Published 16th January 2017

teaching young learners in the classroom

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Thinking about teaching English as a Foreign Language? Not sure what to expect?  You’re not alone – we’ve all been there. Because we have some experience under our belt, we can tell you that one of the best things about being a TEFL teacher is the fact that you could find yourself in a range of different classrooms. Think about teaching kindergarten in Shanghai, teenagers in Buenos Aires, businessmen in Istanbul or even teaching English online. As a TEFL teacher, we can’t always be picky about who we want to teach and we need to be flexible enough to be able to cope with whatever situation we may find ourselves in. So if you are a bit unsure about what it will be like teaching different age groups, here are 6 differences between teaching adults and young learners.

Autonomy

Adult learners are very independent, while Young Learners aren’t. It is possible – and even beneficial – to give adults more autonomy in their lessons. You can do this by letting adults work things out for themselves rather than giving them the answers, asking them to organise themselves into pairs or groups instead of allocating partners, and even giving input into the topics or activities of the lessons. With Young Learners, on the other hand, it is necessary to be in plan the lesson as you see fit, give clear instructions, monitor the learners closely and deal effectively with any issues of classroom management. 

For example, when teaching adults you don’t need to think about bathroom breaks (they can worry about that themselves!) but with Young Learners you will need to ask them regularly if they need to go to the bathroom. With online learners, you can expect your adult learners to do more while you need to lead your Young Learners step-by-step in whatever you are doing.

Learning

In terms of learning, Young Learners need to be given a wide variety of activities which relate to the different senses. Young Learners are sensory learners and respond well activities which incorporate TPR or similar teaching techniques. Their attention span is also short, so activities in a Young Learner classroom shouldn’t take too much time. With adults it is possible to spend more time on learning tasks so it is possible to engage more deeply with the learning materials. This means you need fewer activities for your lessons but you can utilise your learning texts more.

As you can imagine, with Young Learners physical activities and games work well, even in the online classroom. If you are teaching a Young Learner 1-to-1 online, make sure you include songs, pictures, props and energy into your lessons to keep them engaged.

Anxiety

Believe it or not, adults are generally more nervous in the classroom than Young Learners. Young Learners seem to have no fear and are willing to try anything – as long as they perceive it to be fun. Young Learners will mirror the energy of the teacher, so you need to be as upbeat and enthusiastic as you can manage.

Adults may feel anxious because of the fact that they are not the age of the “typical” learner and so they will approach activities with a sense of apprehension if they do not feel comfortable. Because of this they will need more positive encouragement. This can be especially evident in an online teaching situation, when learners may not know other people in the class. There may be times of silence, but don’t let that worry you. Make sure you give your learners plenty of opportunities to get to know one another and feel comfortable with each other and they will soon lose any inhibitions they may have.

Motivation

Having said that, adults are more likely to be more motivated than Young Learners. Adults are generally in the classroom because they choose to or because they need to learn English for work or study, which means their motivation levels are naturally high. Young Learners usually have no choice, which means that they may lose enthusiasm if they are not interested in what is happening in the classroom.

This highlights the importance of tailoring your lessons not only to the needs but also the interests of your learners. Find out from your learners what they are interested in and plan lessons around those topics. This also relates to homework, as it is more likely for learners to complete homework activities they are interested in.

Discipline

Probably the most obvious difference is that of discipline. Teaching Young Learners is all about being able to deal with discipline calmly and effectively. If you’re lucky, you might have a teacher’s assistant or a co-teacher to help you if you are teaching Young Learners in a physical classroom. When teaching adults, disciplines should not be an issue because, well, they’re adults.

When teaching online, discipline can be very tricky. Again it shouldn’t be an issue with adults, and if it is, it’s usually best not to engage with the difficult behaviour and try to move on. The worst thing that can happen is the learner leaves the lesson, which may affect your teacher rating if you are working for a company, but at least you won’t have to deal with the student any longer! For Young Learners, if a learner is acting out in an online lesson, it may be necessary to speak to the parents privately about the situation.

Life experience

Finally, the biggest difference between teaching adults and teaching Young Learners is what the students bring to the classroom. Young Learners bring enthusiasm, curiosity and energy, while adults bring life experience. While Young Learners are still learning about the world around them, adults have already had a lifetime of experiences and have their own ideas and opinions.

With both Young Learners and adults you can use this to your advantage. Your lessons with Young Learners (both online and face-to-face) will be so energetic and lively that the time will pass really quickly, and your lessons with adults will be interesting and engaging for you as well as your learners.

