Teaching Children: Some FAQs
by Sophia McMillan
(Shane Training Centre, Japan)
Teaching children can be a challenging prospect, especially to those who are new to teaching. But don’t worry! Below are some FAQs about teaching English to young children, with suggestions and tips.
Q: What should my main role be when teaching?
A: In a young learner class your role is very special. Your enthusiasm for English and having fun will be transmitted to the children. This leads to their love of coming to your lesson and learning English!
As a teacher of young children you need to be prepared to do silly things the children enjoy – for example, putting your hands on your head to make rabbit ears and jumping around the classroom pretending to be a rabbit.
As a teacher it is important to demonstrate new vocabulary and language, either by showing the children realia/pictures or actually doing the action. Young children learn by watching and imitating a model. So by seeing the language in action the child understands what this ‘strange’ English is all about. Children watch, listen, copy and learn.
Q: What should the pace of the English class be?
A: Children’s attention spans vary and the pace of the class needs to be lively. Keep activities short, children will want to come back to an activity they enjoy. Young children like doing the same activity over and over again. Switch between fast/active activities and slower more sedate ones so the children do not get overtired or bored.
Q: How do I keep the children’s attention?
A: Plan a variety of activities that practice target vocabulary and sentences. Songs, TPR (Total Physical Response) activities, flashcards, question and answer activities, drama activities are all good ways of keeping the children’s attention. Change the pace of the class quickly. Moving, chanting and singing help children stay interested in the class.
Use a variety of materials that appeal to children: toys, puppets, masks, pictures, cards, to play games with, to hold up and put somewhere while listening to what you say.
The key to maintaining children's attention is planning activities where they are participating actively (holding up cards, colouring, pointing), and doing different things (acting, singing, miming, moving). Children enjoy participating and learn as they do! Let them feel the roundness of a circle by tracing a hoop with their hands.
Q: Why use songs and chants?
live in a musical, rhythmic world; Sounds, patterns and movement are all around them. The most spontaneous way to introduce language and make children feel comfortable is to involve them in music and chanting. The combination of words with the beat of a chant or song is a powerful way to help children remember the language. With very young children the musical side of the brain is more developed than the linguistic aspect.
You can make your own songs and chants by:
• choosing key phrases and vocabulary
• using a familiar or simple tune or rhythm
• repeat phrases where possible to make a chorus
• add actions to the words for added fun
Q: What is TPR (Total Physical Response) and why is it important?
A: Children like to be active. TPR lets them put their natural energy to use to learn English! This approach, developed by James J. Asher, is ideal for young learners whose verbal abilities are still undeveloped.
TRP – children physically responding to commands – provides intense listening practice. Even the shyest children like TPR because there is no speaking involved. Children can show they understand the action by doing it. This allows children to feel successful in English from the very beginning! And of course children like telling other people what to do.
Q: Why is giving feedback to young children important?
A: Children need to know if they are doing something right or wrong. When they do something right give them lots of praise! Correct children in a way that does not hurt their feelings (for example, have everyone to practice the pronunciation of a word rather than just one child). Most of all, repeat the correct version, sometimes overemphasizing so they get the correct way of saying it.
Positive reinforcement encourages confidence, self-value and motivation. It is better to provide positive feedback to children, so praise correct behaviour and where possible ignore bad behaviour. Children want recognition and so all children will soon do what you want.
It is the teacher's responsibility to build an environment in the classroom that allows a young child to feel safe physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. If a child knows the teacher will not embarrass them or make them look bad, they will give the teacher the most priceless gift of all, the gift of trust.