A couple of blog posts ago I coined the acronym PLIL, a variation on CLIL. I make use of CLIL (content and language integrated learning) in much of my teaching, where I lead my art lessons with classes of Dutch children in English. They receive the art and the second language content simultaneously and in doing so pick up the language acquisition at a hugely increased pace.
PLIL is similar, but the content is simply replaced by play. There are plenty of situations in education where you are not directly involved in content from one of the subjects that you may be teaching in a school context. Play, and simply messing about with the children can equally be twisted and turned to increase the language learning opportunities.
Simple word games that I dip into at the end of a lesson fit into this area. For example, you pick a theme, ‘animals’ for example. The first child says the name of an animal, ‘tiger’ for instance. The second child has to pick another animal that begins with the last letter of the previous animal, so maybe ‘rhinoceros’. Then we get ‘snake’, ‘elephant’ and ‘tarantula’. You’re not allowed to repeat an animal, and you are not allowed to hesitate/think for more than a few seconds otherwise you are forced out of the game. It’s play, fun and laughter in the last few minutes of the lesson.
I have more of these sorts of activities that I draw on from time to time. Sometimes though, unusual situations throw up new possibilities. A case that illustrates this was a couple of months ago when five colleagues and I took ninety twelve-year-olds on a four day excursion to the coast.
The days were filled with all sorts of activities. Games, walks, playing on the beach, eating together, sports and so on. I’ve been on such trips often enough and know that on occasions you want to offer small rewards for winning, participating well, being especially helpful, maintaining a tidy room or even complimenting a teacher on how young they look! (That last one didn’t ever happen until we started playing this game!).
The idea grew out of the fridge poetry sets that you can buy, where you have an assortment of words stuck on your refrigerator door that you can rearrange from time to time to create poems. I wondered if we, as teachers, could have a pile of printed out words in our pockets and bags that we could hand out when a reward was needed? Would the pupils want to collect them to be able to play the word game that we would announce at the end of the week? It was an experiment, but it worked exactly as we hoped. These random words on little pieces of blue paper became ‘collectors’ items’ and were rapidly hidden away when handed out.
The pupils were sleeping in rooms of four or six generally and we instructed them to pool their words and together to puzzle out the most imaginative, poetic, surreal or simply strange sentence or sentences that they could form from their words. And surreal they were, as they stretched sentence constructions and grammatical knowledge to squeeze out the best possibilities.
Below are a couple of the ones we liked the most (Maasland, is the name of our school!)
The idea was simple. It served several purposes, but most of all, it offered the chance to have fun and be creative with language. We’ll be repeating the idea. Maybe our basic collection of words needs to be fined tuned a little here and there. The little linking words, the likes of or, and, then and is are perhaps less fun to ‘win’ than a fought or swallowed, but in the end every bit as important for making a sentence that hangs together well.