This month, we feature a lovely article by Gloria Hernando on teaching very young learners.
I have always thought that, though sometimes difficult, the most rewarding job is working with little children. Therefore, as a lover of languages, teaching English to 3, 4 and 5 year olds is the perfect match! Children are not always in their best mood, as within a group there are some who are sometimes sick, tired, upset, bored, unmotivated, etc. Because of this we must always be ready to capture their attention before all these different possibilities just ruin a lesson and, most of all, because children just feel like doing what the others come up to do.
In the same way, my advice is to attract the leader’s attention. Identifying who the most defiant child within the group might be a good starting point and, at the same time, try to keep the uncaring and the impulsive child under control. Then, you are nearly ready to begin your lesson in a quiet, agreeable and controlled atmosphere.
Through the years, I have pulled together various resources such as quick “emergency activities” which I came up with and that really work well with early learners and pre-primary pupils. I keep this on hand for when things are not going according to plan.
I have realised that little children are able to answer to questions but, at the beginning they tend to repeat what they hear. It is not about whether they know the answer or not sometimes. I usually struggle when asking them to answer to two basic questions, such as How are you? and How old are you? What really works for me, when they do not know how to distinguish between some information or ideas, is to let them associate them to marionettes or toy puppets. In this way, they know what they are asked not because they understand the question, but because they associate the answer to visual input. We should not be worried about this because as the year goes on they will increase their knowledge and will be able to answer these questions by understanding them. This visual association of ideas can be used for anything, as long as it is educational and enjoyable for the students.
As I try to keep the children seated during the lesson to keep them quiet, they really enjoy walking around the classroom. One thing that really works is having two or three children at the time looking for different flashcards. What it can be done is to use blu-tack to stick on the wall as many flashcards, as we know, they know the vocabulary of. We will stick them all around the classroom at different heights, positions and in a very messy way. Children will see it as a challenge as they are competing with the others to find a flashcard, by knowing its meaning. Having given them permission to walk around the classroom and jump to reach for the cards will make the children feel free. As the walls are always full of pictures and displays, it will be even more difficult for them to find the cards, something that, amazingly, they really enjoy.
As a matter of fact, there are two things that reception learners cannot resist: drawing and colouring and playing with plasticine. When I see that they are getting bored or tired I hand out funny paper frame sheets. I usually prepare a frame related to the weekly topic. For example, when studying the animals, the paper frame topic would contain all the animals they are studying. We could ask them to draw a specific animal inside the frame by making the noise, saying the name or making them draw their favorite one. As the frame is full of animals, we will tell them one out of the other so they can just colour in the one said using the colour given by the teacher.
As we said before, children love plasticine so we could use it to make different animals with it. What is your favorite animal? What colour is it? They feel great if, afterwards, we stick them on the windows or on the door to show the others how well they have done.
Routines are essential for any lesson and any pupil. In my opinion, all lessons should be guided by routine jingles and rhymes as they allow children to follow instructions without having to listen to any verbal order. It avoids the teacher having to talk loudly and, sometimes, avoids frustrating situation when children do not pay attention. Saying hello and goodbye, warming-up, sitting down, starting active time, quiet time and tidying up time can always be associated to a specific rhyme that just makes the child to react when listening to it.
Every single teacher has his or her tips, sometimes they might be very simple ones and other times they will take longer to prepare and to carry out. However, from my point of view the secret ingredient when writing down the recipe for the perfect lesson is loads of affection and letting the child feel that he or she is usually doing great!