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ESL Classroom

Building the Blocks of English

Steven Donahue puts E-Blocks®

to the test in the ESL classroom

Sometimes, we language teachers, forget the obvious: Another Florida ESOL teacher said: “The students’ attention spans
if we teach in step-by-step blocks that students can follow; the magi- have dramatically increased. Perhaps more importantly, they can
cal quantum leaps in acquisition will happen from that very compre- work as a team to solve learning problems that are typical of second
hensible input. And so, E-Blocks is a product which literally uses language students. However, what I liked best was the ability to track
blocks that students place on an interactive panel in order to learn at the progress of all the students all the time because the program
their own pace. The attractive blocks, connected by a cable, are keeps a record of what the kids did well or where they went wrong.
placed on a panel and displayed on a computer. For instance, the So it is an extremely useful tool inside the class.”
word H-A-T may be scrambled as T-H-A, with a cartoon pilot flying
the words on a banner over a mountain peak. Research-Grounded
In using the blocks, the students place them, based on context The teachers’ intimations are also buttressed by solid research. In
clues from the computer, until they unscramble the words. Cartoon a 2004 study, learners from the two groups were exposed to 30 vocab-
like rewards for correct answers are instantly displayed — usually to ulary flash cards from the Cambridge Young Learners curriculum.
joyous cheers - as the blocks are amenable to group learning, almost Comparing the two groups, the learners in the first group (the E-
by default. E-Blocks, with their plethora of activities make it easier for Blocks group) recognized around 40 percent more words than the
students of all skill levels to interact with engaging multimedia soft- learners from the second group. Similar comparisons have shown
ware — without dependence on a laborious keyboard. The attractive, that E-Blocks groups have increased phonemic awareness, vocabu-
palm-sized blocks labeled with letters and symbols are easily placed lary acquisition, and retention of the English alphabet.
in the panel’s pockets. Children rapidly identify letters, spell words,
and build sentences by placing these blocks. All the while, they are Multiple Advantages
engrossed in watching for hints from the simultaneous display on the In summary, E-Blocks are an innovative method for teaching
computer screen. English as a Second Language and ideal for initial literacy exposure.
The blocks are based on the well-known premise that children learn
Real Teachers; Real Feedback by doing — and doing cooperative learning. And certainly, the E-
One Florida kindergarten teacher who teaches mainly ELL students Blocks approach provides unlimited hands-on interaction between
reported: “E-Blocks, are just great! I started using the E-blocks in my children (ages 5 to 10) and the subject matter — English.
class and the kids love them. Moreover, they are very excited and It is rare, and delightful, to find a product such as E-Blocks which
motivated to use them. I have been trying the 0 level with my ESOL addresses all of the following features in a single product. It is a fun-
students, and I can tell they just love the system. The colorful blocks, filled learning tool that children demonstrably love to interact with,
interactive graphics, relevant motion on the computer screen helps which also assists with:
them to quickly learn phonics, alphabet, blends, and vocabulary.“ ■ Phonemic awareness
And all teachers who have used them seem to agree that E- ■ Constructivist activities
Blocks enable children to experience language learning through a ■ Associations between hearing, reading and doing
multitude senses: listening, kinesthetic, discussions among students, ■ Social and Emotional development
motor skills. But the learning is serious; it is reinforced through instan- ■ Multiple sensory learning
taneous feedback in a fun and relaxed way. The blocks provide a
wide variety of content too, which encourages gradual, context-
based learning. Steven Donahue is features editor for Language Magazine. May 2006