Questions about teaching Young Learners (aged 6-11) (useful links!)

(All links working as of 27/10/2021)

On the CELTA course I tutored on back in August 2021, I ran a session on teaching under 16s. As part of it, I asked the trainees to create a list of questions they wanted the answers to. I promised them a blogpost with answers, but it’s taken this long to get round to it!

It’s actually ended up as three blogposts, divided into:

The age brackets may seem a little arbitrary – I selected them as they reflected to some extent the age ranges at schools I’ve previously worked for. The posts themselves are mostly a selection of links to answer the questions, rather than my own answers. Please feel free to add extra links in the comments, and let me know if any of the links are broken.

Classroom for young learners – photo by Roseli Serra from ELTpics, shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence

Are the techniques that we discussed in the CELTA course suitable for young learners?

CELTA is primarily designed for teachers working with adults, but many of the techniques and activities covered on the course are applicable to teaching young learners too. For example, you still need to make sure that your activity set-up is clear and concise, that it’s supported with demonstrations, and that you check students have understood your instructions. I think the two main differences to be aware of are the developmental stage of young learners (they may not be able to do certain things which adults can do easily) and their concentration span. You will probably need to move onto new activities more quickly with young learners, though they can still get very engaged in some activities and do them for far longer than you might expect. As a general rule though, I plan to change activities every 5 minutes or so in the YL classroom, and I aim to include a mix of stirrers and settlers (ideas from British Council and Cambridge).

What coursebooks are good for this age range?

I’d rather not recommend specific coursebooks, not least because they change so frequently, and there are so many on the market I can’t possibly know the best ones 😉 Instead, think of criteria that you believe are important for your learners. For example, you might want a book that includes some or all of the following:

  • Manageable amounts of vocabulary (probably 6-10 new items per lesson – the younger they are, the fewer they can probably retain from one lesson to the next)
  • Grammatical structures presented in sentences / as functional language to learn implicitly – the older they are, the more that young learners might be able to cope with explicit grammar study, and perhaps also metalanguage (for example tense names) (see Carol Read on Grammar)
  • Lots of recycling of vocabulary and structures
  • A set of characters who are consistent through the book
  • A story that is told throughout the book
  • Songs/chants
  • Project ideas
  • Extra reading
  • A teacher’s book in your L1/English
  • A workbook with extra practice activities
  • Extra online activities / an accompanying website

Ask publishers if you can speak to teachers (or even students!) who’ve used their books – that might help you to decide.

What kind of tasks work with this age group?

Think about how old the children are, what kind of activities might appeal to them and what they are able to do developmentally. Make sure you’re choosing activities which are achievable, but which also provide a little challenge, pushing them to learn more.

This series of articles from OneStopEnglish shows how to use video, dramatic play, music and movement, and stories in the classroom – it requires you to login – you can read one free article per month.

Grammar activities from Carol Read

Flashcard activities from Carol Read

Poster activities from Carol Read

Activities with sets of pictures (especially if children have their own sets of pictures) from Carol Read

Class surveys

Using music

Get them moving, including online. Here are some ideas from Shannon Thwaites:

How do I present topics?

This is quite a broad question 🙂 Some ideas from the question above might help, or here are others which aren’t about specific types of task.

How to work with vocabulary, and fun ways to teach young children vocabulary

Alex Case suggests ways of using the topics of animals and toys to present a wide range of different language.

Should I use games?

And the supplementary questions: How much fun is too much fun during the lesson? How do I incorporate entertainment into my lesson and still keep it productive? Where is the balance between a game and a serious task completion?

Absolutely, yes! Games are very important.

Thanks to JoannaESL for telling me about this series of videos from WOW English, showcasing a range of different games you can play with YLs:

How do I get and keep their attention?

20 ways to get the attention of a class of noisy students

50 call and response ideas (the teacher says/does the first half, the class says/does the second)

Maintaining concentration with young learners

5 ways to keep students’ attention

Engaging kids through Zoom by Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone:

How do I increase their motivation?

Through the use of content, language and learning skills says Jane Harding da Rosa

6 Useful Tips for Motivating Children to Learn English

Motivating young learners, including some ‘tips from the top’

What kind of homework should I give? How much?

See Jane’s presentation in the question above for the difference between ‘homework’ and ‘home-learning’

Ideas for setting homework for young learners

How do I think about timing in lessons with YL?

How to improve your lesson timing and Timing your classes both offer general advice.

The only extra thing I would add about young learners is that it’s worth planning in 5-minute chunks, aiming to shift the focus/activity every 5 minutes or so. If it’s a particularly engaging task, like a project, it might go for longer, but even then you may need to check in with them every few minutes to make sure they’re still on task.

How do I work on group dynamics?

I couldn’t find any specific links connected to building group dynamics with young learners (please add any suggestions in the comments if you know of some). The closest thing I could find is Why putting children together in groups doesn’t always work.

This is my post about group dynamics with all groups, though mostly focussing on adults.

Shall I adapt the book materials, creating my own worksheets for each lesson?

This question comes with more context: “All the tasks in the coursebook for YL (the first year of learning English) I use in a state school are written in Russian. I wish I could choose a book, but I can’t. I guess it’s not beneficial for a communicative approach.”

Without seeing the book myself and not knowing the context first-hand, it’s difficult for me to answer this question specifically. However, I would say that creating your own worksheets for each lesson is very time-consuming, creates a lot of work for you, and could lead to burnout. Instead, think about how you can exploit the materials you have in a range of different ways, and how you can incorporate opportunities to use English throughout the lesson.

How do I stop them from using L1 in class? How do I encourage them to speak English?

Micaela Carey’s ideas of using flags and cards and her experience of using L1 with young learners

How to encourage children who are not confident speaking in English – although aimed at parents, a lot of this advice is useful for teachers too

Encouraging more use of English in class

How do I keep them under control?

25 strategies to help pre-empt problem behaviour

Make the most of classroom management, says Jane Harding da Rosa and add body language to help them understand

Micaela Carey’s ideas for classroom management

Build relationships with the children

Alex Case talks about possible problems with the running around game ‘stations’ and suggests a wide range of ways to adapt it. These could help you in thinking about ways to adapt other games/activities too.

Prepare to deal with some common classroom problems

I’m teaching kids one-to-one. How do I plan interesting lessons for them?

Tips to make your lesson fun (one to one)

Teaching young children one-to-one from One Stop English: it requires you to login – you can read one free article per month, so choose carefully or subscribe!

What blogs can I read?

I added this question 🙂 Please let me know about others!

There must be more than this, but apparently I don’t follow them! Suggestions in the comments please…

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