Listening is the first skill children practice, no matter what language it is. Every parent starts speaking with their newborn the moment they see him/her.

We could, therefore, expect it is well-practised skill needing no special attention.

Contemplating about it ...

Have you ever been in a situation, when all (or a lot of) separate words were familiar to you, but you couldn't understand the meaning? 

Well, I have. Specially, when I was learning a foreign language. So maybe, understanding what someone says is not so self-understood after all? It's not only words that count ...

Understanding spoken language is the first skill children practice in foreign language learning. Let us try to recall how we go about our teaching when listening skills are involved:

How do we address children when giving instructions to execute an activity? In what language? Do we translate instructions? Is there a step-by-step demonstration involved?

How do we speak during the lesson? Is it English all the time or do we use separate English words, the ones we think children would understand and the rest is spoken in our mother tongue?

How do we evaluate children's listening skills? Do we check how they understand a complex text (a story, for example)? Do we simply enumerate fixed and well-practised non-related sentences and expect children to only detect and understand the change of an object in it (It is a blue truck. It is a red kite etc.)? 

There are different listening skills we need in our everyday life.

Global listening ...

... addresses the ability to understand the general idea of the spoken text.

Specific listening ...

...addresses the ability to discern information from the context.

Focused listening ...

...addresses the ability to focus on all the relevant information in order to be able to execute the instructions. 

Being able to do all the above means a person knows how to listen to UNDERSTAND THE MESSAGE.

Teaching listening in a very young classroom

How does one teach listening in a very young classroom (since children don't know any words in a foreign language)?

I am sure you have heard of silent films or pantomime. No words are spoken there, it is purely visual art, but it conveys the message nevertheless. 

Can you get the gist of it?

In its essence that is the way how to go about introducing a new language - through visual art. With one IMPORTANT difference, you speak what you act.

How to do it in a classroom?

When I introduce the language to the children for the first time, I forget about other steps of the PBA for the first few months and devote my entire lessons to the activities in the introductory routine

This way I prepare children to learn:

  • how to control their body in relation to other schoolmates and space (socialising);
  • how to control their brains (focus on concentration through rhythmic games and brain gym activities);
  • how to retain their focus when giving instructions.
All of that is, naturally, learned through playing games while using the target language.

Three months later ...

By December, the children are ready for their first project. Of course, I cover all the steps but let's focus only on listening today.

In Storytelling, we address different aims but listening prevails. 

  • The pre-reading activity 'activates' the sensors through listening discrimination.

  • The reading activity is performed in such a way to address multisensory learning and global listening.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
  • The post-reading activity addresses focused listening ...

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson - playing a game

... and selective listening

Which picture was described?

The step do it yourself extracts the language through focused listening.

Doodling - In the Wilderness at the workshop  (GB

The step Listen, Execute and Present introduces new songs and texts to children, teaching them how to focus on global and selective listening through a given context.

(Sorry, I have no pictures of the activities. But you can try it out at the Summer Saturday Meeting).

So, is teaching listening important?

I believe that a lot of problems regarding discipline can derive from the simple fact that children do not know how to listen. 

Children's concentration span is short. They simply cannot be focused for 45 minutes in one go; they need regular switch-offs. We should, therefore, not expect to have complete silence in the young children's classroom. 

By teaching them how and when to listen, on the other hand, we can gradually prepare children to be able to efficiently comprehend the instructions and consequently execute the activities successfully

Want to learn more?

Follow us on our C00lSch00l FB pageWe post activities we do in our classrooms.

Also, we have a FB group called Igra je resna stvar! (Playing games is a serious business!) where we discuss our classroom practices on the PBA approach (in English). You are welcome to join us if you feel it is your cup of tea.

Moreover, there are regular workshops performed in Slovenia throughout the school year. For other countries, do drop me a line and I'm sure we can arrange something.

Wish you all a successful continuance of 2019!




When we teach our own children the mother tongue, they start speaking in isolated words but with the meaning of the entire message. 

I can still recall the image of my son from years ago; he was standing under the cupboard, motionlessly staring at it saying, 'A cookie' (in Slovene, of course). 

The message was clear, "Mum, I want a cookie." 

It was not that he conveyed the message through the word solely. It was the way he posed his body and fixed his stare. He knew well it was that exact cupboard where the cookies were stored.

In the early language classroom, children also start speaking in isolated words. Often, the words have no complex message, because the way the words were presented to children had merely the 'dictionary' meaning.

