Key Elements when Teaching English to Young Learners Title
13th April 2017
By Juana Sagaray Associate ELT-Consultant
When teaching young learners, there are some elements in the class that treated properly can make a difference. Sometimes we plan wonderful lessons but when it comes to practice they turned to things very far from the expected ones, the answer to this could be in how we do simple ordinary things that can make a difference like the way we give instructions, the use (or lack of use) of body language and group work. We’re going to have a closer look to these points.
Giving instruction: this is something we do in every single class. However, sometimes the way we do it influences the class in a positive or negative way. For example, if instructions are not accurate, students can lose interest or feel frustrated which can generate a negative environment.
If instructions are clear, children feel confident and do the tasks. But how can we give instructions properly? Here some tips:
Use simple language: it is easy for children to get the idea of what you want from them if you use words that are familiar to them. Avoid long explanations.
Divide the instructions in different steps: it is better for children to get the information little by little and not all together. Give the information they need for each task and not more than that because they can get confused. For example, “open your book on page 15” and once they do it, go to the next instruction.
Use gestures: this will help to reinforce the message and if students don’t get the meaning of words, gestures can make meaning as well.
Model what you want students to do: This is a way to show vividly what you want them to do minimizing gaps.
Ask questions to check comprehension: These questions should be yes or no questions or option questions like: “Are you doing this in pairs or individually?” “Will you write or discuss?”. Avoid using questions like “Do you understand?” or “Is it clear?” because students tend to answer “Yes” even if they don’t understand.
Body Language: Another key element in the young learners’ class is the use of gestures. There must be a correspondence between your oral message and your gestures. This is a powerful tool to help visual learners to build confidence. For instance, you can use gestures to reinforce vocabulary like action verbs. Instead of translating, you can explain their meaning by using gestures. A good way to involve kinesthetic students would be to ask students to use gestures themselves to show comprehension.
Another aspect to consider when dealing with body language is facial expressions. Smile during the class to help students feel confidence. Even if they make mistakes, beware of your facial expressions so they don’t feel discouraged. A warm smile can let them know that they can do it and they become aware that mistakes are part of the process. This will motivate students to participate in the class.
Eye contact is also something to consider because by making eye contact, students feel you are with them. You should move your eyes from left to right and vice versa. If you fix your eyes on one student only, the rest of students could feel ignored and rejected, so make sure you look at all sides in the classroom.
Group Work: Another key in the classroom is group working. If we agree that language is a system of communication, we should teach it accordingly. It means in a language class, students must communicate. An effective way to do so is through pair and group work.
When asking students to work in groups, it is necessary that all members of the group have a role and a clear task. For example, a student can be in charge of taking notes, another one to ask questions, another to answer, etc. This is important because first they will use the language; second, they will feel involved, third, they will learn by doing, and fourth, they will learn, not only from the teacher but also from their peers.
All of these are key elements that can make the young learners class a space for interaction and learning. By adapting these tips in our classrooms, we can give our students the chance to get the best from each language classroom experience in a student centered environment where they feel confident to express themselves.