How to make your classroom more Montessori: didactic materials and what rules they should follow

The Montessori method is known for working with didactic materials. There are loads of them, most of them created by Maria Montessori herself. It is a ready made system to teach maths, to teach your native language, nature, even beginner history ... There are no Montessori materials for foreign language teaching. There, I said it. Yes, there are materials for learning the English language ... but for kids who already speak it! The Montessori reading material is not meant to be used by children learning a foreign language. It simply does not teach a language. It teaches reading.


So what are you supposed to do when you start working at a Montessori school? Well, my friends, you've got two options. Option 1: make me rich by buying my materials 😅 Option 2: make your own didactic materials. If you chose option 2, as I did 7 years ago, you'll have another two options: create your own materials from scratch OR adapt what is available on the market. This post is about option 2.2.


A huge part of my everyday work at a Montessori classroom for older students is adapting materials available on the ELT market. There are so many great course books and materials available in shops and on the Internet. They don't, however, follow the Montessori rules for didactic materials. Basically speaking, I need materials which will make me superfluous in my own classroom 😅 I don't want my students to need me. I want to make them as autonomous and independent as they can be. Is it possible? Yes! Is it quick and easy? No! 7 years later, I'm still in the process, but I'm gonna get there! 💪🏻


So what do I mean by adapting materials to follow the Montessori rules? Montessori didactic materials, the ones created by Maria Montessori, follow a specific set of rules:


Control of error


It's vital for my students to be able to work independently, at their own pace, without me. This is why nearly ever material that I make for them has the right answers provided in the material itself.


Isolation of difficulty


I try to create materials which practise just one ability at a time. So for example, like with the task cards, I provide my students with all the vocabulary they need to create a sentence, when I want them to practise sentence structure.


Progression


I try to arrange my materials in a sequence. Take Scrambled Sentences, for instance. Students first work with positive statements, then with negative statements, then questions. Later come mixed sets. Once they're done arranging sentences they change them into other forms. Then they write their own sentences. When learning the vocabulary, they start with three part cards, then move on spell checks, then to creating sentences with the words and so on. They know what steps to complete to actually learn something.


Aesthetically pleasing looks


That was a journey for me 🙂 Starting from adding colourful tape onto everything (my classroom was once called a "chameleons nightmare" 😂) to understanding that my materials need to look alike, use the same font, not use every colour of the rainbow and still look aesthetically pleasing. The materials need to be attractive for the students, catch their eye. That does not mean they have to be infantile. My favourite example here would be those beauties.


Movement


My materials allow for hand manipulation whenever possible: moving things around, touching, arranging.


On top of trying to follow the Montessori rules as much as possible (sometimes it's not easy) I want to give my students choice: I want them to be able to chose what they want to work with and, in an ideal situation, when they want to work with it. I want to create an environment for them, in which they can feel autonomous and make autonomous choices. If you'd like to read more about autonomy in the language classroom, make sure you read Language Learner Autonomy: Theory, Practise and Research by Leni Dam, David Little, and Lienhard Legenhausen.


Oh ... and I also want my kids to do exam prep 😂 Yes, you read that right: choice, autonomy, materials to use without my help AND exam prep. Is that even doable? I'd like to think so 🙂 Let me show you an example of what I created for my kids. I can't share it with you because I used Repetytorium "Teraz Egzamin Ósmoklasisty" by Nowa Era to prepare the material for my students. I do now have the copyright to the Nowa Era activities so I can only use it with my students in my classroom. But maybe it will inspire you to do something similar.


I have scanned the pages of the book with the listening activities. Then I took a screenshot of each task and added it to a table on my computer. Then I downloaded the transcript of each activity and added in under the picture together with the right answer. I also marked on the transcript, what gives us the right answer. I uploaded the MP3 audio for each activity onto my PENpals and added the stickers to the printed and laminated tasks.


The activity follows all of the Montessori rules I mentioned above. Each task has the right answer on it and practises only listening. The cards are printed on thick card, laminated, and foldable, making them attractive for the kids. The progression rule will come with more activities, when I adapt the open ended tasks. The manipulation comes from each task being separate and from opening the tasks to see the answer and the transcript AND, of course, from my beloved PENpals by Mantra Lingua. I especially love using PENpal whenever possible for listening activities (and not QR codes) because my students don't need the internet to listen to the activity: no distractions and no relying on a good wi-fi connection.



PENpal is a genius piece of classroom equipment which lets you add sound to ANYTHING! Amazing, right?! 🤩 This time round, making this material, I used the free software created by Mantra Lingua: Createlink Pro, which lets you upload any MP3 file onto your PENpal. But why listen to me when you can learn from Mantra Lingua! The company has just released a FREE online course which will tell you all about their product. The course is composed of 6 Chapters in which you'll learn how to use PENpal, how to upload files onto it, and will also help you understand the technology behind PENpal. If you're interested, click this link, then click "sign in", and on the next page scroll down to "create an account". You're in!


Take a look at my listening didactic material in action:


So there you go. This is my everyday working life 😅 I come to school and in my prep time scan and change books into didactic materials. If this sounds like something you might enjoy, you should definitely look for a job at a Montessori school 😉


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