Teaching people to tie their laces

By Xana de Nagy

Do you remember being taught to tie your shoelaces? I don’t, but I do remember teaching my kids. There was a rhyme we would say to help them remember that went something like, loop, loop and scoop, and involved some ‘bunny ears’ and other things I can’t quite recall. The thing is, they learnt how to do it, and this is something that will stay with them for life. I’m sure I wasn’t taught using a rhyme, but I also learnt this skill and was able to pass it on to my kids. A quick Google search on how to tie your shoelaces brings up many different methods and some that go completely against the grain. The thing is, they are all memorable in some way, a useful skill to learn and essential and… they all work!

This this made me think of how the things we learn early on in life often stay with us forever.

How do teachers of young learners tie their shoelaces?

There is a parallel with teaching as we all go through training which covers similar areas but which is often delivered in very different ways, though it yields similar results. In the same way, as teachers of YLs, we all have our own styles, preferences and methods that we bring to the classroom. The important thing is that the children learn albeit in many different ways.

As teachers of YLs we have the privilege of often being the first contact that the children have with English. With this comes great responsibility as we want to have a positive influence on their relationship with their learning of English through the use of good practices in our teaching.

As trainers of YL teachers, this is also true, as the aim is to provide teachers with good principles and effective procedures for the teaching of young learners and teens which, hopefully, they can use throughout their teaching career.

Something that is essential and useful

Being an effective teacher of YLs often starts with being an effective manager of children. For example:

  • knowing how to set up activities with a minimum of fuss and disruption;
  • giving clear instructions;
  • monitoring and giving feedback;
  • and managing your time effectively, so as to keep all the children busy but attentive at the same time.

These are just some of the essential and useful areas that need careful attention when you are new to teaching YLs. Making sure that you plan these stages of your lesson can mean the difference between a lesson that is successful and one that breaks down.

Experimenting with different ways of setting up and giving instructions and knowing what works and what doesn’t work for you and your learners are important skills that stay with us forever. We all have stories of when things didn’t go so well and those are the lessons we never forget. I remember teaching a group of 30, 6-year-olds and making the mistake of giving out the books as they came in to class. It took me the next 10 minutes or so just to get them to look up from their books, never mind stop colouring in some of the pictures. As soon as I got some to focus on me and stop what they were doing, there was another group that started doing something else with the book like, commenting on something which they found funny, etc.

From then on, I made sure I had clear routines in place and that I had thought through exactly how I was going to manage the materials, not to mention the children themselves.

On a new YL course, trainees shared their experiences of what worked and what didn’t work in their lessons in terms of classroom management and we tried to come up with useful, essential and memorable strategies to try to avoid situations like the one I experienced.

Some ideas that were discussed were:

  • ensuring the learners come into class and have something to do and think about straight away;
  • having clear routines to start and finish a class;
  • avoiding distractions like books; materials, etc., until they are absolutely necessary, e.g. keeping books on the floor, under their chairs, etc.

How to teach our YLs to tie their shoelaces

As mentioned above, we want to instil good learning habits in our learners from the word go. We want them to have positive experiences in the English classroom and hopefully provide them with memorable lessons and activities that will help them be successful in their learning.

Making sure our YLs are happy and feel safe in the classroom is essential. Establishing a positive rapport with them and ensuring that they enjoy the lessons is, in my view, extremely important.

It is fun to see how some students who have come up through the different levels in our schools not only have a good level of English, but also a positive outlook on their learning experience.

This is often due to things like:

  • being encouraged to speak English as much as possible in class, with their peers and with the teacher;
  • ‘fun’ and interesting activities that also promote real use and meaningful practice of language;
  • memorable moments: often these are when things went wrong – not always the teacher’s favourite;
  • learning to learn and being encouraged to reflect on their learning familiarity with routines and what was expected of them in the classroom;
  • the opportunity to talk about real issues and use this to develop their knowledge of English.

Incorporating some of these aspects into our teaching can help develop useful skills in our learners which will stay with them for life.

These are things that most teachers, and especially YL teachers, do every day when we plan our lessons and go into the classroom. Teaching YLs is often not only about the teaching of the language but also managing important life skills. We want to make sure that what we are doing will have a positive and long-lasting effect on our learners.

So, how do you tie your shoelaces?

Author's bio: Xana de Nagy is a teacher/teacher trainer in Lisbon. She started teaching in 1984 and training in 1990. She spends most of her time working on CELTA courses, but also trains on IHCAM, Delta, IHCYLT courses and runs sessions for state school teachers. She has always had a special interest in teaching children and has a MSc in TEYL.