The use of language

Knowing that the message can be presented with the body posture, mime, some acting, the PBA uses a multisensory approach to convey the message.

In step one, the words are supported by pictures, voice, acting, and in a context to present the theme (global understanding).

In step two, we encourage children to elicit words from the given context, put them in a new 'story'and practice language in a 'gap-fill' manner. All that through 'doodling'.

Children created a story and at the same time practised
the language:
1st grade: The snowflake is sleepy.
2nd-4th grade: There is an elf pulling a cart full of presents.
8th grade: I'll take 2 spruces. I'm glueing the spruces. I glued the spruces. I'm going to draw Xmas trees later.

In step three, children practice the language through games and in sentences.

In step four, we present the use of the words in meaningful texts.

Usborne Phonics Readers

In step five ...

... we present the use of language in speaking.

One way is to dictate the instructions. A good activity is 'the maze'.

Practising giving and executing the instructions
at the workshop Summer Saturday Meeting

The useful skill in speaking is to be able to present a topic in a structured way. For that, posters can be of great help.

It is helpful for children
to have some visual support
when presenting a topic.

In real life, when people are speaking with each other, they usually use many words to express something. Sometimes they are distracted by adding an irrelevant piece of information (or five) before returning to the main topic they were discussing a minute ago. Having the ability to focus on relevant information is, therefore, useful.

We can teach children how to do that through listening activities, where they need to find a specific piece of information in a complex text (or a song).

Children can prepare the templates for the listening activities themselves, and in the process practice focused listening.
(The teachers are trying it out at
the workshop Evaluation Saturday Meeting)

Want to learn more?

Follow us on our C00lSch00l FB pageWe post activities we do in our classrooms.

Also, we have a closed FB group called Igra je resna stvar!' (Playing games is a serious business!) where we discuss our classroom practices on the PBA approach (in English). You are welcome to join us if you feel it is your cup of tea.

Moreover, there are regular workshops performed in Slovenia throughout the school year. For other countries, do drop me a line and we can arrange something.

Wish you all a successful 2019!




Have you ever (really) thought about why do we learn languages?

Have you ever (really) thought about why do we teach languages?

Have you ever (really) thought about why the languages were invented in the first place? 

To me, the answer is to exchange information, express the feelings, to be understood ... to find human connection.

If we want to communicate (so that we are generally understood) then knowing isolated words is not enough. We need to know at least how to use the words in meaningful chunks of words or sentences.

If, however, we would like to convey more complex information to someone then it is good to know how to put sentences together into a coherent message.

In my belief, children are not too young to start learning to communicate. Step by step, and layer by layer, they can do it. Even in a foreign language.

It's relatively easy once we know how to tune our teaching to fall into children's concept and understanding of the world.

The preparation

In my previous posts, I have talked about the first three steps of the PBA, the preparation. Let us just quickly refresh our knowledge.

Introducing the theme is the step where we serve topics in a nicely wrapped context - through a story. Children are absorbed into the plot (story, action). They are not interested in divided topics (for instance knowing about all the clothes the characters are wearing or the food they eat). Isolated topics or words make no sense to them. 

Mixed topics entwined in a story is what children need. That's what engages and motivates them. 

The next step in teaching the language to young children is to make them become aware of the language. Not to lose their interest, teachers need to stick to what children want - some sense of what they're doing there and then.

Extracting language elements in a topic-mixed-way can be easily done through so-called doodling

(Not yet finished doodle, created from the story Oliver Finds His Way by Phyllis Root)
Creating an illustration needs different topics to become interesting. This one can include nature, colours, directions, clothes etc... 

And what's best, with doodling children do not need to write words (yet) to extract language but are nevertheless actively involved in the action ...

Doodling: sequencing the story The Enormous Turnip (age 5)

To practise language with children, we can use a gap-fill-approach during the process of doodling, or once the doodle is complete:

T: John, what is this brown in your picture?
John: (Points to the leaf) Leaf?
T: Oh, I see. There is a b...
John: brown
T: Yes, the brown leaf. There is ...
John:  brown leaf 
T: the brown leaf in the picture. 

At one point, children need to memorise some of the language. To make it engaging, meaningful and natural, we use social games

It is very important that, whatever practised, it has to be through sentences. Isolated vocabulary is not useful for other things but memorising and enumerating it for the sake of memorising and enumerating.

If we want to teach children how to communicate, we need to show them how to use the language. 

