There are many techniques we can use when we teach young learners. Below I’ll share some of the ideas I find quite useful when teaching primary school children.
- 1. Expose them to language.
When children start learning any language, native or foreign, they do not say anything for a long period of time, they listen a lot. This period is known as a “silent period”. Kids respond non-verbally first, then they start to speak but only separate words, then phrases and finally sentences. Provide children with “language” opportunities: listen to music; watch TV or cartoons, read books and rhymes, tell stories, sing songs., give instructions in English.
- 2. Do not hurry.
As every child has their own pace, let them start speaking when they’re ready, do not hurry them; they need to accumulate the new language.
- 3. Include physical activities.
Children are very active and they learn a lot from physical activities. Include exercises that practise the language using Total Physical Response.
- 4. Vary the activities.
It’s quite important to include different activities when teaching young learners. Try to have craft lessons, action songs, rhymes, games, drama classes.
- 5. Be patient.
It’s a big step for a child to start speaking, so be patient when a kid tries to formulate their message; be tolerant of their mistakes; praise them when they try to communicate a message.
- 6. Scaffold.
Speak slowly, repeat and paraphrase what you and the child says, use gestures and different intonations; “scaffold” the language. Use visuals; flashcards, realia to support the meaning and boost a child’s confidence and motivation.
- 7. Provide a meaningful context.
When teaching young learners, focus on the meaning, not the form of the language. Children can understand the situation through their background knowledge and a good context provided.
- 8. Let them create.
Children are naturally very creative. Give them opportunities to show and develop their creativity skills. Help them play with the language, create their own chants and songs. It enhances their vocabulary, creativity skills and language awareness; moreover, it motivates children a lot.
- 9. Teach them chunks.
Young learners cannot analyze the language, therefore teach them words as chunks: as a whole phrase or a sentence. Use games and movements, revise the language a lot.
- 10. Make them enjoy.
Children do not have goals or intrinsic motivation, as a result, they will learn the language only if they really enjoy it. Create an engaging and motivating atmosphere.
- 11. Games.
The games depend on the age but if we talk about primary learners (6-9 y.o.), you may use puzzles, categorising games, “odd one out”, “find differences”, role-plays, comparing, guessing games, selecting or matching activities
- 12. Attention.
Kids have a short attention span, avoid monotonous work and switch the activities every 5 minutes. In addition, try to catch their attention to direct it towards the work; use coloured pictures, music, illustrations.
- 13. Mnemonics.
When teaching a new language, use mnemonics techniques (associations, actions) to help children remember the language.
- 14. Multisensory approach.
Teach English in different ways depending on their learning style: auditory, visual, kinaesthetic. There’s also a well-known Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
When you know each child’s strengths and weaknesses, you can find an appropriate approach to every learner.
- 15. Reflect.
Develop their metacognitive skills, have them think about their thinking. Teach them how to plan and organise their learning (plan activities), self-monitor (do the activity and self-correct) and self-evaluate (see what’s been done). This can also be done through review sessions, e.g. ask children what they learnt, what they did, what was difficult, what was easy, what they liked, why, etc. You can also set discussions on reflection of the lessons and collect their feedback then.
Hope these techniques are useful and help you with your lessons!