The Linguistic Benefits of Using Crafts in TEYL
By Raigan Bastianoni
Music, games and movement activities play an integral part in the young learner curriculum, and children require a variety of activities in order to acquire a second or foreign language in the classroom. Students come to our classrooms with different sets of skills, determined by their upbringing and innate abilities, which naturally has a profound effect on their learning styles. As teachers we choose methods that we hope will reach the majority of our students. There are children who learn best through songs or music, and those for whom new language input seems to "click" after a game or movement activity. We also know children for whom new input makes the most sense after they are given the opportunity to manipulate the language through the tangible means of a craft.1 Many children benefit linguistically from the incorporation of crafts into the curriculum.
HOW CRAFTS AID IN THE YOUNG LEARNER CLASSROOM
In order to capitalize on children's boundless curiousity and their seemingly effortless ability to acquire another language, teachers must engage and stimulate all of their senses. Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences implies that educators should recognize and teach to a broader range of talents and skills (Brualdi). According to Gardner's theory, our students come into the classroom with different sets of developed intelligences. This means that each child will have his or her own unique set of intellectual strengths and weaknesses. These sets determine how easy, or difficult, it is for a student to learn information when it is presented in a particular manner. This is commonly referred to as a learning style (Brualdi).
Most children like crafts and take pride in their creations. It is often surprising how original and creative children can be when given the opportunity. Crafts bring language learning and a fun activity together into a single focal point, and crafts in the young learner curriculum provide the children with a personalized, original representation of the English language input from our lessons.
Incorporating crafts in the young learner curriculum provides the children with an additional opportunity to learn social skills and the required language to facilitate socially acceptable behavior in a group setting. The students are forced to interact with each other and the teacher in order to ask for and receive the item they need to complete their work. For example, they must learn to ask for items in a polite manner, say please, and wait their turn. The teacher may even attempt a "group craft" in which a group of children must work together and negotiate the project from start to finish. Linguistically, the children will be exposed to a wider range of vocabulary and will hear much repetition of key terms as well, such as colors, expressions of politeness, and suggestions and praise.
In addition to learning another language, students are developing their fine motor skills. Children need practice learning how to properly hold and use a pair of scissors, cut and fold paper, and use glue. They also need the opportunity to develop their coloring skills; it may seem elementary to adults, but learning to color within the lines is not something that all children master effortlessly. Children who are allowed to create using a wide variety of materials also are provided with an invaluable opportunity to stimulate their creativity. They create an image in their mind's eye and then they learn to produce it with their hands. The craft serves a double purpose: it helps to develop fine motor skills and additionally the children have created something to represent the day's lesson. According to Laughlin (1999) some likely attributes of a person with well-developed visual-spatial intelligence are
- Perceives and produces mental imagery, thinks in pictures, and visualizes detail. Uses visual images as an aid in recalling information.
- Enjoys doodling, drawing, painting, sculpting, or otherwise reproducing objects in visible forms.
- Creates concrete or visual representations of information. (Campbell, et al.)
Therefore, crafts in the young learner classroom provide a memory enhancing connection when it comes to language learning and retention.
STRATEGIES FOR USING CRAFTS IN THE YOUNG LEARNERS CLASSROOM
As with other aspects of teaching young learners, incorporating crafts in the classroom becomes easier as teaching experience increases. There are, however, some strategies that could be considered to make the transition smoother.
First and foremost, the more comfortable a teacher is with using crafts as a language instruction strategy, the more easily the curriculum can be adapted to include crafts. Some people are not "crafty" people and simply do not enjoy these activities, in which case a teacher who feels obligated to incorporate crafts into her lesson plans may have trouble motivating and supervising a group of young learners. Teachers who are dubious of the benefits of crafts in their classroom but who would like to give crafts a try may want to start out slowly and simply and build up the time allotted to and the level of their crafts. Creativity is something that grows with time and experience, and teachers may have to give themselves a chance to develop this skill in themselves. Luckily, there are many ideas available in books and on the Internet, making it easy to select an appropriate craft.
