Posted by: carolread | January 12, 2010

A is for Affect

Photo credit: tanakawho

Affect is to do with emotions and moods and influences the way children think, feel and learn. Creating a positive affective atmosphere in the classroom is essential for developing cooperative social relationships among children and can be instrumental in sustaining motivation and improving academic performance. If children feel insecure and anxious in the classroom, they may experience ‘learning blocks’ and a sense of failure which can all too easily become a fixed and repeated pattern throughout the primary years.

In classes with a positive affective atmosphere, children have a sense of belonging and feel valued and cared about as individuals. They look forward to lessons with a sense of anticipation and enjoyment, and are more emotionally open to realising their full learning potential. This in turn helps to raise children’s self-esteem and allows them to blossom, both as people and as language learners, in a context of mutual respect and support. As has been said (and is quoted by Verónica de Andrés*): ‘Children don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care’. In other words, the value we place on affect in our classes underpins how effective our teaching and children’s learning can be.

So what can we do to give attention to affect in our classes? Here are some ideas:

  • Treat children in the same way that you like to be treated e.g. remember names, be polite, respect personal space, show patience when explaining things, show understanding when a child is having difficulty or an ‘off day’.
  • Find ways to show that you value work children produce through e.g. using praise appropriately and constructively, responding to the content (not just language), making and regularly changing classroom noticeboard displays, encouraging children to show, share and take pride in the work they produce with the whole class.
  • Find time for regular personalised moments with each child – not always easy in large classes, although there are often opportunities when children are working quietly as well as before and after lessons begin.
  • Build up a profile of the personal interests of children as you find out about them and ask about and/or refer to  these whenever appropriate.
  • Value diversity through recognising and accepting that different children contribute and participate in different ways.
  • Make children feel special e.g. by keeping a class birthday calendar and celebrating birthdays, showing and sharing work they’ve done with the whole class.
  • Make children feel responsible e.g. by appointing them in turn to be special monitors for such things as giving out materials, writing the date on the board, collecting homework.
  • Give children plenty of opportunities to say what they think and feel, and refrain from being judgmental. This can either be as an integral part of activities e.g. responding to a story, or the main focus e.g. writing a group poem I feel happy / sad / angry / when …
  • Encourage children to behave positively towards each other e.g. by getting them to clap and/or give positive comments after individuals, pairs or groups perform in front of the whole class.
  • Use stories and picture books which encourage children to develop empathy and think about issues such as inclusion and friendship e.g. Do you want to be my friend? by Eric Carle, Something Else by Kathryn Cave & Chris Riddell, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers.

It would be great to hear about some of the things you do to give attention to affect in your classes.

* ‘Self-esteem in the classroom or the metamorphosis of butterflies’, Verónica de Andrés, in Affect in Language Learning, ed. Jane Arnold, CUP 1999



  1. Hi Carol and a very warm welcome to the blogosphere – or blogworld as Ken Wilson calls it. The blog looks great and is a very welcome addition for young learner teachers of English who do not have as much by way of blogs as general or business English.
    I agree with all the things you mention in this post – as a teacher but also as a parent of a young learner. Our youngest was so pleased last year when the teacher organised a system of responsibilities that the students shared. It improved behaviour and self-esteem in the class, and our son helped out more at home too!

  2. Brilliant idea Carol!

    Many thanks for making such an excellent contribution to the world of teaching YLs!

    I’m already thinking of what all the letters will represent, I’m excited to see what you will be writing!

    I like your ideas list. I’m glad you included ‘making and regularly changing classroom noticeboard displays’ it’s so important and not often mentioned. It gives children a feeling that their work is valued, but also that they are progressing, seeing different things go up. There’s nothing worse than a class with the same display from beginning to end.

    Classroom displays take time, but time well spent. They provide opportunities for children to talk to others about what they are doing which also gives them a feeling of confidence and pride.

    Looking forward to seeing the rest of the alphabet!

  3. Great idea for a blog, Carol – long overdue, too, I’d say.

    I don’t have any expertise in this area, but your advice sounds both practical and well-grounded.
    I have a question, though: you recommend valuing diversity, but if the diversity is of the linguistic type – i.e. a wide range of mother tongues in the one classroom – how do you respect this diversity while somehow maintaining English as the classroom ‘lingua franca’? To what extent do you tolerate the use of the L1 – and show you value it – especially if it’s a language you might not speak yourself (I’m thinking more of ESL contexts, I guess).

