The past, the present and the future walked into a bar. It was tense. This week I bring you the latest from the classroom:
Bite your tongue
The /th/ sound is really difficult. To model it for my students, I ask them to stick their tongues between their teeth and blow out. For those who carry on saying the /f/ sound, I ask them to pull down their bottom lip. We play a game where I present the four actions of ‘tree,’ ‘three,’ ‘thumb’ and ‘tum’ (tummy). We drill how to say them, then I chant them quickly and they must show me the right action. However, this week, as the children lined up by the door, a boy announced, “I’m turd!”
Yesterday one of my pupils who is six years old, said aloud that he did not want a wife. I told him that I did not have a husband. He replied, “If you did, you would go home and shower.” It struck me as odd, but having thought about it more I realised it was perhaps lost in interpretation. His parents must persuade him to bathe by saying he will not get married otherwise.
A novel approach
An unexpected turn of events
During my register, I was missing a student. As I called her name, one member of the class said, “Oh, she passed away.” I was shocked initially, but at that moment I saw her walking past the door to her newly promoted class. ‘Passed away’ was actually ‘passed by,’ thankfully.
A new motto
During a spelling test, I decided to make it a bit more fun.
Me: Garden. I like to sit in the garden. Garden. I eat spiders in the garden…
Student: Me too!
Student: When I’m frightened of something, I just eat it.
Sometimes it is difficult to argue with the student’s logic:
I leave you with one unfortunate typo. He meant to write ‘wound’ I believe:
If you have any teaching stories to share, I’d love to hear them.
I, for one, am a fan of Roman numerals. This week brings you more merry mishaps straight from the classroom.
One of my favourite tasks for my Kindergartners is asking them to wink. As a four sound word, it often comes up in my ‘Teacher Says’ blending game (after all, who is this Simon?). My students will often scrunch up both eyes for extended amounts of time, or creepily stare at me through one eye as they squeal, “Look!” One child who had mastered the skill proudly turned to the others, before giving us a slow-motion blink.
Sometimes, children can find it difficult to stay balanced in class. I try to alleviate the pressure of their performance by always praising effort first. Recently, one usually cheerful student cried during class, and sensing her discomfort, I continued teaching before quietly sliding her some tissues. At the end, she apologised and seemed to know what had caused the outburst. “I didn’t have my Vitamin C this weekend.”
This week, I was observed by a fellow teacher. During one part of our space-themed lesson, I asked the class to count the sounds to sort various cards into the numbered spaceships. Each item was described for its purpose, for example, “Oh! We will need somewhere to s-l-ee-p. Yes, a bed!” One of the newer pupils looked confused, before complaining that the bed was far too small. Instead of explaining it was a picture and attempting to convey scale, I merely got out my invisible shrinking ray gun and zapped the child. As we lined up at the end of the lesson, the same child poked my belly and said, “Big tummy!” It’s all relative, I suppose.
I avoid making any solid promises as a teacher, but I am ashamed to admit that I occasionally will ask a child to pinkie promise to do their homework. It is sometimes difficult to encourage a five year old to do homework, so I find this a neater incentive to get across my expectations. It has worked on all but one of my students.
I asked my class which animals could be spotted on an African safari. Some answered the usual culprits of lion, tiger, zebra and elephant, whilst some were hoping that rabbits would make an appearance on the ‘big five’ list. I delved deeper and asked which of these had stripes. Of course, many correctly said zebra and tiger. However, one boy shouted out, “A zebra has spots…long spots.” A budding politician in the making.
I taught my class that molten rock was also known as lava, then asked if it was hot or cold. One student, who I knew had a keen interest in volcanoes, said that if you touched lava you would melt like an ice cream and die. But then, you would go to heaven…where you can eat ice cream. I feel I failed my class on teaching them how to safely approach a volcano.
As a teacher, it is important to know the loo lingo. In Asia, children are encouraged to say ‘Pizureen’ which translates to the rather crude ‘pass urine.’ I am lucky to have experienced only three toilet dramas so far. One happened in my very first week as we lined up to leave, and the poor boy suddenly covered himself with his bag. The second incident also happened right at the end of class, but this young chap stared vacantly ahead as he went, before sploshing his bare feet in the newly made puddle much to the horror of the rest of us. The final event was more dramatic though. One girl shrieked, “Oh no!” before announcing to the class that she had, in fact, ‘passed motion.’ As she entered the class the following week, far from being embarrassed as her mother had feared, she squealed, “I’m a poop monster!”
