7 Useful Tips for Teaching ESL to Children

Teaching children requires patience and a sense of fun. Here are 7 tips for teaching ESL to children.

George and Daisy Stocker
Young Learner ESL students

Teaching ESL to children is challenging but also very rewarding. Before I walk into a class of 10-year olds, I take a deep breath. Children have no attention span AT ALL, and so I tell myself to slow right down before I start. Teaching children requires patience and a sense of fun and playfulness. Even though it seems obvious, a common mistake is to think that children are simply ‘short adults!’ This is sure to get you off on the wrong foot! Here are some tips for teaching ESL to children:

  1. Involve children in hands-on activities

    Children’s minds are incredibly open and they learn by absorbing ideas and concepts directly. Children need to be actively involved. Get students up and out of their chairs and moving around. Sing songs, and play games.

  2. Avoid talking for long periods of time

    I find that the energy level of the classroom drops lower and lower. Explain an activity quickly and then go to it. Keep the energy moving! If your planned activity is a flop, move on. Keep a few extra activities handy for this purpose. Children need lots of stimulation all the time.

  3. Children learn by interacting with each other and with the teacher

    Try to talk to each child individually each class. Whenever possible, have children working in groups and in pairs.

  4. Review, Review, Review

    New information is absorbed and has meaning when it is related to information students have already learned. Quickly review new concepts at the beginning of each class.

  5. Encourage students to correct themselves and other students

    Self correction or self-regulation is an important part of learning. Students should be encouraged to ask, “How am I doing?” and “Am I doing this right?” in an open and non-judgmental environment. Children raised in authoritative cultures may need additional reinforcement.

  6. Use what is learned in different contexts

    The more contexts used the better, and the more concrete and ‘real life’ the contexts the better. Make it real for students by talking about them and their lives.

  7. Praise, Praise, Praise

    Encourage and build students up in a natural way. Learning occurs when students are motivated and feel good about themselves.

Looking back on my years of teaching, the children’s classes took a bit of getting used to, but were the most memorable and fun!

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George and Daisy Stocker

George and Daisy Stocker have travelled the world teaching ESL to children and adults. Their website www.efl-esl.com offers ESL curriculum, activities, an online forum for ESL teachers and students, free newsletter for ESL teachers and more!

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  • Carlos

    Great tips but how can the learning be evaluated? School directors always want to see tangible results.

  • Muge Gur

    Thank you for sharing your views. I believe that some of the things you mentioned are true for even the elder students, like reviewing, self-correction and praising. I have only been teaching for almost a year, therefore these tips will be help me a lot. Thanks again.

  • Dana, Hainan Island, China

    Good ideas to remember. However, students have different attention spans even with games and your school expects you to get a certain distance in the textbook. My school has three hour classes for nine-ten year olds to learn English. All they can handle and enjoy is one hour. Few want to learn English for 3 hours with thirty other students in a room that is about 82 degrees and humid!

  • Margaret

    Yes, positive, positive stimulation, energy definitely. But any ideas for me? I teach EFL to European teenagers at a Riding School in the UK. It’s the parents idea for them to work on their English when they’d rather be out on the back of a horse. I have a complete age and ability range every 2 weeks, e.g. last week I had 13 students ranging from 8 to 17 in a basic hut in a field. Luckily the 8 year old was motivated to try to keep up with the others but sometimes that’s not the case… Any suggestions would be welcome!

  • Kurt

    For trained teachers, this is not new information but I do see it as a refresher, reminder; something to get you back on course just in case you were going through the teaching motions and not really thinking about the psychology of teaching ESL.

  • Hania Ghazi Yassine

    What has been mentioned here is very interesting. I have found that children acquire language faster than adults although they might not have the proficiency. The reason they learn faster is because they want to be part of the whole group. They want to play, communicate and express themselves and they don’t care if they make mistakes. Teaching children needs a proficient teacher that has the skills and sense of humour to make children want to learn.

  • DD

    I have taken a job working at a new English school teaching intensive classes to children and teens. I don´t think it’s very common to have an intensive ESL English class for children. I think 3 hours is a long time to keep children in a class. Is this normal in some schools? If not, shall I mention it to the director who is the owner of the school? To make a suggestion? I have read the advice given for teaching children because as I mentioned before 3 hours is a long time and I need all the ideas I can get.

    • Chris AKili

      Hey @DD, I also teach children and teens; I would love to know how you handled that situation because I also have the same problem. Are the 3 hours working for you?

  • Rasamee

    I agree. Children can’t concentrate on long speech. They tend to stop listening and start talking with their peers. Short and to the point is needed when giving instructions. And children love being praised. I also use this strategy with my beginner adult class and it really works. They seem to be so proud of themselves when they are praised after completing activities. It appears that the positive feedback they obtain encourages them to speak more in class.

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