Kindergarten: Surfin’ Safari

24th January 2019

This type of class is very divisive among teachers who either love them or hate them. I am firmly in the former camp, so please allow me to set the scene.

The class size is relatively small (a dozen – twelve – or so students), the room has three brightly coloured tables and a variety of coloured chairs. There are vibrant murals on the walls, somewhat reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ ‘Smiley Smile’ LP cover

My teaching props include Polly – a puppet parrot of a psychedelic green hue, and Mike the mischievous yet well-meaning Monkey. Yes – I get to play with puppets AND get paid for it. Sometimes life ain’t so bad.

The students are around four or five in age, and love Mike and Polly – they tolerate my presence as a necessary evil.

I am admirable assisted by two very sweet young ladies, TAs, whom I ‘love to bits,’ (expression indicating a strong liking – in English we use ‘love’ quite liberally – we love coffee, love TV shows, love a shirt etc. This is not the same in other languages – in Swedish, for example, love is ONLY used for personal relationships.)

My class this Saturday is at level 3, so they are able to count, are familiar with the alphabet, can sing basic songs, follow instructions, ask basic questions, know colours, and are continuing to expand their vocabulary.

I want to push them further because they are motivated and, at this age, can absorb a new language easily. I am rather older, and find it a Herculean task to learn even one or two new words (and as for pronunciation – forget it !). As such, I’ve banned the use of the word ‘fine’ as in, “How are you ?” “I’m fine.” (see my earlier blog ‘Don’t say, “I’m fine.”

Instead: I’m good, great, very well, thank you … I’ve also started to make the students use the terms ‘Activity Book’ or ‘Pupil Book’.

Also, we can impart language in a more natural way; we can use various words / expressions repeatedly so the students acquire language as opposed to being taught the vocabulary. For example, a student’s work can be described as ‘excellent’, or being told ‘well done.’ Apart from the new words, they are hearing longer, multi-syllable words, and basic collocations – words that go together to form one unit of meaning. Another ‘trick’ I have is to sing to myself the Kraftwerk song ‘We are the robots.’

I sing, under my breathe, the chorus and then mime the four notes played on synthesiser. Just four simple words, but so effective for English learners, especially Asian countries where plurals are formed in a different style.

For are start we have some basic grammar – subject + verb ‘to be’. Vietnamese verbs do not alter according to subject. Students may start to learn ‘I am’ but here are introduced to ‘We are.’ The noun is robots – can’t go wrong there – everyone loves robots ! From a pedagogic view, the plural sound in introduced and drilled, repeatedly. By copying the song, they automatically repeat the -s plural sound AND apply it here after a difficult ‘t’ sound – the ‘ts.’ Lastly, we employ the notorious English ‘the’ ðə sound. The students are having an English lesson without even knowing it !


Today I’ll start with a musical game, ‘Musical Statues.’ To tie-in with a previous lesson, I could use either ‘Sit Down’ by James or ‘Stand’ by REM (previous lessons taught stand up / sit down).   http://   

With younger classes I use a ‘montage of attractions’, a term I came across in a book on the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein, and itself adapted from engineering. It means placing different elements together to form a unified whole, as in cutting a film, or attaching pipes. We need to keep interest and motivation / energy levels up, and this is achieved by varying the games and activities, changing after five or so minutes, before boredom and apathy set it. Thus, after musical statues (in which I am ably assisted by Mike the Monkey to see which of the students are really NOT MOVING), we’ll have ‘student as teacher’ session. One student will mime some action from last week and the class have to shout out the correct expression (sit down / open a book / put the bag on the table etc). They can then continue this at their tables, changing the ‘teacher’ so all students are active.

Next, I’ll repeat the ‘on/in/under’ song – quite simply, the three words sung with accompanying gestures and then a four-beat hand clap. It’s a fun way to introduce the students to prepositions. We could then put Mike around the room and ask where is he ? “Under the table,” “On the chair,” and then extend their speaking skills by asking for an adjective (usually a colour) + noun construction: “Mike’s on the yellow chair.”

After, I’ll distribute some writing boards and marker pens, and start saying the alphabet … when I stop, the students, as a team, have to write the next letter, both capital and lower-case, i.e. “A, B, C ….. ?”

Following, there will be a CD song, re-inforcing prepositions and adjective + noun sentences.

For a new activity, we turn to phonics – sound production / pronunciation. Today I’ll focus on the letters ‘R’ & ‘T’. I’ll prepare a slide of various words beginning with the two letters. The class will them form two lines and are given a sticky ball to throw. One side shouts out a word and one member from the opposing side must throw at said picture. Points awarded for direct hits, sound effects for total misses !

Then time for a fun song to practice the ‘R’ sound. What better than this famous British song:

‘Run, rabbit, run’ – sung quite slowly and clearly enunciated.

This should bring us to the book work and the introduction of continuous verbs. The subject is ‘What am I doing ?’ followed by five illustrations. The students will listen to a CD, then repeat.

Lessons usually end with a colouring session, allowing them to choose a picture and encouraging values such as sharing, being polite and being fair.

Then it’s High-Fives all around (to Mike; they don’t care a fig about me !) and good bye, see you next week … By this time, it’s lunch. I need a break, I need a coffee, I need a fresh shirt and I need to know how I can be as popular as Mike the Monkey. Somehow, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. To quote Kurt Cobain, “Oh well, whatever, never mind.”

Young learners (ages 4 – 6)


First class with a new post-KG (Kindergarten) class. 21 students and a new, young TA. There was going to be a lot of class management and, as a teacher-friend formerly  said, ‘crowd control’.

I used some illustrations to show basic class rules and the procedure (one black mark for breaking the rules, two black marks and the name is in the book) if they transgress.

Almost immediately, three boys were on the board; shouting and screaming (usual behaviour for a young class).

In this type of class, we usually introduce some new vocabulary and grammar, then drill it for pronunciation and meaning. The students will practice speaking, listening and more speaking … ideally.

The challenge here is to make warm up games fun and get everyone involved. At least the room was quite large, so I was able to hide some flash cards and ask some students to run and find them. These would be words learnt from a previous lesson(s) so the game also serves as a review. At this age, the students like active games, it gets them excited and prevents boredom from sitting in chairs for long periods.

Naturally, not all students can be involved at the same time, especially in running games, so a good plan is to break the class down into smaller groups (maybe four or five students per group). One member from each group can do an activity while the others will, hopefully, encourage them. I name the groups after English football clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs. Manchester United are having more success in my classroom than in the Premier League.

However, getting the students to speak in English was a bit of a problem. Most of them didn’t seem to understand my instructions, or didn’t want to speak. I’ll need to get the TA involved more, translating and giving instructions in Vietnamese.

Not a great success but realistic for a first lesson. I spent some time one-to-one with the students, checking their work and letting them speak to me, repeating what they had learnt.

In such a large group, there will be mixed abilities, motivation and energy. It’s a good idea to have some work sheets prepared for fast finishers. These include new vocabulary  and word searches; they appear as games, but also have pedagogic value, especially if the students work together and ask each other questions in English.

At the end of the lesson, the students should have learnt new vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation … and how I expect them to behave in class. It can be a slow process, but it works.