Spring forward…Fun with Flowers and Foreign Language

Playing and learning

I’m all about Everyday Language–learning and using world language words in everyday contexts to show kids that learning can happen anywhere AND it can be fun, too!  Take a look at this simple project and see how easy it is to connect language and culture with a fun family activity.

Spring is just around the corner, and what better way to get inspired than to create bunches of fun flowers to decorate your home.  These quick creations don’t need water, sun, or plant food–just a little folding and twisting to make a neat bouquet!

Simply take a few small squares of tissue paper (about 6-8 inches square) and stack them flat on the table. Beginning at one side, fold the stack of papers accordion-style.  Next, tightly twist a green chenille stem (or twisty tie) around the center of the folded stack.  Gently separate the folds of the paper and open them up to create the flower ‘petals.’  Visit this site to see illustrated instructions of this project.

Turning crafts into learning props

Now that your flowers are complete, use them as props in games and activities to help you learn about world languages and cultures.

For simple games to practice words in another world language, try these ideas!

  • Use color words or number words to count and sort the flowers into groups.
  • Hide the flowers around the house and have children find flowers of certain colors, or give clues to the hiding spots using room or furniture words.
  • Make extra flowers to give away to family members or friends, practicing family vocabulary.

Did you know that flowers are part of many world cultural celebrations?

  • In Nice, France, they celebrate Mardi Gras with a parade of floats made of flowers, then toss the flowers to bystanders as they pass by.
  • In Genzano, Italy, Corpus Christi Day is celebrated by creating a long flower petal carpet through the town streets using intricate designs. When the festival is over, townspeople disperse the petals by walking along the flowery carpet.
  • The Chiang Mai Flower Festival in Thailand is known for its elaborate flower floats that parade through town.

Learn about more flower festivals from around the world here. Host your own flower parade and celebrate Spring, wherever you live!


Making Moves: learning a language through active games

Energy of the young kids

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has spent a busy afternoon with a group of kids and felt exhausted afterwards!  It is exhilarating to be part of their non-stop energy, but while they seem to have an infinite supply of it, we adults tend to run out a bit sooner.  Sometimes the anticipation of tiring out can lead us to squelch the energy of the young kids. We might prefer a quieter learning environment with more structure to the active games that kids love and enjoy.  Finding a balance can be tricky, but here are a few trips to help focus young energy into productive learning games that engage kids.

Shopping in person, not on paper

Since language is meant to be used for communication, get kids involved in actually communicating with one another! Rather than sit and ask a neighbor how they are doing, station kids around a room and have them walk around, introducing themselves or surveying how others are feeling.  Rather than match food pictures and words on a worksheet, have children ‘shop’ for items on their shopping lists by visiting ‘storekeepers’ who hold certain items in their ‘stores’ around the room.  The simple act of moving around to accomplish a task can help instill the actions, words, and context into the learning experience.

I learned this lesson quickly in one class where a young boy was constantly interrupting the quiet discussion, shouting out unrelated responses, and generally being very fidgety.  As soon as we started moving in a task-related activity, he was instantly engaged, completing his task far sooner than the other students. He asked if he could help out the others and went from student to student, helping with pronunciation, giving directions, and communicating in the target language more effectively.

Every teaching moment can’t be filled with action. But incorporating movement into each class helps engage kinesthetic learners in a fun and interactive manner.  What active games help your kids learn?  Share your ideas in our comment section below!

Fortune Teller Crafts: fun with words

Pick a word…any word….

I don’t know about you, but my kids LOVE the cootie catcher crafts.  Or fortune tellers.  Or origami paper-folding crafts.  Whatever you call them, they became a great hit around first grade, when my boys found that they could make you pick a particular ‘destiny’ simply by having you choose a number and color from a folded paper that is manipulated by hand.  They take great pleasure in creating hypothetical outcomes, such as “you will live in a mansion.” or “you will have a million dollars.” or “you will have one hundred children.”……goodness, what a treasure!

If you haven’t created any yourself, please visit this site for instructions.  In any case, this craft is an easy way to incorporate new language words into a fun activity for kids!  They can use any eight words they choose…four of each. Colors, numbers, seasons, family members…any four words that can be chosen and spelled out to bring the chooser to a final ‘destiny.’

