Grooming the spongy minds of kiddos to absorb the wonders of English takes a whole lot of patience and creativity. If you’ve taken language classes both as a child and adult, you’ll know how vastly different your lessons might have been. Knowing how to teach English to young learners is a whole other ball game.
While writing out verb conjugation tables twenty times over is an effective strategy for adults to learn, you’ll be hard-pressed to get first graders to sit still long enough to do the same.
It can sometimes be difficult getting your young learners to stay focused for an entire class. However, you can use that energy and curiosity to your full advantage. Here’s how to teach English to children using engaging games and activities!
8 fun teaching methods for young learners
1. Turn lessons into songs
Every English learner is familiar with, at the very least, one classic jingle. Yes, the ABCs are what we turn to for a reminder of what letter comes after Q. Although the middle part (something about eliemenopee?) requires a bit more brain power, the song offers English speakers a comfortable reference point for all their alphabetical needs.
Turning vocab, grammar, and dialogues into catchy tunes is a fabulous method for teaching English to young learners. If you’re reviewing common material, try turning to YouTube to see if there’s already a suitable song out there. Otherwise, you can hone your inner Beethoven to compose a musical masterpiece using the tune of another easy song, such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
2. Create visual diagrams to illustrate new vocabulary
Head, shoulders, knees, and toes. These are a whole lot easier to point out on a smiling stick man than to write out in a vocabulary list. Visual devices provide a double whammy, too. Students can enjoy coloring or even adding on to pictures, while also absorbing what the new words they are learning look like.
Highlighting, underlining, and circling are all common visual tricks adults use to recall snippets of information. Creating visual diagrams is the same basic idea, so that the little ones can start to visualize what English looks like. As a bonus, students can more easily locate learning aids with distinct colors and illustrations among their folders of messy papers.
3. Encourage mnemonic devices to memorize grammar rules
When it comes to teaching English to children, memory aids make it easier to remember hard-to-spell words or complex grammar points. Whether that means creating a mnemonic device in students’ native languages or breaking it down into simpler English words, the goal remains the same: better memory!
4. Weave in spontaneous or consistent dialogues throughout the lesson
What did you do this weekend? By kicking off class with an expected question, you can get your students thinking about what they’ll say long before class even starts. Natural dialogue also introduces students to everyday vocabulary relevant to their own lives.
If you’re working with a class, rather than a single student, you can also sprinkle in some side conversations with students. Ask what’s for lunch, how the last soccer game went, or anything at all that gets them excited to share!
5. Break up solitary study sessions with games
Childhood education without games is like chicken wings without seasoning or sauce. You simply can’t have one without the other. Games are especially effective teaching methods for young learners (or for any kind of learner — think back to your own TEFL certification program!), because kids are able to learn without realizing it. Active games let them expel some bottled up energy and quiet ones challenge and require concentration.
What are some games to try? Think of some you played as a kid!
- Memory game with card pairs
- 20 Questions
- I Spy
- Simon Says
6. Review vocabulary through role playing
The best teaching methods for young learners require creativity.
Pick up some wacky wigs, sunglasses, and hats to help students step into character and feel more like they’re acting, not just presenting a dialogue. Once they really embrace their character, you might be shocked to find just how creative the little Shakespeares can get with their new vocabulary!
8. Repeat previous lessons in every class
Assuming the average class duration is only an hour or less, that leaves a whole lot of time in the day to forget everything a student just learned. Children won’t retain as much information as adults, so repetition is key in English for young learners.
Rather than calling cases closed at the end of a lesson and moving on after a test, be sure to pack every class with tons of repetition from lessons before. This also helps students to use vocabulary and grammar points all together, rather than depend on the same example sentences and templates they learn isolated in each lesson.
8. Get out of the classroom!
If you’re a first-time English teacher, the idea of leading kids out into the big, wide world and outside the safe classroom walls may sound like a disaster waiting to happen. But if you’re teaching English to young learners in-person and have permission to do so, take the kiddos out on a stroll. The change in scenery opens up a whole new box of situations to practice new vocabulary in its natural habitat.
Teaching English to young learners will be fun!
Somewhere in the world, your efforts teaching English to children will make a huge difference.
Another tip to remember: You don’t have to constantly come up with new teaching methods for young learners. If you find your students respond well and enjoy a set of games, go ahead and continue to use them!
Armed with loads of new fun ways for teaching English to children, and you’ll be ready to take on any class of eager youngsters!
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