15 Tips for Teaching English to Very Young Children

Teaching young children gets easier with practice, as you try out new ideas and discover what works. Here are 15 practical tips to help you.

Susan Brown
Young Leaner ESL students with model hats

Teaching English to very young children is a wonderful experience. However, if you’re new to teaching, or are used to teaching older children or adults, it can also be a little daunting. It’s completely normal to feel nervous – it shows that you care and want your lessons to be successful for the children. So, be kind to yourself, take a deep breath, relax and follow these 15 practical tips!

1. Firstly, when teaching very young children, it helps to throw your inhibitions out of the window right from the start! Be prepared to act, sing, dance and have fun. Arrive at your class with a smile and full of energy, then teach with zest, and the children will pick up on this and be excited to learn with you.

2. Concentrate on the positive change you’re trying to make in these young lives. Once your confidence increases and you start enjoying the lessons more, the children will feel it too and be even more receptive. Remember too that they have no idea how you might be feeling inside unless you show it, so keep a big smile on your face!

3. Establish “Essential Agreements” / class rules very early when teaching a new class so that everyone is clear about rules and boundaries. Especially important is a “Please stop” signal for those times when the children may get over-excited…

4. Remember that the attention span of very young learners is short, so make sure you plan your lessons accordingly. Be well prepared for your lesson, and always over plan – it’s far better to have too much material and not use it, than to suddenly realise you have 10 minutes left and no idea what to do! 10 minutes with nothing planned for very young learners is a long time!

5. Use a clear and normal voice when teaching. Don’t shout or exaggerate sounds or words in an attempt to be understood. The children need to hear English spoken in a clear, natural way. Use visual cues and props to support understanding. Be patient and listen well.

6. Communicate well with the children at all times and be observant for changes, to support as necessary. For example, a child might need the toilet, but either not know how to ask or be too shy. Also, children sometimes take some time to find the words they want to say.

7. Have some soft music playing as the children arrive and at the end of a lesson. As they come in, this establishes a routine and so creates an expectation in the children about what is about to happen. At the end of a lesson (or even at any time during a lesson that you need it), it can have a calming effect if the children have got a little over-excited due to your amazing lesson!

8. Have a positive attitude to communicating well, with children, parents, colleagues and your employer. If you have great ideas and something is working well, then share it! Equally, if you are struggling, then do communicate this to someone to get support. Communicating can help to change a situation in a positive way.

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9. If your lesson doesn’t go according to plan, remember that this happens even to the most experienced teacher. Try to relax, remember to smile and the children will respond. If the children are having fun, it’s very likely that learning is taking place even though you might feel you cannot ‘see’ it. Don’t be afraid to adapt or abandon an activity if something isn’t working. Then think objectively about what you could do differently next time to make the lesson work, and keep trying new ideas and ways of teaching until you find what is right for you.

10. Set goals/targets for the children and plan your lessons accordingly. This can be very motivating for you as a teacher, as it is wonderful to see the progress they make. This often happens very quickly too. Ensure it doesn’t become competitive though, so children don’t feel like they are failing.

11. Ensure your teaching is meaningful for the children, as this will gain their attention. If you notice something they are particularly interested in, try to incorporate it into your lesson plan in some way. Always try to teach things that are in context too. For example, if you’re teaching the names of farm animals, make a farm scene or have a story about a farm and the animals. Sing relevant songs, like “Old McDonald had a Farm”.

12. Be alert and on the lookout for children who appear worried, upset or not their usual self. Ensure to address this, but not in front of the whole class. For example, if a child is struggling to understand what is being taught, they are not going to want to talk about it in front of everyone. Remember also that not all children enjoy singing and dancing in front of others. Encourage, but never force to join in. Not singing or dancing does not necessarily equate to a child not acquiring the language.

13. Make a “toolkit” and add to it as you go along. Find props, soft toys, sets of flashcards, puppets, songs… things that work for you and that you canre-use again and again.

14. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself more tired than usual, especially when you first start teaching this age group. Ensure to have a healthy work/life balance, so you don’t burn out.

15. Enjoy the experience! Get into the children’s world: sing and dance, use plenty of expression and enthusiasm in your voice and actions, and watch the positive response from the children!

Like most things, teaching young children gets easier with practice, as you try out new ideas and discover what works. If you arrive at a class with a smile, enthusiasm and full of energy, the children will pick up on this and be excited to learn with you. Teaching very young learners is extremely rewarding and you will often see and hear results very quickly.

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Susan Brown

Susan is an Early Years specialist teacher with a passion for teaching Young Learners for whom English is an additional language. Since gaining a distinction in her Education degree, she has taught both teachers and children in countries including Spain, the UK and the UAE, and has also volunteered in Mexico, Bangladesh and Nepal.

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