Teaching children can be immensely rewarding, anyone who has taught children can tell you that. But it’s not fun and games all the time, and sometimes it’s just not that easy. English teachers who wish to teach children must be aware of the challenges and difficulties they may encounter, and prepare accordingly.
Here are the top 10 things to consider if you’re serious about teaching kids English:
Are you really up for it?
If you want to teach kids English because you think it’s easy, then this is not the job for you. Teaching children demands a great deal of creativity and energy. Kids will always keep you on your toes! They will amaze you and surprise you, but don't think that just because you'll be teaching colors and animals, it'll be a breeze. You'll most likely feel exhausted after every class, but oh, so happy!
A little preparation goes a long way
Never make the mistake of showing up for class with little or no ideas, and thinking that you’ll figure it out as you go along. Preparation is essential, mostly because you’ll need to gather lots of teaching materials. Seasoned teachers may be able to improvise an entire lesson with only a whiteboard and some markers, but why risk having a class that turns out to be a hellish nightmare? You can plan an entire week of lessons or a full month, but make sure you have a lesson plan for every class.
Try to cater to multiple intelligences
Young ESL students have strengths and weaknesses and the best way to take advantage of their strengths and help them learn effectively is to cater to their learning styles or multiples intelligences, namely Visual – Spatial, Logical – Mathematical, Bodily – Kinesthetic, Musical – Rhythmic, Intra-Personal, Inter-Personal, Naturalist, and Spiritual. How can we accomplish this?
Let’s see some examples:
- For musical – rhythmic intelligence learners, teach an ESL element with a song, like Rock Around the Clock for telling time.
- For bodily – kinesthetic intelligence learners, teach body parts with a game of Simon Says, or sing Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.
- For visual – spatial intelligence learners, use maps, charts, and all types of visual aids. Teach them the different types of stores and locations they may find around town with a big map-like board game, and have them “visit” the different locations by throwing the dice.
Don’t let them get bored
If children are bored they won’t pay attention, and they won’t learn. You don’t have to clown around all the time, either; they're in class to learn, not to be entertained by you. Your job is to make learning engaging and fun.
Here are some ways to do this:
- Once they’ve been sitting and focused on a task for a while, get them out of their seats for a more active game. They should never remain seated for the duration of the class, unless they’re teens.
- Use realia, or real life objects in class. No matter how colorful or big, students sometimes get tired of learning everything through flashcards.
Mix it up
ESL classes may include singing, dancing, and jumping, as well as writing, reading, or listening. The best ESL lessons combine the right mix of teaching strategies. You may begin class with a short song, then move on to a reading exercise. The best rule of thumb is to switch between quiet, independent tasks to those that require action and movement.
Be prepared to deal with parents
Unlike teaching adult students, when you teach the little ones you have to interact with their parents as well.
These must be informed about:
- Your goals, i.e., what you hope to accomplish throughout the year
- The children’s learning goals, i.e., the syllabus for the school year
- Their children’s progress, i.e., if they have achieved their learning goals satisfactorily
It is also recommended to encourage parents’ active participation in their children’s English learning. Even if they don’t speak English themselves, they should be encouraged to ask the kids what they’ve learned, share songs, etc…
Gather an arsenal of materials
When you teach children English it is essential to have a box of materials that can be adaptable to any game or activity.
Must-have items are:
- a pair of dice
- blank bingo sheets (that can be filled in by students with either words or pictures)
- small toys – balls in several sizes, toy vehicles, animals, etc...
- bean bags
Remember it’s not all about the games
Each game or activity you propose should target a specific learning goal or ESL element. It’s not about coming to class to play. ESL games are highly effective teaching strategies as long as you know how to fully utilize their potential.
Teach in context
Lessons should be planned in accordance with learning goals. And vocabulary, grammar, and language should be taught in context. For example, when teaching children foods in English, it should be within a meal context like breakfast, lunch or dinner, and should never be a list of items they must study or memorize.
Keep them motivated
As kids get older and reach their pre-teen years, some ESL games and activities may not interest them as much as they did in the past. Find out what does interest them. What kind of music do they like? What do they enj oy reading? What sports do they play? Which sports stars do they admire? Writing interview questions for their favorite NBA player will be a lot more interesting than just a list of questions in simple present.
The moments shared with your young learners will far outweigh any of the difficulties or disadvantages commonly associated to teaching children. Just make sure that learning English is not a chore for them, but rather a positive learning experience, one that they will remember for years to come. Make sure they have fun learning, and you'll have fun teaching them too!