Группа:Мир учителя

Статья "Teaching English to Young Learners"

Республика Казахстан, Восточно-Казахстанская область, г. Семей

КГУ«Средняя общеобразовательная школа – лицей №7» 

Учитель английского языка

Кибатбаева Марина Владимировна

Why should we use games to teach English learners in the classroom?

"Playing is a child's natural way of learning." - Genevieve Roth

         After a short discussion on what young learners like to do most during English lessons, the participants took part in various games and tasks involving movement, singing, chants and fun. I really liked the fact that participants’ ideas were incorporated in the workshop. Why are songs and games useful in class? Songs develop learners’ pronunciation and intonation, they cater for their emotional and linguistic development and also for different learning styles and multiple intelligences. Songs can also teach learners about culture and of course they provide authentic language. GAMES involve learners both physically and emotionally. Competitive games teach them about respecting the rules, cooperating with others and the power of teamwork. They improve learners’ imagination, memory and cognitive skills. Most importantly however, they motivate students and keep them on task. Some ideas: SIMON SAYS WITH A TWIST….I bet everyone knows this game, but have you tried this variation? The basic idea is the same, except that ’Simon’ says something, but does something else, whereas the learners need to follow the instructions disregarding the movement. For example: Teacher: ’Simon says touch your nose’, but he/she touches his/her eyes. The learners need to touch their noses, and try not to follow the movement. Lots of fun and can be really difficult! ZIPZAP Learners sit in a circle; they get a slip of paper each, which they cannot show to anyone. Each word appears 2-4 times depending on the size of the group. The teacher has a pile of cards with the same words. A word is called out and students with the word need to stand up and quickly swap places. The teacher (later a student) must try to take the seat of one of the students. The person left without a seat becomes the leader, gets the cards, calls out a word, etc. When the word Zip Zap is called out, everyone must stand up and swap places. This game can be used for practicing vocabulary items connected to a topic (such as animals, furniture, etc.) or lexical items connected to grammar (such as past tenses, gerunds, pronouns, etc.) Whatever task/game you are doing with young learners, it should always be taken in consideration that children love to be praised and rewarded for their work and that no learning will take place unless they are motivated and involved.

        In the first few classes with a YL group, it's often good to just sit and play with the children and not to "teach" them. This way the children will begin to relax around you and not feel threatened or worried by the new face.

Also, and this is important, it's good to speak English only. Young children who are learning languages are very proficient at working out what languages people speak and will switch automatically to what is appropriate. Even though you may understand the child's mother tongue (MT) and be able to respond, unless it's an emergency you should speak only in English with the child (while at the same time allowing the child to speak their MT).

Finally, speak naturally to the children. Don't simplify your grammar‏‎ too much and speak "baby talk" to them, just make sure you use fairly basic words and phrases.

        A first general rule is to forget teaching grammar to young learners but instead concentrate on simple, useful phrases and conversations. By this we mean don't get them to learn and practice the present continuous‏‎, instead get them to talk about what they are doing and what their friends are doing. Young children do not tend to think in the abstract so make things real: talk about what they see and what they did and what they will do. Don't practice conjugations, instead read books together and get them to talk about their family and pets.Teaching English to young learners is a whole specialized field. Here we offer just a few ideas to think about when you begin.

        In general children have much shorter attention spans than adults. This means that while it is easy to get them motivated and involved, it is also very easy to lose them if the activity is too long or complex.

This being the case, it's wise to break your lesson down into small segments. On the same lines, it's also useful to break any instructions‏‎down into small units (which you should do with any class).

For example, each activity should have an average length of perhaps 5 - 15 minutes at most. Once you see the children are getting a little bored or distracted, move on to something new.

        Children are easily motivated by reward. They will do something because they will gain something at the end. If you can turn an activity into a competition with a prize (however small) it will motivate the students.

        For children, the dominant sense is visual (as it is for most adults also, but for children it is especially important) so try to use as many visual aids as possible - flashcards‏‎ or realia‏‎ and especially toys. As children develop so too does their ability to think in an abstract sense so remember that whilst they are young it is easier for them to see a picture and understand what it is rather than hear a word and try to imagine it.

Language Development in Young Learners

The children in your class are probably still learning their own mother tongue. Although this is not going to cause a problem, remember that teaching grammar‏‎ is probably going to be out of the question since they will not even be able to apply to their own language and it will be extremely abstract for them to understand.

Instead, concentrate on teaching simple, useful language: colors, names, phrases and so on which are highly practical and useful and relevant to the classroom or their life.

Language Ability & Development in Young Learners

Even though the age of the students may be very similar, you are likely to find major differences in the abilities of your students as children develop at very different rates; this means you are very likely to be facing a mixed ability class.

To help counter this, build up a repertoire of different activities which you can change at a moment's notice. Get the class used to working in small groups‏‎ on different kinds of activities as well.

Punishment & Young Learners

Try to avoid using punishment with children (and with classes in general, but especially in the TEYL classroom). They will be noisy at times and every so often there might even be a tantrum. But stay calm and let it pass.

Instead, reward positive behavior. It is a slightly longer process but worth it in the long run. Children will work because they want to please you, rather than because they are afraid of you.

Activities for Young Learners

Children love stories and there are plenty of books you can use - children's books in English are fine with the right class since they are often very well written using very simple language. However, make sure to try and teach much of the key vocabulary‏‎ beforehand in other activities so the children do not lose track during the story telling and wander off (either mentally or literally).

Children also love games and songs so use them liberally in your class.

Mistakes from Young Learners

Avoid pointing out mistakes; instead, praise and point out correct English.

Other Children

Although you should encourage children working together in small groups, remember that young children can be very touchy about others in the class so you should avoid pushing students to work together when obviously one of them doesn't want to be there and would rather work with their friend.

         Bear in mind when teaching English as a second language and teaching English as a foreign language, that the classroom may be the students' only exposure to the language. Games to teach English learners can help to make language learning a positive and exciting experience, which will be important and motivating to the students. If we keep students motivated and engaged in the lesson, the results can be incredible!


Firsten, Richard, and Patricia Killian. The ELT Grammar Book. Alta Book Center Publishers,2002.Appendix 3.
Roth, Genevieve. Teaching Very Young Children. Richmond Publishing, 1998. Chapter 5; Action Games.

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