Teaching Kids to Draw Better, and Improving their English Too!

One of my favorite shows to watch growing up was called The Secret City staring Commander Mark, basically a Bob Ross for children with a sci-fi theme. Every week I would tune into PBS, which we were fortunate enough to pick up in Canada, and learn how to draw shapes, spaceships, and cityscapes in 3D. The show starred Mark Kistler, an American artist whom I was aghast to learn was not a real commander, but who was awarded a well-deserved Emmy in 2010 for his work teaching children to draw better.

Then along comes Super Simple TV last year with this amazing new series that also teaches children to draw. They’re all things kids are likely to draw: animals, flowered, trains, and of course dinosaurs. What I really like about these videos for the purposes of teaching English is that they use a wide variety of language as they describe how to do the actual drawing. It’s super listening practice and I’ve got my students doing this whenever they have a few spare minutes.

The animation is beautiful and the pacing is perfect, although some of my students took issue with the T-Rex episode, insisting that it looked more like a dragon or Godzilla. I’m no Alan Grant but I found myself convinced by their somewhat emotional arguments.

“It’s definitely Godzilla.”

Here are a few lessons to see for yourself:

The best part about the series is (and I imagine the powers that be in Seattle have already considered this) but there really is no reason they have to end it. There is an endless number of things to teach children how to draw which could potentially make this the premier art channel for young children, if it isn’t already.

Good stuff, keep it up.

Carl’s Car Wash – A Bold Move by Super Simple Learning to Give Disney and Sesame Street a Run For Their Money.

So I’ve noticed something about Super Simple Learning lately. They’ve grown. Like, bigly. They used to be just a group of EFL teachers in Japan who happened to have come up with some really top-notch classroom music. They’ve since relocated to Seattle and, as far as I can tell, have assumed the mantle of Disney of ELT.

I came to this realization the other day while engaged in some serious binge watching of Carl’s Car Wash with my young learners. It’s just one of several of new series by Super Simple TV, a YouTube channel which provides short and punchy, high-quality cartoons for children.

You can watch all of the episodes below:

My students can’t get enough of the show and I’m happy to oblige them – especially seeing as the last episode in particular was sheer genius. Kudos to the animators for the tin hat joke that was obviously intended for adults like me.

And the kids really do learn from the show. It’s a hoot listening to them discuss whether one of the cars on the show is just messy or super duper messy.

“Teacher’s car is super duper messy. Go to the car wash!”

Egads, they’re right!

More Excellent Videos for Young ESL/EFL Learners from Maple Leaf Learning

Maple Leaf Learning produces some of my favorite YouTube videos for young learners. They may not have quite the production values of outfits like Pancake Manor or Storybots, but they are better suited for young children learning English. I’ve written before about some of their videos here, here, and here.

Among my favorites are their series of simple skits, an ideal accompaniment for the first level of any of the major coursebooks. I wish they’d make a lot more of them to tell you the truth.

Here are a few you should check out:

The Best Resources for Teaching Math In English 

Recently my wife has taken up math as a hobby, which sort of means it has become mine as well. We’ve started watching some of the great educational programming on Korean TV, bought math books to figure out problems, and have even taken to quizzing each other via email. I know some of you must be snickering by now, but as far as hobbies for couples go, is it really worse than binge watching Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad?

It’s also not as hard as it sounds. Most people learn what math they know in school as young children or teenagers, when paying attention is the hardest. I think adults, although burdened with greater responsibilities, may just have greater patience and powers of concentration than the younger folk. We’re just a little out of practice.

The thing is, mathematical terminology is not something my wife’s English studies had really ever covered in any great detail (not did my Korean studies). After pondering this for a bit I got to searching on YouTube for something that might be of help, but I was unimpressed to say the least. Beside plus/minus etc. there just wasn’t much of use for EFL/ESL students wanting to learn more than a grade two level of math in English.

Then there is the fact that many of these videos begin with the teacher explaining how bad they were at math in school and that’s why they now teach English. Whoa…what an utterly uninspiring way to begin a lesson, declaring from the outset that you have no proficiency in the subject. Look, I get it. Math is scary, and teaching it probably scarier still. But most of the people looking up these kinds of videos probably don’t want a lessons in math per se (they’ve already gotten an education in their native language), they just need a teacher to explain how to speak it in English.

The good news is that there is an amazing video series by Professor NJ Wildberger of the University of New South Wales, which provides an excellent summary of mathematical terminology, if not in its entirety, then at least sufficient for any of your students’ demands. It’s a wonderful resource for students who might have received their secondary school education in a non-English environment but need to transition to an English speaking university. I think it would also be useful for any English teacher needing a reference for lessons about math in English.

1. Numbers and Arithmetic

2. The Language of Geometry

3. The Language of Algebra

4. Curves, Functions, and Surfaces

5. Sets, Logic, and Graphs

6. The Language of Calculus

High Flying Chinese Acrobats with Let’s Go 6

Let's Go 6 cover

This past week I was teaching the Let’s Read section of Unit 6 in Let’s Go 6, which includes a story about a girl named Mei. Here’s the first paragraph:

“My name is Mei. I’m an acrobat. Everyone in my family is an acrobat, too. We perform with a circus. I’ve been a performer since I was a little girl… Every afternoon, I practice acrobatics with my family. I need strong arms and legs.”

