Keeping English Alive Through the Holidays

Keeping English language going through the holidays for our children is not always a straightforward endeavour.  The students who need it most are potentially the ones who find it least readily to hand.  Therefore, some gentle guidance and well pitched activities from their teachers can go a long way to maintaining the forward momentum at which both children and teachers have worked so hard all term.

This post offers some ideas for specific activities as well as some general guidance to teachers, students and parents on ways to keep English alive during the holidays.

 

Two Example Activities

Activities which ask students to engage with a listening activity or text, then to respond in an imaginative way, provide them with opportunities to practise both reception and production skills.

1. Something Understood is a Radio 4 ethical and religious discussion programme that examines some of the larger questions of life, taking a spiritual theme and exploring it through music, prose and poetry.  In last week’s programme the presenter asked a score of writers “If you had breath for no more than 99 words, what would they be?”

Ask the students to listen to the programme on the iPlayer here, where the motivation for the project is discussed and each writer reads his or her ’99 Words’.

Once they have listened have them talk about the way that they would respond (in whichever language they like to whomever they wish) then write their own ‘99 Words’ to share with you on their return.

2. Pie Corbett is very well known in the UK for his Literacy workshops, bringing the writing process to life for primary school children.  In the video below he reads one of his poems then describes the process by which he wrote it.

Ask your children to listen to the poem and to the way Pie describes how he wrote it.  Get them to ‘notice’ things around their homes or the place where they are spending their holidays.  Once they have done that they can talk in whichever language they like to whomever they wish about their ideas, then write their own poem, in English now, to share when they return to school.

There are lots of videos of children’s writers, like Michael Rosen or Steven Herrick, telling stories and reciting poems that would make equally good starting points for holiday activities.

 

General Ideas

The web is where discussions happen now, probably more so than person to person.  To that end there are lots of ways we can set up web-based opportunities for our students.  By setting a theme or short task then keeping an open forum on Studywiz in which to discuss it, you can have your students continuing to engage with each other using English.  For example:

Listen to an audio book (there are many available through the school library or you can download free public domain audio books with transcripts at Thought Audio) then discuss or review them on Studywiz.

Listen to a podcast and then discuss what was learned.  For example you could try Grammar Girl , or how about her colleague Math Dude.

You Tube now has a list of categories on the left hand side of the screen.  You could choose something from a section relavent to your subject, perhaps Richard Feynman talking about how difficult it is to answer scientific questions honestly from the Science and Technology section, then ask students to respond in your Studywiz forum.

eHow.com is packed with how-to videos for all sorts of things.  Here’s one example on how to draw cubist art.  The videos are accompanied by a transcript which would allow your students to listen and read before completing the task. They could then post a photo of their efforts and an accompanying reflection on the picture to Studywiz, and seek comments from their peers.

Outside the school’s VLE students can be encouraged to make use of other child-friendly spaces on the web.

Ask the children to keep a blog of what they are doing over the break, or tweet in English what they are doing using a predetermined hashtag.

Keep a video diary using MailVu and email each video to your friends or to your teacher.

Live Mocha is a social network for language learning. Suitable for Senior school students.  An article explaining LiveMocha is here

On Lang-8 students keep an online journal in English, and native speakers read and correct it for them.  They reciprocate by correcting the work of other people learning their language.

At Voicethread students can recount things that they are doing during their holidays, summarise and review books they have read, comment on the posts of other users, and so on.  Voicethread allows other users to comment in a variety of ways on videos posted, making it an interactive, language-for-purpose activity. There are many English language ones that our students can contribute towards, or teachers can set up their own. Here’s a good example.  And here is an introduction to using Voicethread.

There is a lot of great stuff on English Central. Students can watch differentiated videos, get speaking practice and analyse new vocabulary.

Use Quizlet to maintain academic vocabulary through creating flashcards.

 

Advice to parents

Parents often ask what they can do to help their children develop their English during the holidays.  There are two key pieces of advice I tend to give:

Play with English speaking friends, or for older students, join an art club/football club/cooking class held in English.  This is real-life, genuine English for purpose.  If you only choose one strategy this should be it.

Read, read, read.  This is the language as it is used by people who are very proficient. It exposes the reader to the ways that sentences are structured and to the ways words are used to construct ideas.

 

In summary

Language activities during the holidays should be fun, authentic and purposeful.  English language learners will get much more out of an activity or task that makes them want to use their English rather than forces them to.

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