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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

October 16, 2000

Teaching Children: Some FAQ's

Kids Teaching young children can be a daunting prospect, especially to those who are new to the game, but don't worry! Help is at hand. We have gathered here some FAQ's about teaching English to young children, with suggestions and tips from Mario Herrera.

Q: What should my main role be when teaching?

A: Your role in a young child's class is very special. Your enthusiasm for English and for having fun in the language is transmitted to the children, who in turn decide they love being in school and learning English! Be prepared to do silly things the children enjoy - like putting your hands on your head to make rabbit ears and inviting everyone to hop around the room while saying, "I'm a rabbit. I like to hop, hop, hop."

As a teacher of young children learning English, it's important to demonstrate new vocabulary, either by showing the children realia or pictures or actually doing an action. By watching and listening to your modeling, the child understands what he or she must do and say. By seeing the word in action, the child understands what that 'strange' English word is all about.

Modeling is the most important technique or strategy to use when teaching a new language. Kids watch and listen, copy and learn. Do it often!

Q: What should the pace of the English class be?

A: Young children's attention spans vary; therefore, the pace in class should be lively! If you keep an activity short, children will want to get back to it soon. Young children like to do activities over and over again. Feel free to repeat activities as long as the children are still interested.

Q: It's easy to get a young child's attention, but how do I keep his or her attention throughout the English class?

A: Plan a variety of activities that practice target vocabulary and sentences. Songs, TPR activities, working with picture cards, games that promote conversations, asking children to answer questions as they cut and paste, asking children to listen and follow directions, pantomiming and doing actions are all good ways of keeping children's attention. Change the pace of the class quickly. Moving, chanting and singing help your children stay interested in the class!

Using materials that are appealing to children also helps to maintain children's attention. Use different things: toys, puppets, masks, pictures, cutouts, their drawings, and cards- cards to hang around necks, cards to play games with a partner, cards to hold up and put somewhere while listening to what you say. Use paper of different sizes, colors and textures when you make materials. Use crayons, markers and paints. Cover cards with clear plastic paper to protect them from little hands. This way they can be used from year to year.

The key to maintaining children's attention is planning activities in which they will be participating actively (holding up cards, coloring, pointing), and doing different things (acting out, singing, miming, moving). Children naturally enjoy participating and learn as they do! Let them feel the roundness of a circle by tracing a hoop with their hands, or walk though the hoop to better understand the word through. Such activities allow children to communicate in a very natural way.

Q: Why are songs and chants a good way to motivate young children in the English classroom?

A: Children live in a musical, rhythmic world. Sounds, patterns and movement are all around them. The most spontaneous way to introduce children to language and make them feel comfortable is to involve them in music and chanting. The combination of words with the beat of a chant or song is a powerful way to help children remember the language. You can even make your own songs and chants by -

* choosing key phrases and vocabulary
* using a familiar or simple tune or rhythm.
* repeat phrases where possible to make a chorus
* add actions to the words for added fun.

Q: What is TPR, or Total Physical Response, and why is it important in teaching young children?

A: Children like to be active. TPR lets you put their natural energy to use to learn English! This approach, developed by James J. Asher, is ideal for young learners whose verbal abilities are still undeveloped. TPR provides intense listening practice of basic language as children physically respond to commands. Even the shyest children like TPR because there is no speaking involved. They just show they understand the action by doing the action. This allows children to feel successful in English from the very beginning!

Q: Why is giving feedback to young children important?

A: Children need to know if they are doing something right or wrong. Catch them doing something right and give them lots of praise! Correct children in a way that won't hurt their feelings (for example, ask everyone to practice the pronunciation of a word rather than just one child). Most of all, repeat the correct version, sometimes overemphasizing so they get the correct way of saying it.

Q: How do I teach large class sizes of young children?

A: With large groups, you may want to invite one group to do a TPR activity while the others watch. Be sure that children who are watching are involved by clapping, or saying "yes." Children should not be waiting for their turns! For example, if you are acting out weather words, some children can pretend to use umbrellas, others can pretend to be splashing in puddles and still others can make rainstorm sounds and actions. If possible, divide children into small groups to play games, and into pairs to practice conversations.

Mario Herrera

Mario Herrera is an award-winning teacher trainer with more than twenty years of teaching experience. As an academic consultant, Mr. Herrera has worked in the international ELT field for eleven years. He is the co-author of Balloons, a three-level course for kindergarten children, and a co-author of Parade, the best-selling English primary course for children.

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