Introduction to English teaching among young learners
Language teaching is very specific and it differs greatly from the teaching of any other subject. Language teachers do not just present bare facts. They teach students how to use, write, speak and understand the language. When teaching foreign languages, teachers must use a wide range of teaching methods and teaching materials. A lot of materials are available on internet or editions. However, a coursebook is still the main primary resource for many teachers. The market has been given the great number of books and choosing the one for students is challenging activity.
For the analysis of a language coursebook I have decided to choose Kid´s Box 2 second edition because of having an intensive positive experience with using this book at classes for young learners.
Primary education is extremely important for young learners. It is very often the first organized and formal learning in their lives. At this level, children go through a series of different stages that play a crucial role in their personal development, in their future motivation and of course in their future knowledge acquisition. Alongside their intellectual development, they should also gain physical, emotional and social skills and coursebook should cover all these areas. Key competencies which should be developed cover improving balance, fine motor skills, spatial awareness, controlling emotions, dealing with authority and getting on well with peers. Moreover, young learners should learn how to learn, which means that they need to become aware of their learning styles, and children should also be lead to independence.
Acquisition of foreign language
There is no clear theory of how children acquire English as a second language. General theories started to develop in 1950´s when behaviorists introduced the research of habit formation. Today, many methodologists’ belief that children gain language skills easier than adults. When considering learners at regular schools, young learners also approach learning more enthusiastically than learners in puberty or adult learners. Children are on the whole more enthusiastic, curious and courageous learners, while adult learners are anxious of errors and their correction. Clearly young learners may also confront such barriers, but there is less likelihood and it is also up to the teacher to deal with this problem.
The interesting research of how we learn was carried out by the psychologist Jean Piaget. He made the idea that children gain their knowledge through their experience. Children are actually active learners who learn by their own engagement with real things and objects. Therefore, when developing the meaning of words, real objects should be used in a class rather than simple translation.
Having experience with young learners, I think that children are active learners. Teachers tend to underestimate them but kids want to participate in learning and should be given some time to study even in childhood.
Experimental learning in language education
The last thing is that children should learn through experience. There is a research carried out by IBM (Svatoš, Lebeda, 2005) which claims that we remember 70% of what we hear. 72% of what we see and 85% of what we experience. The research continued after 3 months and says that after 3 months we remember 10% of things we heard, 32% of what we saw and 65% of what we experienced. The conclusion of the research is following: what I experience I may use. What is more, kids love playing games so that using experimental learning methods in a class may be only beneficial. Experience makes English lessons real. Thus, we need to ensure that experience happens in classroom.
Learners at the age of 6 to 10 years are extraordinary people. They are social, curious, energetic, spontaneous, but also loud, hyper, too talkative and easily distracted. Because these qualities are so typical and probably unchangeable, every teacher should bear this in mind when teaching and use materials that attract learners and suit their needs.
A coursebook is a basic didactic aid. When talking about coursebook for young learners, it should include pictures, music, phonics exercises, stories and interactive games, so that it suits all children with different learning styles. Good coursebook should motivate learners, lead learning activities or support student´s self-evaluation.
Layout and design of a coursebook is one of the most relevant features for young learners. Young learners need to be attracted to the book. A nice and appealing coursebook might be very motivating for children.
Teaching English to young learners might be based on teaching through pictures, as some learners probably have not fully developed their reading and writing skills. It should be colourful and include a lot of visuals and should not be outdated. Therefore, coursebook is supposed to include helpful materials for teachers, such as flashcards, which are a good tool for developing vocabularies.
Just like the visuals, topics may motivate young learners as well. Obviously, if the topic is not interesting and appropriate for children, they might lose their attention, no matter how interesting pictures are. A lot of coursebooks for young learners are accompanied by “heroes” who appear in a book and lead the learners through the book.
Kid´s Box 2
Kid’s Box Second Edition is an English language coursebook released by Cambridge University Press in 2014. The publisher recommended the book for first grades. What I think, Kid´s box suits the best to more experienced learners. The coursebook has been given the approval amendment by Czech Ministry of Education.
The book includes Pupil’s book, Activity Book, CDs, Teacher’s Book, Teacher’s Resource Book, Online Resources, Interactive DVD, Tests CD-ROM and posters. Flipcharts are also available in print version or in electronic version for use on an interactive blackboard.
The content is divided into units, which are based around the family, their friends and toys. The main characters who accompany learners are members of Star´s family and their toys. Students may like colorful stories in a comic version. These short stories are led by super-hero Maskman, Trevor, Monty and Suzy. These characters should support learner´s motivation and interest in learning English language. The coursebook tends to support creativity among young learners, connect learning with the world outside the classroom.
The course highlights connection to Cambridge exams. It prepares pupils for the exam YLE – Starters. It also takes into account the proposition of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which emphasis values like autonomy, self-evaluation, or inner motivation.
Kid´s Box is mostly picture based. All the visuals are nicely colorful and learners’ go through the visual stories aiming to support interest in learning. Layouts follow the latest trends and are not old-fashioned. In a small amount there are also used real photos which connects learnings with real-life situations. What is more, every type of activity children are supposed to do is accompanied by sights, which are clear and easy to follow not only by pupils but also teachers.
