With the holiday season approaching, it’s good to add some fun into teaching to keep your students engaged and motivated. We’ve created 12 simple classroom activities and tips that you can carry out with your primary class to encourage them to be good.
Mindfulness in the classroom: autopilot and paying attention
The challenge: the lure of automatic pilot
Have you ever got to the bottom of the page in your favorite book and then realized you have no idea what you just read? This is due to being in a semi-conscious mental state called 'automatic pilot'. In automatic pilot mode, we are only partially aware of what we are doing and responding to in the present moment. If left to its own devices, it can end up masking all our thought patterns, emotions and interactions with those around us. Humans are habitual creatures, building functional 'speed-dials' to allow us to survive in the present while the mind is elsewhere planning for the future or ruminating in thought. The challenge here is that we are responding to the present moment based solely on habits learned from previous experience rather than making conscious choices based on the nuances of the moment itself. Luckily, mindfulness can help.
The solution: the importance of paying attention on purpose
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is often credited with bringing mindfulness into the secular mainstream. He defines the practice as: "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally."
Paying attention on purpose is the skill needed to move out of automatic pilot. As such, practicing mindfulness starts with learning how to pay attention. The more we focus, the more the brain builds strength in the areas involved in this type of concentration - and the easier it becomes to do it automatically. In other words, it becomes a habit to be present.
In the early years of primary school, a child's brain is developing more quickly than it ever will again. Young minds are in the process of forming their very first habits, and so learning to pay attention on purpose will have a long-lasting impact on their capacity to learn and succeed in school.
The why: why is this particularly important in schools?
If you're a teacher wondering why this is important, mindfulness has many benefits in the classroom. Perhaps the most notable is its facility for improving children's attention span during English lessons and elsewhere in life. This is increasingly important as children are immersed in a world of digital screens and social media. Learning to focus can help to counteract the constant demands on their attention and develop greater patience and staying power for any one activity.
While the debate continues on whether average attention spans are reducing because of screen time, experts agree that our attention span varies depending on what we are doing. The more experience we have of how much attention a certain situation needs, the more the brain will adapt and make it easier for us to focus on those situations.
The brains of school-age children develop rapidly. So, the more we can do to demonstrate to them what it feels like to pay attention for a prolonged period, the more likely they are to be able to produce that level of attention in similar situations.
For teenagers it is even more important. During adolescence, our brains undergo a unique period of neural development. The brain rapidly streamlines our neural connections to make the brain function as efficiently as possible in adulthood. Like a tree shedding branches, it will get rid of any pathways that are not being used and strengthen up the areas that are being used: use it or lose it. So if teenagers are not actively using their ability to pay conscious attention and spending too much time in automatic pilot mode, through screen use and in periods of high exam stress, the brain won't just not strengthen their capacity to focus; it may make it harder for them to access the ability to pay attention in future.
The how: three exercises to teach your students mindfulness
These three mindfulness exercises will help your language students integrate awareness into everyday activities in their school and home lives.
1. Mindful use of screens and technology
Screen use is a major culprit of setting the brain into automatic pilot. This is an activity you can practice in school during computer-based lessons or even ask the students to practise at home.
- Close your eyes and notice how you feel before you've started
- Consciously decide on one task you need to do on the device
- Consciously think about the steps you need to do to achieve that task and visualize yourself doing them
- Then turn on the device and complete the task. When you have finished, put the device down, walk away, or do something different
- Notice if you wanted to carry on using the device (this doesn't mean we need to)
2. Mindful snacking
We eat so habitually that we rarely notice the huge range of sensory stimulation going on under the surface of this process. This is a great activity to practise with your students during breaks or lunch.
- Hold the snack in your hand and notice five things you can see about it
- Close your eyes and notice five things about the way it feels in your hand or to touch
- Keep the eyes closed and notice five things you can smell about the snack
- Bring the snack slowly to your mouth and taste it – notice five different subtle tastes
3. Counting the breath
A brilliantly simple exercise to teach the brain to focus attention on one thing for a longer period of time. It can be done anywhere and can also have the helpful side effect of reducing stress through passively slowing down the breath.
- Close your eyes or take a soft gaze in front of you
- Focus your attention on the breath going in and out at the nostrils
- Notice the breath temperature on the way into the nose compared to its temperature on the way out
- Count 10 breaths to yourself – in 1, out 1; in 2, out 2; and so on
- If the mind wanders, gently guide it back to the breath
- When you get to 10 you can either stop there or go back to 1 and start again
- In time, it will become easier to stay focused for the full 10 breaths and for even longer
If a part of you is still wondering where to start with mindfulness, then paying conscious attention to anything that draws our senses to the present moment: the breath, physical sensations in the body, sounds, smells or tastes - these are all brilliant places to start. Remember that mindfulness is simply a state of mind, a way of interacting with the world around us. How we access that state of mind can vary depending on the school, the language lesson and the students - there are many possibilities. As an English teacher, it's important to encourage and help students academically and in regards to their wellbeing.
