Teaching English to children can be incredibly fun and rewarding. However, without the right approach, teaching young learners can also be frustrating, stressful, and a lot of hard work. Learning how to teach English to kids takes time and practice. So, how do you teach kids English? In this article, we look at some practical hints and tips on how to teach English to kids.
What Are Young Learners Like?
To successfully teach English to kids, you first need to understand what young learners are like and what motivates them to learn English.
The first thing to mention about kids is that they have a very short attention span and can become bored and distracted easily. This is especially true in ESL/EFL classrooms where the teacher is conducting the lesson in a language different from the children’s native language.
Another thing to remember about young learners is they are not in your class by choice. Unlike older learners who may choose to take up English classes to advance their career / enable them to travel, etc, young learners are made to study English by their school / parents.
That is to say that kids are not motivated to learn English in the same way that older learners are. So what motivates young learners to learn English?
Young learners are motivated by things that are fun and interesting to them. Therefore it is incredibly important when teaching English to kids to create lessons that are fun and engaging.
This will help to create an environment that makes young learners want to learn and participate in class. This is why games, activities, and songs are so effective when teaching English to kids. For more information on motivating students check out this article by the British council about motivating students.
It is also important to remember that children need constant encouragement. As such, a teacher should regularly praise students when they do something well, even if it is something small.
You can also praise your students in front of parents and other teachers. This will have a positive effect on your students’ motivation to learn and will encourage them to participate more in class.
How To Teach English To Kids Through Games
As was mentioned above, kids have a very short attention span and are more motivated to learn English when they find learning English to be fun and interesting. One very effective way to teach English to kids is through ESL classroom games. Games in the classroom create an enjoyable learning atmosphere and motivate young learners to take part in class and communicate using the target language.
Before Playing A Classroom Game
When creating an English classroom game to play in class the first thing to do is to decide the learning objective of that activity. That is, think about what target language / skill you want your students to develop by playing the game.
For example, if you are introducing new vocabulary to your students you may decide to play a ‘flashcard game’ to give your students ample opportunity to listen to and say the new words.
Or, if you want your students use the expressions they have learned in a communicative way you may decide to play an ‘information gap’ style activity where they would speak using the target language to get information from their class mates.
Whichever kind of activity you decide to teach in class, before students can play you must inform your students how to play the game. This can be a difficult task as you will be explaining the activity in a language that the students have not yet mastered. So, how can you explain the rules of the game?
1.Use Simple Words and Sentences
If your explanation is too long and too complicated the students will likely not be able to follow and may start to ‘day dream’ and become distracted. Remember, young learners have very short attention spans. Instead, make your explanation short and concise with simple words and expressions.
Once you have explained the activity, it’s time to SHOW students how to play. To do this, invite one or two students to the front of the class to help demonstrate how to play the game. You may need to model how to do the activity 2 or 3 times before students grasp the game rules.
3. Check Learners’ Understanding
If you simply ask your students ‘Do you understand?’, most young learners will answer ‘Yes’ even if they don’t. To make sure your students understood how to play the game, ask them some questions about the rules. For example, ‘What’s the first thing you must do?’, ‘Then, who picks up the card?’, ‘How do you win the game?’, etc. If your students are not sure, explain / model the activity again.
During the Classroom Game
While students are playing the game, the teacher has the opportunity to observe the students using the target language. This allows the teacher to notice any common errors in the students’ language and to pick up on any language points that need revisiting later in the lesson.
This is also a great chance to praise the students when they are doing well, which will encourage the kids and increase their motivation to learn.
Types of English Classroom Games
There are many different types of classroom games such as flashcard games, card games, board games, information gap activities, mingle games, etc. For a list of different types of classroom games and some examples and free resources, check out our other post about classroom games HERE.
How To Teach English To Kids Through Songs
Using songs is another highly effective way to teach English to kids. As was mentioned earlier, children are easily distracted and may find it difficult to concentrate on learning a foreign language. However, using a catchy ESL song will grab and keep your students’ attention.
While singing and dancing they will feel less like they are studying, and more like they having fun a play time. Not only are ESL songs great for energizing and motivating your students. Singing songs can also aid in language learning.
The music and rhythm of the songs naturally helps learners to remember the words. Also, singing the songs repeatedly over many lessons helps learners to commit the words to their long term memory.
I can still remember the words to the ‘months of the year’ song I sang in French over 20 years ago. You can probably remember the songs and nursery rhymes you sang as a child, too. For a list of the best ESL songs for children, arranged by topic, click HERE.
How to Teach ESL Songs to Kids
1. Before Listening to the Song
Before introducing the song to the students, first put the song in context and find out what students already know about the topic. For example, if you’re teaching a song about the four seasons, you might ask learners to look outside to check what the weather is like. You might then ask students what the weather is like in winter / summer etc. This is to activate their existing knowledge which will help them to better understand the lyrics of the song.