    Maybe you plan to deal with this under D for Diversity?!

  4. Hi Lindsay, Sandie and Scott

    Thank you very much for your positive comments and welcome. I’m delighted you like the idea of this blog!

    I was really interested that the idea of special responsibilities also resonates with you as a parent, Lindsay, and completely agree with your point about improved behaviour and self-esteem. Great also to learn of the positive knock-on effect to home!

    You’re so right about a class with the same display all year, Sandie! It feels stultifying and gives a message that the work children produce isn’t valued. Noticeboard displays can be highly motivating when children know their work is likely be seen by everyone. They’re also very useful if you can make them interactive e.g. with a message corner, quizzes, and materials e.g. board games or picture books made by the children for the children.

    Thanks very much for making the point about linguistic diversity, Scott, as I was thinking of diversity more in terms of personality, interests, abilities, culture, ethnicity and special needs. I think it’s important to try and do both the things you mention i.e. show respect for the diversity of mother tongues as well as keeping English as the ‘lingua franca’.

    This can be done in all sorts of ways e.g. displaying a world map with photos and coloured string leading to countries where each child is from, teaching children the names of the countries and languages they speak, and getting them to include this information in their ‘language passports’: I’m from …, I speak … at home, I speak … at school, I learn … at school, encouraging children to do projects or presentations on topics which draw on their cultural and home backgrounds, asking individual children from time to time how to say things that have come up in their mother tongue. Even if you don’t know the language yourself and can’t strictly speaking check, you’re expressing interest, learning from the children as the ‘experts’, and raising awareness about linguistic diversity generally. All this helps to create an atmosphere of respect and tolerance, as well as genuine interest in each other’s languages too.

    Hope that goes some way to answering your question. As for D … well, I’m still mulling on it!

  5. Hi Carol!
    I agree – this is long overdue! an excellent, innovative and thought- provoking idea. Congratulations!
    I particularly like the first point – it’s so simple: remember the children’s names. For many teachers going from school to school, they may have 100 kids names to recall – that’s not easy! And there are lots of ways to help – register calling, name cards that are given out at the beginning of each class that are big enough for the teacher to see from any point in the class… it makes such a difference for all aspects of classroom management – and consequently learning, if you can remember a child’s name! birthday calendars, monitors … all help a busy teacher remember lots of names!
    oh and i love the pictures you have 🙂 lovely!

  6. Great idea Carol – bite sized chunks of professionally distilled wisdom! Thanks for sharing it with us. I have already earmarked the first entry (Affect) as source material for a professional development session for our teachers at English Country Schools.

  7. Looks really good Carol. Being a teacher who has never taught Primary, I’d just like to add that all the ideas you mention are equally important for and usable with (after a few adaptations) older learners, be they teenagers or adults. My university students need lots of affective support too (albeit for reasons that are often different to those of young children). D for Diversity … or that word I often hear from trainee teachers – Discipline!?

  8. Great idea, Carol- Congratulations!

    According to Krashen, the task of language learning is vey different from learning any other subject because it requires public practice.

    So I agree with you (and Krashen) that by creating a safe and secure environment, we potentially lessen the young child´s negative affect for learning in all areas. This is particularly important in EFL in Primary where success depends upon the children´s ability to communicate. Fortunately, there are many actions we can take to create a non-threatening atmosphere in hopes of reducing the students´negative feelings so that public display of knowledge does not present the danger of being made to feel embarrassed. The following are a few tips that connect “affect”, “cultural diversity” and “motivation” :

    1- It will help the teacher, the students and the families if you know something about the cultural norm of the different countries represented in your classess. We know that in some cultures, for example, making a request of someone is considered a superior taboo. The European Language Portfolio is a great tool for this:

    2- Soften your voice. A raised voice means different things to different cultures.

    3- Give individual feedback and team recognition. Sometimes individual contributions of groups feel unrecognised and therefore, motivation may be at risk.

    4- Smile and say please and thank you (not difficult for native speakers of English but very difficult for me when I started teaching EFL/ESL!)

