3 Strategies For Motivating Young Learners
What motivates young students to learn a new language? That’s the question many teachers have when teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). Many children learn English because their parents or teachers dictate it, not necessarily by choice. Additionally, often there is no immediate real-world application of English outside the classroom (Noamen, 2009). For many students, the thirty to sixty minutes in class may be the only language exposure they’ll have. It is therefore critical for ESL teachers to motivate students to learn English by creating a communicative learning environment where students engage in real language experiences and by utilizing a variety of fun and purposeful activities to get students involved in the learning process.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Victoria I. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Communicative language teaching is based on the premises that the means and purpose of language learning is communication (Wikipedia, 2019). Thus, ESL teachers should create a learning environment where students are encouraged to use English in meaningful ways. This requires community building and building relationships of trust. A sense of community can be created when teachers seat students in a horseshoe configuration (or group tables) to encourage interaction; or when teachers encourage student help in the classroom set up, clean up and room decoration (especially when using their own artwork or projects). Building relationships is crucial for student involvement and open communication. In a University of Minnesota study of fourth and fifth-grade students, academic engagement increased by 33 percent and disruptive behavior decreased by 75 percent when teachers focused on relationship building with their students (Terada, 2019). When teacher-student and student-student relationships are strong, students have a sense of belonging, participate in class activities more freely and are less concerned about making mistakes.
Teachers can also use communicative language teaching to motivate students by making the language experience real, focusing on communication--not repetition drilling, long vocabulary lists and detailed points of grammar (Wikipedia, 2019). Teachers should encourage students to interact, exchange information, collaborate and help one another in the learning process. This creates a real need to communicate and use English in a variety of settings. This is especially useful for older children who may find it silly to sing or dance; they prefer to express themselves and share experiences, opinions, and interests. Teachers should also use realia (real objects) and authentic materials to overcome “classroom artificiality” (Noamen, 2009). When teachers focus on interaction, create a need to communicate and use authentic materials, the learning experience becomes personalized, meaningful and real to the students. Students learn important communication and life skills as they use English to express themselves and connect with others.
Multiple Intelligences Theory
Teachers also need to be aware that students express themselves, process information and make sense of the world around them in different ways. The theory of multiple intelligences (MI) states that there are multiple intelligences that describe the various human abilities that are used to “enrich” the world that we live in; these include intelligences in music, words, body, spatial-visual abilities, logic/mathematics, nature, interpersonal and intrapersonal capabilities (Armstrong, 2019). The teacher, therefore, using the MI theory, should teach their lessons and test their students’ knowledge in a variety of ways to kindle language learning through multiple intelligences, not just the traditional logic/mathematical approach. A varied approach makes the classroom fun and engaging for teachers and students, and allows students to develop various intelligences while learning the language. It also increases language learning abilities by allowing students to see language in the context of multiple intelligences. For example, students can see language through its phonological musical qualities, the bodily-kinesthetic motions of dramatic presentation, the visual-spatial representation in student art, and through naturalistic eyes as they care for a class pet or plants. When teachers provide opportunities for their students to see language through a variety of lenses, the children’s natural curiosity may be sparked, which can motivate them to pursue language learning on their own.
Teachers can also utilize many online resources to teach English in fun and engaging ways. For example, many websites contain lesson plans, flashcards, pictures, games, creative projects, songs, readers, online games, role play, seasonal activities and activities to learn the alphabet, grammar, and vocabulary. Additionally, there are collaborative activities, discussion topics, dialogues, poems, stories, current events, news, blogs, essays, comics, idioms, online quizzes, dramatization, puppeteering, and resources on pronunciation and phonology. Although these sites contain a lot of resources, teachers should remember that learning activities and multiple intelligences should not be packed into lessons just to provide variety, enjoyment or pass time. Each activity should have a purpose and should provide value to the students’ learning experiences. Simply having students jump around to activate the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence or playing fun games without any learning objectives is not an effective way to motivate students to learn the language.
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So, what motivates young students to learn English? Teachers! ESL teachers play a critical role in student motivation. When teachers apply a communicative approach to language teaching, students feel involved in the classroom and can express themselves in meaningful and real ways. If activities are selected with purpose, students will feel a real need to communicate. Additionally, when teachers apply a multiple intelligences approach to teaching, language learning becomes enjoyable and enriching for both teachers and students. These positive language-learning experiences add up; it's no surprise when many young learners continue to pursue language learning in the future, thanks to teachers who provided them with these positive experiences in their younger years.
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