Oh $#@%! I’m Teaching English to Young Learners

July 11, 2011

This post was written by Susan Weymouth

Oh no! I have to teach English to young learners!

The cognitive, social, and emotional developments of a child have an effect on his/her language acquisition. Young Learners are curious, ask lots of questions, and are generally cooperative. Feed these characteristics when you teach English to Young Learners by following some of the suggestions below.

Encouraging cognitive development in young learners:

In the primary grades, children are still developing their knowledge and use of their first language (L1). Take this into consideration when you introduce English. Design lessons that scaffold on what your Young Learners already know. Children learn through talking so build concepts through talk, interaction, and play in both their L1 and English and be sure to activate their multiple intelligences. Make learning purposeful by teaching meaningful tasks in English that are relevant to YLs’ realities. Also, YLs should be active participants in learning, not just watching or listening. They learn best through manipulation of concrete objects—realia really helps with YLs. Let them interact with adults and one another using English.

Encouraging social development in young learners:

Learning is social for Young Learners. Make sure to set a real-life context for learning English that the YL will go out and use. Good contexts are functional dialogs and contexts with embedded language. Some ideas are: greetings/introductions/goodbyes, polite interaction (thank you, please, may I? etc), name/address/telephone numbers, politely disagreeing/expressing anger/asking to use something/sharing, customs/holidays/cultural expectations/multiculturalism, etc. Group work is very important to YLs. Change the groups periodically and assign roles so that everyone gets a chance to lead. Play is a natural way to learn for YLs, so include role-plays, reading, art, song, and writing in English.

Encouraging emotional development in young learners:

Children respond positively to being included in the process of learning and given choices. They are able to experiment with their learning and make it their own. Make your classroom a warm and inviting place to be, where your Young Learners feel safe and secure. YLs like predictable routines and boundaries. Be sure to look for individual learning preferences and incorporate as many as possible into your lesson plans. Be sensitive and always validate YLs’ efforts and take into consideration how their culture affects their learning as well as how your culture affects your teaching. Include cultural competency as part of English learning so that a multicultural and diverse perspective is demonstrated through readings, listenings, customs, holidays, and even L3 and L4 words. Challenge is important, but make the challenge of learning appropriate to YLs’ cognitive ability; too challenging and YLs shut down and feel frustrated.

Teach through your inner child. Become curious and excited about learning anew and you will be an awesome teacher!

If you feel like you need more help with teaching children, check out Bridge’s Specialized Certificate in Teaching English to Young Learners!