Far too often, English teachers are thrust into the Young Learner classroom with very little support or training. If you are looking for guidance about teaching children, here is some great advice from Young Learner teachers Débora Meira and Cecilia Santo.
Developing strong classroom management skills is the number 1 priority for anyone stepping into the young learner classroom. You need to create and maintain a happy working environment in order to have the children respect the rules and engage in meaningful activities. Start by having a clear idea of how you want the classes to be. Then establish rules with children. Try not to use ‘negative’ rules such as “We shouldn’t shout in class.”. It would be better to say “Let’s speak quietly.” Create routines in order to help children understand what they have to do (remember: they cannot guess what is expected from them, so you have to be clear). This makes children feel more comfortable and confident in class. And helps you save your energy and voice!
Understanding how children learn
In order to establish your rules and routines as well as plan appropriated lessons, it is important to understand how children learn.
- Very young learners (4-6 years old) need opportunities to move, sing, explore; they love the familiarity of having stories and songs repeated.
- From 7-9 years old, it is important to experiment, like creating their own chants or stories; oriented activities.
- 10-12-year-oldchildren are more committed, so they can be engaged in activities that require more focus, such as projects, role plays. They also like to be challenged, respecting their knowledge limits.
This very brief summary of the different age groups and their characteristics makes it clear that each stage of childhood is different and needs to be considered when planning your lessons. More on this here.
Group dynamics and the child’s interests
The use of non-competitive games, songs, stories and crafting helps to create a safe and stress-free environment that they can enjoy learning in. Make these activities meaningful by connecting with children’s interests, real life experiences, and with what they already know.
Challenge them by finding a balance between activities that are too easy and too difficult.
Create a sense of collaboration, community, group, where they help each other to accomplish the task.
An example of an engaging activity which help to improve group dynamics:
Pass the hoop
Objective: Children must find a way to help each other pass the hoop around the circle.
Resources: a hoop
Procedure: Children make a circle and the teacher puts the hoop over one’s head. They start passing the hoop without breaking the circle or using their hands.Procedure: Children make a circle and the teacher puts the hoop over one’s head. They start passing the hoop without breaking the circle or using their hands.
Build up a bank of resources for teaching young learners
Internet is full of free or paid useful resources to work with children.
You can check on British Council website, it is very rich! And others, as well.
Just as in life, good communication is essential to the YL classroom. This is demonstrated in many ways. When you are teaching, make sure you clearly communicate your purpose and expectations to the students. By getting them involved in the decision making processs, you will find they feel more responsible for what goes on in the lesson. However, communication doesn’t just end in the classroom. Having an effective connection with parents is also extremely necessary. Take the time to greet parents whenever possible, giving them insights into how their child is going in class. Building a good relationship with the parents makes is so much easier later if you have to have difficult conversation about behaviour or get support at home with homework or a project.
Find a Mentor
Everyone needs help, especially at the beginning. If you are struggling, don’t keep it to yourself. Find someone who you can talk to about your problems and get advice and support from. More often than not, sharing your problems with a more experience colleague can help you see things more clearly and help you turn a difficult situation around.
We love the quote that goes: “Teachers need good coworkers. Not just any coworkers, but coworkers who become friends. When teachers work well together, the whole school succeeds.”
Teaching can be a lonely profession, but you are not alone!
Look around and you will find lots of colleagues with whom you can exchange ideas, ask questions and get answers! If you can’t find anyone face-to-face, go online!
– Private Teachers Reloaded
– Professores de Inglês do ES (if you are from ES, or try a teachers’ community in your State)
– Professores e Escolas de Inglês
And many many others!
Don’t forget the importance of continual study! If you can’t afford to pay for a course, there are many things you can do for free such as join webinars, or take free courses (Coursera, Canvas, and Future Learn). Here is a post by Claire Venables with more great suggestions for taking your professional development into your own hands.
Of course, if you want to take your teaching to the next level, you should also consider taking a course:
Teaching children can be some of the most rewarding work you will do so we hope these tips will help you have a successful first experience. All the best with your classes!