In the eye of the beholder
On reading the word ‘cute,’ I asked the class what could be described using this word. I heard the usual kittens, puppies and bunnies, but one girl said ‘babies.’ She then elaborated on this, by saying only very chubby ones are cute. I recall the same student had boasted that her daddy was very strong, but then at the end of the lesson she corrected herself and explained he was actually very fat.
Many teachers find marking a chore, but I enjoy it for all the endless one-liners it provides. From the massive joy of being ‘on nine clouds,’ to the student who forgot the word ‘van’ and improvised with ‘veg. car.’ One student, who had almost cracked similes, wrote, ‘Her hair was as fresh as apples in a refrigerator.’
I will leave you with some more gems:
Until next time!
The latest round up of the things my students say in our classroom:
These small words, such as ‘at’, ‘on’ and ‘in’, may seem insignificant, but they can really bugger up the meaning of the sentence if used incorrectly. My lower primary students find it particularly confusing that you get in a car or taxi, but on a train or bus. At first, they think it means you stand on top of it to travel.
Science of deduction
One of my favourite games is to ask students to offer an educated guess about an unknown word. I make it more exciting by saying we must be detectives and I get out my magnifying glass to mimic Sherlock (or Geronimo Stilton for them). Recently, the word ‘rodent’ came up. One child thought that it might mean ‘rotten’ which wasn’t so far off, but another guessed ‘food’. I’m not accepting an invite to dinner round theirs.
Inside the lines
Sometimes, our practice of the fine motor skills (handwriting and colouring to the rest of us) can produce something wonderful. I present to you a truly ‘baked’ gingerbread man.
Another tricky hurdle for my students is idioms, those well-known phrases that are often unique to your home country. In the beginning, my students are hesitant to use them, but they soon go overboard and sprinkle them in nonsensically. I created a worksheet to introduce them to body idioms, and gave them a word bank of body parts to complete the phrases. There were some old favourites, such as, ‘legged it’ for running away, ‘nosy’ for someone who is overly curious, and a ‘hair-raising’ experience on a roller coaster. One of my students believed that the phrase, ‘headless chicken’ was actually ‘stomach chicken.’ I bet this is a dish readily available in the hawker centre.
Teaching children to read can be challenging. You need a huge dollop of patience and should be encouraging at all times, but you are occasionally rewarded with hilarious alternatives to the words on the page. Some that stick in my mind from the last few weeks are ‘eating toes’ instead of ‘toast’, washing your hands with ‘foamy soup’ rather than ‘soap’, a student read ‘ate a snake’ instead of ‘snack’, and one boy repeatedly read ‘myth’ as ‘meth’.
In a recent lesson, we sent the children in a time machine into the future, exactly one hundred years to be precise. I asked my class to imagine what will have changed, especially with transport and their school. Many were excitedly discussing robot teachers, flying spaceships and space academies. One boy, who seemed to miss the concept a bit, dryly exclaimed, “But I’ll be dead!”
Eat my dust
One particularly tricky lesson where I had a few emotional three year olds join my class, I made up a funny game to distract them from the fact they were no longer with their parents. Joining up lowercase and uppercase letters, I deliberately drew some lines incorrectly to get them to correct me and build their confidence. When I erased the line, I made a funny “Nom nom!” sound, as if the eraser enjoyed eating up the pencil. All the children laughed except one serious young girl, who worriedly asked, “Where is its mouth?”
Stick to the script
As a teacher, it is important that you think carefully before opening your mouth. Each instruction should be clear, concise and pitched to the appropriate level. However, sometimes you can be caught off guard. I had marked a student’s narrative where they had used multiple conjunctions in a sentence, so I explained, “You don’t need a double ‘but’”. The whole class erupted.
There are times when you are rewarded as a teacher quite unexpectedly. One fond memory is a student who passed me a pizza promotion flyer as we lined up for class. One six year old wrote this in our lesson recently:
I leave you with my latest wall display to compliment the book bingo game I made my primary students. Until next time!
After the Christmas break, I’m back with more insights from the classroom. Enjoy!