1. The craft may reflect an aspect of the language input of the lesson.
Most lessons, or series of lessons, are topical, in which case the craft can be related to the language that the students were exposed to that day. This will solidify the new vocabulary and concepts using a different medium, creating a different perspective on the new material. For example, if children are learning the names of farm animals, they could be given cut-out, photocopied pictures of farm animals, they could first be required to color them in, and then on a large piece of paper, they could glue them on to create their own farm. In addition, they could draw their own rendition of a barn, trees, a pond, and the farmer.
2. Purpose and modeling
It is important for the children to understand what the purpose of the craft is and the teacher can explain at the beginning of the lesson what is going to be done with the finished product. Some crafts are used to decorate the classroom or school hallways, some are to be taken home or given to a parent, friend or sibling, and others are used for future lessons, such as a prop for a play, game or singing activity.
It is also helpful for the children to see a model, or models, of the finished craft in order to envision the final product. The models are an aide to the creative process and are not to be set as an inflexible standard that needs to be replicated completely. In order to encourage creativity and diversity, and more importantly to send the message that more than one final product is acceptable, teachers could show two or three radically different models of the same craft.
A general rule of thumb is to double or even triple the amount of time it requires you to make the craft, in proportion to the level of difficulty of the craft and the children's ages and abilities. It is useful to assume that the students will work more slowly and require much time to work on their masterpieces. In fact, there are often several students who are "little perfectionists" who become upset when the allotted amount of time is finished. Therefore, teachers need to allow for enough time for the majority of the students to finish. Some crafts will require two lesson periods to complete. Over time, it becomes easier for the teacher to gauge just how much time a group of young learners requires to complete a craft.
It is useful to have a box of most-commonly used crafting items. In this box, you might include several plastic table cloths, crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, safety scissors , painting materials and tape. If this box is stored in the classroom or building, it eliminates the need to bring the general crafting materials to each and every lesson. It is a good idea to have enough crayons and art materials for most if not all of the children for several reasons. First, it speeds up the crafting process if the children all have access to a pair of scissors so they can proceed with their craft once momentum hits. Second, it eliminates squabbling and fighting among the children if a slower classmate takes too much time with the glue stick or the green crayon. Last, if the children are busy with their own project, they are less apt to have an opportunity to pester, poke or antagonize another child, decreasing the need to reprimand and discipline during the crafting time.
5. Don't give up
It has been my experience that the children's ability to manage a craft more independently increases with time. It is not uncommon for the first few crafting attempts to seem hopeless and impossible. Crafting is like every other activity and children require time, opportunity and patience in order to master the skills. Children come to our classrooms with many different experiences and abilities. Holding a scissors, folding a piece of paper, coloring, gluing and creating an item on their own require many fine motor skills which are in development. For example, a child who finds it impossible to hold and correctly use a pair of scissors at the beginning of the year may make great strides in six months with weekly practice in our classroom. In addition, we cannot assume that all the children are exposed to crafts at home or in their preschools. For many of the children in our English classes, this may be the first time they are given the opportunity to glue, cut, or create with glitter or paint. Therefore, it's mandatory for the teacher to permit time and mistakes, on her part as well as the students'.
It is also important to increase our tolerance of messiness. A group of children crafting is inevitably going to be messy, and much too often we adults only see the activity as simply another thing to clean up in our already full teaching schedules. While this is certainly true and understandable, the benefits of crafting in a child's language development certainly outweigh the five or so extra minutes required to wipe up a few marker stains or spills. And of course, the children should be included in the clean up. At all ages, they can help to put scissors and glue sticks away, sort crayons and markers, and give a tablecloth a preliminary wipe down.
6. Praising the children's efforts
As adults and as teachers, we often have a fixed or perhaps even inflexible outlook on how things should be or look in order to be correct. We must eliminate these expectations as much as possible when dealing with children and their attempts at crafting in our language classrooms.
It is often necessary to provide of model of the craft for the children but we shouldn't insist that they replicate it entirely. Some children may copy our model simply because they can or because they want it to look just like the teacher's example, but we as teachers should not hold our creations up as the only correct or desirable model. You may want to use past students' crafts as models and present several different models to encourage diversity.
