a cart with wheels with children both in-person and online.
I will be the first to admit that, at the start, I was somewhat unsure where to begin, but over time I have developed some techniques that seem to work well.
Here are some tips and tricks that have helped me adapt to the “new this-is-not-normal” that may help those in a similar position.
1. Stock your cart
If you are working in-person, wholly or partially, then a well-stocked cart is a time-saving must. After a week or so, I realised that, if I might need it, then it had to be in the cart.
This will save you the time and stress of finding a stapler or plastic pocket in the final seconds of a lesson before you have to dart across the building to your next lesson.
2. Take your displays with you
One issue that arose from being displaced from my classroom was that my trusty displays – everything from the colours to complex conjunctions – were no longer a glance away for the children.
So, after having taken pictures of the displays for the pupils learning online, I took a hole punch to my displays and linked them together with some treasury tags.
Now I have a range of collapsible displays that I can pull from my cart as needed and pin to the wall for the duration of a lesson before taking down again before the next teacher arrives.
3. Get out your wet wipes
At first, I was reluctant to use kinaesthetic resources as I would be using them across multiple classrooms and there was a risk of cross-contamination.
However, wet wipes have been a loyal friend.
Yes, you have to constantly remind the children to “désinfectez les mains!” and yes, you have to wipe down your resources between each use, but playing snakes and ladders is so much less fun when you’re not allowed to touch the pawns.
I’ve found the fun-factor engagement benefits of taking the time to include objects in my lessons outweigh the time it takes to make them safe.
4. Wave your hands in the air (like you just don’t care)
I open most lessons with a song; it is an excellent way to get the energy going in the room and get the pupils into a “French” mindset. Actions and dancing are absolutely essential.
So, when it came to Covid-friendly singing, I had to get inventive. Under the advice of our local health department, our students were to stay seated and sing quieter. (Advice may vary from location to location, so I recommend finding out local advice first.)
This is where armography – the art of dancing with only your arms – comes in. Instead of “we can only do actions” to our songs, I told classes that we would have to learn armography instead.
Framed as having to do some new and exciting, the pupils lapped up the armography with gusto.
Furthermore, the armography may have also been closely linked to the TPR (total physical response) actions we would be using to help recall vocabulary in our topic: a perfect coincidence.
As for our online contingent, we have all learned that conference calls and choral singing don’t mix.
We have had a few good giggles while listening back to recordings of us all singing along at different times. In this instance, music doesn’t have to sound good to spark enjoyment, laughter and advance learning.
5. Expand your horizons
Finally, whether teaching hybrid or virtually, the interactive whiteboard is your friend. It is worth taking the time to learn to use an extended desktop so you can share your second screen with online and in-person students alike.
It saves a lot of printing and online posting of resources, and the content can be adapted to meet the pupils’ needs in the moment, just as you would do in a normal classroom.
In short, the key to not just surviving but thriving in the classroom as we find it is taking what we used to do and adapting it to maximise the benefit to the children.
Rather than focusing on the limitations, present new and adapted routines to pupils as exciting and different ways to learn and the children will adapt alongside you.
Get your hole punch out, “désinfectez les mains” and enjoy the sweet, imperfect cacophony of online singing.
Tim Tuckley is a primary languages specialist at British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park