Like many native English speaking teachers of English, when I started out I’d had no real training in teaching young learners. I’d had training in teaching adults (CELTA) and happened to quite like children – but it didn’t make me qualified or prepared for the YL classroom! Looking back nearly 15 years later, I can identify a few key lessons I’ve learned along the way – through trial and error – sometimes quite long periods of error! I’ve decided to focus on 3 of them – the 3 I think have helped me the most or the 3 I wish I’d known before starting out!
1) Stir and Settle
I thought teaching YLs was primarily about making sure they had fun, oh…and teaching them English, and to have fun, you need to play high energy, noisy games. Of course, what this actually leads to is a room full of hyperactive children that can’t really take anything in, and are difficult or even impossible to manage. This in turn means little chance of teaching them anything!
Tip: As you sketch out lessons, include an upward arrow next to the activities/stages you think will stir, and a downward arrow for those you hope will settle. This will help you to see at a glance if you have a good balance and help you ensure you don’t have too many of either in a row – too many stirs = hyperactive, too many settles = sleepy!
2) It’s not all about English
I know the primary goal is to help them learn English, but what I didn’t realise initially was how much more I needed to be thinking about. Anyone working with children, especially in an educational capacity, has the responsibility to develop and support the development of the whole child. This includes more obvious things like developing their social skills – sharing, turn-taking, being friendly etc. but it also includes supporting their cognitive and physical development, as well as helping them to become independent and effective learners (learner training).
Tip: Identify the non-language outcomes of lessons and stages within lessons. It doesn’t necessarily mean completely changing the activities and materials you use – it’s more about becoming more aware of what else might be being learned alongside the language aim. Being more aware of the additional aims or outcomes will mean you are better prepared to highlight them and exploit them.
3) Less is more:
When I started teaching my biggest fear was running out of material, so I planned, planned and planned some more! I rarely, if ever made it through all my material and I often found myself squashing in activities or sometimes not even getting to the main event! Over time, I learned that covering a little less, but doing it properly was definitely a better approach. I took my time setting up tasks, knowing that the students were benefitting from following the instructions just as much as from doing the task itself. I spent more time on routine – how we started and ended the lesson and the general management of the class, for example, tidying up, handing out materials and taking the register. Rather than thinking of these things as consuming or wasting valuable lesson time, they became as important as the main language aim.
Naomi Moir has been involved in education for over 15 years and has worked with students and teachers from a wide range of environments, including those in the state sector and the private sector. In the past few years Naomi has run training courses and presented at conferences for a number of different organisations on a variety of areas connected with teaching English to young learners and adults. She was also the Young Learner Coordinator for the International House World Organisation. In addition to her training work, Naomi has also written (for Oxford University Press) a ‘Learn English at Home’ pack for parents of preschoolers and Starting and Ending Lessons (Oxford Basics for Children) for primary teachers as well as contributing to the pre-school series First Friends. Naomi now works full-time for Oxford University Press as a teacher trainer. She’s one of the regular blog authors on the Oxford University Press English Language Teaching Global blog. Feel free to follow her on Twitter (@naomi_moir).