6 Useful Tips for Motivating Children to Learn English

Six tips to keep children interested in class and motivated to do what you want them to do.

1. Keep Yourself Motivated

Think back to when you were a child. If your teacher was not enthusiastic about what he or she had scheduled for class that day, how did you feel about it? It’s the same with young children today. If you, the teacher and often a role model for younger children, think this is a neat activity, then they will too!

2. Encourage

Young kids thrive on praise and positive attention from the adults in their lives. If you want them to like you and be motivated in your class, you often just need to give them a lot of positive attention.

3. Play Games

Children learn through play. Oftentimes they don’t even realize they are learning if they are enjoying the game. Just think, children could sit there and fill out worksheet after worksheet or they could play an English game and learn the same concepts. Which would you rather do?

When I say English games I’m talking about games that are specifically designed to teach language and vocabulary. For example, you could turn using vehicle vocabulary into a relay game where children need to pick a card with a word and then run to a box of vehicles (or a stack of pictures of vehicles) and bring the correct one his or her classmates.

Here is another example: If you might normally give them a worksheet to write the correct verb next to the picture illustrating the action, have them instead practice their verbs by doing the action for the word you say or the word on a card that you hold up. Likewise, you could do the action and have them write down the word. You may access free samples of fun classroom games in the resource box below.

When you play games, you can use points and competition as a motivator, but not for kids under six who may find the competition too stressful. For them, just playing the game is motivating enough. You can also sometimes award extra credit, but use it sparingly so that it remains “extra” and a special reward. Also if you use it too much, children can have so much extra credit that it sways the actual grades too much.

4. Get Their Hands Dirty Literally and figuratively

Children like to work with their hands and whatever you can do to get the items they are learning about in their hands is useful and fun for them. This can be anything from having a sensory table filled with sand and beach items when you want to teach them summer words to having them each bring in a piece of fruit when you are teaching fruit words. Anytime you can get young children up and doing instead of listening (often passively) you are getting their hands dirty in the learning process.

5. Get Them Moving

Movement is a vital component to motivating children. The best way to prevent children from zoning out is to get them up out of their seats at least once each class period. Even if you just require them to come up to you instead of you going to them for help, the movement can help get them out of the trance that they sometimes get from sitting in one spot too long. Grouping the children for study projects and activities helps as well. If you can, let them move the desks around or sit on the floor to change things up as well. Many games involve movement without the children needing to leave their seats, such as miming, moving certain body parts and passing things around as part of a game or race. Therefore even teachers with large classes and no space to move can use this technique, albeit to a more limited degree.

6. Vary the Pace

Alternate calm games with lively ones to keep the children alert and motivated, but without letting the class get out of hand. Good discipline is essential to effective learning.

To read the full article on how to motivate children to want to learn English, please see the articles and tips section on the teachingenglishgames.com website in the resource box below.

Shelley Vernon
Shelley Vernon, conscious of the vital role teachers can play in the lives of their pupils, promotes learning through encouragement and games. Sign up for free games and ideas on www.teachingenglishgames.com. Make your job easy and fun teaching English to children through games.

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  1. I think all the information here is very pertinent in helping the ESL / TEFL teacher to young children. Here is a simple number reinforcement game in spelling bee style. You may recall having spelling bee’s in elementary school. This is very similar but with numbers. Have all students sit on their tables/desks. Have a child start by saying the number 1. Then the child next to him says 2 and so on. When a child doesn’t know what comes next, have the whole class answer in unison and the child who erred sits down in his chair. Start with the next child from the top again with number 1. Last person sitting on the table wins. Often, a small group-and oddly enough not always the same children-are left. I call it a group win. I teach 4 and 5 yr. olds- therefore, I use 1-10. But depending on your students knowledge go as far as they know. One way to keep them paying attention is if they don’t know what # comes next b/c they weren’t paying attention hen they are out and have to sit down till the next round. It’s fun, easy and they really lock in their numbers this way.

  2. These are great ideas. How can we then motivate older children–middle schoolers– who are sick and tired of ESL classes after five to seven years in the program? Thanks.

  3. Very interesting article since it deals with very important tips to keep your students motivated (I have used some of them which have proved to be of great benefit). Another tip can be to teach students through stories – students love stories!

  4. Good article, most of the tips are based on involving students to get motivated, but don’t you think that this may lead to over motivation which is another problem in itself? but the article is extremely good! Thanks.

  5. Good article but the over motivation quoted by “anonymous” is also a good point.

  6. This article will help me motivate my Muslim students. Very interesting and guiding. Thanks so much.

  7. Very inspiring, encouraging and motivating!

  8. Motivation is the key to success even for the youngest students.
    In addition to games to keep them motivated, I also use an award system – for completed tasks they get jelly candy, and we have a whiteboard on which students’ names are written and for additional tasks (such as additional grammar exercise or essay writing) they get a star on the whiteboard – at the end of the month we count the number of stars and the three people who get the most of them get a pass coupon for one homework, for example. I think this is a good motivation as well as a fun class activity.


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