In one reading class, a child misread ‘failing eyesight’ as ‘falling eyesight.’ I mimicked what that could mean (dangly eyes) and the children were grossly delighted.
‘J’ is for…
Students often encounter animals exhibiting human characteristics in literature (especially in Aesop’s fables), and it is important to explain the stereotypical roles they play. I asked my class which animal was said to be wise. One boy exclaimed, “A buffalo!”
I asked my class about whether they could remember their dreams. Many said they imagined flying, running faster than cars and swimming underwater. One student glumly admitted, “I dream of spelling.”
I would like a stern word with whoever named this part of punctuation. Not only do the children struggle to say the word itself, they become so liberal with the little flying comma that they sprinkle it everywhere where an ‘s’ appears once they’ve encountered it. Aged 7, I was guilty of this too. With lots of practice, the primary students begin to understand it is only used for possessives, but the backwards step seems inevitable before they crack it.
When I was marking a 4 year old girl’s homework book in my phonics class, she had correctly circled a ‘mermaid’, recognising it had the same first sound as ‘man’. She said it was her favourite as it “wears a sexy bra”. Another child was outraged at another student and immediately told on him, saying that he’d said the ‘s’ word. I called both of them over, and tried to stifle a snort when that word was revealed to be ‘selfish.’
Kids love being icky. From sneezing out swinging snot ropes, to picking their nose before giving me a high five, they love to share their germs to my dismay. One lesson, I noticed one of the boys in my class had a huge wet patch on his shorts. When we reached reception, he explained, “It’s just saliva.” Oh, that’s better then…
The struggle is real
RIP jumbo pencil. I hope you enjoyed your three short weeks on this Earth. I tried to save you from excess sharpening, but alas, you perished too soon. You are survived by lime green pencil #2. I have since bought the amazing book, The Day the Crayons Quit to further educate my kindergartners.
I am worried my ‘teacher’s voice’ might be permanent. I often have a stray sticker stuck to the bottom of a foot, and have given up trying to remove the permanent marker which is just part of me now.
When a three year old child says ‘daddy finger’, I feel a little pang of sadness saying that it is actually called a thumb. For kids new to phonics, giving the first sound can be challenging. The first sound of tiger is ‘tuh’ for example. It’s sometimes hard to argue with their logic of ‘meow’ for cat and ‘oink’ for pig though…
As a final note, I have introduced our centre to the endless delights of puns. Stay tuned for weekly updates, and feel free to share or leave comments below.
This week’s instalment of comments overheard in my classroom:
Isn’t it amazing to think of the varieties of fresh produce and items available in our supermarkets? One text prompted a student of mine to write, ‘She saw milk in the refrigerator.’ Yet she didn’t actually write milk. She wrote ‘milf.’
Like many others, I find the prospect of holding a social gathering and cooking for others daunting. My students, as young as they are, apparently feel the same. Instead of reading ‘picnic basket’ they repeatedly said, “Panic basket.”
Names such as Siobhan and Hermione have been tripping up children for years. For some of my students, pronouncing Western names proves a real challenge too. Many of the stories include names such as Anthony, Naomi and Chloe. Inexplicably, the hardest of them all turned up in an oral exam. That name was Phoebe.
One of my students was reading a personal recount about a boy on a farm. He read the phrase, “I wore a thick coat and tough shoes.” However, the /th/ and /f/ sounds caught him out, and he instead pronounced it as “tooth shoes.” I’m not convinced they’ll take off.
Marking can sometimes be an arduous task, but occasionally some absolute corkers will surface. These need no introduction, but I’d like to take a moment to apologise to my Great Auntie Melita. I was brought up to be better. That said, the last one is rather uplifting, don’t you think?
Although many children do not celebrate Christmas here, it is still prominent with carols blasting in Fairprice and tinsel exploding overhead in the malls. Although I generally wait for December, I have started early this year since most children are off on their holidays soon. Here are some terrible festive one-liners. Enjoy!
This week’s round-up of the weird and wonderful thoughts from my students:
One of my reading class students read the word ‘magician’ and asked what it meant. I described the traditional image of a magician using a magic wand, and pulling something surprising from his (seemingly) empty hat. The boy had a flicker of recognition pass over his face. “Like a pigeon?” In a budget show, perhaps.
