(All links working as of 26/10/2021)
It’s actually ended up as three blogposts, divided into:
- Very Young Learners (aged 2-5) – this post
- Young Learners (aged 6-8/9-11)
- Teens (aged 12-15/16-19) – coming soon!
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.
Do you think it is a good idea to start learning English at a very young age (e.g. 2)?
This is an area which has generated quite a lot of research over the years, and as with anything so context-based, the answer seems to be ‘it depends’. Here are some answers to the question that have been shared in the media:
- BBC – The best age to learn a foreign language
- Parent.com – The best age for kids to learn a second language
It’s also important to be aware of what such young children are likely to be able to do in their own language at this age. Here’s an example for English-speaking children from an Australian website, but it’s worth looking up for the first language of the children you’re teaching too.
My thoughts are that it depends on what you’re aiming to achieve by sending your child to English classes so young, or by exposing them to the language in other ways such as through English-language TV. If it’s efficiency, then starting to learn when they’re a little older can get them where you want them to be in less time as they can be analytical about the process, and pay attention to rules as well as what they learn from exposure. But starting to learn when they’re younger, enjoying the process and building up a love for the language can increase their motivation and make them want to continue learning.
Are there any specific techniques for teaching very young learners?
Here are some useful tips from Shelly Ann Vernon (with a little advertising of her products in there too)
Ten things I wish I had known when I started teaching VYLs by Claire Elliot, a similar article with a slightly different set of tips from London School of Languages, and one more from Andrew Tiffany for National Geographic.
Circle Time by Micaela Carey
Using a puppet – Anka Zapart’s Angelina (including links to extra reading) and Carol Read’s ideashttps://www.carolread.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/VYL_puppet.pdf
Using flashcards – Alex Case
Ideas and activities for VYLs by Dorka Brozik:
Teaching VYLs in a digital classroom by Justyna Mikulak:
How do I make lessons more interactive? How do I keep them busy and interested for more time?
Hand over to the children as much as you can, once you’ve clearly demonstrated an activity. Children learn the word ‘teacher’ very quickly, so you can say ‘Maria, you’re the teacher’ They might not understand at first, but very soon they can take control and be in charge of activities. Here’s one example.
Presenting vocabulary in an engaging way
Ideas for using flashcards in online lessons, all of which are interactive
Listening and speaking activities for online lessons (though they’d work offline too!)
Which tools can I use?
I’m going to interpret this question as ‘What can I use other than a coursebook/worksheet to teach VYLs?’ There are lots of ideas in the techniques above, but here are a few more.
Top 10 favourite EFL tools by Anka Zapart
Project learning to help parents see progress
How much information should I give at once?
Not much! Typical VYL coursebooks introduce 3-4 new items of lexis, or one structure, in a single 45-minute lesson. They also include lots of recycling as children of this age forget quickly.
How do I control discipline? What do I do if they don’t pay attention?
25 strategies to help pre-empt problem behaviour from Carol Read
Routines in the VYL classroom by Lisa Wilson:
Another idea for routines: 15 ways to finish a preschool English lesson, by Alex Case.
The 12 days of managing VYL classes by Kylie
Micaela Carey’s ideas for classroom management
Build relationships with the children
What to do when the world begins to fall apart
Things kids bring to class, and what to do about it
How do I make them participate?
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.
Remember that they might be going through a silent period – there are still plenty of activities they can do.
Here’s some advice on what to do if children join the class mid-year – they may be reluctant to participate, but there’s a lot you can do to help them.
How do I teach them grammar and phonology?
Most of the teaching you do in the VYL classroom will be based on vocabulary and building chunks of language. Grammar is learnt intrinsically, rather than studied as a separate thing. Here’s some information from Carol Read about how young children learn grammar, and from Michelle Worgan about teaching chunks of language to VYLs.
Phonology is learnt through imitation. The use of songs and jazz chants (see the first question above) can be useful for creating the motivation to imitate the teacher/the materials you use. These are probably the best way to drill new sounds, though you can also play around with the differences between sounds the children are producing and the target sounds. For example, use contrastive drills where you move from one sound to the other and back again, and really emphasise the mouth shape in each position.
Homework: how much and what kind should I give?
A-Z of homework for Very Young Learners, including the answer to the question ‘Should we even think of setting homework for preschoolers?’
Listening homework tasks you can create yourself
This page from the British Council has advice for things parents can do at home to support their child’s English learning.
Is it possible to teach them avoiding L1 in class?
Micaela Carey’s experience of using L1 with young learners
What do I do if young learners protest against using English?
(in case they already speak and at some point want to use only L1)
To some extent this is answered in the previous question, but I think it’s also worth considering why they are protesting against using English, and whether it’s a one-off or something more regular. Are they bored? Are they uncomfortable in the lesson/group? Are they looking for attention? The answer to this question will help you decide what to do.
If they’re bored, you need to find ways to change your activities, for example by getting them moving around for a few minutes rather than sitting down.
If they’re uncomfortable in the lesson, what can you do to help them relax? Sometimes a time-out, or a chance to sit apart from the group can be useful to allow children time to de-stress. At other times, moving onto a new activity could help.
If they’re uncomfortable in the group, building in activities to help them share with other members of the group and learn a little about their classmates can help, for example, bringing their favourite toy to class.
If they’re looking for attention, follow Anka’s advice.
How do I stay calm? 🙂
And here’s a first lesson survival kit for working with VYLs.
What blogs can I read?
I added this question 🙂 You’ll notice that a lot of the links come from a limited range of sources, because they’re the blogs I follow which deal with this age group. Please let me know about others!