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Kids World

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

September 23, 2013


The dictionary defines tempo as follows:
1. the tempo of the music: speed, cadence, rhythm, beat, time, pulse; measure, meter.

Tempo need not be limited to music. I am a strong believer that EFL and ESL teachers should harness the power of tempo and use it as a catalyst in their classrooms to help make English come alive.

Since the attention span of children tends to be short, it is crucial that teachers create and maintain a tempo to lull learners into the English zone and keep them there. If lessons lack tempo, then students will easily get distracted, speak their first language and fool around, all of which do not contribute to successful lessons.

When teachers observe my classes at Little America, the most common comment is: “There was so much tempo; time went by so quickly, and no one spoke Japanese.”

I think this is because tempo is the heartbeat of successful English lessons for children. Thus, I suggest establishing tempo from the very beginning of class. Music is a great initiator for this. The teacher can play a CD featuring English songs as the students enter the classroom. The music signals to them that they are guests in the teacher’s territory as well as creating a pleasant atmosphere and laying the foundation for tempo. Even though the CD player will be turned off at some point, the beat established in the beginning via music should never stop from the beginning to the end of class. Once the teacher has established a tempo through activities, pair work, speaking, interacting and gesturing, it will act as an adhesive to keep learners focused on English.

Below are suggestions about methods that maintain tempo and contribute to a positive flow of English energy:

  • Give verbal signals for the onset of activities, such as saying “1- 2- 3- Go!” to help students get started.
  • Use TPR as a physical warm-up.
  • Do mental warm-ups with classifiers (ABCs/counting/days of the week/months of the year) in pairs.
  • Repeat requests slowly, clearly, rhythmically and loudly at least three times, for example: “You need your notebook, text book and a pencil”.
  • Ring a bell to start or end an activity.
  • Give approval publicly: “Nice homework, Paulo.” “I liked your red shoes, Fumiko.” “Good pronunciation, Francesca.”
  • Repeat commands several times with rhythm: “Hand me your homework and copy the blackboard.”
  • Gesture with your requests or commands: Pointing in the direction students should go helps them navigate themselves around English.
  • Clap to start or end an activity.
  • Walk around the room and help students with their writing while making short, simple comments to them: “Do it like this. Leave a space between words.”
  • Stand up and wait for students at the door when it is time to say farewell.

One activity should begin and flow into another with easy-to-follow steps via the teacher giving visual signals and verbal commands. The teacher’s voice should be a cushion always pulsating with commands, signals, instructions, directions, clarification and words of praise. Imagine a metronome moving back and forth as you teach your lesson. Time will fly for you, and the kids, too.

When class is over, the teacher can play the same CD of English songs as the students exit the classroom. Once the tempo is broken and the students step outside, it is only natural for students to drift back into their native language world…until next time.

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