Friday, March 4, 2011

"Yaritai!" said the short ones

I just got done with the small elementary class of 1st  ("sheep") and 2nd (horses) graders (epithets based solely on their Chinese zodiac animals). They are consistently one of my best groups, and I am not even sure why. They’re like, thirsty for knowledge.. when they connect the dots to make a picture in the numbers game, they want to know the English name of the animal they’ve outlined so they can write it on the paper at the top (I just realized that this is a big deal when I saw that the 3rd grade has only just begun to learn romaji, writing with roman letters). They want to study.. they play the study games hard, and really do remember a lot.

I mean, maybe it’s that I tried to teach the older kids more stuff, and thus they learned each thing less well, but the youngest group here has numbers nailed to the wall more than anyone. They could count to a hundred before the 4th grade… well, the 4th grade is up around like 50 as of today. They see the fly swatters sticking out of my bag and insist that they wanna do that!

The fly swatters are for board karuta. Basically, first the kids have to get the ABCs on the board in order (at which this group is A-number-one champ, of course). This is generally done with a lot of shouting, because everyone will be holding one or two letters. So the kids will get ready, and I say “go!” and start the timer (usually I only time older kids.. but once again…).. they all scream “A!” like their lives hang in the balance, then start yelling the name of whatever kid is holding A, in case he/she doesn’t know already. This progresses through the alphabet in one minute and 44 seconds. (Today I had them match the lowercase letters too. This took 1 minute and 42 seconds.)

Once the letters are on the board, we can play with the fly swatters. Initially, I had taught them a bunch of words, one for each letter. Like APPLE and BAG and CAT, etc. Today we had gone over animals, weird ones too, so I kicked it off with “starfish!” The hope was that eventually they would associate the sound with the letter, rather than just that one word.. so I used the associated words for board karuta for a while, then occasionally would throw in other words that started with those letters. 

They cleared the whole board today; I was calling words I don’t think even their teachers have ever heard. I couldn’t think of anything for A but “anteater” at the time. V was “vixen.” But I think they’ve learned the sound idea. Hell yes, first and second graders.

The thing that impresses me most, and also probably works so well, is the way they fling themselves so wholeheartedly at everything I present. I don’t even really have to try that hard to entertain them. Anything will be fun. And anything will be absorbed, too. They’re like a little army of 14 sponges.

I mean, I’m fully aware that they’re not all the same. The “YARITAI!” engine is driven by a few key second graders, and there are some who are still blanking totally on English Ball (we throw a ball around and they say one English word before passing it to someone else), and I do hear a few mooouuu wakaran!s from time to time. But the energy and sheer knowledge of the class is staggering, especially for a group I hardly thought too much of while trying to plan.

What I mean by that is, I designed 5th and 6th grade lessons to be efficient and as effective as possible. To learn what I wanted them to learn, or what the curriculum had in store. But I planned downward, and by the time I got to the youngest of them, I was like “well I’m already bringing numbers cards, maybe we can play some kind of number game…” and sometimes I went so far in numb-minded I’ve-been-planning-under-duress to simply write “Number game, 15 minutes” and leave the details for future EmLem to handle.

Lucky for me, everything with this class is a pretty big hit. Though, they’re the only ones who’ve run me to the end of a plan (repeatedly) and had me blinking at the clock on which was left 15 more minutes of classtime. I’ve wised up a bit.. I now just keep a bagful of tricks, and if all else fails, there’s always ABC board.

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