    5- Never refer to anything you do for students as “your job”. Students want you to do what you are doing for them because you want to, not because you think you have to.

    And that´s all for now.

  9. Hi Niki, Chris,Vanessa and Ricardo

    Thanks very much for your great comments.

    I completely agree with you about names, Niki. I like to get children to draw a picture of something that’s special for them on their name cards too e.g. their pet, favourite toy, sport, an instrument they play etc. and A4 card folded into 3 works well for size and to stand on desks. As well as personalising the cards, I find the pictures help me to remember the names too! With very little ones, I make large, round name cards which children wear as medallions with coloured ribbon tied in a very loose bow that will undo if pulled (important for safety) and it’s part of our routine to give them out at the start of lessons until I’m sure I’ve learnt everyone’s names.

    Hope I can live up to your comment, Chris – thanks! Great to know that this entry may be helpful for one of your professional development sessions too and would love to hear how it goes!

    Many thanks for making the point that affect isn’t only important for primary, Vanessa. I totally agree with you and think it’s often the case that the principles are the same for teaching different ages of learners – just the way you realise or apply them that can be so different. The ideas on affect here also draw on a long and well-established tradition of humanistic approaches to language teaching through the writings of people such as Earl Stevick, Gertrude Moskowitz and many others that can be found in e.g. Jane Arnold’s book that I mentioned in the post.

    Many thanks for these excellent additions to the list, Ricardo, and for the useful links! I agree with everything you say and specially love the points about smiling and softening your voice which can have such an influential and calming effect. Your last point is so important too – if children feel we’re only doing things because we have to, it’s likely to be mirrored in their attitudes as well.

  10. I’ve enjoyed reading your first letter, and the responses it provoked.
    I appreciate what you say, especially in the light of one of my classes this year – I’m teaching Jolly Phonics in a class of four-year-olds who speak Spanish at home and Basque with their form teacher. They have accepted me in my role – I have my table in their classroom and my space in their timetable – and welcome me into their community. In return, it is a pleasure for me to be their friend who shares their games, sings them new songs and tells them new stories, and on occasions brings in jelly! Communication is spontaneous – they are happy for me to speak to them in English, and respond in their chosen language, quite secure in the knowledge that I will try to understand them and continue the conversation – and little by little they try harder too.
    Looking forward to the next installment and the affective initiatives.

  11. Hi Carol,
    What a beautiful blog! A yellow balloon, clearly designed and useful ideas as always. Like Scott, I was attracted to your point on diversity. As there are so many multi-lingual classes now, the schools I’ve worked in take every opportunity to celebrate diversity. I had a corner for ‘Words around the World’ e.g. bread, water. head. This fascintaed many of the YLs. They added words in their own languages and then the reading of them aloud created much interest as many basic words sounded similiar. We also built in time each week to hear short readings in different languages. Suddenly, the others heard silent newcomers speak. The result benefited all.

    All the best with the rest!

  12. My favourite colour – YELLOW! My affective filter has instantly lifted 🙂

    My personal experience was with large classes where the traditional school ‘team’ point system didn’t exist and so I introduced it. Every class I taught in was divided into 4 teams (red, green, blue and yellow) and every YL could gain (or lose) points for their ‘team’.

    I thought this was important because the society focused too much on individual achievement and not enough in team effort … so all the YL got a chance to excel at something and get points for their team. And woe betide anyone who lost points for their team 😦

    My tuppence worth … well done Carol … lovely to share ideas here …

    W xx

  13. Thank you for this blog, Carol. It’s going to be so useful as well as a pleasure to read. I’ve already learnt a great deal from this first post. Looking forward to more instructive and enjoyable posts.

  14. Welcome to the blogosphere 🙂

    I’m not the only blogging about Young Learners now! Wishing you lots of readers and thanks for placing me in your blogroll 🙂

    I’ll be a frequent visitor!


  15. Dear Carol

    thank you very much for sharing this wonderful idea with us. I have been myself interested in affect (and affective factors) in ELT for some time and have planned to do a small-scale research among my univeristy students, esp. focusing on their childhood language learning. NO time so far, unfortunately but merely talking to my students it is clear that affect plays a major role in learning languages. My students keep telling me that they felt very frustrated when the teachers made faces or other negative gestures when they were speaking. This made them silent and have not tried to practise speaking eversince. They also lost interest in learning other languages. Being loved and being welcome in a language classroom is very, very important.