I always encourage the nose-pickers to grab a tissue, and as a teacher of three and four year olds, I even have to show them how to blow their noses effectively. Perks of the job. One girl successfully blew her nose, and as she discarded the used tissue into the bin, she cheerfully exclaimed, “Byeeee!” as if it were a close friend.
Most of the children who are finishing Kindergarten and moving to Primary school in January (school term starts at the beginning of the year in Singapore) are now breaking up for the holidays. Some are travelling to China, Malaysia, Myanmar, India or the Philippines to visit their extended families. I asked one of my young students what China was like as I had never been. He said it was nice, before offering to take me to MacDonalds. What a gentleman.
One of the inevitable situations in a classroom full of children is that someone will fart. It’s no good telling the children that it isn’t funny, because it is and always will be. Depending on the child in question, I will either ignore and deflect the attention to something else, claim it was my chair, or ask them that they wait for me to open the door first. During one class with six year olds, one child let rip. Another quickly rebutted, “Excuse me, I’m eating.” It was clear this was a regular comment at their dinner table.
After introducing my class rules song and threatening to enforce it by singing to the child each time they broke one, I lost my voice completely. I had to take a day off as it is difficult to teach phonics and reading without talking. My students were surprised that I wasn’t there and asked the cover teacher what happened. On hearing that I had lost my voice, one said, “She talks a lot.” Thanks, kid. On my return, I told them I did indeed lose my voice and I had to go on a daring quest through the jungle to find it. This was a bit more exciting than the Strepsil truth.
I like to introduce the concept of proper nouns and capitalisation early, so when my reading class encounters such a word, I ask them, “What is special about that word?” I’ve coached them to say that it has a capital letter so it’s a name / country / month etc. On reading ‘Egypt’, I asked the same “What is special?” question. One student replied, “Nothing.” The pharaohs would be turning in their tombs.
On discussing gendered nouns with my lower primary students, we listed the masculine / feminine names for animal species. For example, horses are stallions or mares, female lions are lionesses, and chickens can be named cockerels or hens. When we covered cows, the children rightly said a male cow was a bull. When they realised a female was still called ‘cow’, one boy exclaimed, “It’s rude to pull milk from a cow then!” I quickly moved on.
Finally, I leave you with this body-positive thought. I asked my student to make a sentence with the word ‘hips’. She said, “I shake my hips when I dance. It shakes my bum too because they are friends!”
I’ll be back next week with more insightful comments from my students. Likewise, if you are a teacher, parent or look after little people, share your comments below. I’d love to hear them.
Each week, I’ll be posting the most thought-provoking comments from my students. If you missed it, check out last week’s edition here.
One task that we frequently ask students to complete is working out the definitions of new words within a passage. In one example, my eight year olds were asked to deduce what ‘paraffin’ meant. The sentence spoke about pouring it, so we decided that it must be a liquid of some sort. Their answers? Turtles and muffins.
One of my four year old kids had a very serious question for me during class. He asked whether jelly was made from jellyfish, and looked extremely relieved when I told him it wasn’t.
We teach the children a thumbs-up technique to differentiate between lowercase ‘b’ and ‘d’. There are plenty more techniques (such as ‘bed’ or ‘b has a belly, d has a diaper’) available on Pinterest. On discovering that some children were not angling their thumbs correctly, I have switched to the ‘OK’ signal as pictured below. After going round the class and checking each child could both do the gestures and tell the letters apart, one child modified his a bit. He curled down all his fingers leaving just the middle ones up.
Explaining what a disguise was, I told the students that it meant changing your appearance so that you looked different enough to go unnoticed. I gave the classic example of the bushy eyebrows, glasses and moustache. One member of the class suddenly nodded and said, “Oh, like makeup?”
Discussing journal entries, my primary class began thinking about secrets. One bright student raised his hand and told us that he used to have 45 secrets, but he told his brother two of them, so now he has 43 left. I never really considered it, but that is exactly how secrets work!
I gave my primary students a reading list and challenged them to play reading bingo last week. They were genuinely excited, except one girl who seemed perturbed. When I asked her which title she would read first, she asked how long each book was. I told her they varied in length. Another child then boasted about having read a really long book. The girl spun round and said “How long?” as she raised her arms apart. I realised then that she was thinking about the actual length of the books rather than the number of pages!
