Published 15th April 2019
Let’s be honest here for a second: even if you enjoy spending time with children, even if you are a parent, teaching English as a Foreign Language to Young Learners is not easy. Children throw tantrums, get distracted, need help to go to the bathroom, fight with each other, need to go to the bathroom again, find it difficult to communicate even in their own language, and then we try teach them English at the same time! It’s no wonder Young Learner teachers need to be very special people!
Interestingly, teaching English as a Foreign Language to Young Learners is probably the most common EFL context. Every day, thousands of EFL teachers are playing games and singing songs to teach English around the world. How do they do it effectively, without losing their minds?
Tips to help teaching young learners
YL lessons need to be interactive, musical, physical, colourful and fun. Plan lessons which have a number of activities. Studies have shown that activities in a Young Learner classroom should be no longer than 15 minutes long. With Very Young Learners they need to be even shorter.
Lessons should include a range of different activities. Activities should include different actions and groupings. For example, sitting at their desks, on their feet, together as a class sitting on the mat.
Realia and authentic materials can go a long way in the YL classroom. Start collecting bits and bobs that can be used for arts and crafts in your lessons. Coloured paper, newspapers, magazines, tinsel – anything you think could be useful. Collect games or think of songs that tie in with the different topics in your syllabus.
Young Learners thrive on routine and need discipline. However, this needs to be done in a warm, caring manner. Make sure your learners are familiar with the routine and have different signals to indicate the different parts of the lesson. For example, clapping hands when you want your learners to sit down.
Related to this, your classroom needs to be a positive space. Young Learners need to feel calm and comfortable in order to learn. Ensure your classroom environment is inviting and motivating.
Be prepared to have fun. Yes this means being silly at times. You will need to overexaggerate movements and actions, use funny voices and tell silly jokes to entertain your little students. Happy students will make happy lessons.
At the same time you need to have oodles of patience. Teaching Young Learners can be exasperating, but you always need to remain calm and in control.
Lastly, get personal with your students. Young Learners are very sensitive and very perceptive. They will know if you aren’t able to tell them apart or if you’ve forgotten their names. Make sure you take the time to get to know your students so you can give them individual attention.
Teaching Young Learners is both challenging and rewarding. Not everyone is cut out to be a Young Learner teacher, while others will be Young Learner teachers for life. If you find yourself teaching kindergarten in Bangkok, remember these tips and above all, have fun.