A blog called Primary Teachers UK had this recent post by Chris Byrnes recommending that language classes with elementary school children include these five components:
• They should be fun, exciting, or stimulating;
• They should appeal to many different senses within one lesson and change modes often (artwork, then movement, then watching video clips, for example);
• They should not introduce words for concepts that the students are not very familiar with (Byrnes calls this "contextually safe");
• They should offer opportunities for students to compete against one another in games; and
• The students should see learning the language as valuable or rewarding
These five factors certainly make sense to me, but I don't think the list should be limited just to five (or just to elementary students, or just to foreign language classes either, for that matter). While offering suggestions of how to incorporate these factors is beyond the scope of the blog post, I would have liked to see more examples, ideas that I could implement in my tutoring session tomorrow night. But that's a minor quibble. The author also points out that one of the goals of primary school language learning is to get kids psyched to learn foreign languages more formally later on. This, I think, is quite important for me to remember as I work with my nephew and my tutees.
By the way, Primary Teachers UK recommends a fantastic website from the BBC with lots of practice with basic French vocab (greetings, numbers, and so on); characters like "Roller" and his dog skateboard around the screen teaching expressions, leading viewers in mini-karaoke sessions, and presenting interactive games. Some of it is awfully cute (plus when you win, many hands clapping appear on the screen shouting "Magnifique!"). Moreover, the site offers pages to print out with more games, paper dolls, and so forth. I think I'll suggest that the little girls I tutor use this site in between our twice-weekly sessions.
My question for the readers of this blog: What would be your top 5 components for teaching languages to children? In addition to Byrnes' five, I would have to say that creating an environment where the children feel safe inventing with the language is paramount.