Published 29th October 2015
Make no mistake: Young Learners can be a handful. Teaching Young Learners is a whole different ball game to adults and there are many different things you need to keep in mind if you find yourself in the Young Learner classroom. If you have experience looking after children then you will already be familiar with a few of these ideas, but remember that you are trying to teach these learners and not just babysit them.
First of all, children need rules and routines to help them cope with the learning environment. As much as you might think rules or boundaries will make you a boring or a strict teacher, you’ll find the children function better when they are aware of what they are and aren’t allowed to do. So obviously the first step is to make and establish the rules of the classroom. Then you may find it necessary to create a system of some sort which keeps track of the behaviour of the students. Charts, stickers, ladders – use anything that is always visible, easy to understand and colourful. In this way your students will be reminded to behave. Finally, don’t be afraid to enforce your rules. Children are expert at taking what they can get and if you are always bending, breaking or changing the rules, they will not know how to behave.
What this also means is that you should try to begin and end your classes in the same way. For very young learners, starting and ending the class with songs is usually a good idea. It helps to focus the children and helps them settle down and stop playing with their friends. These can be full songs or even just simple chants, as long as you use the same ones regularly so the children can become familiar with them. You will find that, over time, children will realise that the singing of a particular song means they should behave in a particular way.
Besides possible discipline issues, though, teaching Young Learners can be extremely rewarding. Because they are young they are able to absorb information and language easily. As long as they are kept busy during lessons, they are able to focus and respond to the language. You need to make sure they are constantly challenged. If some of your students finish before others, give them extra activities or find ways they can help you. A bored child is a distracting child and that’s the last thing you want in a classroom.
At the same time, be aware that you are going to have students of different levels in the same class. Young Learners can differ in language ability but in general ability and development level too. It is not uncommon to have a wide range of abilities in the same class. Again, you will need to get to know your learners and find out what works best for them.