5 Topics Kids Respond to, and a Few that Crash and Burn

Is there such a thing as universal topics for engaging children in learning? Maybe yes or maybe not. Hear from VIPKID teacher Beth what has worked (and failed terribly) in the classroom with our very young VIPKID English language learners.

By Beth Ann Knowles


5 Topics that Kill

1. Lego

I wasn’t sure if Lego was a thing in China but I thought I’d give it a go. The majority of my reward systems thus far have included a Lego man, or woman, who I introduce to my student, Jerry for instance, as “Little Jerry” or “Lego Jerry”. Every student, no matter how old, loved having a little version of them in class. Apparently Lego is universal and ageless.

I’ve had Little Jerry climbing a ladder to a spaceship, diving from a boat into the ocean to retrieve a submarine, and walking across a tight rope whilst jumping over a shark, alligator, spikes, monster, and fire.

2. Frozen

Students have serenaded me with “Let it Go”, shown me various Elsa dresses, and I even taught a student whose English name was Elsa. Frozen is so big and that song is so catchy I’ve had to brush up on my lyrics so I can join in on the singsongs.

3. Cars

My teacher toolbox contains 3 dinky cars which I’ve ‘borrowed’ from my own children. Two are identical, Finn McMissile, and the third is Lightning McQueen, all from the movie Cars. I chose these cars to help me teach ‘same’ and ‘different’ but I didn’t anticipate the excitement I’d see when I showed them to my students. Many times a student has exclaimed “McQueen!” and rifled around their room to show me their own Lightning McQueen car.

4. Pandas

I have a collection of four animal puppets which help me teach basic introductory conversation and who show up randomly during class to help/entertain. Of the four animals (tiger, panda, elephant, monkey) I get the most positive reaction from the panda. It is apparent that pandas are indeed deeply cherished in China.

5. Eating things you aren’t supposed to eat.

When teaching the five senses I love to ask my students, “can you taste the car/book/pen/monkey/etc.?” And then, to their bewildered eyes I pretend to eat the nonfood item and make a big display of how disgusting it is. This is always a hit with students. They laugh and immediately try to tell me, “teacher, no, you can’t eat the car.“

2 Topics that Crash and Burn

1. Batman

When teaching the letter B, we often teach the word ‘bat’. Once I teach ‘bat’, I sometimes pull out a plastic Batman and show it to my student. Not one has recognized this character or seemed in the least excited or interested in it. Even when I say, in my best George Clooney voice, “I’m Batman”, the bit falls flat. Perhaps they prefer a Christian Bale Batman.

2. Eating the panda.

Kids laugh and squeal when I pretend to eat a car, an elephant, even a monkey. But when I pretend to eat the panda, their national treasure, they looked on with horror. Do NOT pretend to eat the panda.

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