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The Difference Between Teaching Children and Adult Learners

The Difference Between Teaching Children and Adult Learners | ITTT | TEFL Blog

The age range is a huge factor when it comes to teaching a classroom. The age of the students will determine your teaching methods, the activities you pick, the pacing of the classes, how you should act/treat your students, etc. Both age groups learn at different speeds. Contrary to what some people might think, children tend to catch on faster when it comes to learning a new language. They can grasp the concepts better since they are still learning and grasping the concepts of their own native language. They are more open-minded and receptive to new sounds and grammar. Adults, on the other hand, have already mastered their own language making it harder to adapt to a new one. They want to use their own language as a reference point and match the new language to it. This can cause problems because some languages are totally different from each other.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Patrick F. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Another thing to factor in when it comes to teaching different ages is motivation.

Typically speaking, if an adult has signed up for an English class it’s because they really want to learn the language. They are going to be motivated and enthusiastic about learning. They might need it for their job, travel, or just because they really want to learn it. It’s their own decision to attend the classes, so they wouldn’t be somewhere they don’t want/have to be. However, with children, it could be different. They might not have made the decision for themselves and so the motivation might not be there. That’s where it becomes important that the teacher uses methods that can instill some excitement and enthusiasm into the classroom. Children can get bored very easily and lose focus. Their attention spans are much shorter than adults. The difficulty that kids have with staying focused could also lead to a lot more behavior problems that the teacher might have to deal with.

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Children are high energy and need more stimulation.

It’s a good idea to decorate the classroom with posters, cartoons, and maybe even the children’s drawings. Their lessons need a lot of repetition and clear demonstrations. Finding activities that allow them to draw, sing, act out vocabulary, etc. is essential to their learning. They look at the teacher for guidance and motivation, so it’s important that the teacher is very involved in the activities and learning process. This means relating the activities to things the children would know, making fun of yourself and acting silly, and even physically crouching down to the same level as the kids. They also seek the teacher's approval. This means that the teacher needs to be rewarding and acknowledging the kids when they do something good or positive. It can be very beneficial to the classroom and learning experience if there is some type of “gold star” reward system.

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Adults in the classroom can focus much easier, and don’t need as much stimulation.

However, they still need to enjoy themselves to stay engaged in the lesson as well. There should still be fun activities, visual aids, and games being played. Adults have more life experience, so they have more insight they can bring into class with them. This will help make class discussions and debates more interesting. One thing that adults struggle with is nervousness about the learning experience. They put more importance on being successful which can lead to some anxieties. Their confidence in the classroom usually needs to be built up. This is where it’s important for the teacher to make the classroom a comfortable space, and to build a positive rapport with everyone. Have them do pair and group work so they can feel more comfortable with their classmates and the concepts they are learning. It is not a good idea to just send them up to the front of the class to speak.

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