Teaching young learners: all just fun and games?


We want lots of fun in our lessons, with a good balance of activities and games with strong educational value. But in my opinion, today’s young learners need more than just fun and games to stay motivated. Fun and games can quickly become meaningless and boring for some students.

How do we create fun and engaging lessons for young learners aged 6-14?

  • Have a strong relationship with your students. Know about their natural talents, their weaker points and where they are in their development.
  • Encourage them to be active learners and engage them in learning that is meaningful to all of them. E.g. through project work.
  • Provide opportunities for students to use technology and develop success skills. E.g. collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity and self-learning.

Most teachers agree that we have to assume the responsibility of preparing students for life as well as helping them to acquire a language – and this is what I aim to demonstrate in this blog. Using Howard Gardner’s Model of Multiple Intelligences, I want to demonstrate how you can learn more about your students and care for individual needs in one classroom. The students will also learn about themselves and their classmates. They will acquire vocabulary and language (at their level) in a dynamic way, and create a project to explore their  interests and demonstrate their talents. They will use technology and develop their success skills. Assessment will be fun and engaging. I hope you will be able to adapt the ideas and put them into practice with children aged 6-14.

Howard Gardner’s Model of Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner’s Model of Multiple Intelligences  prompts us to ask: How is this child intelligent? He identified eight different types of intelligence, which guide the way students learn:

Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence (Word Smart)

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (Maths Smart)

Spacial Intelligence (Picture Smart)

Musical Intelligence (Music Smart)

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (Body Smart)

Naturalistic-Environmentalist Intelligence (Nature Smart)

Interpersonal Intelligence (People Smart)

Intrapersonal Intelligence (Self-Smart)

(He later went on to indentify Existential Intelligence – Life Smart, and Pedagogical Intelligence -Teacher Smart)

Lesson 1: Outline the student’s learning goals

Explain to the students that they are going to learn about Howard Gardner’s Model of Multiple Intelligences and that you want them to achieve learning goals on completion of the project. Write the goals on a poster and discuss them with your students. Take a digital photo of the poster to use during assessment.

Student Learning Goals – you will be able to:

  • Identify different intelligences and what they mean.Name eight different intelligences you have
  • Communicate ideas clearly through a project to demonstrate your talents and interests
  • Use your success skills more effectively.

Tip: Video parts of lesson 1, especially discussion of the learning goals, to use as part-assessment and reflection on completion of the project.

What do you know about the Multiple Intelligences? How are you smart?

  • Ask children what they know anything about multiple intelligences. Teach key language and vocabulary as necessary, depending on level.
  • Ask, “What does it mean be intelligent?” (They will probably say, good grades, be good at maths, English, reading, writing, computers…)
  • Tell them being intelligent or smart (get the younger children to repeat the word smart several times) isn’t only about getting good grades. Ask them to think of more ways to be smart.
  • Elicit the eight ways to be smart according to Gardner. (You may need to mime). E.g. mime playing the piano, or clap a rhythm to elicit Music Smart.
  • Discuss what the different intelligences mean. (E.g. Word Smart (Linguistic Intelligence): you like reading, writing or speaking, you are probably good at languages…)
  • Teach career vocabulary associated with the different intelligences. (E.g. Word Smart: journalist, teacher, lawyer, editor, TV announcer, web editor.)

Lesson 2: Find out your smarts quiz

Tell students they are going to do a quiz to discover how they are smart. Model each stage of the activity and do the quiz with them to find out about your own strengths.  Give each student a piece of paper.

  • Take your paper and show the students how to fold it into eight sections, then unfold it and draw lines along the folds to make a grid.
  • Write the different smarts in each section. (Use small handwriting to leave room to illustrate each smart with a picture).
  • Give a picture dictation to illustrate each smart. Here are some examples…

Word Smart:Draw a dictionary and children reading, writing and speaking.

Logic/Number Smart: Draw sums on a computer, a scientist with test tube.

Music Smart: Draw children singing and playing musical instruments.

Body Smart: Draw children playing a sport, dancing or cooking.

Nature Smart:Draw trees, animals, insects, child watering a plant.

Spacial/Picture Smart: Draw children drawing, painting or taking photos and a pilot in plane.

People Smart:Draw a child helping or leading a group or group of children holding hands.

Self-Smart: Draw children keeping a journal, researching on a computer, or meditating.