The course introduces 12 units, each developing a separate topic. The topics are introduced by the Star family, which develop new issues. There are covered essential topics for children, such as My family, School, Pets, Animals, Holiday etc. Beside that, there are contemplated more demanding topics dealing with feelings, means of transport and leisure activities. The topics meet the requirement of cross curricular links because they support team-cooperation, influence pupils´ socialization and develop communication skills. On top of that, these topics are based on storytelling, which enables young learners better remember it by listening or acting.
However, the organization of each topic may be unclear. For example, the course covers pet’s topic and wild animal’s topic, however, these two units do not follow each other and are developed at different stages. Someone could suppose these two topics to be connected. The benefit of that may be that when pupils learn vocabularies concerning pets, after two lections when they deal with wild animals they can refresh what they have previously learnt.
Secondly, the festival issues and customs of English speaking countries are completely omitted. Topics like Christmas and Easter are part of Czech curriculum (RVP – Rámcový vzdělávací program) mentions that should be part of a lesson. These issues are not included in pupil´s book however are given to Teacher´s Reference Book as photocopiable materials. The need for cultural awareness is not therefore completely omitted.
What the teachers using the coursebook complain on is that there is no vocabulary list for learners. Modern English coursebooks contain vocabulary list with Czech translation however, this thing, so crucial for grammar-translation method of teaching English, is still missing in the Kid´s Box.
The coursebook generally focuses on grammar, vocabulary bank and a special focus is put on phonics. These three qualities are approached appropriately.
Vocabularies are suitable for young learners because of their general interest in nature. The coursebook also introduces collocations which help learners to easily understand and use language. For example, when dealing with animals, they are given particular characteristics like dirty, long, short or family member are introduced with their feelings like sad, happy or young, old.
The grammar issues are also taken into account. Grammar is presented through songs or stories which children like so that it enhances their motivation to learn. It covers basic structures appropriate for young learners. Children learn present simple, there is / there are structure, however, some teachers I was talking to doubt about the amount of grammar structures that learners are supposed to acquire. They express the problem that some grammatical phenomena are too difficult and teaching the difference between these / those is pointless.
As far as phonology is concerned, this aspect tends to be omitted in most coursebooks. Fortunately, phonological exercises are included in the Kid´s Box. Pupils can follow rhythm and stress in songs and chants. Chants are an important element and emphasizes the importance of the right pronunciation and intonation. Every unit develops separate sound so that the teaching may sometimes resemble to the modern method for young learners called Jolly Phonics.
The coursebook meets the requirements set by Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) and the Czech Curricular System (RVP). In Kids´ Box all four skills can be found – writing, listening, speaking, reading. Listening activities are accompanied by short text and pictures so that the learner is more aware of what is said in the recording. Short comic stories have a plot which attracts the attention and interest.
Writing about RVP, the requirement for cultural awareness is not generally accomplished. There is no reference to English speaking countries and its culture. Few more materials are in the Teacher´s Book but it cannot fully satisfy the need for cultural awareness.
Personally, I appreciate interesting songs which children like. The songs are given a lyrics and picture so that children may read during listening and see what is happening in the picture. This fact improves the reading and listening skills at the same time.
As far as speaking is concerned, the coursebook contains activities for working in pairs and activities based on experimental learning.
The course does not really mention any methods in its general description. However, I would say it is based on natural learning through experience and communicative approach. It covers fun and game activities. Moreover, it supports learners´ curiosity by humour through the characters and stories. I highly appreciate the arts and crafts activities, which helps young learners with their fine motor skills, but more importantly supports creativity and learning through action. Personally, I appreciate this holistic approach to learning and think it is more valuable for developing language competencies.
There is also the usage of CLIL method as the course respects the need for cross subject boundaries. Learning through mathematics, geography or science, pupils´ easily practice the target foreign language.
The course is also focused on the Cambridge exam YLE. The workbook has activities which identically correspondents to the structure of the exam and its parts. It respects the age of children and activities are based on coloring, matching, filling in missing letters or searching. Mostly pictures are used.
The coursebook is accompanied by many components made by Cambridge University Press. Teachers have available Teacher´s Book and Reference Book with lesson plans and additional photocopiable materials. Beside that, there are helpful Flashcards, posters and interactive DVD. Whiteboard tools which offers more attractive activities for lessons are provided. As far as parents of kids are concerned, there are materials available online. Official website offers samples of exercises and portfolios. The link is: http://www.cambridge.org/us/cambridgeenglish/catalog/primary/kids-box/resources
The second website has recordings for practice at home. The link is: http://www.kidsboxapps.es/kb2.php
Kid´s Box 2 second edition is a coursebook which fulfils the requirements for teaching English to young learner´s. The structure fully prepares learners for Cambridge exams and develops key competencies. Personally, I appreciate interesting comic stories and songs which go through the book. Interviewing teachers who use the coursebook, they are fully satisfied with the book and additional materials easily available. Having personal experience with the Kid´s Box as a teacher, I am satisfied with the structure of the coursebook and prefer using it to other available books such as Incredible English, Happy House, Project, Family and Friends etc. It is noticeable how young learners like the activities and its characters. The disadvantage of the coursebook is that it does not have English-Czech vocabulary list and does not develop the need for multicultural awareness, which is stated in RVP.
 RVP PRO ZÁKLADNÍ VZDĚLÁVÁNÍ