Don’t try this at home
Finally, as it was Bonfire Night back home this week, I’ll leave you with this final cracker. Reading aloud, one boy read ‘tested fireworks’ as ‘tasted fireworks.’ That would take more than some Gaviscon to fix.
Curiosity. I lost it temporarily. The pursuit of it caused me to quit my job and move halfway across the world. Now as a teacher, my students often ask me about things I’ve never really considered, such as why a toothbrush is not called a teethbrush, or why carpet isn’t a pet for your car. I began to wonder about all the other things I took for granted growing up. After ten months, here’s a list of things I’ve learnt so far:
My classroom rules are simple. However, one boy in class took the first rule literally.
Me me me
When we celebrate a child’s birthday in class, we sing the happy birthday song and give three hip-hoorays at the end. That’s if we can get through the song without everyone shouting out their birthday, or their dad’s, friend’s, or cat’s birthday too.
I had a student ask me if I had washed my hair (it turned out he liked the shampoo smell), and another about the mosquito bite (read: spot) on my face. One child told me I have vampire teeth, and another guessed my age at 90.
Holding a straight face is essential
During a mock oral exam, one student panicked:
Me: Do you have a pet at home?
Student: Yes, I have a fish…but it died.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry. Which animal from the pictures would you choose to adopt instead?
Student: [Blank stare…possibly considering mortality]
Me: Right, what should a responsible pet owner do?
Student: [Shrugs shoulders]
Me: Ok, what things would a good pet owner do to look after their animal?
Student: Walk it at the park.
I rewarded a boy with a holographic sticker after class. He threw it back at me – even 2D glittery purple spiders are scary.
An honest mistake
Had a dictation in class and the word ‘aching’ caused some confusion. A fair few of the eight year olds wrote ‘Egg King’ instead.
I taught a kid to pause at commas and full stops today by mimicking swimming. We fixed his reading but now he does the front crawl at his desk.
I did the ‘pop’ noise with my finger and the kids were floored. When I taught them how to do it, they successfully impersonated fish with hooks caught in their cheeks. Drool galore.
During an assessment with a four year old, I pointed to a caterpillar. The child called it a worm. I told him that it transforms into a butterfly. He still didn’t have a scooby. I pointed to the picture as a cat to give him a clue. His answer: catworm.
Simplicity is beautiful
One of the nine year olds in my composition class wrote a wintry haiku. Bearing in mind it should technically focus on nature, he ignored this in favour of opening with: Hello hot chocolate. Accurate.
To help some eight year olds imagine they were exploring the land of the giants, I pretended to zap them with a shrinking ray as they walked in. I had an over-sized tomato-shaped eraser next to a miniature man (representing us) for scale. When I suggested that a giant’s sneeze would create a green pool for us to swim in, they absolutely lost it.
Not all plans pan out
During pirate week for my phonics class, we covered the ‘ar’ sound and had a story and various isolation exercises. At the end, I offered to unlock the treasure chest if they could give me a word with ‘ar’ each. The first boy said “octopus” and the next said “rabbit.” Lesson well spent.
Me: [Reading speaking prompt question] Have you ever been in trouble?
Me: [Surprised] Really? Have you ever had a messy room? Or left your dinner? Or had a fight with a sibling?
7yo: I’m from China.
One child asked me if jelly was made from jellyfish which is a perfectly reasonable question. On that theme, jamming with the kids in phonics class produces some unexpected results:
Jelly on a plate. Jelly on a plate.
Jelly on a plate.
Jelly on the the door. Jelly on the door.
Now jelly’s on the floor.
Jelly in my eye. Jelly in my eye.
Jelly made me cry.
Jelly in my tum. Jelly in my tum.
Jelly out my bum!
As Halloween is upon us, I must post these one-liners that one of my six year olds wrote and delivered to the class. I’m not sure they work, but the class struggled to breathe through their giggles and one boy even fell off his chair. Edited transcript below.* Enjoy:
I’ll be posting a weekly round-up of my favourite moments this year so far. Until then, Happy Halloween!
*Jokes courtesy of H, six years old:
Q: What do you call a bunny dressed up as a ghost?
A: Hoppy ghost.
Q: What do you do when a ghost scares you?
