How to motivate children to speak?

Наринэ Егорова

“Why don’t they speak?”, “It’s been a month since they started learning English!”, “They say one word and that’s it!”, “They’re just…silent”, “I think he doesn’t understand anything. I just repeat and repeat”.

No doubt, teaching kids is challenging. Especially when you’re at the very beginning. In this article you’ll find some general information about teaching young learners and tips on how to develop their speaking skills.

What is important about teaching young learners?

Spark their curiosity

Kids are naturally curious. Add fascinating and challenging tasks that they genuinely want to do and that can keep them motivated. For example, help the main hero to solve a word puzzle, do a quest or find clues; play with a surprise bag/box (objects of different colours, shapes and touch), implement speaking and communication into these activities. Don’t forget about Krashen’s input hypothesis (“i + 1)” where a learner will always need something more advanced than what they’re capable of in order to improve.

Boost creativity

All children are creative, they just have a different mindset. So, give them a chance to demonstrate their creativity skills. You can set drawing or writing tasks, such as “Watch the video about houses of the future and draw your dream house”, “Listen to the song and write a verse about your family” or “Listen to the story about animals and draw the zoo”. After doing the project, ask kids to make a presentation so that they speak the outcomes of their creativity.

Make them experience

Children learn a lot when they do, imagine, feel something. Include tasks when they can learn through experience. For example, if you have a lesson about animals, play sounds of different animals for students to guess. If you teach shapes, use plasticine. If you have a lesson about food, you can organise a game: cut some food in a bowl, e.g. if you are to teach fruits, bring oranges, apples, lemons, strawberries. Then children close their eyes, eat one slice and try to guess what it is. You can make a fruit salad together. Run comments about what you are doing: “let’s cut oranges. Mmmm. Delicious. They are delicious. Would you like to try? Do you like it?” And you can do craft activities almost on any topic.

Play with sounds

Children love to play with language, listen to different types of pronunciation, unusual “noise” and make up new words. Add rhymes and tongue twisters in your lessons; change your voice in a lesson. This is a lot of fun to do and stimulates children to speak.

Set safe emotional environment

It’s easy to make kids feel stressed or shy as they’re very sensitive. Only when they feel confident, they can come out of their shell and show what they’ve learnt. An unhappy or angry child is unable to fully benefit from their learning and participate in activities. Do not push them or show that you’re tired and disappointed. Be patient. Kids need to feel secure, relaxed to internalise the words, ideas, concepts their are exposed to. Safety and taking risks are both sides of the same coin. The more kids feel safe and cared for, the more they can take risks and learn without fear. By showing genuine interest in the child and adding interest to what the child has offered, we are building trust, communication, and developing the child’s language skills all at the same time.


Praise and recognition is key to help children feel they are important and that they are valued. However, don’t forget to tell the kids why you are praising them. Making the praise specific and not just empty “Great/well done”. Convey to each child that you appreciate them and their efforts.


Although children quickly grasp the language, they quickly forget it if the material isn’t reviewed once in a while. It’s vital for learning. Language acquisition takes times and requires regular practice. Include a quick game to revise material from previous lessons and it’ll be highly beneficial for children.

Tips for boosting speaking

Do not hurry them

The first thing you need to keep in mind is that children understand any language twice as fast as they speak it. A child who is not speaking is usually actively listening and just need time to process what they are hearing before saying anything. It’s known as “silent period”. It is crucial to value listening as well as speaking by giving the child lots of exposure to the language. Don’t force a child to speak, they will when they are ready. Forcing a child to speak before they are ready could actually delay language development. If we are expecting children to speak before they’ve had much exposure to English, it’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse. We’re expecting something to happen which is not a logical step in their development. So what very young children need is lots of exposure to English and time to tune into the sounds of this new language, and time to process this, and understand what’s going on.

Lay the foundation

Before children start speaking they need to understand different types of texts, stories, songs, chants, important words, phrases. Make sure you’ve included enough “pre-communicative” exercises such as matching, completing and etc. Use realia, gestures, pictures, flashcards, drawings to assist comprehension.

Include humorous, meaningful, exciting and various content

Children are usually genuinely amused by games, craft activities, stories, chants, songs and rhymes, so they remain anchored in kids’ memory as well as the language used, which boosts their productive skills further. You can organise role plays based on stories as children enjoy acting out and imitating others. Role plays develop children’s speaking skills a lot. Songs and chants motivate children because it’s fun and they usually consolidate the target language. Moreover, when you use this type of content you can organise multi-sensory tasks. For example, children listen to, say and perform movements for the rhyme at the same time. Games are highly motivating for children and there’re lots of types of them: board games, logical sequences, memory games, races, crosses and noughts, “I spy”, Bingo, “Snowball”, “Zip-Zap”, “Find the difference”, puzzles, mazes, guessing games, etc.

Organise interviews, dialogues, monologues

Provide children with a model, words and phrases to use. Then they ask each other questions, for example, what food they like or do not like. Use real-life and interactive activities. Include tasks that create a genuine need for communication, that involve kids, appeals to them, so that the children are developing language naturally and in context, as they would their home language. Children need a reason and interest to communicate, for example, role play buying food at the market with real or plastic food.

Avoid L1

It’s not easy to do at the very beginning, but try to gradually increase the amount of English and decrease the amount of L1 you and children use in class. Firstly, you’ll be the one who speaks English, but in several lessons encourage students to communicate a word or two, prompt with the necessary phrases, whisper words and make it clear that it’s OK to make mistakes.

Use puppets

They help to recall the language children have learned and activate their previous knowledge. It’s also used as a model for speaking. Encourage kids to repeat what the puppet says. They also encourage listening and responding when singing a familiar song, reading a story book or making a dialogue. Keep in mind, puppets do not understand kids’ L1 as it serves as a psychological anchor for English use.

Use TPR method developed by James Asher

Our brain does not work separately from the rest of our body. Encourage students to mime, use gestures and move. Children have to move and play and it doesn’t matter if they don’t understand every single word you say. Accompany your speech or new words you teach with gestures. This will facilitate the learning process and help a child understand your message. When you use songs and nursery rhymes, help children understand the words by using actions as well. Non-verbal responses from young children are acceptable when they start learning a language. They show that the child has understood what you say. When you read or listen action stories, represent them by actions, gestures or mimes. As Herbert Puchta says, “the closer the link between what children here and a concrete action, the better they can remember the language they’ve learned and the easier it is for them to use it productively”. When you discuss stories, children can relate to the context with gestures too, for example, they can show “big”, or they can respond with sounds, for example, sneeze.

Комментарии (1)
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    Thanks for your tips! But please proofread the article and correct errors


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