Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL) can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. Young children absorb new language far easier than older students of language. In fact, with very young learners, you don't even need to teach them but only to interact in the second (or foreign) language and they will pick it up.
Here are a few tips from our course book, Teaching English to Young Learners that is included in the TEFL Fundamentals Plus and TEFL Professional (and also the 140- and 160-hour) courses here at TEFL Boot Camp / TEFL Educator.
Teaching children can be particularly challenging simply because it’s difficult to get their attention and keep it for an extended period of time.
It is said that you double a child’s age and subtract two to get the maximum activity length. So if you’re teaching 5-year-olds, they can pay attention to one activity for 8 minutes (5 times 2 is 10, minus 2 is 8).
In addition to keeping the activities short, there are other tips to keep in mind when teaching children, just take a look below.
Change Activities Often in TEYL
Break activities up and create a couple of activities rather than just one long one. And create different type of activities as well. For example, if you’re going to teach introductions, you could start with a song while standing up, then drawing a picture while sitting on the floor or at their desks, and end with a conversation race.
Get Up and Move in TEYL using TPR
Total Physical Response (TPR) is great for children. Many websites have tips for using TPR in class. In the Links’ section, you can find the Total Physical Response link. Kids love to move around and if you can let them learn while moving, they’ll love you for it. TPR is often used in songs (such as Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes) and games (such as Simon Says). However, it can also be used during regular classroom activities. Having students move to different sides of the room or find an object.
Two videos below demonstrate TPR. The first gives some good practical examples and the second shows the ever popular song Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes which kids never tire of singing and which can be adapted and done in an infinite number of ways.
Following is a short video of Simon Says with a really enjoyable class of Korean kids.
Playtime in TEYL
Ask kids what they want to do and most often than not they say that they want to play. Children learn by playing, so incorporating games into your lessons will make students more eager to participate.
Board games and card games can be laminated or stuck into clear plastic covers and reused in your other classes. Take a look at MES English for game ideas and templates.
Use Different Groups
Pairs can sit side-by-side, face-to-face, back-to-back, or even on opposite sides of the room. Small groups work well around a table or sitting on the floor. Larger groups work well for competition or wholeclass games.
Try to reward students for good behavior rather than punishing students for bad behavior. Try complimenting a student on working quietly and you’ll find the other students will be quick to do the same. Stickers and stamps are great ways to reward students. Don’t forget to praise students. Telling a student they did a good job can work just as well as stickers. See more tips on our Student Motivation in EFL and Classroom Management and Discipline pages.
Teaching students who don’t know any English at all can be very tough. The good news is that children learn languages quickly so they won’t be beginners for long. There are a couple tips that could help you in the classroom.
Teach the same concept differently
Students need lots of practice to grasp concepts and everyone learns differently. Students have different learning styles; some like TPR while others like to sit and read. Using different activities means that all students have the chance to learn.
It’s important to constantly review. At the end of the lesson you should review what you just taught. At the beginning of the next class, you should also review what was taught the previous lesson. Try to review prior lessons every once in a while to make sure the information is fresh in the students’ minds.
Silence is golden and that’s especially true in the classroom. You need to give students time to think and form sentences. It may feel like you’re waiting a long time, but the students may feel rushed. So wait a bit longer before calling on volunteers.
Study a Foreign Language
If you haven’t studied a new foreign language recently, you should in order to see how difficult it is to listen to the teacher, understand, and create an answer. By studying a foreign language, you will be able to empathize with your students and it will help modify your own behavior in making sure your students get your patience in picking up new language.
Compliment Your Students
Learning a new language is very hard and it can be easy to get discouraged. Complimenting your students will help them stay motivated. Your students can also help themselves by seeing how much they have progressed. Have them save their past work and create a book that they can look through and see how well they are doing. As an added bonus, they can show it to their parents, who will be happy to be able to see what their children have learned in class.
For more information on TEYL consider taking one our our TEFL courses that come with a TEYL module or our TEFL Professional course.