Performers such as Mei just aren’t as amazing on the page when compared to the real thing so I found this CCTV broadcast with some real acrobats and played it on the big screen for the children.

I’ve watched it multiple times already but my heart still jumps at some parts. I think I’ll be including a link of it in my Unit 6 Worksheet Booklet (when it finally comes out, that is).

Do you teach Let’s Go 1-6 as well? If you do, check this out.

Film English – Something This Good Shouldn’t Be Free

If you’re tired of scouring YouTube for materials to jazz up your adult English classes, then head on over to Film English. This website provides free short movies and lesson plans that will enliven interest and promote discussion among your students. By all rights, Film English should be charging premium prices for its wares but instead settles for donations from its users, which speaks miles about the generosity of the sites’s author, Kieran Donaghy. An EFL teacher based in sunny Barcelona, Donaghy is also a teacher trainer and prolific author who works tirelessly for the promotion of film in the classroom. His amazing contribution to teachers and students around the world has been recognized by the British Council and the English Speaking Union.

Each lesson is focused around a short independent film (well, mostly independent), and includes a ready made lesson plan that provides great suggestions for how to conduct the class. Unlike commercial film, which may take considerable time to prepare materials for, the films on Donaghy’s site are ideally suited for the classroom. In fact, like substitute teachers thrown into a class with next to no time to prepare, in a crunch you could even just take his lessons as is and have an hour’s worth of work to do with your students.

스크린샷 2015-05-17 오전 10.44.56 스크린샷 2015-05-17 오전 10.45.16

스크린샷 2015-05-17 오전 10.47.43

The films on offer come with varying amounts of dialogue, from none to downright chatty, and cover a variety of themes, from the absurd to the tragic – and there’s rarely one that doesn’t touch your heart in some way or another. So, no matter the ability of your students, it won’t be hard to find something appropriate for your classes.

Catchy Animal Guessing Videos from Maple Leaf Hashima

Maple Leaf Learning has more than one hundred videos on their YouTube channel for young learners, including immensely useful series that teach the sounds of the alphabet and how to read CVC words. Their animal guessing series has also been a surprising hit in my classroom, which just goes to show that you can never predict what children will like.

There are four videos in the series: “Whose Tail is It?”; “Whose Mouth is It?”; “Whose Ears are These?”; and “Whose Feet are These?” The lyrics go something like, “Whose tail? Whose tail? Whose tail is it?” and then a cropped image of an animal’s tail is shown. The kids then go wild guessing whether it belongs to a lion, a pig, a monkey, or something else entirely. This is followed by the big reveal of what the animal is, which causes no shortage of ‘I told you so’s among the children.

Maple learf hashima - monkey

                                            Can you guess whose tail it is?

Between reviewing animals, body parts, and introducing the concept of possessives, there’s a lot of useful English being taught in a way that students can readily pick up. The lyrics are surprisingly catchy too, and you’ll soon find yourself, not to mention your students, absentmindedly singing the song while washing the dishes (and drawing strange looks from your spouse).

Give them a watch, you won’t regret it.

Great Videos for Teaching Beginner Phonics by Maple Leaf Hashima

Last week I wrote about the excellent CVC videos by Maple Leaf Hashima, one of my favorite YouTube channels for EFL. I neglected to mention their first rate alphabet vocabulary series which I have been using to supplement my lessons when I teach beginner phonics. Each of the 26 videos teaches the sound of a letter in the alphabet and several vocabulary words that start with that letter, repeating them a bit faster for emphasis. They’re great practice for those times when the kids are sick of listening to the teacher but love engaging with a non corporeal voice on screen.

There are lots of videos that do the same thing, but the ones made by Maple Leaf Hashima are by far the best. Check out these ones below or take a look at the entire playlist.


Great Videos for Teaching CVC Words

I’m fond of using the vast array of educational videos on YouTube in the final ten minutes of my beginner classes, when attention spans are at their lowest. There’s a lot you can pack in there if you know which videos to put in your playlist. One amazing channel you may want to consider looking up is Maple Lead Hashima, which has an excellent selection of videos for young learners that include lists of vocabulary words, simple skits, and catchy songs.

The following six videos have been very effective for me in pre-teaching CVC (consonant vowel consonant) vocabulary words like cat, bed, sit, box, and sun. Before teaching a short vowel sound, I’ll often show the video two or three times in the classes leading up to the actual lesson. By the time the students are “learning” it blackboard style for the first time, they already know it pretty well, making the job of the teacher much, much easier. Trust me, they work.

New Video: I See Something Blue by Super Simple Songs

The latest video from the good people at Super Simple Learning (SSL)  is without a doubt a home run. I See Something Blue is a golden oldie from their first album, about which I have previously written here. The young lads I played the video for today positively flew out of their seats to point at the screen and sing along at full volume. Needless to say the animation is stunning, surely among SSL’s best work.

I can’t wait for the sequel.

Oh, and my long-delayed review of the greatest song in all of EFL-dom will be up on the blog within the next few days. Stay tuned!