Are you feeling overwhelmed, as a teacher or as a parent by the increasing amount of time kids tend to spend in front of the screen? Now more than ever, in the context of the current outbreak, the situation seems significantly more challenging. The temptation is to become a so-called screenager in order to cope with the emotional demands of isolation at home.
Why not try to motivate your young EFL learners with some fun and creative hands-on language activities? This article will provide you with a simple activity to engage your students: Let’s have fun labelling our home with sticky notes!
1. How to set up the activity.
Labelling items at home in a foreign language can actually be a fun game for children and at the same time a valuable learning opportunity!
This didactic strategy is usually exploited in the classroom to encourage early literacy. However, I like to use sticky notes with my older students as well (especially when I want to inject some fun while teaching conditionals). The question is why not use it as a game for young learners at home?
There are many possibilities and ways to set up this activity. It is easy to embed it within all sorts of fun games, from treasure hunts to interactive matching or fun memory games. Obviously, you can make the labels yourself or have your students make them (either handwritten or simply printed). Depending on their level, ask your students to label simple objects (toys, colours, daily objects from certain areas of the house: toothbrush, fridge, chair, drawer, etc.) found at home.
If you want to raise the level of complexity, you can have your students label small parts of the objects (coat hooks), various tools (screw, patent etc.), cutlery or other details and more difficult items. It is an engaging activity that involves the consolidation of diverse areas of vocabulary and stimulates new acquisition. Additionally, it develops long-term memory by activating different learning styles (visual and spatial, linguistic, kinesthetic or physical). Last but not least, it encourages incipient research skills while students are looking up the unknown words in dictionaries.
2. Why should we use this activity? How can labels support students to learn new vocabulary?
Labelling promotes visual learning and it is a great way to recycle or remember vocabulary because it integrates the new words into more familiar contexts. Research in vocabulary acquisition (Nation 1990; Schmitt 2000; Thornbury 2002 among others) has always reported on the benefits of increased exposure to key lexis. More specifically, constant use of labelling games is a great way to increase exposure to vocabulary which enhances students’ recollection (Trong Tuan 2012: 262). More than that, it facilitates a stronger connection between each word and its corresponding object which leads to the development of long-term memory.
According to www.earlychildhoodnews.com, labelling objects and images has the following benefits on young learners:
- Promotes early literacy;
- Boosts reading skills;
- Infuses the environment with print/ linguistic clues.
3. How can we have differentiated learning with this activity?
If your child is very young and has just started learning English as a foreign language then you can create the labels together and personalize them in a creative way. Hand the labels to your child one at a time and have them identify the object and tape the label onto it. You can first show him or her labels (printed or handmade) and while reading aloud stick them together on the right objects. After that, you can mix them and ask them to put the labels on the correct objects in two minutes.
Alternatively, you can hide some labels and they need to find and stick them on the right objects! You may set this activity as a challenge or as a mission! To make it more engaging, set a time limit and use a timer! Kids simply enjoy competitive games!
If your child has been studying English for two or three years (pre-A1-A2) give him or her some blank sticky notes and challenge them to go in a fast mission around the house to label as many objects as they can in three to five minutes! Remind them about the time limit because young learners love the element of games and competitions!
Of course, they might not always know or remember the word! In this case, why not motivate them to think of themselves as word detectives? This is an exciting way to do some language research work, without feeling the frustration of not knowing some words!
You can count together how many objects they were able to label correctly and award points. An interesting alternative final step for this activity is recommended by learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org (https://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/covid-19-support-for-parents). The next day (I would do this even after a few days to follow the principle of spaced repetition), ask them to remove the sticky notes with the words they had checked in a dictionary and mix them. Are they able to remember what things to put them on again?
You can have eye-catching visuals with shorter or longer messages (to-do lists, schedules, colourful posters with rules, messages, reminders on the fridge) around the house!
Additionally, you can turn this activity into a speaking one! Challenge your young learners to record themselves while presenting their favourite objects from the house or their room!
If you liked these ideas, why not put them into practice? Have fun with labelling games and feel free to share and let us know if your young learners enjoyed these fun challenges!
5. Useful references
Lewis, M. (1999). L2 Vocabulary acquisition through extensive reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lee, W.R. (2000). Language teaching games and contests. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nation, I.S.P. (1990). Teaching and learning vocabulary. Massachusetts: Heinle & Heinle.
Schmitt, N. (2000). Vocabulary in language teaching.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thornbury, S. (2002). How to teach vocabulary. Harlow: Longman.
Tuan, L. T. (2012). Vocabulary recollection through games. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 2(2), 257.