Anna, Teaching Kids English in Vietnam
Kids, children, and teens, collectively referred to as “young learners,” make up one of the most common student demographics within the TEFL industry, and teaching this group, which is common in Asia, Europe, and online, poses unique challenges and rewards for English teachers. As more countries around the globe and school systems within them increasingly put a greater emphasis on English language learning, teachers who are equipped to teach English to young learners and teenagers are in increasingly high demand. Learn more about how to teach kids English!

What is a young learner? Teaching kids vs. teaching teenagers

Technically, a “young learner” is considered any student under the age of 18, though some schools may even include young adults beyond 18 in this category. Within this broad group, you will find smaller subgroups, including very young learners (pre-K and kindergarteners,) children/young learners (usually referring to school-aged kids under 12), and teenagers (around 13 to 18). These subgroups each have their own distinct characteristics related to their stage of development, like all learners. Knowing how to teach English these students, and having certification in teaching young learners to demonstrate that, can be a great boost to your professional TEFL prospects.

Where will I teach kids?

Children and teenagers learning English can be found around the globe. In some regions, it’s common for foreign TEFL teachers to either teach or assistant-teach in a K-12 setting (either in public or private schools), while in other regions, TEFL teachers work with students after school and on weekends at language centers. Regardless of the classroom setting, these are the regions where it's most common to teach kids.

Teaching kids in Europe

One region where it’s popular to teach kids is Europe. Standard teaching positions exist at language institutes working with a mix of ages. Another popular type of opportunity in Europe is working with kids at English summer camps. These camps are short-term and 100% English-focused, making the experience fun and immersive.

Teaching kids in Asia

Another region where it’s extremely common to teach kids is Asia. Asian countries have put an increasing emphasis on English language instruction in recent years, leading to a huge number of TEFL jobs. Within the public school systems, the EPIK teacher recruitment program in South Korea and the JET program in Japan are examples of this push. China is also a particularly prominent market in this field of teaching English to children, with placements available both in the classroom and online. Online tutoring companies based in China, such as VIPKID and Qkids, account for a significant portion of all online English language learners.

Teaching kids online

The online teaching market, in general, is another place you’ll find plenty of opportunities to teach English to young learners, as this is what the majority of positions involve. All you need is a steady internet connection and some basic equipment and you can teach kids from anywhere in the world! Earn a TEFL certificate in teaching English online to fully prepare yourself for these positions and stand out from other applicants.

(Check out this article if you’re thinking of teaching English online, for everything you should know!)

What certificate do I need to teach kids?

Most of the TEFL jobs around the globe will specifically require teachers to have at least 100 hours of general TEFL certification. General courses like these introduce TEFL theory and methodology, along with English grammar, and may also include basic introductions to teaching specific groups, such as Young Learners and Business English (another common demographic of TEFL students).

However, do you need a special certificate to teach English to kids? Teachers who wish to be more competitive when applying for jobs teaching kids, or who want to advance at their current teaching job, should definitely consider taking their certification to the next level with a Specialized Certificate in Teaching English to Young Learners. Topics covered in this specialized course include how to properly lesson plan, manage your classroom, and evaluate progress for classes in these age groups.   

Trainees who add this kind of targeted training will also complete more total hours of TEFL certification, thus surpassing the minimum hours required to qualify for most jobs and becoming a more attractive candidate!  

How do I start teaching English for beginners?

You may be wondering how you can teach English to children if they are total beginners and don’t speak any English. This can be an intimidating idea for new teachers! However, it’s important to note that for most jobs at language schools, TEFL teachers are unlikely to be assigned to work with complete beginners if the teacher has limited knowledge of the local language. Likewise, in K-12 classrooms of true beginner-level students, teachers who don’t speak the students’ first language (L1) typically work alongside a local teacher, as an assistant. This can be a great way to learn from an experienced teacher and watch their tried-and-true techniques.

Carolina, Teaching Kids English in China

Carolina, teaching kids English in China

What are the basic techniques for teaching English to young learners?

Young learners present teachers with a number of unique opportunities for creativity and engagement in the classroom.

Techniques for teaching children

When working with younger children, it is best to incorporate games, songs, videos, props, and other fun and interactive elements into activities to keep the students moving and engaged. Children love to be active and included!

Kevin, who worked as an English teacher in Portugal, remembers organizing hands-on activities with the children he taught.

