The greatest challenge in my many years of teaching English to young children has been to find a workbook that would be ‘the right one’ for the young learner. No matter how many books I tried, none of them did justice to the task. Not that there was anything wrong with the books; on the contrary, they were good quality and well structured. It is simply that the young learner becomes bored too quickly with a workbook, and the teacher needs to be in constant readiness to change the activity in order to maintain the children’s attention and motivation. The lack of other materials that would support and enrich the workbook, as well as the ‘obligation’ to cover the book entirely, was somehow an obstacle to me.
I have found that the workbook is simply not enough in itself. Firstly, it is a fixed structure of a programme, designed to be used with the whole class with the same language knowledge. That, however, is rarely the case in the real-life situation. Secondly, workbooks contain too many topics. In order to go through all of them, one can only cover a list of vocabulary from a certain topic and then move on to the next one, ignorant of other aspects of language, like socialising and the actual use of language.
What is needed is the approach, which enables diving deeper into the context of language while at the same time addressing a child as a whole, physically, emotionally and intellectually. One of the good ways is a project-based approach (PBA) which is supported with teaching aids that enable covering topics from different angles and in different ways. Only then does the teacher have enough material to enable her/him to quickly adapt to a situation and choose the right material for the specific need as well as address the children's current needs.
Throughout the last years, I have been gradually preparing and collecting different kinds of material. The collection is now broad enough to cover the basic needs of any teacher who teaches young children. What I can offer now is a kind of ‘Dictionary for Young Children’, which consists of two ‘CoolHouses’ (registered under Registered Community Design Numbers 002369595-0001 and 002369595-0002) and the ‘CoolTool’ (Community Design Registration Proceedings Numbers 002376012-0001, 002376012-0002 and 002376012-0003). Together, they function as a Picture Dictionary Young Children, made up of 700 of the most frequently used words, covering the topics usually found in workbooks for the young. Each word has its own card (a word and a picture) in three different versions. They enable a range of social games and are very handy for different types of cooperative learning. Moreover, the same ‘Dictionary’ enables children to learn how to read and write at an early age through play activities and through serious games. The CoolTool is also used to introduce some real grammar through Visual Sentences, Visual Story and Visual Grammar.
All of the materials mentioned above can be used very effectively in the classroom as essential accessories in the PBA teaching approach which is based on:
The approach is called ‘CoolPool’ (AAS, 15. 4. 2013, R-67/13) and can easily be tailored to any curriculum.
Mija Selič, M.Sc is a practitioner and teacher trainer whose years of practice teaching English to young learners has resulted in the development of the teaching aids presented above, which are the result of actual work with children. She holds a Master’s Degree in primary teaching, with a research focus on cooperative learning in the mother tongue and a foreign language. She also holds a degree in the English language and a certificate in convergent pedagogy. She ran workshops on early language learning for the National Educational Institute from 2007 until 2011. She is currently running her own school for early language learning where she teaches children, runs workshops on didactic and methodological approach to early language learning and develops unique teaching aids for young learners. She presents her approach on different IATEFL conferences (Poland, Belgium, Hungary, Slovenia).
I believe that the teaching aids created by Mija Selič, M.Sc will be of great assistance to teachers of English at the early level, as learning on this level needs to be supported by the greatest possible range of material. The teaching aids have been designed on the basis of the creator’s many years of experience of teaching English, while at the same time taking into account the principles of English didactics at the early level. Organised thematically, the teaching aids can be used in a diverse range of activities and are accompanied by clear recommendations.
Karmen Pižorn, PhD
Assistant Professor of English Didactics
Department of Education Studies
Faculty of Education
University of Ljubljana