A: Glow like a lantern.
Q: What are you going to do when a lantern turns alive?
A: Hide in a cup.
Q: What is a spooky cup called?
A: Cup monster.
Q: What do you call a dinosaur with wings?
A: Chicken dino.
Q: Where do you go when a ghost scares you?
If you can hold your breath when all about
Kids sneeze open-mouthed at you,
If you can trust yourself when all students doubt you,
But make sense of their doubting too;
If you can wait for a word and not be tired by waiting,
Or being cried about, don’t deal in cries,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t reach too high, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream in phonics —and not make insomnia your master;
If you can mark —and focus your corrective aim;
If you can meet with Tears and Toilet Disasters
And treat those two accidents without blame;
If you can answer ‘What’s that?’ and spell the words you’ve spoken Twisted by rules and explain the traps for fools,
Or watch the crafts you gave your time to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with glittery glue:
If you can make one heap of all your lesson planning
And risk ending on one game of noughts-and-cross,
And lose the calm, then start again with your discipline
And never breathe a word of your control loss;
If you can force your grammar, vocabulary and values
To serve your turn long after the students are gone,
And hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Starbucks latte which screams to you: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with parents and keep your virtue,
Or connect with unruly kids and reinforce the common touch,
If neither bored students nor brutally honest comments can hurt you,
If all children count on you, but not lean on you as a crutch
If you can fill the unforgivably fast minutes
With ninety minutes’ worth of ‘blending sounds’ fun,
Yours is the classroom and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Teacher, brave one!
Crudely adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If —’, Rewards and Fairies, 1912.
I’ve completed my first four weeks teaching English here in Singapore. I’m enjoying the job, and mostly teaching Kindergarteners (aged 4-5) their phonics to enable them to read, along with expanding their vocabulary. However, I have some older groups up to Primary 3 level (8-9 years) which focus on comprehension and honing productive speaking and writing skills. I also teach some intensive lessons where the children are likely to be ESL (meaning English is their second language) and need to brush up for school.
I’m very proud of the fact that I have now mastered the names of all 80 of my students (although pronunciation on a couple may be a bit off). Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:
Creativity There is a general perception that Asian students are not as creative in their thinking compared to the rest of the world, but given some visual or audio prompts, I’ve found that my classes can easily tap into their imaginations when writing narratives. Especially if you happen to mention Pokémon.
Lost in translation When I’m teaching my younger reading classes, I have a tendency to enthusiastically say “Keep going!”. Then, if I say “Keep your book on the table” I’m met with a blank expression from the class. For children here, ‘keep’ means put away. So telling them to keep something out is an oxymoron, resulting in a comic to and fro as they process the instruction. I’ve learnt to say “Carry on reading” and, “Put this on the table”.
Say it don’t spray it Phonics, with the plosive sounds of ‘p’, ‘t’ and ‘k’ mean that the children are getting their mouths around these sounds for the first time. This can invariably result in a lot of spit flying about. Particularly when we practice sounds that don’t come as naturally here such as the digraph ‘th’. Repeating “th-th-three” and “th-th-thumb” can get quite messy! It also requires some explaining on how to stick your tongue between your teeth without biting it.
It’s in the detail I’ve found that the students are far more engaged when they encounter something out of the ordinary. This might be googly eyes on the ‘sound sticks’, or a genuine postcard from England, or fishing for answers with magnets fixed to lolly pop rods.
Songs and rhymes save time This is hardly a revelation, but I’ve found that drilling sounds and expanding vocabulary is easiest though singing songs. Together with funny mimes, the children are able to understand the meaning and practise the target sound extensively. In my ‘under the sea’ week focusing on the long ‘e’ sound, I adapted ‘A sailor went to sea’ which featured verses with seahorses that drink green tea, seaweed that waves at me, and a pirate with a leg wooden from the knee!
Grammar games Although our pre-made materials offer comprehensive activities to test grammar, some constructs seem a little more tricky for the students to remember. I made a couple of superhero inspired cards to help them remember how to change third person verb endings (usually add ‘s’ – hello Superman!), and how to recognise an infinitive verb (hi Buzz Lightyear).