As you can see, though there are a number of differences between teaching English as a Foreign Language to adults or to Young Learners, the fundamental practices will remain the same. Encourage communication and authentic language use, utilise your students’ previous knowledge and, above all, maintain a fun atmosphere in the classroom and you will be successful no matter the age of your learners.

Differences Between Teaching Adults and Young Learners
Differences Between Teaching Adults and Young Learners

Differences Between Teaching Adults and Young Learners

If you Google teaching English online reviews you are going to get pages and pages of results. You might read them and think that teaching English online sounds like a dream. The problem is, a lot of these reviews are written by the teaching platforms themselves (impartial? we don’t think so) or online teachers with an ulterior motive. 

Have you noticed how many reviews have a sign-up link included? That’s because many online teaching companies offer rewards to their teachers if they can recruit other teachers. So if you read Lindsay’s glowing review of XYZ, decide you want to teach through them and click on the link to apply, Lindsay gets a nice little financial gift in her bank account. It’s not surprising that they’ll only tell you the good things about teaching online.

We think you should know the whole story. We really do think teaching English online is a great opportunity but we also acknowledge that it’s not all well-behaved children and gold stars. No jobs are perfect and it’s only fair you know about the good, the bad and the ugly before jumping into the online teaching world. 

With all the uncertainty in the world at the moment, the one thing we know we can trust is the brutal honesty of Reddit. So we thought we’d collate some real reviews of teaching English online from Redditors who have done it themselves.

Students don’t always turn up

I only had 5 classes this morning and three were student no shows. And my last student’s parent had the courtesy to tell VIPKID ahead of time so I get to eat breakfast and enjoy my coffee earlier than usual :). 

u/crazybadazy

Not all students are angels

I had a bratty six-year-old L1 [Lesson 1] who was advanced enough to complain that I didn’t have the right color of butterflies for her reward but would barely repeat anything. I also had one of my worst -behaved regulars in L2 [Lesson 2] who decided today he would just dance around the room, in and out of view of the camera, swinging a broomstick around like a sword.

u/hreddi

Students are human too

Four classes here. Three regulars and one new girl who had her first VIPKid class. They were all wonderful. One of the regulars was unusually grumpy today and kept saying “I know, I know” when I tried to explain things and correct her grammar. She is normally very smiley and agreeable. I asked her about it and she had a ton of homework, so I think she was anxious about finishing it. Another regular was teaching me about Chinese history.

u/figaro_cat

Teachers don’t always feel like teaching

I had a class at 3 am and then an hour break and 2 more classes. I was so close to cancelling the first class yesterday… Anyways, they were all great students and it ended up being a good morning where I had a nice leisurely hour to scroll through Reddit and pretend to stretch.

u/lunalovebueno

You might not like all your students

Taught a student that I found kind of annoying and I did not get along with that well, at least in my mind. But…….he ended the class stating that he is going to follow me and wants to have class every day or at least once a week. I mean the guaranteed pay would be nice, but I also don’t like him. Is it worth it?

u/thelittlerayofsun

It helps if you know about marketing

The pay is really good, especially for what you’re doing. Once I started getting fully booked I began to average between [$] 2700-3200 a month. This really can vary greatly because it depends on how much you get booked and how much you want to work. This took a while and some work to get to this point. My first month I made about $90 despite being very aggressive and opening as much of my schedule as I could. I have read many in the Facebook groups lament about going months without getting hardly any classes. This job is about marketing yourself as much as it is teaching to be successful. If you can’t appeal to the parents as well as please the students you are not going to do well. The key is too attract regular students who book you weekly and recommend you to other parents.

u/Drippingmoon

There can be downsides to no-shows

I’ve been working for the same company for just about 3 years now. The salary is decent (I’ve worked my way up to 14 euros/hour) and I’m teaching business English to professionals in France. The flexibility is great – I make my own schedule and they ask for 15 hours of availability minimum per week. The only downside is cancellations (at this company, students can cancel up to one hour before the lesson start time and the teachers are not compensated).

u/ashtraygirl

Each lesson is different

You have kids who draw pictures of you surrounded by hearts, and kids who would rather play with their toy dinosaurs. Kids who are so excited to show you their stuffed animal collections, and five year olds who spend the entire lesson crying at the stranger on the screen trying to talk to them in a foreign language. You have older students who want to engage in great discussions with you about their friends, about life in China, about life in America, and then you get to experience flying through the air as a small child throwing a tantrum hurls their iPad. But above all, as with any teacher, you’re making a difference in these kids’ lives. It’s honestly the best job in the world.

u/kaymidgt

So there you have it, straight from these Redditors’ mouths. Some key differences between teaching adults and young learners. Teaching online English might not be for everyone, but it could be for you!