I have always been convinced that teaching young learners needs quite a range of skills and it is much more challenging than working with adults. It is easier for an adult, who consciously has chosen to study a language (in most cases) having reasons and motivation for it, to get the methods of teaching being used by his/her teacher, follow the programme and grasp more or less the concept of learning the language. To succeed with young learners, however, firstly, educators have to get their attention, turn the learning process into a game, foster a love for a language, and then it may be possible to see some progress and receive some results.
There are plenty of different methods and techniques used in teaching kids. We are going to look at the lexical approach in teaching YL.
So, what does it mean to teach lexically?
After learning a word, students try to make the sentences to see how the word is used and feel how they sound, feel the language. It is very common when a student may feel confused doing such activities because sometimes it is hard to get the sense of sentences unless you know the meaning of a phrase. That’s why more and more teachers opt for the lexical approach. Teaching lexically means helping students notice, learn, and use “lexical chunks” (multi-word items of lexis).
Chunks or single words?
There are some debates about whether teachers should start presenting single words or delve into teaching chunks with young learners at the beginning of the language learning process. Nowadays the tendency of using chunks is increasing and we can see more and more coursebooks using the lexical approach. For instance, teaching the verb “listen” without the preposition may cause grammar mistakes in kids’ speech later on like omitting that preposition. So, it seems that the earlier kids learn how words go together making different phrases (phrasal verbs, collocations, idioms, proverbs, adverbial phrases) which are used only in that particular way, the easier it will be for them to use the words in a speech at appropriate time and way. Hence, their speech will become more sufficient and fluent.
Can chunks be taught to very young learners?
Not only do I think that it is possible but also I am sure it is much more effective than learning individual words. Some researches have shown that memorizing chunks for children is no more difficult than learning single words. Ways of using longer chunks with young learners are explained in the article.
I guess almost every teacher who uses a communicative approach in the classroom teaches chunks first. Since a communicative method needs full immersion into a language, reduction, or no usage of L1, chunks are the buoy of the lessons.
Instructions — open the books, do the task/exercise, listen to the song, read a word/sentence, and so on — the chunks a lesson without would be almost impossible. Also learning chunks may help in communication with parents. They often would like to get quick results, see their child speak a language, so chunks learned by their kids at the very beginning of the studying process will play a great role and show that the student can actually use the language. Simple “How are you?’’, “I like a cat”, “And you?”, “I have got a pet” will do the work (“trick”) at first.
How are chunks best learned and taught?
Out of four approaches in teaching chunks described by Scott Thornbury in his article, the phrasebook approach seems much more appropriate for young learners. As it is based on choosing set phrases for specific situations and learning them by memorizing and constant drilling. Shadowing, jazz chants will help a lot, especially, with kids who can’t read and write in the beginning. Jazz chants are explained in the video.
Let’s see how we can teach greetings to young learners.
- choose phrases, chunks:
Hello! How are you?
- prepare flashcards with pictures to introduce phrases
- use chants to practice
What are the actions in the lesson:
- a teacher says a phrase
- a student repeats after the teacher (this might be done a few times)
- miming, questions can be used to elicit the meaning of the phrase
- a teacher shows the flashcards and repeats the phrases trying to make connections
- a student repeats
- listening to the chants and repeating
- doing tasks (songs, games, drawing, reading (if students can), matching pictures and phrases, and so on)
- recycling the phrases during the next lesson
Here are examples of chunks and tasks that might be used in any lessons.
Chunk or not chunks, it is definitely up to you but “little chunks never killed nobody”, conversely, they may be a great tool in learning a language.