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  • Everything is Actionable

    Whether you’re working with adults or kids, the best way for you to demonstrate any given language, and for the students to learn it, is by showing how the language is actually used.  That means putting the language into action.  In other words: acting it out.  This certainly isn’t the only way to teach, and shouldn’t be, but it is usually the most effective.  It is entertaining, engaging, realistic and immediate. It is also easy once you get used to thinking about how to put the language into action.  Rather than spending a long time planning how you will explain a certain word or phrase with other words and phrases, simply thinking about how to demonstrate the language will save time and probably be more efficient.  As a teacher it allows you communicate what the language means without having to rely wholly on other words.  This can make life much easier and also be liberating.

    It is important to remember the lessons from “Lego Language” in terms of dissecting a sentence or question.  Often times the same thing has to be done in order to demonstrate and act out a given target.  

    For example, a textbook presents a story and includes the line, “The thief gets stuck in the window.”  
    First, you have to demonstrate what a thief is or does.  Steps to do this could be as follows:

    -        Write on the board and ask the class, “What is a thief?”
    -        Silence and confused looks from the class.
    -        Suddenly yell, “Look!” and point to the back of the class.
    -        When the students turn around, grab something obvious off one of the students’ desks and run
              out of the room.
    -        Return to the room, return the item and ask again, “What is a thief?”
    -        Repeat the above steps, grabbing more obvious items every time, like an entire desk, a chair, a
               backpack, etc.
    -        After getting lots of “Oh, I get it!” looks, play a game in which the students put their heads down on their desks, you tap one student on the shoulder, that student gets up, “steals” something from another student and then runs out.  The class raises their heads and you ask “Who is a thief?”  The students look around and answer.  This also incidentally introduces or reviews a “Who” question in a natural, conversational setting.  This is a good thing.  Play the game a few times until the students can easily answer who the thief is.
    -        Ask again, “What is a thief?”  Hopefully you will receive various attempts at trying to explain or show what a thief is.  At this point you could explain “A thief is a person who takes something” and then demonstrate “take”.  Or you could just give the students a smile that shows that you are happy and pleased that they understand.
    -        Success

    Next you have to demonstrate the verb “stuck”.  Many things are easy to act out.  Verbs are the easiest.  These are an opportunity (I like to think of them as an invitation) to overact, get all the students engaged and moving at the same time, and have fun.  There are many different ways you could demonstrate “stuck”.  You could
    -        get yourself stuck in the classroom door
    -        get your arm stuck in the window
    -        get your head stuck in a book
    -        get a pencil stuck in a book
    -        etc.
    Eventually, since the word “window” is used in the sentence, you will want to use it to demonstrate
    “stuck”.  Two birds with one stone.

    Now you are ready to go back to your original sentence, “The thief gets stuck in a window.”  At this point, the students should be grasping the meaning of the sentence. You’re probably thinking, “Well, sentences involving actions are probably quite easy.  How about sentences that have no real action?”  

    Good question.  First, most sentences do have some type of action happening which you can base your demonstration of the language on.  Second, if the sentence doesn’t have any real, illustrative action, go ahead and be creative and give it one.

    For example, how would you demonstrate “My birthday is on June 16th”?  Answer: find an action for “birthday” and act it out.  Sing, give presents, play party games.  Have fun, be creative, and associate as much as you can.  Many words can be understood based on the context in which they are being used and independent of lengthy definitions.  For the students to gain understanding of English words this way is much more accessible and memorable for them.

    Being creative, acting things out and associating vocabulary in the classroom is encouraged.  It will broaden the amount of English you are presenting to the students and your own thinking about how and what to teach.  There is always more English available than what is in front of the students in either the book or on the board.

    Here are some practice sentences and questions to start thinking about how to turn language into action:

    -        I am happy.
    -        I like pizza and chicken.
    -        Where are you going?
    -        How old are you?
    -        I had fun at the amusement park.
    -        Why are you dancing?
    -        How do you get to school?
    -        When do you go to sleep?

    There isn’t any “correct” answer in how to teach these.  They can be taught in many ways.  That is the fun part and where you will learn what works best for you in terms of teaching.  

    Being able to make language actionable takes practice, but once learned can bring a lot of energy, creative thinking, and fun into the classroom, not only for the teacher but also for the students