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Sometimes, it’s nice to share cultural insights with our students so they can get a deeper understanding of the context of the language they are learning. However, without lots of time and money, it can be tough to travel to an English-speaking country yourself and experience what life is like first-hand.
But what if you could learn about British history, customs and culture from the comfort of your sofa?
That’s right - in an instant you could be transported back to the dark cobbled streets of 19th century London, to an industrial town in northern England or a rural village in Surrey.
Today, we want to share six English stories set in Britain that provide cultural, historical and social aspects of British life, both past and present.
So sit back, relax and let us take you on an adventure.
Written by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
This story about the intelligent and beautiful Emma was first published at the end of 1815. The book, which takes place in a fictional village called Highbury (located in the charming county of Surrey), covers themes such as romance, social class and female empowerment.
Emma is a social person who enjoys seeing people happy and contented. She spends her time arranging marriages between her friends but sometimes makes mistakes. Will the problems she causes upset people? And can she find love herself?
2. The Picture of Dorian Gray
Written by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
This philosophical yet supernatural thriller, first published in 1890, is full of lies, secrets and mystery. The tale revolves around the main character, Dorian Gray, who after inheriting a property from his grandfather, travels to London and soon makes new friends. One of his new acquaintances paints a portrait of Dorian, who makes a dangerous wish that he would give anything - even his soul - to stay as young and good-looking as he appears in the painting.
Soon, things start to go wrong and his life gets out of control. But he doesn’t seem to get older. Why? The terrible secret he’s hiding in his attic is the answer. What could it be? Allow yourself to travel back to Victorian times and see London through the eyes of this handsome and hedonistic young man.
Written by Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880)
Written under Mary’s pen name,George Elliott, this work of realism was first published in eight installments during 1871 and 1872. The story, set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch from 1829-1832, tells a tale of science and discovery. It follows Dorothea, a young woman determined to change the world and Dr. Lydgate, an ambitious man who wants to be a leader in science. Dorothea and Dr. Lydgate are both married, but soon their marriages go wrong.
Can they ever be happy? Will they achieve their dreams? Although the central theme of the book revolves around the marriage of the two main characters, with many historical references such as the 1832 Reform Act, the beginnings of the railways and the death of King George IV, Middlemarch is great for those who are interested in history as well as provincial life.
4. Four Weddings and a Funeral
Written by Richard Curtis (born 1956)
Those looking for a more modern look at British life can learn plenty about customs and cultures in this contemporary book, which has been adapted from one of Britain’s funniest and most popular films. Released in 1994, Four Weddings and a Funeral is about Charles (played by Hugh Grant in the film), a charming man who is very unlucky in love.
One day, during his friend’s wedding, he meets a beautiful girl called Carrie. Unfortunately, she does not plan to stay in England, and travels back to the United States. But they keep meeting each other, so maybe things can work out for the couple. Laugh while discovering the ins and outs of the British social scene in this romantic comedy.
5. North and South
Written by Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)
North and South, published in 1855, is about a young woman named Margaret Hale who moves with her parents from rural southern England to an industrial town called Milton in the north. There, she meets a wealthy mill owner named Mr. Thornton, and though she dislikes him, he immediately falls in love with her.
During her time in Milton, she witnesses what it’s like to work in the mills where employers and workers constantly clash. As his workers go on strike, will Mr. Thornton be able to charm Margaret? This complex and provoking story follows the working class struggle during the Industrial Revolution.
6. Oliver Twist
Written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Published in 1832, Oliver Twist was Dickens’ second novel. The story tells the tale of a young orphan we can all feel for. Oliver is brought up in a workhouse where he is beaten, starved and poorly treated. With no parents to look after him, he decides to run away to London, where he joins a gang of thieves.
His new friends look out for him, but can they protect him from a life of danger and crime? An interesting look at the darker side of Britain’s capital, Oliver Twist is still popular today with film, musical and TV adaptations.
Want some more reading inspiration for your English lessons?
Discover graded Readers featuring some of the world’s best-loved authors.
Pearson has Readers adapted from classic English novels with audio files and a comprehensive teacher resources section, meaning you can use them in class with your students too.
In the fast-paced world of business, there is one undeniable fact that holds true: employees are the key to success. Their commitment and expertise propel organizations towards their objectives, which is why investing in a learning culture is essential. The advantages are numerous and include improved staff retention, increased productivity and the goal of higher employee engagement.