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How to Teach Kids English: Everything You Need to Know About ESL for Young Learners

How to Teach Kids English

Kids, children, and teens, collectively referred to as “young learners,” make up one of the most common student demographics within the TEFL/TESOL 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 put a greater emphasis on English language learning, teachers who are equipped to teach English to young learners are in increasingly high demand. Learn more about how to teach kids English!

Who is considered a young learner?

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). Like all learners, these subgroups each have their own distinct characteristics related to their stage of development.

Knowing how to teach English to these students, and having Specialized Certification in Teaching Young Learners to demonstrate that, can be a great boost to your professional TEFL/TESOL prospects.

Where will I teach English to kids?

Children and teenagers learning English can be found around the globe. In some regions, it’s common for foreign TEFL/TESOL teachers to either teach or assistant-teach in a K-12 setting (either in public or private schools), while in other regions, teachers work with students after school and on weekends at language centers or virtually. 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 wide range 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.

Many European countries also have government programs, such as France’s TAPIF program, that allow you to teach in public schools on a renewable annual contract. Some may even help you find housing or offer options to live with local families while you work.

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 large number of TEFL/TESOL 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.

Online English Teacher, Mari, Working With Young Learners

Teaching kids online

The market and salary

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. This is a great option for those who love traveling and want to have a steady source of income while moving around frequently or for parents who prefer to work from home so they can stay with their kids.

On average, online companies pay anywhere from $9-$26/hour and allow you to maintain a flexible schedule. All you need is a steady internet connection and some basic equipment and you can teach kids from anywhere in the world!

Teaching online vs. in the classroom

Teaching English online and teaching at a B&M (brick and mortar) school are quite different. Most online teaching jobs focus on either one-on-one tutoring or smaller virtual classrooms with around four students. B&M schools, on the other hand, will consist of larger classrooms with around 15-25 students on average.

Another difference is that while some online companies allow you to teach the same students repeatedly, others are set up so that your students are different each time, resulting in a very different type of student-teacher relationship than what you would experience teaching the same students at a B&M for an entire year.

Read more about teaching English online vs. in person.

Qualifying for online teaching jobs

There’s a lot of competition to teach online, but luckily the industry is growing every day. If you think teaching online is a good fit for you, consider earning Specialized Certification in Teaching English Online to fully prepare yourself for these positions and stand out from other applicants.

Learn more about the requirements to teach English online.

What certificate do I need to teach kids?

Most of the TEFL/TESOL jobs around the globe and online will specifically require teachers to have at least 120 hours of general in-person or online TEFL certification. General courses, like the 120-hour Master Certificate, introduce TEFL/TESOL theory and methodology, along with English grammar, and may also include basic introductions to teaching specific groups, such as young learners and Business English students (another common demographic of TEFL/TESOL students).

However, do you need a special certificate to teach English to kids? Teachers who wish to be more competitive when applying for jobs to teach kids, or who want to advance in 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 prepare lesson plans, 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/TESOL 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.

However, in some instances, such as when teaching in a classroom of students with multiple native languages or when teaching for a school that uses immersion learning, you may be assigned to beginners despite having no knowledge of their L1. Though that thought may seem scary at first, it’s actually easier than you think if you use appropriate teaching techniques such as TPR (total physical response), props, realia, photographs, and illustrations.

You’d be surprised how much you can get students to understand just by acting out what you’re saying and keeping phrases short and simple.

Get tips for teaching English online to beginners!

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. Check out some popular techniques below.

Techniques for teaching children

Use a variety of fun activities

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!

To hold student interest, be sure to build in a variety of activities that involve different skills and incorporate both quiet and noisy tasks so that students experience a balance of calm and energetic periods. Building lessons around themes can also help keep students attentive. It creates a sense of cohesion from one activity to the next and reinforces new material through varied learning techniques.

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 Christmastime (like ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’). This was a way to offer them a fun activity and also to teach them cultural lessons.”

Establish class routines

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/TESOL Certificate in Teaching English to Young Learners.

Techniques for teaching teenagers

Teach English using context

Adolescents, meanwhile, can absorb lessons on more advanced elements of the language, like grammar and syntax. They will also have more developed conversational skills and be able to carry out 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.

Try out these 11 fun TEFL/TESOL speaking activities!

Cater to a variety of learning styles

Remember that students have different learning styles, so aim for variety in the types of lessons and activities you do, so that you can facilitate all students’ learning.

Involve students in class planning

Another great way to get students engaged in learning is to let them be a part of creating the classroom environment. While you’re ultimately the one in charge, older students will appreciate you involving them in how the classroom should be decorated or voting on which of two games they’d like to play next class. It gives them a sense of involvement and makes them invested in the outcome of the class.

Get more classroom management strategies for young learners.

Offer plenty of feedback

In addition to boosting student engagement, ensure that teens receive adequate and frequent feedback to avoid frustration later on. Have them be a part of the evaluation process by reflecting on their own progress through journal entries or comparing how they performed on a past test with a more recent one on the same material. This ensures a clear line of communication between you and the student at all times and prevents complications from a lack of transparency when it comes time to hand out final grades or offer broader feedback.

Learn how to give feedback to ESL students.

What are some games for teaching English to kids?

ESL games for young learners

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


One student thinks of a word and draws short lines to signify spaces for each letter of the word on the physical or virtual whiteboard. 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 they guess a letter correctly, the student writes the letter in the appropriate space. If a student guesses the word, he or she is the winner. If the students guess enough incorrect letters so that all elements of the man are drawn, the man is “hanged” and the students lose.

For more ideas, take a Micro-credential course in Games and Activities for the Online Classroom.

BINGO for teaching kids English

Create BINGO cards and a call sheet (use an online BINGO sheet generator like this one). Either pass out the cards or send them to students electronically if playing online. Cut out the call sheet and put the squares into a box or bag. If teaching in person, 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 teaching online, the teacher can be the caller. The other students listen for what is called and mark the corresponding image or word on their cards. The first student to fill a complete line of squares on their card, either horizontally, diagonally, or vertically, calls out “BINGO!” and is the winner.

Check out a full list of ESL games and activities for young learners.

ESL games for teenagers

There are also a number of useful games that prompt students to use the English 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.

If you prefer a variation of this activity that incorporates the entire class as opposed to pair work or you are teaching online via a platform that doesn’t allow for virtual breakout groups, have students write their own questions. Then, have them take turns asking their questions to classmates in front of the class.

For more ideas, check out these 13 easy ESL icebreakers.

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!

Get more games and activities in the Specialized Certificate in Teaching English to Young Learners course, which includes teaching demos like the one below:

Are you ready to teach English to kids?

When preparing for a new TEFL/TESOL 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. With the right classroom management strategies and engaging activities, you’ll be ready to teach kids and teens abroad or online!

Take your training to the next level and stand out to employers with Specialized Certification in Teaching English to Young Learners.

Kevin is a program advisor at Bridge in Denver. He holds a bachelor's degree in international affairs and has worked as a volunteer English teaching assistant in Portugal. As an advisor, he now helps prospective teachers choose the right TEFL/TESOL courses for their professional goals.