How Learning Differs for Young Learners and Adults
Young learners and adults have different needs and goals in the classroom. Young learners want to be engaged and have rapidly changing activities while adult learners will enjoy a more serious classroom setting. It is the job of the teacher to ensure that these needs are met for both age groups.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Preston M. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
If a teacher is teaching classes with young learners, visual cues are very important. Many young learners are not able to read at all or can read very little, so young learners need to be using material that is picture based. When the teacher is preparing PowerPoints for young learners, they need to ensure that there are pictures of the vocabulary. If the subject is animals, each animal should be on the PowerPoint or whiteboard, and each animal should be drawn. When explaining verbs, the teacher should complete the action in front of the student. This will help the students remember the action and make it easier for them to replicate it. GIFs are great to use for young learners as they are often exciting and can demonstrate what the teacher is teaching.
Adult learners are much more likely to be able to read in the classroom, and when teaching grammar rules and sentence structure it should be written on the board or the PowerPoint. Photos should still be used as a wall of text is often boring and should never be used. When teaching new vocabulary, using visual things like actual objects and photos on the PowerPoint will help people who are strong visual learners remember the vocabulary words and their meanings.
Young learners enjoy activities in the classroom and will enjoy doing them for as much of class time as possible. Young learners will not have the attention span that adult students have, and will not be able to focus on one activity for a long time. When teaching young learners, it is good to rapidly change the activity done in class so that they do not get bored. For example, with young learners, you can play 5 minutes of charades, 5 minutes of a ball passing game, and 5 minutes of a chanting game. This change in the activities will keep them exciting and wanting to learn more in class. Physical activities that involve running, jumping, dancing, and playing will allow young learners to spend their energy while still being focused on learning vocabulary and grammar.
With adult students, these activity changes are still needed, but adult learners will have a longer attention span than young learners. Adult learners will not like the high energy activities that young learners enjoy. Many adult learners have jobs that they go to before class, children of their own, and other responsibilities that take energy from their day. Activities are still a good idea, but the adults should be able to be sitting or standing still while doing these activities. A good example of this is doing a grocery store activity for adults, but letting them sit during the activity. The adults will be able to do the activity for longer and incorporate a wider variety of language into the activity than young learners, and likely can hold more conversations.
If you have worked around children before, you know that you cannot speak to them the same way you speak to an adult. Children need a different tone of voice that is more friendly and silly. When asking the students questions in class, the teacher can give silly examples like “What do you like to eat? Do you like to eat…shoes!?” and the young learners will thing this is very humorous and laugh. It is important to keep the children happy in class so they want to come back and do not grow bored. Most children do not choose to come to class but instead are told to by their parents. Their motivations are external and they may not find English very interesting at first, but it is the teacher’s job to make them enjoy learning and keep them engaged. Thus, by being silly with the students and making a fool of yourself the teacher can keep them interested and engaged.
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Adult students will go to English class on their own free will. No parent or person is likely making them go, so they will be internally motive. An adult student is treated like an adult at work and home, and during their daily life, they want to be treated as an adult in the classroom too. While a young leaner may think the question of “Do you like to eat shoes” is funny, an adult learner will not enjoy this and will feel like they are being talked down to. Adult learners want to be spoken to as an adult, with an adult voice.
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