Literacy ...

... is the step of the PBA where the language is used in reading and writing.

The first step is to focus children's attention on the written words. Following the written instruction with the help of Card-Picture-Dictionary is a good start. 

Don't forget to make the 'reading' in the context.
The song is just right with the 6 year-olds.

To make children consciously aware of how to create sentences the visual sentences are very handy.

Sentences are created with the help of the CoolTool cards taken from the 
Picture dictionary and based on the doodle.

The Picture Dictionary

To create sentences, the individually created doodle is used.

The doodle Under the Sea

When putting visual sentences together, we create a visual story.

Do you recognise the original story?

The visual story is a step in literacy where we address time concept and some real grammar: tenses, auxiliary verbs, question words, parts of speech, prepositons ...

When the visual story is read and the grammar comprehended, children are ready to write it down. The cards in the visual story help children with the spelling.

To introduce and teach children to read and write real texts we start with the pre-prepared texts on the covered theme. 

The topic is known to the children but the text is new, which means that some unknown vocabulary is present. Activities with the text show children the strategy on how to understand the meaning of the unknown words from the context, how to find different information, grammar structures, parts of speech, and many more.

The last step before children start writing texts themselves is poster writing. 

Children dictate and form sentences, while the teacher's role is to show
 them how to structure the sentences into paragraphs, how to use linking
words, point out the relevant grammar etc.

Reading books

Teachers often complain about how their pupils don't like to read. Well, the colour-coded system for reading books can change that. We start with Usborne's Phonic Readers, and my pupils line up for the books. 

You should try it!

Would you like to see in detail how the PBA literacy works in practice? I invite you to sign up for the C00lSch00l workshops.

Or, if you happen to be near Berlin in mid-November, I'm having an interactive speech, presenting the PBA approach at Expolingua Berlin on 17th November 2018. 

See you there?

Until my next post,

I wish you all an inspiring November.


Don't forget to sign up on the list (Slovenian) or the list (English) if you want to be updated on all the C00lSch00l YFLL workshops and posts.



I know I promised you the cake of the PBA. But before serving it to you, I would just like to pinpoint, again, what the essential layers of the PBA cake are. I strongly believe that, if you don't put the ingredients in the right combination it may well happen you end up with a fake cake.

The combination of the ingredients is right when children understand what you're saying, are engaged in the activity, and are able to use the knowledge.

An adult's and a child's concept of the world (point of view)

Reading the posts on different social-media as well as attending different workshops around Europe had lead me to understand, that most of the practice of teaching English to young learners has a 'crumb-like' approach. Lots of brilliant ideas for one lesson but with no clear long-term language aim in view. The activities' focus is most often on culminating isolated vocabulary, like a little bit of 'clothes' here and a little bit of 'colours' there, and then some 'toys' and 'food' ... 

It is the way how adults see the language learning: once there are enough words, we introduce some grammar and then we assume children will be able to put everything together into sentences, texts, poems ... 

The practice (and the results from Slovenian national examinations in English) has shown children have difficulties understanding and writing texts since the focus of teaching is predominantly on memorising isolated words (or chunk of words) without a context, and learning grammar rules by heart. This way children learn the language for the sake of learning, and not for the sake of using it.

On the other hand, the school test-grades are often excellent, especially when they evaluate enumerating vocabulary and the grammar rules.

Is enumerating words really the essence of the language?  

I believe that language is about exchanging information. People use the language to pass the information on and receive (understand) it. 

Most think that young children are still too young to learn the use of a foreign language ... (The general belief is that the only thing they can learn is the words and songs.)

I disagree.

With young learners, the language is not about learning it. It's about using it.

Children already have the concept of using the language in them. It's an innate ability. It's engraved in their brains as Steven Pinker describes it in his book 'Language Instinct'. What we need is to introduce another language in a way that resonates with children's way of seeing the world.

Children have no experience as to how to be an adult, how to think as an adult. But the adults can make a step towards children and bring our analytical world closer to children's where everything is connected (emotions, intellect, the world) and based on human interaction.

Why do children use a language?

To socialise.

Let's have a look at an example:

'A girl sees a boy on the beach and wants to play with him. She does that even though the language barrier is present. Each speaks their own language and they somehow manage to go about. But if they knew a little bit of one common language they could use it. If the girl was to enumerate all the clothing items she knew, or different shades of colours, or starting counting ... Well, the boy may think she's nuts."  

