As soon as the idea of a student-friendly context was mentioned, I related it to a previous entry I published: http://monieberle.blogspot.com.ar/2013/08/if-i-were-1st-form-teacher-again.html
I think that if we provide students an enviromet in which we give them the possibility of choosing what to do, it will be easier to engage them in learning. I will refer to 1st form not only because I have more experience but because I saw that in the higher forms students are more independent and it is easier to have them working on different things at the same time. In 1st and 2nd this is very difficult, but it is even more difficult to make them work at the same rhythm! It would be ideal if teachers could plan some independent work in which language and thinking skills are put into practice. Here is an idea:
|Word Centre with magnetic letters|
or laminated cards to write and erase.
|Picture Dictionaries to look for words|
and copy the words in other centres.
|Art Centre with animal pets to colour (that later you can use as flashcards)|
|Drama Centre: with animal ears or puppets to act out the situation.|
Later you could add speech bubbles to make characters talk.
|You could put up a Pet shop or a Vet's office|
Before entering the classroom, or the previous day, the teacher could introduce the project, tell students what it is going to be about (Pets in this case) and that later she will ask them what they would like to know about them. Then teacher says that before that there is a surprise... and she shows a banner that says "Petland". Following day she displays the banner at the classroom door and invites children to play and learn in Petland.
Little by little you could train children to work independently in those centres while you sit down to work with small groups or individual students. Many things can be left around every week for children to discover: a picture of the teacher with her pet, pictures of street dogs, famous pets on TV or cinema, a memory game (memotest) with a card missing, a real pet (a fish or bird) etc. Children will come with questions for sure.
During circle time (whole group) children share experiences and you focus on the specific skills to be developed.
An idea to praise good behaviour: a secret box with a secret item inside (a puppet parrot for example). Children that behave well or work hard can get a ticket to peep in the secret box. But they cannot say what's inside...it's a secret!... unless... they whisper it in English in somebody's ear!
I hope these ideas help you keep students in the engagement zone!
Good luck with your first project! : -)