    As for the letter B I would (if I may) suggest something on bilingual/bilingualism which recently has been interpreted in a more flexible, more comprehensive way. Anybody can become bilingual if only given an opportunity and resources.

    Lots of success and thanks a lot for the invitation.


  16. Hi Rebecca, Kay, Wendy, Daphne, Anita and Karmen

    Thanks very much for your thoughts and ideas.

    Rebecca – I love the sound of the happy, secure atmosphere you’ve created for your 4 year olds and the way it’s the meaningful communication that’s important not the language.

    Thanks for these ideas on celebrating diversity, Kay. The ‘Words around the world’ is a fantastic idea. I’ve never gone as far as getting children to do readings in their own language although I can imagine the benefits and boost to self-esteem.

    Totally agree with you, Wendy, about putting the emphasis on team work and not just individual effort – and happy I chose your favourite colour for the balloon!

    So glad you enjoyed the first post, Daphne and lovely to have another YL blogger visiting too, Anita! Look forward to sharing more.

    “Being loved and being welcomed” – so important whatever the age. Thanks very much for these thoughts in relation to your university students, Karmen.

    Thanks also for the B suggestion which is B for Brilliant! Let’s see …!

  17. Dear Carol,

    you have been creative, as always, and I really like the blog and the inspiring yellow balloon, especially because we have an opportunity to exchange ideas on teaching young learners.

    I would recommend that maybe we should think about intercultural understanding and exchanging concrete ideas to this topic. In our country some people believe that teaching foreign languages to migrant children or bilingual children or children living in nationally mixed areas in kindergarten is some kind of burden or extra load, that these children have to learn our language well enough, foreign language is too much for them. So, how can we persuade these people that multilingual understanding and knowledge is really an advantage for them.

    Looking forward to some concrete initiatives,

  18. Dear Mihaela
    Thank you for your positive comments and for raising this important and delicate issue. I think it also very much depends on individual children and how they respond – some take it in their stride, whereas others may suffer if they feel threatened or insecure.
    One of the benefits I’ve always found is that English is a school subject where everyone starts on a level playing field, in the sense that knowing the language of the host country is not an automatic advantage, and this allows children new to the country to shine and can give a huge boost to their confidence and self-esteem.
    The other thing I’ve also found is that children’s own experience of learning a foreign language themselves, even very young ones, generally makes them show more empathy and understanding to others new to their school who may not speak their language. This leads to new children integrating more happily and more quickly. I guess getting these messages out could be a start – and would be interesting to know what others think.

  19. Dear Carol
    I agree with you that it much depends on individual children. Some of our kindergarten teachers reported that they experienced interesting reactons from children coming from the Gipsy environment. In the every day routine kindergarten situations these children were sometimes not so cooperative, but they did their best and very much liked to participate when it came to foreign language learning because they felt they were on the same level as all the other children in their group and also other children showed more understanding towards them. However, it is very difficult to persuade our school authority that we should deal with intercultural and foreign language issues already with very young learners since in this way they would integrate in the new environment quickly and easily.

  20. Dear Mihaela
    Many thanks for sharing this experience of your kindergarten teachers which is fascinating to hear. It would be interesting to know if any research has been done in this area. I also wonder if it would be possible to persuade the school authority to come and see what’s happening in the foreign language lessons themselves which might help convince them. Unlikely maybe but perhaps worth a try!

  21. Hi Carol

    Your blog looks great and is a much needed addition to the world of TEYLs. It provides rich material for training and it’s brilliant that you are sharing all your expertise and experience with the wider ELT community. What I think is especially useful are the suggestions lists which are highly practical and directly classroom relevant. The one around display work really resonates with me as I have been in so many classrooms around the world which are not child friendly at all with no literate print environments. I’ve been in some schools in Europe where EU funding has been spent on interactive whiteboards (locked in a classroom and never used) while the buildings are drab and grey, with no posters, no children’s work and very dangerous structures and playgrounds without equipment… I think the importance of display is crucial and this is an area which needs much more attention on both pre and inservice courses for YL teachers. I’d say that globally teachers need loads more guidance with this – perhaps it could be a future blog feature?
    W is for Wall Displays??

