Teaching ESL & Knowing Your Audience: Young Learners vs. Adults
Whether speaking at a public event where thousands have gathered, or talking politics around a table with friends, this simple piece of advice is well-known to anyone who has ever done any public speaking. But, it is also critical advice for the aspiring teacher—whether those teaching English as a second language, or those teaching chemistry in high school. The more well-acquainted a teacher is with his or her classroom, the more successful he or she will be in engaging their minds in the topic at hand.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Emily B.
So, of course, this is a vital component to any teacher who is seeking to help students wanting to learn English. It is important that the teacher asks such questions as:
“What are the students’ goals in taking this course?”
“What do these students hope to be able to communicate when this course is through?”
“Who has encouraged the student to take this course?”
But, a large part of how these questions are answered is determined on the age of the class. Herein lies a distinguishing characteristic between teaching young learners vs. adults. Just as it is important to know your audience in any type of public speaking, it is crucial that English teachers know the age range of their students as this drastically influences the topics that will be covered, how the information is presented, and how to keep the class engaged.
Motivations of Young Learners
With young learners, they are often taking English courses because of some sort of encouragement from their parents or families. It also means that their English level will likely be less advanced, simply because they are not old enough to have much exposure to English. Most of their knowledge of the English language will come from TV and music and they may not have a high literacy or retention rate. So, generally speaking, the topics that will need to be covered with them will be basic topics—such as introducing themselves, describing objects, talking about their families or hobbies, etc.
The goal of teaching them these topics is to help them gain confidence in expressing these basic conversations. They likely won’t be going for a job interview any time soon, or applying to a university, but what they will learn in their youth will be the foundation they build upon as they expand their vocabulary for those important phases of life in the future. It’s important that they are learning good pronunciation in basic conversations that they can build upon. Helping them to speak with confidence in basic conversations will serve them well for their future English studies.
Also read: 11 Fun ESL Activities for Young Learners
Another unique characteristic of young learners is that the information needs to be presented in a way that engages all their senses. Songs, rhymes, hand motions and lots.of movement is helpful and encouraged when teaching young learners! They will retain this information much more readily if it’s not just dumped upon them, but rather if they are engaged in what they are learning. Teaching young learners is the time to let your creativity as a teacher out! Think of ways to let them talk about the topics, sing about it, learn hand motions, and even touch, taste and smell the topic (where appropriate!). If they are learning colors, let them do an art project that involves them following instructions of which colors to use, let them use finger paint and touch those colors as they are given instructions. If they are learning verbs, let them jump and clap and dance as much as possible!
This leads into the final distinguishing factor with young learners: the more involved they feel with the lesson, the more engaged they will be. Adults learning English may want to cram vocabulary and learn tough business words. But, young learners will retain much more if they have learned the vocabulary experientially. Teenagers will remember new words if they are from a favorite pop song. Elementary age children will continue using their new vocabulary if it’s put into a game form that they can continue playing with their friends. The more interactive, the better when it comes to young learners.
So, those hoping to teach young learners must know their audience and know that teaching young learners is very different than teaching adults . The more the teacher enjoys her class and lets creativity be unleashed, the more potential there is for the students to excel and build a healthy foundation for learning English for years to come!
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