Nothing destroys a child's sense of pride and accomplishment more than a teacher insisting that their project is somehow "wrong". Children who are generously praised during the crafting are more motivated and absorb the language input more. They will participate in the follow-up activities with pride and energy. Children who are made to feel ashamed of their craft and efforts will certainly not make the language association and therefore will not use the craft to enhance their language acquisition. During the follow-up activities, they will hide their crafts, remain sullen and silent and leave the classroom in embarrassment. In fact, it could have a detrimental effect on their progress in the class if they are made to feel that their crafts are inadequate. Conversely, crafting should be used to boost their egos along with their fine-motor skills.
Children are often their own worst critics and will disparage their own work or that of their classmates. This practice needs to be nipped in the bud, firmly and judiciously. It has to be made clear that there is zero tolerance when it comes to criticizing their classmates' work or efforts, and the students will often take their cues from their teachers. This may be a good time for children to learn the sayings "If they can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!" or "Not all opinions need to be shared." If the students see that the teacher is generous in her praise and has a wide range of acceptance, the students will generally follow this example.
7. All children are different
Not all children take to crafts, but that does not mean they will not reap the benefits of exposure and experience. Just like some children cannot carry a tune but still sing our songs and others who are uncoordinated still play our games, some will let us know just how much they are not enjoying the craft activities.
These children should still be encouraged to participate and simply do the best they can. They may require more help and intervention, but chances are they will eventually experience that feeling of pride and accomplishment in their homemade work. Their presence in the classroom will ensure that they will make the craft-linguistic connection even though they may not be very craft-oriented.
The level of difficulty of the craft should be in proportion to the children's motor skills development, and sometimes it is merely a matter of adjusting the complexity of the craft to the children's abilities, and then they adapt to the work much easier. For those children who never seem to make this fit, we should respect what they can do and never criticize or compare. Some children who are uninterested in the crafts in the beginning make progress by leaps and bounds in several months' time. Continuing with simple craft activities can also be justified by the fact that these skills will be required in grade school.
THE CRAFT-LINGUISTIC CONNECTION
After the craft is complete, what should we do with it? This is where the craft-linguistic connection comes in! The craft can be used in a follow-up activity to review the linguistic input of the daily lesson. The craft and the vocabulary become a tapestry of the children's learning: vocabulary items and concepts from the lesson are interconnected and woven into a pattern of learning, the end result being a tangible project of the child's own creation. The children are putting the new lexis into another meaningful context, something visual and tangible to solidify the new linguistic material in their minds.
Time should be allotted at the end of the lesson for the follow-up activity. The material is reviewed as a group. The children can present their crafts to each other, or the teacher could lead an activity in which the children point to relevant parts of the craft; for example, a particular color or body part or animal. If the children make animal masks, they could participate in a parade. If they make spiders, they can swing their spider while singing the new song, "Itsy Bitsy Spider".
The teacher can also use the children's original work to elicit answers and encourage passive and active vocabulary acquisition. The teacher can ask the children specific questions related to their creation: "Where's your dog? What color is your house?" Where is your car? What is the boy doing? Show me the square. What color is it?" Children can learn practice their English while looking at the differences between their craftwork, for example, "Julio's car is next to the house and Amanda's is in front of the house".
When the children are allowed to take the craft home, it serves as a reminder of what was accomplished at the lesson. Often the parents report back that the child attempts to explain to them in English what was done or created. As a result, the craft serves as a reminder at home what was learned in the English class. If the child sees his or her craft at home, it serves as a daily reminder of our work in the classroom, in which case they are motivated to review their English at home.
Children take pride in their work and this increases their motivation to learn, especially when they realize that what they learn can be applied and is relevant in other situations. Research suggests that transfer and motivation are mutually supportive in creating an optimal learning environment. If the learner perceives what he is learning to be relevant and transferable to other situations, he or she will find learning meaningful, and his or her motivation to acquire the skill or knowledge will increase (Yeok-Hwa Ngeow).