One of the great things about this craft is that the children don’t even realize that they are practicing new words. By counting out the numbers or spelling out the letters of each word, kids practice new vocabulary in an activity that has a different goal–to bring their partner to an ultimate ‘destiny.’  The excitement of figuring out whether the person will have fame or lose their fortune eclipses the realization that they are actually spelling or counting in another language.  Learning through play… what fun!

Creating games is a great way to incorporate learning and fun.  Children can choose which words they want to use in a fortune teller game, and they can be creative as well which increases student involvement and ownership of the learning process!  What creative crafts help YOUR students learn?   Leave a comment and share  your ideas with us!

Learning in pairs: fun small group activities

Learning two by two

Kids learn a lot from each other, whether by watching a friend navigate the monkey bars, or planning a Lego city with a sibling.  The give-and-take of ideas can help children find value in their own contribution to a project while also recognizing that others have creative ideas too.  Of course, a confident child may not always enjoy taking suggestions from a group! But in the end, working together usually yields positive results.  Here are a couple ideas for pairing youngsters together to learn from each other.

Pair of Girls

Simple conversations for language learning

We learn a language to communicate, and conversation games are a great way to get the ball rolling.  For younger children, establishing a simple conversation game with a question or two and several possible answers allows children to focus on a few phrases and their use.  For example, a simple variation of an ‘I Spy’ game uses questions such as  “What color do you see?”  with responses that incorporate a variety of color words.

Mystery games make learning fun

Giving children a mystery to solve helps put the focus of language learning on the outcome or discovery rather than memorization or pronunciation.  Information gap activities are a fun way to do this.  Have a pair of children work with an image that is almost the same, but with a few differences. Each child might have a slightly different farm scene that they do not show to their partner.  Perhaps the farm scene on one paper has 3 cows, and the other paper has 6 cows. Children ask each other questions like “How many cows do you have?” using the language words.  Decide on a goal, such as finding the most numerous animal on each child’s page.

Creating together

Find creative activities that allow each child to contribute to the same project without worrying about being ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’  When learning body parts, for example, have pairs of children create a ‘monster’ by taking turns picking a card with a body part listed on it.  If the eyes are huge and purple or the feet have only three toes, the drawing will reflect each person’s creative ideas in one fun project.

In small groups, children are more likely to practice saying the vocabulary and phrases, rather than worry about speaking in front of a large class.  Children with stronger skills can be paired with those who could use extra guidance.  This gives each student a chance to share, offer guidance, ask questions and gain confidence.  In your experience, what activities work best in pairs?  Share your thoughts in our comment section below!

Game Time: What Time Is It, Senor Zorro?

Teaching with familiar games

Bring on the Active Games!

If you think back to how you spent your summer days as a kid, I’m guessing there was a lot more outside fun and a lot less video games! I have fond memories of Kick The Can, Red Rover, and Miss Mary Mack from my own childhood…and many of these games have been around for decades. Not only are they pretty active, they also require little or no equipment! They are easy to teach, fun to play, and inexpensive–sounds like a great combination for the classroom!

Playing and Learning

Adapting games that children already play is a great way to introduce new language words while fitting into a familiar structure. Children already know how to play “What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?,” so why not change out the times with Spanish vocabulary and VOILA now you are asking questions to Señor Zorro instead! The familiarity of these simple games also helps alleviate fears that a child might have about approaching new language words because the games are fun and recognizable, so a child may not feel overwhelmed. An added benefit is the element of movement involved in many childhood games. Movement helps children retain what they have learned because memory is connected to both sensory perception and emotions, researchers have discovered. So pick a favorite game and start creating adaptations that help kids learn AND have fun at the same time! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • For body part vocabulary, use Simon Says or the Hokey Pokey! Adding command actions to Simon Says can also have hilarious outcomes (think: pat your tongue)
  • For numbers, any game that require counting fits here! Mother May I, Hide and Seek, etc.
  • For colors, I Spy isn’t super active, but it certainly gets kids thinking about colors!

What familiar games do you like to use? Leave a comment below!