Table of Content
2. Authentic texts in EFL classrooms in Primary school
3. Structure of and interaction between pictures and text in “Froggy gets dressed”
4. What does the picture book have and what does it need?
4.1 Regarding the text
4.2 Regarding the pictures
5. Classroom possibilities
5.1 Pre-telling activities
5.2 While-telling activities
5.3 Post-telling activities
7. Works cited
“Playway” (Klett), “Sally” (Cornelsen) and “Storytime” (Westermann) are just three names of many more pupil's books which accompany todays' primary school children from Year 1 to Year 4. English as a school subject in German primary schools is still in its infancy, as it was only introduced in 2003 for Year 3 and 4. In 2008, it was decided to teach English as a foreign language (EFL) in classrooms from Year 1 (2nd half) onwards. The pupil's books are shaped by the curricula of the German states and have a sequence of certain topics such as “me and my family”, “food and drinks” or “o ur nature” (Lehrplan Englisch für die Grundschulen des Landes NRW 2008: 13).
My paper investigates the topic “my body and my clothes” off the beaten track with a picture book. When I undertook a three-week internship at a primary school in Krefeld in March 2019, many of the English teachers complained about the limited time they had to reach the goals that were outlined in the “Playway” books. This time pressure was referred to by my supervising teachers when arguing that there was no time for other activities, such as picture books.
I had the opportunity to teach six hours in a second grade and I used the picture book “Froggy gets dressed” by Jonathan London and Frank Remkiewicz. My experiences in the classroom will be part of this paper as well as the discussion about using authentic texts in EFL classrooms. Furthermore, I will analyse the structure and the interaction of the pictures and the text of this picture book and also show some of the manifold classroom possibilities.
“Froggy gets dressed” is a very good, authentic work to introduce and work on the topic “my body and my clothes” from the curriculum in the second grade of a primary school.
2. Authentic texts in EFL classrooms in primary school
A teacher has many possibilities of introducing or working on a new topic in the EFL classroom. The usage of a pupil's book is very common, due to the carefully selected language, while trying not to overtax learners with the goal of teaching a defined number of words. Frisch (2014a: 16) calls this language artificial and unnatural (Reckermann 2018: 147). In contrast to this, a teacher can choose an authentic text to introduce or develop a topic in an EFL classroom. Authentic texts or picture books do not have any special purpose to be used in EFL classrooms (Reckermann, 2018: 139). Reckermann defines the key expression “Real-world language” for authentic texts (Reckermann 2018: 134). The motivation of the learners is a central reason for using authentic texts (Reckermann 2018: 133). Lowering the affective filter by using content that is near to the children's everyday life and a mirror of their own experiences can put them into a positive mind-set.
When taking a closer look at picture books, it might be hard to imagine that Year 4 pupils might even be interested in the often childish and simplistic appearing content. But in consideration of the fact that the experience of the foreign language brings excitement and that the easily accessible nature of a picture book helps the pupils to understand, even the older pupils in primary schools are intrigued by their content (Reckermann, 2018: 160).
It presents pupils with an ideal opportunity to discover and learn unfamiliar vocabulary through the content of a picture book, even when the book was not specifically developed for EFL classrooms. Regarding different theories of SLA, e.g. Vygotski's zone of proximal development or Krashen's monitor model (i+1), it is a helpful challenge to get meaningful input that is beyond the actual competence of the learners. “What a child can do with assistance today she will be able to do by herself tomorrow” (Reckermann 2018: 180) is what Vygotski stated in 1978 concerning the zone of proximal development. The texts need to be comprehensible but may be challenging.
Another point for early literacy is that learners get a chance to see the spelling of a word that can sometimes be helpful for the correct pronunciation (Bassetti, 2009: 192f in Reckermann 2018: 77).
There are two reasons why picture books are hardly used in EFL classrooms in primary schools. Firstly, general scepticism about written language in EFL classrooms and, secondly, a lack of time for supporting pupils in reading picture books, (Reckermann 2018: 171) as mentioned in the introduction based on my own experience, especially when considering the fact that only two lessons of English per week are taught.
Written language is not common in the first two years of primary schools in English. Pupils are usually taught by repeating words and chunks to learn in a playful way. “Froggy gets dressed” offers both, a meaningful input close to the children's life and repetitions of chunks that help to keep new input in mind.
3. Structure and interaction between pictures and text in “Froggy gets dressed”
The picture book was first published in 1992 and became the first of 31 picture books by Jonathan London about that little frog which discovers the world. It shows in a funny, playful way how a frog keeps on forgetting to put clothes on, while he wants to play outside in the snow.
New input is given in six written lines per page at the maximum. The pattern repeats almost identically three times: Froggy walks outside into the snow and his mother shouts from the house to remind him that he again has forgotten to put certain clothes on. The pictures are very colourful and every single piece of clothing has a different colour or design. This might help pupils who know names of colours to remember things better, e.g. boots=blue or hat=red. The simple pictures are full-sized images and connected to the words so that every described action is shown as picture and written in words right next to it. This gives the pupils the chance to understand the content without reading quickly. All actions concerning taking on clothes have a different sound: “Socks - zoop” or “hat - zat”, for example. This is a very good strategy to motivate young learners because they start repeating the sounds after the second or third time hearing them. And this repetition makes the pupils remember the words of the clothing as well.
Every time Froggy “flops” outside, we see two other animals, a racoon and a rabbit, in the background playing in the snow. They build a snowman and do not get in direct contact with Froggy. You only see them laughing when Froggy gets aware that he forgot to put on his underwear. They do not wear anything other than hats, which makes it even funnier, because they laugh about something that does not play a role in their lives, clothes.
Children can laugh with the racoon and the rabbit about the fact that Froggy went outside without wearing underwear, and adults can also laugh about the second level that the illustrator builds. The colour of the letters of the words his mother yells, is in three cases the same as the things he forgets to put on. This gives the opportunity for the learners to connect the colour and the clothes to remember the words.
4. What does the picture book have and what does it need?
4.1 Regarding the text
The picture book's strongest instrument for the EFL classroom is repetition. Froggy has to remember to put on nine different types of clothes and keeps on taking them off and putting them on again. As an example, the scarf is mentioned six times on 27 pages.
Jonathan London could have built the story chronologically so that Froggy starts walking outside for the first time just in his underwear, the second time additionally with a shirt and socks, and so on. But the author chose a mixed order for the frog to always take off certain clothes and put on new things. That is funny for the young readers and very helpful for classroom purposes because of the high number of repetitions.
Diving into the children's world happens in the story straight away when Froggy does not listen to his mother. She advises him to stay in bed but he goes outside against her will. The pupils might sympathise with the frog for being keen and prevailing against his mother. It happens in a playful way, because she does not insist and smiles when she tells him to stay in bed. Thinking of children's view and their motivation to read this book, they get another opportunity to identify with the character. The rabbit and the racoon are already playing in the snow and Froggy simply wants to join them. However, the problem with his missing clothes let him become impatient and may be the reason why he keeps forgetting things. This is a feeling that is familiar to children as they only want to play outside and forget everything around them.