Encourage students to order their smarts from 1-8. For example, if you love music, write number 1 in the Music Smart section and continue to 8 in order of preference. (You may wish to model this first and order your smarts from 1-8 and then encourage the children to order their smarts.)

After the quiz

  • Encourage students to compare and discuss their results. Collect the papers and make notes about each student’s results. This will help you reach all your students when planning activities.
  • Explain that we have all the intelligences in different degrees and that all of the intelligences are equal (no intelligence is better than another). Also point out that it is important to know our strengths in order to help in all subjects. (E.g. A music smart student who finds maths challenging may want to sing multiplication tables). Remind students that we usually use several intelligences to do something and we can explore and develop all our smarts.

Tip: Video lesson 2 to use as part of assessment.

Lesson 3: Beginning the project

Encourage the students to create a project for enjoyment. Explain that you want them to collaborate in groups that share the same smarts and interests and using their creativity you want them come up with an interesting topic to explore. (Remind students to concentrate on developing their success skills when they are working with others and mention that you will also be monitoring this as part of the assessment). Organise the students into groups of no more than five students in each. Give students time to brainstorm in their groups and come up with the best topic for the project, using their critical thinking skills. (E.g. Picture Smart students may decide to create a project about a famous artist, such as Salvador Dali).

You may wish to give each student a KWL chart to complete during the project process, asking questions such as: What do you know? What do you want to know? What have you learned?

Lesson 4: Planning the project

Inform students about the timing of the project. Encourage each group to make a Project Mind Map, which will encourage them to be more creative and organised.

Remind all the groups to keep the following questions in mind:

  • What are you going to do/make? (Presentation, PowerPoint, website, video, posters.)
  • How will you research it? (Internet, tech tools, library.)
  • How will you delegate responsibilities?
  • How will you check that your audience has understood the message of your project? What questions will you ask?

Decide on how many lessons are needed to prepare the project and how much will be done in school or at home, depending on the age groups and timing.

Encourage the students to share their work with the rest of the class (or in assembly.)

Tip: Video the different groups sharing their work.

Can assessment also be fun and engaging?

Yes! Here are some tips and suggestions.

  • Show the videos you have recorded and ask the students to compare and contrast their knowledge in Lesson 1 and how it developed over the lessons. Encourage them to observe and comment on their success skills.
  • Display the photo of the Student Learning Goals poster from Lesson 1. Get the students to self-assess and decide whether they have achieved the goals that were set in Lesson 1. (You may wish to give the students three small pieces of coloured paper: red to represent I understand quite well, orange to represent I understand well and green to represent I understand very well). Ask: Can you identify the different intelligences and say what they mean? Encourage the students to hold up a coloured piece of paper according to how their understanding. (Make a mental note of all red pieces of paper to be ready to give extra help to those students). Check understanding by getting several students to answer the question.
  • Get the children to reflect on the learning experience. What have they learned about the different intelligences? How can they their develop weaker points using their strengths to help them? Can they use all eight intelligences inside and outside school? Did they manage to get along well with their classmates? Did they communicate the message of their project so that the audience understood?.
  • Give individual feedback to each student. E.g. Congratulate them on their attitude and effort or identify areas for improvement: “You managed to use vocabulary and language effectively when you shared your project, we understood your message perfectly.” Or “You need to work on being more collaborative.” “You weren’t on task during the project.” “How do you think you can improve that?”
  • Ask students to give you feedback on the activities they enjoyed. Get them to draw happy and sad face cards. Go through all the activities and get the students to show a happy or sad face according to whether or not they liked the activity. E.g. Say “Did you like the ‘Find out your smarts’ quiz?” and ask  them to hold up the happy or sad face depending if they liked the activity or not.

Create fun lessons to engage all your students keeping this model in mind: traditional activities such as  short fun activities and games + Howard Gardner’s model of Multiple Intelligences + PBL (Project Based Learning) + success skills + meaningful assessment. Enjoy the results with your students!

How the Global Scale of English can help

The Global Scale of English (GSE) Learning Objectives for Young Learners provide ready-made learning objectives that can help with planning curriculums and lesson and benchmarking learners’ progress. They are great for young learners because they describe language functions in a granular way, enabling educators to give their learners credit for small achievements. They also clearly show the language functions to target next in order to take learners to the next level.

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