Category: primary

Finding an Audience

A really important aspect to developing good writing habits in our students is to give them authentic or authentic-like activities through which to use their language.  A key ingredient to the authenticity of a writing task is to find an audience for the output.











This blog post describes a number of ways that teachers can provide authentic audiences for the students’ work.  Some super ideas for ELLs and L1Es alike.

image by Alan Cleaver 

Year 5 Inter-House Balloon Debate: Call for Contestants

Year 5s!  The annual Year 5 inter-house balloon debate is fast approaching.  This is your time to shine on the podium, show off your skills of speaking, and really show your friends your powers of persuasion, charm and wit.

So, what is a balloon debate?

Imagine the scene: a hot air balloon is floating gently in the tropical air above the Gulf of Thailand.  It is filled with important and famous people from all over the world.  Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a seagull lands on the balloon and, mistaking it for a juicy peach, pecks a hole in the top of it.  The balloon begins to leak air and drop slowly but inevitably towards the sea. The people aboard quickly realise that the only way they will stand any chance saving themselves is to make the balloon light enough so that it can float back to the mainland.  To do this everybody except one person must jump out into the sea, leaving that one person to pilot the balloon back to safety and send out a lifeboat to rescue everyone else.

They decide that the fairest way to decide who gets to stay in the balloon is to have a debate.  Each person will have three minutes to say why they deserve to stay in the balloon.  They will say what they have achieved in their lives and why they are more deserving than the others in the balloon.  In the end the person with the most convincing argument will stay in the balloon and everyone else will have to jump out.

What do you need to do?

We need one person from each house in Year 5 to become a famous person for an hour and argue their case for staying in the balloon.

Watch this video of the winner from the 2011 Balloon Debate for some inspiration.

This is a great example of the type of speech you will need to make.  Mr Chalmers and the winner and runner-up from last year’s competition will help you prepare.

We will hold a vote within houses to choose who will represent King’s, Theresa, Mandela, Williams, Suu Kyi and Schweitzer in this year’s competition.  As well as the respect and adulation of your house, the winner will have their name engraved for posterity on the Balloon Debate prize shield.

So, don’t delay.  If you would like to take part in the Balloon Debate, tell your teacher as soon as possible.

Use of Technology for Promoting Speaking and Listening

We have been experimenting with using technology to enhance learning with our students.

Funny Movie Maker is a free app for iOS devices where you can cut out the mouth of a picture and children can record themselves speaking in its place.

This Year 3 group were learning about the features and characteristics of Roman Gods and Goddesses.  They prepared a speech, then used Funny Movie Maker to take on the persona of the God or Goddess who they had researched.

These are the results.

Snowball Fight: vocab strategy

Snowball fight is a great interactive way of introducing new vocabulary, activating prior knowledge, building schema, or checking understanding of concepts.

PDF version here.

Its kinaesthetic nature goes down extremely well with younger children, but I think that older students can enjoy it just as much, given some encourgagement to join in.

You can put anything on the snowballs: pictures to match with words, definitions to match with vocab, pairs of synonyms, pairs of antonyms…the choices are as varied as your imagination.

Key for emerging ELLs is to allow them to decide on and explain their pairings.  As long as they are thinking and justifying, it doesn’t matter if the answer is not ‘right’ at this stage.

Let us know how you get on with this strategy in the comments section.

Tumblebooks: interactive reading

Making reading fun and accessible for ELLs makes for more more reading, more exposure to the langauge, development of prior knowledge, more productive lessons and ultimately a better learning experience for our children.

The TumbleBook library has hundreds of books available to view online with accompanying audio, gentle animations, activities, and teachers’ notes to bring the reading experience alive for young or reluctant readers. 

I could see this being used as a great resource for our younger ELLs.  Teachers could set listening to one of the titles as homework, in advance of using the book in a guided reading session.  Equally, it could be used as a review activity for children to re-read/hear the story after studying it in class.  Or just as a way to promote reading.

TumbleBook library can be acessed here and the username and login can be found on the library page on the school’s intranet.  Teachers, parents and students all have access rights.


Grammar Activities

We often get asked for help with improving grammar and syntax in ELLs.

Of course, refining the precision of language is done through lots of exposure to, and use of, authentic language – not decontextualised grammar drills.  That said, giving your students ‘Bell Work’ (a small task they do as they enter the classroom and settle for the lesson, which needs little or no introduction) that requires them to think about grammar and syntax and discuss with their talk partners about solutions to a grammar-based challenge is no bad thing.


The attached pdf contains a host of daily activities that you can use in your class. Basically, each day the students have to manipulate a sentence in a different way; for example add an adjective, up-level the verb and so on.  The pdf gives you the task for each day and sentences for your students to work with.  There are 30 weeks worth of activities!

I would recommend making this richer for ELLs by asking them to discuss their responses with their talk partners and critically evaluate those responses.  You can very easily adapt it to suit your age phase or subject.

Let us know how you get on in the comments box below.