The crafts used in the young learner classroom need not be complex creations; in fact, sometimes it's a matter of adhering to the old cliché of "The simpler, the better". Through Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, we understand that children arrive in our classrooms with a multitude of innate abilities. Our students will benefit in numerous ways just by being exposed to a varied curriculum, including the combination of crafts and the English language. Crafts help to develop children's fine-motor skills, provide them with the opportunity to use their imaginations and develop their enormous creativity, and give them skills needed to work in groups as well as individually. The craft-linguistic connection provides them with the chance to create an item with their minds and hands which serves as a vehicle to expand their linguistic growth. Children are curious, lively beings with the potential to develop many different skills and abilities throughout their lifetimes. We need to capitalize on and combine the tremendous power they possess to create with their delightful imaginations and their astounding ability to acquire languages.
1In this paper, the term "craft" is used loosely to include simple coloring projects to more time-consuming cutting and pasting projects. For our purposes a craft is anything that requires the children to pick up crayons or markers, scissors, construction paper or other crafting materials to create something that is related to the linguistic input of our lesson.
Brualdi, Amy C. (1996). Multiple Intelligences: Gardner's Theory. ERIC Database. Retrieved March 6, 2006, from http://eric.ed.gov/ Search the database for Eric # "ED410226".
Campbell, L., Campbell, B., & Dickinson, D. (1996). Teaching & Learning Through Multiple Intelligences. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Laughlin, Janet (1999). "Multiple Intelligences" [Electronic version]. Inquiry, Volume 4, Number 2, Fall 1999, 4-18. Retrieved March 6, 2006, from Virginia Community College System: http://library.cc.va.us/reference/search.htm
Yeok-Hwa Ngeow, Karen (1998). Motivation and Transfer in Language Learning. ERIC Database. Retrieved March 6, 2006, from http://eric.ed.gov/ Search the database for Eric # "ED427318".
Once a young learner instructor decides to incorporate crafts in her language classroom, it will become obvious how endless the possibilities are. It will become a matter of picking and choosing a craft to fit in the short amount of time allotted for each topic. For every topic, there is an array of crafts ranging from the simple to the more complicated. It is helpful to remember that a craft does not need to be complicated in order to be useful to the language learning process.
a) Colored Caterpillars: The children receive pre-cut colored circles and are required to glue together their own caterpillar. They can stick googly-eyes on the faces as well as paper antaenea. In the follow-up, the children can describe order of the colors that makes up their caterpillar's body, as they've all probably ordered the colors differently.
b) Paper Chains: The children are given pre-cut strips of colored paper and are required to create a paper chain. The longer the better! During the follow-up, they all stand there in a circle and the teacher asks the children to find "red", so the children search their chains for a red link and hold that link up. Depending on the students' language levels and confidence, they can take turns calling out a color for their classmates to find.
a) Animal Masks: Using paper plates with pre-cut eyes, noses and mouths, children can make animal masks with pieces of paper, coloring materials and crepe paper. The follow-up activity could be an "animal parade" in which the children take turns emerging with their mask. The audience (with the teacher's prompting, if necessary) can call out the name of the animal and then make the appropriate animal sound.
b) Itsy-Bitsy Spider: In conjunction with learning this popular song, the children could create a hanging spider with a styrofoam ball and a piece of string. They are allowed to paint the spider's body and then the teacher can attach pre-cut pipe-cleaner legs. The children can then glue on googly eyes. The follow-up activity could include singing the song with their spiders.
c) Animal Stick Puppets: What teacher hasn't sung "Old McDonald" with a young learner class? The students could color in photocopied pictures of farm animals, which would then be attached to popsicle sticks. The group can sing the song and the children must hold up the appropriate stick puppet.
3. Holiday Crafts
The possibilities are endless and need not be complicated. The Internet is a good resource for holiday craft ideas; therefore, I am not listing many.
Halloween: Children could make ghosts with a rolled up ball of newpaper covered with a piece of white cloth. They can decorate the face.
Christmas: Children can cut out snowflakes with folded pieces of paper, decorate paper Christmas trees with glitter and sequins. They can make their own ornaments, or for a bigger challenge, make a diorama of the Holy Family with salt-dough and decorate a shoe box to serve as a crèche scene.
Easter: Children can color or paint Easter eggs, or cover a cut-out rabbit with cotton balls to create a soft bunny to sing along to "Peter Cottontail".