World language teachers are age group chameleons, often teaching pre-k immersion all the way up to eighth grade exploratory classes. How do we properly craft our lessons and curriculum to effectively reach each age group? In this post, we’ll learn the second language acquisition research and classroom management strategies that will most equip you to teach the varying ages of elementary world language, from pre-k to late elementary language learners.
World language teachers move between age groups all the freakin’ time! I’m certified to teach K-12. Many other world language teachers have this same flexibility. So many programs go from k-8 learners. That’s a huge range! This post is especially for elementary world language teachers who teach a wide range and want to make their curriculum as effective as possible for each age group.
OUR INTENTION: how to better craft curriculum and lessons for specific age groups, based on the research about their beautiful brains, down to the year. Maximize your lessons, assessments, and curriculums so that you can make one lesson work for multiple ages if needed, or tell if lessons/ curriculums you find will work for you.
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Also, to make better choices when selecting topics and themes for your lessons and curriculum. You’ll find out today that not all topics will be as effective, depending on your age group.
I want to empower you to make the best choices for your learners by knowing exactly how their beautiful brains work and how they want to learn.
The Research on Elementary Language Learners
Everything that follows is sourced from this book: Teacher’s Handbook 4th Edition, Contextualized Language Instruction (Shrum & Glisan) **affiliate link
Most of the information below is from chapter 4, where the authors discuss learner profiles for elementary world language learners and how they differ from their older counterparts. Let’s start with some advantages:
The Early World Language Learner:
- Bilingual students have an enhanced ability to problem solve and learn to read earlier bc they have already developed a strong relationship between symbols and meaning, especially between letters, characters, and sounds. (Bialystok, 1977)
- Lambert and Klineberg (1967) the age of 10 seems to be a crucial time in developing attitudes toward nations and groups perceived as the other.
- Children who are 10 years of age appear to be more open toward people who are different from themselves than are 14 year olds. Since they are in the process of proceeding from egocentricity to reciprocity, they are open to new information introduced during this time.
- Children between the ages of 7 and 12 also demonstrate role-taking ability and seem to be the most open to learning about people from other cultures (Muuss, 1982)
Advantages of Elementary World Language Students:
- heightened level of oral proficiency
- more complex cognitive processing
- higher performance on standardized tests and tests of basic skills
- greater openness to other cultures
Differences Between Early and Late Elementary
Elementary differences: This comes from a longitudinal study on lil’ cuties studying Japanese in North America for 6 consecutive years in an FLES program.
- Children in grades 3-5 performed better than those in k-2 comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and grammar, but not in pronunciation. (effect of age on pronunciation)
- Less variability among the scores in k-2 group
- Older learners: wide range of abilities
- Overall finding: overall positive self-assessments the longer students were in the program
- “Learners require a good deal of time on task to progress through the various stages of proficiency”
- Some made more progress in fluency, some in vocab, some in pronunciation
Overall Conclusions for Elementary Learners:
- Elementary learners have MORE advantages over their secondary counterparts, but do require more time on task to move through the levels of proficiency
2. They can make significant progress in pronunciation and oral proficiency
3. The earlier the start, the more uniform the gains
4. Consistency and time on task is key to progress in the program
5. Huge potential for shaping cultural empathy and awareness
Learner profiles by Age Group
This information comes from Curtain and Dahlberg (2010), where the researchers divided students into similar ages to compare and contrast their world language acquisition.
Preschool students : (2-4)
- absorb language effortlessly and imitate speech and sounds well
- Self-centered and DO NOT work well in groups
- Respond best to activities surrounding their own interests
- Have a short attention span (10 mins maybe if you’re lucky)
- Respond well to : concrete experiences and large-motor involvement
- (songs about dancing and TPR)
- Activities centering on phonological awareness – rhymes, tongue twisters, songs
Primary Students: (5-7) K-2
- learn best through concrete experiences & immediate goals
- imaginative and respond well to stories of fantasy and dramatic play
- learn through oral language
- develop solid oral skills, pronunciation, and intonation when they have a good model
- learn through dramatic play, role play, and use of stories
- have a short attention span
- require large muscle activity
- need structured, specific directions and regular routines
Late Elementary Students: (8-10) 3-5
- at their peak for being open to people different from themselves
- benefit from a global emphasis on language study
- begin to understand cause and effect
- work WELL in groups
- continue to need concrete learning experiences
- often dislike working with the opposite sex
- learn well from imagination and stories that feature binary opposites (good v evil)
- love real life heroines and heroes
- able to work with rubrics and enjoy peer editing and scoring activities
- like self-assessment and reflection (comfortable with it)
Curriculums for Elementary World Language
In elementary school, the curriculum focus should be really heavy on cultural immersion through spoken language. Myths, riddles, songs, dramatic play with puppet shows and stories about good and evil, opportunities to play the target language games. These are great at any age group, but you’ll get the most bang for your buck in ages 2-7. Shorter, story-based or theme-based units would work beautifully. Look for highly engaging, richly formatted stories with high contrast and clear, concrete themes.
Use Stories to Teach Late Elementary Languages
Group activities, especially games, less of the traditional myths and stories, and more into the group games and CREATING stories together. Reading together. Students are ready for literacy (and learn to read earlier, so you can do more of these awesome activities that involve creating stories about real-life people from the target language. Starting to plant those seeds for cultural empathy and awareness. They would really enjoy hearing about real-life heroes. A portfolio and frequent self assessment would work beautifully here!
The Mythic Stage: Why Stories with CI Work So Well With Elementary
This is such a cool bonus for elementary world language teachers. Ages 5-10 in the mythic stage of understanding the world around them:
- Respond to the world in terms of emotional categories: love, hate, fear, joy, morals, such as good or bad
- They want to know how to feel about whatever they are learning. They perceive the world as feeling and thinking the same way as a child. (Egan 1979)
- Like to engage in a topic through the exploration of polar opposites, like wicked witch and perfect princess.
- Effective learning experiences in this stage allow students to interpret what they are learning in terms of their emotions and broad emotional categories, build new info based on contrasting characteristics like big/little, tall/short, and through illustrations of clear, unambiguous meaning like good guys and bad guys. STORY FORM SLAYS AT THIS AGE
- If you’re not doing stories, now is the time to get some books. For real.
- Strong opposites, absolute meanings, strong emotional and moral appeal
Get Curriculum Design & Proficiency Help
Have you ever wished the transition to proficiency were easier to do? Grab the FREE toolkit here to learn the framework for updating your practice to comprehensible input – without all the overwhelm – and prepare for the challenges ahead.
Thanks for learning with me about elementary learners!
Rooting for you,