Cambodian class of young learners
The first rule of teaching any class, and especially teaching English to young learners, is to have strong classroom management skills. This can be difficult for novice teachers, but it is something that develops quickly if you are willing to experiment with different styles and tactics. Setting classroom rules from the start, modeling good behavior, establishing clear consequences for unacceptable behavior, and reviewing class rules regularly are a few ways to effectively manage your class of young learners.

What is considered a young learner?

When venturing into the world of EFL, the term “young learners” may be broadly used, leading to some confusion for new teachers. However, this is because young learners can be many ages! This group can include pre-school, kindergarten, and elementary school children (ages 2-10), as well as children in middle school (about ages 11-13). High schoolers (age 14-17) can also be considered young learners but these students are on the borderline of this category and if you teach at a language institute, you may have "adult" classes that also include students over 14.

What are some techniques for teaching English to young learners?

Set classroom rules from the start.

You should aim to introduce a set of classroom rules and standards during the very first lesson you teach to each group of students. Do not be afraid of spending the entire first class establishing these guidelines instead of teaching a genuine lesson; it will serve you well for the remainder of the course. Rules should be presented in a specific and positive manner. For example, “raise your hand if you wish to talk” is more specific than “do not be rude” and more positive than “do not speak out of turn.” In general, it is better to tell students how they should act instead of how they should not act.

Below is a list of common rules and standards in EFL courses. 
  • Only speak English in this class (for younger learners: speak English as much as possible).
  • Look at the teacher and listen to the teacher while he or she is speaking.
  • Wait until you are called upon to speak.
  • Remain seated unless instructed otherwise.
  • Arrive on time for class.
  • Arrive prepared for class (with pencil, notebook, textbook or other materials).

Young Chilean English students

Establish consequences for good and bad behavior.

Establishing clear expectations for the consequences of bad behaviors is equally important. A certain level of transparency goes a long way in developing classroom management skills. From day one on, your students deserve to know exactly what consequence will be for a given misbehavior. Further, there should be a hierarchy of consequences, meaning that they become gradually more severe for repeat offenses. Most importantly of all: adhere to the consequences you present to the class. Deviating from them, whether in favor of being more lenient or more severe, will cause your students to lose trust in you.

Review the class rules with students regularly.

Lastly, begin each subsequent lesson with a quick review of the rules and guidelines in the class. In many cases, your students may only see you once per week. Further, your guidelines as an EFL teacher may vary significantly from those of their native teachers’. As a result, it is useful to establish a sense of consistency in every lesson by covering the standards you expect your students to uphold.

Finally, don’t get discouraged!

The key to classroom management while teaching English to young learners is to be willing to try new methods for the sake of testing their effectiveness, such as creating and enforcing clear rules with established consequences and modeling good behavior. Don’t be discouraged if something falls short. “Falling short” is better viewed from the perspective of: “You tried and you learned!”

For more tips on classroom management, learn How to Deal with  5 Challenging Student Types.