Teaching Young Learners

Teaching English to young learners - let's say children aged from 5 - 12 - is different in crucial ways from teaching teenagers and adults. Remember, children are still developing, not just physically, but also emotionally and cognitively. They need teachers who can create a classroom environment that stimulates them to work within and not beyond their ability range. By feeling comfortable with what they are asked to do, they will both acquire language and feel secure in their classroom and this, in turn, can enhance their confidence.

Children love to learn, but they can get bored easily if they are asked to concentrate on one thing for a long time. Activities such as listening, viewing, reading and writing have to be handled with care and in very short bursts. Teachers have to be able to devise activities that allow the children to move around and learn the language by doing things. A method such as total physical response (TPR) is one way of letting children learn by doing things. And all these activities need to be carried out in a supportive and encouraging atmosphere. If children do not enjoy their lessons, they could switch off or become disruptive and will not learn.

Teachers also need to be able to select suitable materials. Ideally these should be relevant to the child's own world: simple household objects or items of food can be the focus for activities in which the children can build on their existing awareness of the objects to expand their knowledge of English. Materials should be used sparingly and repetitively because, unlike adults - who often crave new material and ideas - children find comfort in repetition and recognizing the familiar. Nowadays too, plenty of coursebooks for children exist, offering a range of well planned resources for the teacher to choose from.

Children's groups often encompass a wide range of abilities or knowledge, so teachers have to be able to cope with such mixed-ability groups and have the skills and flexibility to respond to the needs of all the children in a class. Teachers should also be aware of the different types of intelligences and learning styles that are involved in language learning. Ideally, the teacher should be able to appeal to all the different learning styles and so help learners develop, for example, visual learning in those that are primarily listeners, or social skills in those that are more individualistic. Thus the language learning will be a catalyst for the child's general development of wider learning skills.

Teachers should also help children identify how and what they learn. Parents will be anxious to know what their children did in class and how the activities are helping them progress, so teachers need to ensure that the children can understand how, for example, singing a song with actions helps them to learn words for parts of the body and movement.

For more information about how and what to teach children, please visit the following pages:

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