Learning English online with a stranger can be a scary thing for a child of any age. One thing that seems to be universal with kids whether they are in the US or China is a love of food.
There is nothing more fun than using plastic food toys for rewards. The more realistic, the better. I love to use these food rewards because the children learn the names of food early and some already know them. This allows me to ask them, “Do you like hotdogs?” Most young students will answer yes and then I give them a hotdog as a treat. I have everything from hotdogs to broccoli in my stash of plastic food and it is so much fun to share it with my students. The youngest students love getting hotdogs, ice cream, hamburgers, pizza, and cake and they know those words.
In the unit on France, there is a song about pancakes and strawberries and I have both in my food stash to share with them. In the Peru unit, we sing a song about eating potatoes and I quickly pop up my plastic baked potato to show them during the song. Love of food is universal, and students are comfortable with rewards they know and things they can see clearly.
I often pretend to share my food with them and hold it up to the camera so they can take a bite. They almost always participate in this activity and will sometimes say “yum” or rub their stomach and smile. Occasionally they will hold a stuffed animal up for a bite of food.
Food toys are a great way to teach letters and the sounds associated with them. “I” is for ice cream, “b” is for banana, “c” is for cookie, etc. If I can hold up an object that they know while I’m teaching the letter, it makes more sense for them and puts them at ease in the classroom.
For older students, I use the same rewards in a more advanced way. I ask them to choose which meal they want to see—breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I can teach them “in” by showing them soup and cereal “in” a bowl and teach them “on” by showing them an egg “on” a piece of toast. I teach plurals with “one pancake” and “two pancakes” and irregular plurals with “one strawberry and two strawberries.” It’s a great conversation starter for the older students, who will often tell me what they eat for breakfast, what their parents like to eat, and what foods they do not like.
I have this fabulous “fraction pizza” for teaching math. It has a few different pizzas in it cut into 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, and 1/8. The pieces are magnetic and stick to my whiteboard, so it is easy to hold up for them to see.
Sharing food rewards puts my students at ease and shows them that even though I may be a stranger, we have one thing in common—the love of a good hot dog and an ice cream cone when we need a reward.