The writing is on the wall It’s important to motivate students to produce good work by displaying pieces in the classroom. My 7 year olds were given different coloured paper and asked to write down their haikus. Their final work was more polished and creative than the version they wrote in class, because it comes with a sense of pride to have your name on the wall. I say the same to my younger classes to encourage them to colour neatly to improve their motor skills. It works!
Watch them grow One idea I stole from Pinterest (a goldmine for teaching ideas) is a vocabulary tree. I made one which includes spelling test words from each of my Primary classes. I quiz the students on the definitions and check they can use the word in a sentence. I also have some synonym flowers to help them find other words for ‘nice’, ‘cold’, ‘big’ and ‘good’. Their antonyms are featured on the back, and the kids enjoy reading a petal and discovering new words. I’ve made some for the verbs too so that we can avoid a tsunami of ‘I/he/she said’;
Chop chop Stamps are called ‘chops’ here and kids will do ANYTHING to get a chop. Stickers are also a great way of setting boundaries and expectations of the students in class. Our centre has kindly provided us with some, and from the age of 7 up the children only want the more academic ones, which range from ‘Good try’ to ‘A+’. There would be a fight if they were to choose their own stickers.
One month ago, I flew to Singapore. I had resigned from a good job in London to come teach English, having no real experience of teaching beforehand and only a TEFL certificate and English Literature degree to back me up.
I was one of seven new teachers undergoing training, and it seemed that this was the first teaching job for many of us which was encouraging. We represented a mixture of English dialects, from American to Kiwi, from Scottish to a Yorkshire accent.
We made our way through the materials and learned how to teach phonics to kindergartens, with only a few minor disagreements of whether the American way of saying ‘banana’ was correct compared to the English /ar/ sounding vowel. Of course, both are correct and it’s important to give the children exposure to different versions of English as they will encounter various forms in their lives.
We also delved into the kiasu mindset of the parents who want to give their child a fighting chance to succeed at seemingly any cost. Most children will participate in music, sports, language and extra tutored lessons after school and at the weekend to achieve an edge when it comes to the all important Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE). Taken at the age of twelve, the results of these tests determine the future of the children in terms of which secondary school, and ultimately which college or university they attend.
As the whole curriculum is taught in English except for a lesson in the mother tongue language (which ironically is the language that the child’s father speaks), it’s our job as English teachers to ensure that it is not their understanding of the language that holds them back. In fact, English is a compulsory subject as it is considered a joint first language in this country, with the government recognising the importance of being able to communicate with the business world in English.
It’s impossible to be in Singapore and not come across the hybrid language Singlish. Although English remains the official language, since the country’s independence over 50 years ago, it is Singlish that you will hear being spoken by locals on the streets. Ordering food at a hawker centre, or trying to follow the local soap operas is much easier if you know a few phrases. Singlish does away with many grammar constructs such as prepositions and verb inflections, and in that way resembles other regional languages such as Malay.
As a nod to the immigrant roots of the country, Singlish borrows words from Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese, Mandarin and other Chinese languages, as well as Tamil from southern India. It was previously seen as a lesser educated form of communication, but since government campaigns to stamp it out in favour of ‘better English’ have failed, the country is now embracing its hybrid tongue but insists that Singaporeans are able to switch between Singlish and English in the appropriate contexts. Read this informative BBC article for more examples.
In my classroom, I often hear ‘can’ as a positive response to a question accompanied with fast nods, often with the nuanced addition of ‘lah’ at the end which, depending on the tone, can change the sentiment of the sentence (although I couldn’t yet tell you how).
As I teach the conjugations of different verbs, or introduce plural forms of countable nouns, I am aware that in Singlish it simply doesn’t exist; it’s really a shorthand way of communicating, a more efficient and less decorative form that deserves to be preserved and celebrated, similar to the traditional dialects in England that have resisted the onslaught of so-called ‘superior’ Received Pronunciation (RP) or Queen’s English.
So, while I teach my students English, I will be mindful of conveying it as the ‘proper’ way to speak. I’d like my students to be confident in speaking English at school and later in their professional life, but also to use Singlish whilst they’re playing with friends, or speaking to elders who perhaps only speak Singlish. If the children cannot speak Singlish they may be considered at best, snobby, or at worst, less Singaporean. It’s important to recognise that this is Lah Lah Land after all, and the Singlish language exists to remind us of Singapore’s heritage.