“I had my classes draw hand turkeys for American Thanksgiving, and taught them simple holiday songs near Christmas time (like ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’). This was a way to offer them a fun activity that also taught them cultural lessons.”

Another key technique for teaching children is to maintain predictable and structured classroom routines. It improves student confidence and creates a positive learning environment when children know what to expect every day in class, and you make sure to avoid “downtime” when students aren’t sure what they should be doing.

To learn more techniques for working with this age group, earn a Specialized TEFL certificate in Teaching Young Learners.

Techniques for teaching teenagers

Adolescents, meanwhile, can absorb lessons on more advanced elements of the language, like grammar and syntax. They also will have more developed conversational skills and can carry on more structured activities. Teachers can have a course discussion on issues in the news or have their students write and act out a dialogue – these are great ways to teach English in context. Remember that students have different learning styles, so aim for variety in the type of lessons and activities you do, so that you can facilitate all students’ learning.

What are some games for teaching English to kids?

ESL games for young learners

Two of the more common kids’ English teaching games include:

Hangman: One student thinks of a word, and writes blanks for each letter of the word on the board. Classmates have a limited number of chances to guess the letters in the word, and each time they guess incorrectly, an element of the “hanging man” is drawn (such as the head, body, arm, etc.). If a student guesses the word, he or she is the winner. If a student guesses enough incorrect letters so that all elements of the man are drawn, the man is “hanged” and the student loses.

BINGO: Create BINGO cards and a call sheet (use an online Bingo sheet generator like this one). Cut out the call sheet and put the squares into box or bag. Give each student a bingo card and something to mark their card with, such as beans or pennies.  Allow each student a turn to be the “caller” who picks one square at a time from the box and calls out what is on the square (if you have been teaching colors and numbers, these can be great bingo topics! For example, if you call out the word “eight,” then your students will have to recognize the number and mark the “8” square). The other students listen for what is called and mark the called image on their card. The first student to get a complete line of squares on their card filled, either horizontally, diagonally, or vertically, calls out “BINGO!” and is the winner.

For more detail on these games and others, here are 5 Fun EFL Games for Kids to use with classes of young learners. 

BINGO for teaching kids English

ESL games for teenagers

There are also a number of useful games that prompt students to use the language actively and creatively. These activities work well for teenagers, who typically have a higher level of proficiency and more developed skills. Some classic games include:

Would you rather? Pair your students up. Have them ask each other to make a difficult decision between two funny or thought-provoking scenarios. For example, a student might ask, “Would you rather find your soulmate or find a million dollars?” Then they must explain why they chose the one they did. This is a great chance to get students talking!

Two truths and a lie:  Ask students to come up with three statements about themselves, two of which are true and one of which is a lie. Then, each student presents his or her three statements to the class and the other students must guess which one is the lie. Not only does this prompt students to use the language with each other, but it helps them get to know their classmates!

For more ideas, check out Top 5 Icebreakers for the TEFL Classroom.

How do I manage a class of kids or teenagers?

When teaching younger children, activity and engagement are very important – remember, language learning is play! Of course, it is also important to set structure and direction within these active classes. One way to do that is to have a clear set of class rules from day one, and to always make sure that your discipline tactics are consistent with the local culture and the school’s policies!

You can reward good behavior and correct answers with through prizes, special privileges, the chance to choose what the class does, or other methods of encouragement such as those outlined on this infographic:

How to Teach Kids English: Rewards for Young Learners

Teenagers, on the other hand, pose a different set of challenges. While they can retain more complex information and work more independently, many students in this age group also tend to be more self-conscious about actively participating in class (in contrast to children, who tend to be very energetic and open!).

Helping to foster a positive classroom environment and assuring that your students feel comfortable participating can go a long way towards getting them to learn the language. This can be done by setting clear rules with your teen classes, such as providing guidelines on respecting classmates when they’re speaking or interacting with the teacher. Putting together a seating arrangement that is conducive to the activities you plan to do with the class and does not encourage too much side talking, is also helpful.

It is also important to be cognizant of your students’ needs and treat them as independent and autonomous learners. One common piece of advice is to discuss any problems with students’ behavior or performance privately with them after class; never reprimand them in front of their classmates!

Are you ready to teach English to kids?

When preparing for a new TEFL position, it is important to have an idea of how to best lesson plan and prepare for the specific types of students you’ll be teaching. If you would like to take your training to the next level, check out our TEFL/TESOL certification in Teaching English to Young Learners. Or, contact one of our advisors today!