This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.
[Note: if you use a screen-reader and are having trouble with the Audioboo plug-ins, there are links in line with the text. Please let me know if this doesn't work for you.]
Our lessons are starting to be a bit more routine now, as I’ve found activities that work well with M and that she enjoys. I need to make sure that routine doesn’t become dull, but I’m also pleased to now have a set of reliable activities I can draw from.
We started the lesson with a spelling test, based on the furniture labels we made during our last lesson on Friday. M could read all of the words and tell me the contractions, although she couldn’t remember any of the spellings by herself.
One of M’s favourite mistakes is ‘I very like it’, so thanks to Jane Harding da Rosa, I taught her a chant to correct this, which we did with I, he, she, in the past simple and with will.
M remembered all of the other chants and poems we’ve studied, and we then spent about 20 minutes on chapter 4 of Alice in Wonderland. The title of the chapter is ‘The Rabbit sends Alice on an errand’. M’s examples of errands led on to her telling me all the different things you can buy in a newsagent’s in the UK, like newspapers, magazines, sweets and little toys. I added basic food like milk and bread, which made her laugh – she didn’t believe me at first!
To finish the lesson, M asked me questions about me and my friends. There were a few mistakes which I’m recording here for future reference:
- I’m ready listen.
- on Russian
- Where do you born?
- Where your family live?
- Do you miss about London?
As I walked into M’s house on Thursday, her sister was watching How to train your dragon, so we ended up chatting about it for a few minutes. M asked me a few words in Russian which I didn’t know. I tried to make notes of some of the words to look up, but this is difficult if M doesn’t know the Russian spelling. The only one I managed to find later was ревнует, which means ‘jealous’.
I had two new chants for this class, dealing with two of her mistakes from Tuesday. The first was for ‘I’m ready listen‘. We transformed it to use ‘she’s’ and ‘they’re’ as well as the original ‘I’m’.
The second was for ‘on Russian‘. We transformed this to use the past simple, as well as ‘she’, ‘he’ and ‘they’.
We were going to listen to chapter 5 of Alice in Wonderland, so in preparation I taught M the word ‘pipe’ (the caterpillar is smoking a pipe when Alice first meets him). I used my pen and bottle lid to make the shape of a pipe for her to feel, and compared it to cigarettes, which she already knew.
Then something great happened: M came up with her own impromptu poem! :)
I don’t want to smoke.
I don’t want to drink.
I want to be beautiful.
This is my dream.
She said it was her first poem in English, and asked if we could write it down. This took us half an hour, starting with M learning how to write her full name (including punctuation, along the lines of S. J. Millin) at her request, then how to write a title – she decided on ‘My Dream’. We wrote the whole poem in the long form with no contractions, but including symbols for punctuation, thereby practising how to code capital letters, full stops and apostrophes, as well as understanding the word ‘space’. I spelt the words for M, and tried to encourage her to predict the spellings herself: “What do you think is next?” She seemed a bit reluctant to do this – I’ll try to get her to do more spelling without reading at the same time, as it’s something I think she’s not very confident with. As with most learners, she also mixes up e/i/y.
Mistakes from this lesson were:
- She must to give him a fan.
- You will bigger/smaller.
- If I will drink this, I will bigger.
I’d like to practise first conditionals in a future lesson, but haven’t done any grammar with M yet, so I’m not really sure how to go about it. Does anyone have any suggestions?
In our third lesson, M had shown me two metal figures she has. Today they were joined by two more: a crusader knight and Saint Viteslav, a Russian soldier (as far as I remember!). This lead us on to a brief discussion about crusaders, Christians and Christianity, with M referring back to her cross which she showed me last Friday. She also revised the ‘soldier words’ we’d looked at previously: helmet, shield, sword, and greaves. (I know ‘greaves’ isn’t the most useful word, but it’s easy for her to feel them on the soldier, and she asked for it!)
Taking her notebook, M read her poem from Thursday, along with the words we’d studied previously, without any prompting from me.
M told me she likes mystery stories, and proceeded to tell me The Mystery of Blackdown Wood, which I’d never heard of. In the first couple of sentences she mixed past simple and present simple a lot until:
“In the past or the present?”
“Can I tell it in the present?”
“Tom don’t want to go into the wood.”
“Tom doesn’t… Or it’s all the same in the past: Tom didn’t want to go into the wood.”
“Oi! Tom didn’t want…”
After that she told the whole story in the past simple without needing any more prompting from me. The only past form which gave her trouble was “They hided” instead of “They hid”. At one point she couldn’t remember a word, and spontaneously came out with our chant from Tuesday: “I know it in Russian, in Russian, in Russian. I know it in English, but I just forgot!” :)
For the next part of the lesson, I gave M a choice of activities. She chose to learn the names of the things in pot of little objects which I’d brought along, consisting of:
- two paperclips;
- two treasury tags;
- two Cuisenaire rods of each value from one to six;
- a small white stone;
- a plastic thing (it’s for keeping an exercise ball inflated, but I figure the word ‘thing’ or ‘thingy’ is a good term for her to learn);
- two elastic bands.
It’s a very random collection of objects, basically consisting of everything I could find which was small enough to fit into a little pot and wouldn’t be dangerous (no pointy bits!). I plan to use them to help me clarify grammar with her later, although I haven’t worked out exactly how yet. Most of the objects are in pairs, as one idea I had was for me to model sentences using one set, and M to copy and modify them using the other set.
To teach M the names of the objects, she took them out and I asked her if she recognised any of them. The only word she already knew was ‘stone’, and in fact, she’s been carrying her own moonstone around for the last couple of lessons. When she picked up the treasury tags and the paper clips, she couldn’t use either of them, so I also showed her how to do that. She put the Cuisenaire rods in size order, and I told her they were used for maths, which she loves. I’ve recorded the words and sent them to her so she can listen to them again between now and our next lesson.
We listened to chapter 5 of Alice in Wonderland to finish off the lesson. I showed her how to use the volume and sound controls on my Mac so she could stop it whenever she wanted to. In the end she preferred to just sit down and listen through without stopping. On a side note, I’d like to Kirsty Major for her very useful comments about screen readers, touch typing and computer use on my previous post. This inspired me to start trying to show M around my computer and give her more control over the technology.
At the end of the lesson, as has become our habit, M put my computer in its case, then the case into my rucksack. Every lesson she gets faster at this process. She likes carrying my rucksack down the stairs, and won’t let me take it even though it weighs a ton! When one or the other of us dropped one of the things from the pot during the lesson, M always tried to find it, and this also gave me the chance to practise ‘right’ and ‘left’ with her, as she confuses them a lot. I think it’s important to get M doing as much as possible in the lesson, and avoid doing things for her. Patience is very important, as obviously in many cases it would be faster for me to just pick something up and give it to her. In the long run, this won’t help M though. As with any lesson with young learners, I’m not just teaching English. Motor skills and coordination are just as, if not more, important for M as they are for all children to learn.