    It was interesting reading Scott’s comments around diversity and I think what we need to develop as a professional community are more practical ideas and examples of how to create inclusive cultures in our classrooms and appeal to children’s diversity. I see this as one of the major challenges for ELT currently. I developed a handbook for the British Council last year which put forward the case for integrating equality and diversity into ELT but we all need to follow this up by sharing concrete examples of good practice of how this is being done successfully. What would be especially useful are practical ideas for materials, teaching methods, lesson procedures and techniques.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean re-inventing the wheel, as there are already loads of tried and tested activities for encouraging empathy via language teaching e.g. see Carol’s excellent section on ‘Drama and Storytelling’ in 500 Activities (Macmillan, 2007) – and these activities can be readily exploited for an equality / diversity focus in age-appropriate ways.

    I feel the major obstacle is that many teachers lack awareness and confidence of how a diversity focus would actually work in the language classroom with YLs – I think some clips of teachers in action doing this would be of immense benefit. I’m currently developing some material for stories with raise awareness of civil partnerships and adopting children in same-sex marriages using authentic children’s literature. Colleagues who are interested in exploring this can order storybooks such as ‘King and King Family’ and ‘Tango Makes Three’ from Amazon.

    There are also some brilliant lesson ideas developed by Jo Bertrand and Gail Ellis at British Council Paris on ways to raise awareness of positive images around disability using the superb storybook ‘Susan Laughs’. You can download this material free at:

    and you can print a pdf copy of the handbook from this link also.

    Hope this helps.

    Very best wishes


  22. Hi David

    Thanks so much for your positive feedback on the blog and this invaluable contribution. I completely agree with what you say about the importance of display in the learning environment and ‘W for Wall displays’ sounds like a great idea!

    Many thanks also for raising the issue of equal opportunities and diversity in the context of affect. I very much agree with what you say about the need to share concrete examples of how we can create inclusive classrooms – otherwise it’s going to remain at the level of simply paying lip-service to the ideas. I think the handbook on equal opportunities and diversity that you developed last year for the British Council was a fantastic initiative and strongly recommend it as essential reading for all of us. Many thanks also for the link where it can be downloaded.

    Thank you very much also for drawing attention to the wonderful story based materials which have come out of the BC Paris YL centre to address issues of diversity through children’s literature. ‘Susan Laughs’ is also one of my favourite picture books – so (seemingly) simple, and yet so forceful and moving. The story-based material you are developing to raise awareness of diversity of civil partnerships and adopting children in same-sex marriages sounds an extremely interesting and worthwhile project and I’d love to see the materials when they are ready. Will they be published online by the British Council too? I don’t know the two story books you mention but will make sure I do soon, so many thanks for passing on the names of those too.

  23. Hi Carol,
    I’m enrolled on the Primary school teaching course at British Council Paris 25th-29th June, and have just begun your ABC blog as per instructions! Loved reading “A” and looking forward to the other 25 entries. I agree that something as simple as remembering students’ names is so important. I always make sure I get the pronunciation of a name as spot on as I can. Just from my own personal experience, it makes such a difference to my self-esteem when my name is remembered and used. I haven’t done much YL teaching, but a first class activity I do with university level students is to do an adaption of the classic memory game “I went to the shops and I bought…”. I ask the students to think of an adjective (ideally one that describes them) that begins with the same sound as their first name e.g. Funny Fabrice. We then go around the class with each student adding their name/adjective. I always go last in the game, and I’ve found it an extremely effective way of learning the students’ names, and the students are not only impressed that I can remember everyone’s name, but they are also pleased and flattered that I should make that effort. Obviously this kind of task would be beyond primary school learners but the replies to your blog have given some great ideas to how the teacher can recall and learn the children’s names.
    See you on the 25th!

    • Hi Karen

      Great to ‘meet’ you here – and glad you’ve enjoyed reading ‘A’! You don’t have to read the whole blog before the course! Just choose one of the posts that you find interesting and be ready to tell others about it and why.
      Looking forward to working with you and everyone else who’ll be on the course as from the 25th!

      • Just try and stop me! You’ve got me hooked. See you soon.

  24. Reblogged this on anie9macip and commented:
    How we should treat children with affect.


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