Tips for Teaching English to Children: Language Learning is Play

By Bridge
May 23, 2012

This post was written by Susan Weymouth

Most of the articles in this newsletter feature tips for working with adults rather than how to teach kids English. So, let’s talk about the challenging but satisfying world of teaching English to young children. Many times teachers who have trained in CELTA or other programs with an adult focus are surprised to find that their first job includes a Saturday morning Mom-and-Tots class. What to do! Fortunately, many of our first instincts in working with youngsters, based in our own pre-school and early primary school experiences, are very good ideas.

Young children learn grammar and vocabulary best when language is taught in a holistic way. Songs, chants, and repetitive stories form the “texts” for the English words and phrases they learn. Rhyming, rhythm, clapping, mime, and strong visual images are great enhancements to learning and retention. Therefore, when working with 3- to 6-year olds, consider the songs and poems you might teach a niece or nephew – “The Wheels on the Bus,” “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” or “The Old Woman who Swallowed a Fly.”

Before starting a new song, you can help students by working on a few words. For example, you could show a picture of a bus, and point to window. Then gesture and say, “How does the window go? The window goes up and down. And what is this? It’s a door! How does the door go? The door goes open and shut.” Information on language structure and grammar is implicit in these phrases. It is not helpful to children this young to discuss verbs and tenses. However, it is helpful to teach gestures for “up and down” and “open and shut.” It is memory-enhancing (and fun!) to march rhythmically around the room, singing and gesturing this very repetitive song. As a cool-down activity, children could draw the bus and pictures could find their way onto the walls or home to the families. Plus, we have every reason to believe the children will teach these songs to their mothers and fathers and enjoy them “all through the town.”

To learn targeted skills such as classroom management, classroom routines, and other techniques for teaching English to Young Learners or to Teenagers, check out our newest courses!