Teaching Very Young Learners (4 - 8 year olds)

Contrary to popular belief, teaching very young learners (4 - 8 year olds), also referred to as primary learners), can be as rewarding an experience as teaching adults. Unfortunately, so many horror stories abound in the field of EFL that most teachers tend to shy away from wanting to teach very young learners. As mentioned, this is unfortunate, as most EFL schools give hiring preference to teachers who have experience teaching English to children. Because teaching children is different from teaching adults, many certificate courses offer additional training in this area. Similarly, most language schools offer workshops and seminars with the goal of assisting teachers to develop their skills in teaching very young learners, and though the pages contained in Link Up are inadequate to thoroughly perform this task, the ideas and techniques that follow should serve as a starting point.

1. Discipline:

Before you begin a children's course, decide what rules and routines you want to establish. Here are some things to think about:

  • Where will students sit?

  • What is acceptable behaviour?

  • What are acceptable work standards (completed, neat, on time, etc.)? Show them what is expected.

  • How will you inform the children of your expectations?

  • How should materials be passed out and collected?

  • When and where should children put completed work / homework?

  • What basic language will children need for daily activities? (Think about key phrases such as pair work, homework please, etc.)

  • What will they do with any free time?

Rules, routines and classroom language should be taught as lessons! You could plan very simple first day activities, but focus on rules and enforce them! At first, students will need to be reminded of these every day, e.g.:

I don't understand.What's this called in English?Pass the ______, pleaseWhose turn is it to ____?

Remember that children are likely to show good behaviour in the first few classes, but they will soon test you! It is necessary to be firm for the first two weeks to establish authority. What follows are a few fun ideas for maintaining discipline.

2. Fun Ideas for Maintaining Discipline

  • Party Jar
    You will need a big jar and some sweets. Put a sweet in the jar when the children accomplish certain things e.g., everyone has good behaviour; all did homework; all learned something; etc. When the jar is full - the class gets a party and the sweets!

  • "Tickets, please!"
    You will need to design some tickets or use photocopied money. Each child (or group of children) is given X amount of tickets / money that they keep at their desk. Take one away when children misbehave. Children who run out of money either lose something such as a reward or privilege or are given a classroom chore or more homework etc.

  • Here's looking at you, kids!
    Draw cartoon faces of your children on the board at the beginning of each lesson, with their names underneath. Whenever a child misbehaves or speaks Russian (mid-level 1+) you draw an X by their name. The child with the most X's receives extra homework, which you should have already shown them at the beginning of the lesson (tip - make it look scary; fun activities like word searches encourage them to earn X's!) The children can draw their own faces on the board at the beginning of the lesson while you are sorting yourself out!

  • Star chart
    Write the children's names on the board at the beginning of the lesson. If a child misbehaves, erase his/her name. The name can be replaced if their behaviour improves. At the end of the lesson, if their names are still on the board they receive a star next to their name on a chart (or record book), which you or they will have made. X number of stars = a reward!

  • S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E
    Write any word on the board at the beginning of the lesson. E.g. 'surprise' or a word they have just learned. When the class shows bad behaviour; erase a letter. If they show good behaviour, put the letter back up. At the end of the lesson, if the full word is still there they can receive a reward (no homework, a prize, 10 minutes free time, etc).

  • HOT tickets
    (HOT can stand for Homework On Time.) You will need tickets and prizes (e.g. homework passes, stickers, sweets, free time … etc.) Each time a child accomplishes something, e.g. homework on time; they receive a ticket (see example below). Write their name on it and post it in a special 'post box'. At the end of the week, you pull a ticket out of the box; the child whose name is on it receives a prize/reward.

  • "I promise..." / "If I break my promise..."
    The children neatly write out a 'certificate' with 3 - 6 "I promise" statements on it (they make them up) and 3 - 6 "If I break my promise..." statements on it. Display these in the classroom and when the children act inappropriately - refer the student to his/her promises and consequences. (Tip - make sure crafty children don't write promises they have no intention of breaking; e.g. "I promise not to jump out of the window)

  • Treasure box
    Keep a box full of 'treasures' in your classroom, or bring one in every fortnight to show the class. The 'treasures' can be various things that appeal to kids ranging from fun stationery and stickers to class readers or magazines. Put a price on each item in the box (US dollars works well since they are accustomed to this currency and you can easily make photocopies of it). Every fortnight (once every two weeks) must be a shopping day, where the children can buy items in the box. The catch is that they can only buy items with the 'money' that they have earned in class. They can earn money for homework, politeness, co-operation, etc.

  • It is up to you to decide what can earn money, and exactly how much. For example, $2 for completed homework, $1 dollar for good behaviour, etc. You could have a 'bank' for the whole class, a booklet where each child has a page to stick earned money, or each child can have their own book. When the money has been spent you can draw a cross over it. Alternatively, the children can keep the money loose in their pockets and hand it back to you on shopping day. This idea works well if you are short of photocopying time!

3. Tips for Teaching Very Young Learners (4 - 8 year olds)

  • Subscribe to the 4 V's: Variety of activity, variety of pace, variety of organization and variety of voice. Young children have very short attention spans, and it is very important to avoid boredom in class. When students become bored, they become disruptive and difficult to manage. As they get older their concentration spans increase but the 4 V's are still very important

  • Use activities that use movements, facial expressions and involve the senses. Be prepared to do lots of miming. Acting gets the message across, and children like it.

  • Play with the language. Let the children talk nonsense, e.g. "Let's go - pets go". They do so naturally in their native language and it is a natural part of learning. They can make up rhymes, sing songs and tell stories.

  • Children benefit from knowing the rules and general routines. Do certain things on certain days e.g., Friday is reading day and Ivan's day to draw the weather on the calendar. Have a birthday calendar, a holiday calendar, etc. Introduce the class in a routine way, e.g. "Good morning, it's Wednesday today, so lets hear your news!"

  • Use familiar situations and activities. When you prepare texts, games, etc., use the names of the children, famous Russian pop stars, places, shops, TV programmes in Russia etc.

  • Make your classroom pleasant and familiar. Your classroom may be shared with other teachers but try to claim one corner for English. Try to have a notice board, some cushions, storybooks, empty packages of English/ American food products for 'shop', etc.

  • Pair work before group work. Pair work is simple to organize and easy to explain. Movement is not necessary. Establish a routine so that when you say "Now work in pairs", pupils know what is expected of them. Once your group has mastered pair work they can move on to group work.

  • Be fair. As a teacher you have to appear to like all your students equally. Children have a very keen sense of fairness and need to feel that their teacher likes them.

  • Repeat nursery rhymes, stories, songs, etc...

  • Use lots of pictures and objects

  • Be patient and adaptable.

  • Be enthusiastic and open-minded.

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