The Role of Play and Imagination in the Early Language Classroom
from October 10, 2018
On October 10, language teachers from grades K-8, and beyond, met for the biweekly EarlyLang chat. Participants discussed the role of play, how it can help promote language acquisition and strategies to keep students using the TL during play. The discussion also focused on how to replace less effective teaching with play and how to engage stakeholders in understanding the importance of play.
Q1: How does imaginative play encourage and foster language acquisition and practice?
Children learn through play and exploration; play is a natural fit for any classroom. For the early language classroom, play can immerse students in an imaginary world where they don’t even realize they are using another language. Since play comes naturally to children, its use in the classroom makes them feel safe. Once the affective filter is lowered, they gain confidence and worry less about mistakes. Through play, learners can see themselves as language users; they begin to explore, create, problem solve, and learn social skills. Finally, play gives students a fun context in which to use language. And a new phrase was created: language veggies. Using play in class is like a parent sneaking vegetables into food, children don’t know it’s good for them, they just know it’s good!
Q2: What are some ways you incorporate play and imagination in your classes?
Two main themes emerged: props and games. For props, students use puppets to create and perform puppet shows based on real-life scenarios. Other props include stuffed animals and beanie babies that the students can “talk” to. Games mentioned range from board games to old favorites like Memory and Hangman. Some participants also use online games such as Kahoot, Quizizz, or Quizlet. Finally, some teachers encourage role plays based on stories read, daily activities, or the students’ own imaginations.
Q3: What are some strategies you employ to keep students engaged in the TL while playing?
@SrtaOwens summed this up as, “Practice, repetition, and modeling.” Modeling sets the expectation for student engagement, practice allows it to become part of the routine. ONce the routine is set, students are more likely to continue in the TL, even when not working directly with the teacher. Using stations so the teacher can circulate, providing scripts and sentence prompts, and positive reinforcement all encourage students to engage in the TL. Several teachers mentioned the use of tangible rewards, such as Legos or items from a class store, as a means to encourage language exploration.
Q4: How can play replace less effective teaching and learning?
@SraTewes, “Play makes the language meaningful and necessary.”
@MllesrtaUrso, “A4 Play takes the boring out of the equation. Acquiring language while having fun? Yes, please!”
@JL_Delf, “A4 not to mention, my main goal is to make sure they are all enjoying what they do. One of ACTFL’s HLTPs is to teach through context. Imaginative play just heightens the reality of that context.”
@SrtaOwens, “Learning through play shifts a teacher-centered classroom into a student-centered classroom.”
@MaCristinaRV, “Play and imagination is our #earlylang learners’ modus operandi. Have you eavesdropped lately?”
@Sra_Kennedy, “For me play is also good for classroom management. Students want to learn and participate so they can do the fun things.”
Q5: How do we help stakeholders understand how our students’ play in class supports their language acquisition?
Participants agreed that it is important to invite stakeholders in to observe students at play, or engaged in learning activities, as some refer to play. Stakeholders also need to understand proficiency as the ability to use the language, not simply conjugate or name objects. One way to ensure understanding is to have goals or can-dos so that everyone understands what is happening and how it relates to language learning and proficiency. This article https://tinyurl.com/yb82besh on the Finnish system explains the importance of play and its role in learning.
Reflaction (reflection + action) How will new aspects of imaginative play appear in your classroom after tonight’s #earlylang chat?
Several teachers responded. One mentioned the use of intrigue, the element of surprise, and how to build anticipation for what comes next. Another said she would try more structured play as a way to create an environment that encourages everyone to participate.
Thank you to all who participated in this #EarlyLang chat! Thank you to our lead moderator, Jenni Delfini, (@JL_Delf), for leading the chat and to our co-moderator, Nathan Lutz (@nathanlutz) for helping guide the conversation. Thanks also to EMC School (@EMCSCHOOL) for sponsoring tonight’s chat.
Want to vote for our upcoming #Earlylang topics? https://t.co/l1VbHqzLU1