The Art of Teaching Younger EFL Students
I have 3 years of experience in teaching English in a few kindergartens in Beijing, China and some experience in teaching adults in a training center.
When I started in kindergarten, it was very difficult because I didn’t have enough information about how to make a proper lesson plan. I didn’t have enough materials, games, songs, and it took me a lot of time to collect all the necessary information for teaching and creating my teaching plan. Without experience, it wasn’t easy for me to build a good rapport between me and my students. It took me a while to build a connection between me and the kids.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Lidiia L. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Differences Between Teaching Children and Adults
In my opinion, teaching young learners in English is completely different from teaching adults. Firstly, young learners have very short attention spans compared to adults and that's why teachers have to make each class varied and often change activities. All the activities must be very active and entertaining otherwise students can lose their attention very quickly and get bored. I had many different activities during my one-hour lessons.
Secondly, kids in the kindergarten are learning English faster than adults and they don’t need to translate English words to their native language. They are more open to learning new languages than adults. Young learners absorb English in another way. They are listening and looking at the teacher and the teacher can explain many things through gestures, pictures and real objects. Young learners build the connection between what the teacher is saying and doing and then understand what it means.
Principles in Teaching Kids
I think teachers must always only explain everything in English and never use the children’s mother tongue, even if the teacher knows it. In my kindergarten I had a group of 12 kids who also spoke very little Chinese, they were between 2 to 3 years old. I only had a basic level of Chinese language but during the day I didn’t use Chinese at all. From the beginning the kids learned very quickly how to line up, stand up and sit down, how to take off and put on shoes or clothes, how to wash hands, how to be quiet, go to the toilet or take a chair, what is “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Good morning” or “See you tomorrow”. I think English teachers in kindergartens must speak English to kids as much as possible during different activities and as a result, kids will understand both languages - English and their mother tongue.
Classrooms and the environment also mean a lot for young learners. Kindergartens should have colorful decoration, lots of toys and soft beds, pictures of kids on the wall and lots of handmade things created for kids or with kids together. Classrooms should be cozy and look like a beautiful world for kids where they can feel comfortable. Classrooms must have all the necessary props like big interactive boards, computers, blackboards and chalk, crayons and paper and colorful books. Teachers must create different moods in the classrooms from time-to-time or during national holidays. When classrooms look attractive, kids are more happy and relaxed. They are interested in looking around, enjoy a special atmosphere and feel at home.
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Another very important aspect of teaching is the teacher’s personality and attitude towards kids. I think teachers must love kids and love what he or she is doing, must always have patience, never raise their voice on the kids and never punish them. Teachers must be kind and a little bit strict when it’s necessary but must do the job with love and never lose their temper. Teachers spend so much time with the group every day, from the morning till the evening, and kids somehow become like family. If the teacher is kind, kids become very relaxed and happy and the teacher becomes like their second mama or papa. Young learners can give the teacher so much love and appreciation for this good attitude! I loved all the kids in my classes and put my heart into the job. I had a great reward for that - I built a very good relationship with all my students and we became very close.
Teachers must be very organized and prepare everything for the next class the day before. They must have a plan of what to teach and when, which vocabulary to give, prepare interesting games to play and all necessary props, music or video. This plan must be saved as a special document and it will help the teacher to check what has been done before. After the class, a teacher can put a quick note into this plan to use the next time.
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Teachers must be punctual and come into the classroom before kids and make the classroom ready for the lesson, wipe the board, switch on the computer, prepare all the props and flashcards necessary for the class and put chairs together. When the kids are coming to the class, everything must be ready.
Teachers must be very energetic and greet kids with a smile. It’s always a good start for each lesson to show that the teacher is happy to see all the students and wants to teach them. Before the lesson, I would put student’s names on the board and after they came into the classroom I would call out the names and ask “Who is not here today?” The child whose name was being called would raise his or her hand and answer “I’m here!” I greeted them all together and then one-by-one. For example, I would throw a ball to each child and say “Good morning” and the child had to catch it, reply “Good morning” and throw the ball back to me. I also liked to ask them to come to me, give me 'Five' and say “Hello, teacher”. The children liked it very much. They ran to me happily and that was a good start of the lesson. After this, all the kids were already relaxed and felt comfortable.
My Personal Experience
My lessons normally had a straight arrow structure (engage - study - activate). I always started the 'engage stage' with warming up activities and songs. I think warm-up songs or games are very important during this stage of the lesson and it’s good to give it at the beginning of the class. When kids are singing and dancing together they become happier, interact with each other and with the teacher better. The warm-up helps the teacher to set a certain mood and then it becomes easier to involve all the students in the studying process.
After the warm-up, I liked to have a quick review of what we’ve learned the day before and showed them different flashcards or gave them other review activities or guessing games. All my students answered together and everyone wanted to be the first. Quick review always helped me to understand which vocabulary we have to repeat or study more.
During the 'study stage' of the lesson, I showed them a short video with the new vocabulary related to the topic (for that I used flashcards) and the kids slapped the card and said the new vocabulary one-by-one and then all together. Later we played different games which helped kids to memorize all the new words. For example, I would put all the cards on the floor and repeat all the words a few times. I would then turn the cards around and my students had to guess where a certain card is. We could also play the famous game "What is missing?”
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During the 'activate stage' I gave them lots of games with flashcards or real objects. Some days I used games on the interactive board which they liked a lot. Students worked in pairs or all together. They jumped on cards, ran around chairs and looked for certain cards or items. They played in the circle or participated in activities where they used a ball. I tried to make my classes as varied and funny as possible and all my students were able to produce the correct language during the 'activate stage'. Sometimes I had to prompt a little bit but I always gave each child a chance to produce the correct language by themselves. Very often stronger students helped weaker ones.
At the end of the class, students had some time for drawing and I always gave them time to color pictures related to the topic we were studying. Everyone normally liked this part because, at the end of our one hour class, everyone was already tired. Drawing calmed them down after all the games they had during the 'activate stage'. I think drawing helped them to digest the information they had during the class better. I walked around the tables, talked to them, helped them and asked who or what was on their pictures.
At the end of each lesson, we counted our stars and all the kids got rewarded with stickers. I gave them stars during the whole lesson for the correct answers, for their discipline and their bad behavior, sometimes, stars were removed. I think rewards motivate students to behave and to study better. For all students, it’s very important to feel that they did a good job. Teachers must always say words of appreciation to them like "Very good!", "Great!", "That’s correct!" etc. With these words, the teachers can help students build their confidence and motivate them to continue learning the language.
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For me, a kindergarten teacher is more than just an English teacher. He or she not only teaches kids English but teaches them how to be self-confident and good towards each other, giving them general knowledge of the world and things around them, teaches the basic skills necessary for living and teaches them how to behave in different situations. I wish we could have professional teachers who put their heart and soul into their work in every kindergarten all over the world helping our kids grow smarter, kinder and happier!
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