Animals have special appeal to young children. I recently observed 2 lower primary lessons in which the teachers skilfully used animals to spice up the activities. How did they do it?
In a P1 lesson, the teacher wanted the pupils to practise a question-structure. She put on the mask of a fox, and had the children ask Mr Fox questions. The children enthusiastically repeated, ‘Mr Fox, is it a …’ This make-believe format successfully livened up what could have been a monotonous drill.
In a P2 lesson, the teacher set up a group activity in the last part of the lesson. To arouse interest, the teacher appointed one boy to be Mr Wolf, and asked Mr Wolf to go to each group to pick a student to be his prey animal. There were 6 groups, so Mr Wolf collected a total of 6 preys, which he kept at the front of the classroom, ie, the den. The teacher then explained the language activity itself, which required each prey to go back to their own group to talk with their groupmates in order to complete a tasksheet. If they completed the task successfully, they could save their own member from Mr Wolf. Now, each group, led by the prey temporarily freed by Mr Wolf, worked on the task. When the prey animals had got the answers, they returned to the den with the completed worksheets.
Now, the teacher and Mr Wolf checked the completed worksheets together. If a completed worksheet was OK, the prey would be set free by Mr Wolf, and he/she could go back to his/her animal group. If not, the prey would be eaten up by Mr Wolf. Either way, the kids loved it.
In both cases, the language focus itself had nothing to do with animals. But packaging the language practice with something about animals turned out to be an effective way to captivate the children.