2. Listen to the Song
Play the song and ask students to just listen and try to remember some of the key words from the song. Then practice some of these key words with the students and elicit their meanings.
3. Teach the Song
To teach students how to sing the song, teach the lyrics of the song little by little by playing and pausing the song and asking students to repeat (sing) after you. Once you have practiced the lyrics, try to sing the whole song from start to finish. Then introduce some simple dance moves and try to sing and dance to the song. It is quite easy to make up simple dance moves to many ESL songs, but to make it more fun why not ask your students to help you come up with some funny dance moves.
4. Practice Practice Practice
The first few times you sing the ESL songs with your students you may notice that they can’t quite sing the whole song from start to finish, but don’t worry. Kids are happy to sing and dance to the same song over and over again if it is fun. Sing the same song many times over the next 5/6 lessons and they will remember the song for years to come.
Teaching English To Kids: Classroom Management
Classroom management is incredibly important when teaching English to kids. Without the right classroom management techniques, the class may quickly turn into chaos.
A classroom routine is essential when teaching English to kids. This will help students to know what to do and when to do it. It may take several lessons to establish a classroom routine, but once it is set up, your class will run more smoothly. Here are some things you can do as part of your classroom routine.
Start Each Class in the Same Way
Beginning the class in the same way will help students to realize that break time is over and it is time to start the class. A great way to start your class is with a song. There are some great ESL ‘Hello Songs’ that you can start your class with. Or, you can use an ESL song to do with the topic you are studying, or even an English pop song.
Using a song to start the class also has the additional benefits of energizing the students and creating a positive learning atmosphere.
Establish an Effective ‘Call and Response’
A ‘Call and Response’ is a signal to students to stop what they are doing and look and listen to the teacher. This is an important part of your classroom routine as this will help you to get your students’ attention and get them listening to your instructions. There are many different call and response techniques. The one that I find works best is I begin a countdown from 3 to 1 and clap my hands two times after every number.
Then I call out ‘Look at Me!’ and the students respond with ‘Look at you!’. At which point students should look at the teacher and be quiet. Once you have established an effect call and response it will be much easier to get students’ attention and get them listening carefully. For some ideas, check out these Fun Classroom Attention Getters.
End Each Class in the Same
Establishing a routine for the end of your class is also important. If students are packing their bags, moving around, cleaning their desks, etc, while you are trying to review the lesson or tell them important information, many students will not hear your instructions.
Also, a routine at the end of your class will ensure your students don’t go running for the door as soon as the bell rings. This can be quite dangerous, especially with large class sizes.
A routine which has worked well with my young learner classes is to ask students to pack their bags and then sit nicely at their desks. Then I look to see which students are sitting nicely and I let those students line up first. Soon, all students are sitting quietly looking at me as they all want to go first.
Kids can become distracted very easily and if they are distracted they are not listening to the teacher and are not following the teacher’s instructions. The best way to prevent students from becoming distracted is to prevent these distractions before they happen.
One of the major distractions that can cause students not to concentrate are the things on the students’ desks. Kids will pick up, touch, play with, look at, draw on, anything that is in front of them. And while they are drawing on their books, or rearranging their pencil case, they are not listening to the teacher.
So, to prevent this, make it a rule in your class not to open books, pick up pencils, etc until it is time to do so.
Also, if you plan to give students a worksheet, puzzle, board game, etc, don’t give it to them until you have fully explained and modeled how to complete the task. Otherwise, the students will be looking at and playing with the materials, rather than concentrating on the teacher’s instructions.
Other distractions are things like students wanting to go to the bathroom, drink water, etc during the class. With kids coming and going from the classroom, not only will those kids miss out on important information, but they will also distract the other students as they are moving around the class.
So, it is a good idea to encourage students to use the bathroom, drink water, etc, before the class starts.
Have a Reward System
A Reward system can be a very effective way to help control students behavior. Reward the students also encourages the students and increases their self-esteem and motivation.
A Reward system doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. An example of a reward system could be the following. Students can have a simple reward chart at the back of their books. Then every lesson students can get stamps / stickers on their reward chart for completing the tasks and good behavior.
At the end of the month / semester, count how many stamps the students have got and give out certificates that they can take home and show their parents.
Whatever reward system to you have, rewarding students for good behavior rather than just punishing bad behavior can have a real positive effective on your class.
Lesson Materials For Teaching English To Kids
Here on Games4esl.com you can find many free, fun, and engaging lesson materials to teach English to kids.
Download and print free ESL flashcards, student cards, and board games from our printables page. And visit our activity videos section for free ESL classroom games you can stream straight into your classroom.