When children learn their mother tongue; do we give them coursebooks or do we talk to them? 

When we talk to them, do we do it by topics or do we use the language in different live-situations, mixing everything together? Do we, maybe, read children some books?

True, conditions for a foreign language learning aren't the same, but the learning process can be. Or at least we can try to make the conditions as close to the natural as possible.

Children know the concept of sentences in their mother tongue. They know what the language is used for. The learning process with these young souls should, therefore, involve the part, where the adults present children how the words are used to become functional. 

And that is the real cake of the PBA. The communication!

What do children need to communicate?

The greatest challenge in my many years of teaching English to young children has been to find a coursebook that would be ‘the right one’ for the young learner (age 4-11). No matter how many coursebooks I tried, none of them did justice to the task. Not that there was anything wrong with the coursebooks; they were good quality and topic-divided. However, the simple fact that the child becomes bored too quickly with a coursebook should be alarming enough that something is not quite right.

To motivate children, the teachers apply themselves to different strategies, but mostly focusing on finding new games in hope to engage children for at least a couple of minutes before focusing back on the coursebook.

In one of my workshops, Maja F., a clever teacher once commented. 

"I know my children don't need books. But I need one."

Maja, thank you. That's the million-dollar answer.

Children don’t need coursebooks. Teachers do.

Children need action, developing social skills and learn how to communicate. And they can only achieve that through their active involvement and peer interaction.

What teachers need is the knowledge as to how to do it. A book with instructions could come in handy here ... 

(One day, I promise ... until then, there's my blog. And my workshops.)

So, what's that a big deal with the PBA?

Children learn the language, not just words. Children communicate, not just report. Children are engaged with their peers, they do not just colour and circle and connect and ... whatnot. Children live their learning, want to talk, not just obey what they are told and produce a list of memorised words.

With the PBA, by the age of ten, children understand oral instructions, read authentic children books meant for native speakers, discern information/words from the text, orally present a known topic, write a pre-structured text, and are tenses-time-oriented. By the age of 11, they comprehend grammar tenses and use them in communication.

What's the trick?

The PBA approach focusses on the key-strengths of children’s learning abilities. In the children’s world, everything is connected, and everything has to make sense. Their natural way of learning is through games where they can socialise.

Equally important is the awareness of their limitations due to their developmental stage. Children’s brains, up to the age of eleven, cannot yet comprehend analytically and they do not understand the concept of value. If we want to engage them, they need to see the meaning in what they are doing there and then.

The awareness of both, limitations and strengths, has led me to find an alternative way of young foreign language learning, oriented to the basic purpose of the language – exchanging information.

As we said before, children don’t need books, teachers do.

Instead of a coursebook for the child, there is the PBA; a well-structured framework with the fixed aim-oriented steps for the teacher. In those steps, the activities are organised to address children’s strengths and at the same time stimulate their limitations in such a way to gradually turn them into strengths.

In other words, the language is used in a context (topic-mixed instead of topic-divided), which is natural to the child's concept of the world. Through the activities, which have all the elements of the game (so-called serious games), children
interact with their peers, and thus they become engaged. The topic-mixed approach nets the pieces of information in a context and the activities suddenly make sense for a child. Netting information also leads to better memorisation.

It’s not so much about the selection of the activities (because all the activities can be good) but rather how the activities are organised to address the children’s point of view and their need to socialise (in the sense of understanding as well as seeing the meaning in it).

NATURAL, ENGAGING and NETTING are therefore the key dimensions which, when in synergy, enable the young language-learning its original purpose – communication.

The practice has shown that with the PBA children achieve better language and social skills in comparison to the traditional, topic-based approach delivered through a coursebook.

All the steps of the PBA are covered in the 3day workshop called Playing Games Is a Serious Business.

The point of view

Which question do you ask yourself when being at the point of introducing something new to your pupils?

"What story do I need to introduce the topic 'food'?"


"Which topics can I tailor from the story ....?"

Poster (mind map) made from the story Oliver Finds His Way by Denise Root (by Z. F.)

The first one leads to the traditional, topic-divided approach, the second to the project-based approach.

In October 2018, an FB group of teachers who practice the project-based approach started their little correspondence. We are gathered to support ourselves with understanding the child's point of view and tailoring our teaching accordingly.

If you would like to practice the project-based approach and are willing to take an active part in those discussions, you're welcome to join us. Read what the group is about and then answer a few questions to tell us something about your way of teaching.

Wish you a lovely day.