When teaching English to young French students, you may experience some difficulties that don’t happen with older children or adults. That’s why it’s important to adapt your teaching style to suit younger kids in order to help them learn as much as they can.
After all, it’s always easier (and better!) to learn new languages at a young age, rather than as an adult. Don’t worry if you’re confused or overwhelmed about how to do this. This blog is here to help you.
What are the challenges of teaching English to younger students?
- Restlessness: Young children may find it hard to sit still for a long time and are unlikely to give the teacher their full attention. They are also less likely to follow the unwritten rules of the classroom, like sitting in their seat for the whole lesson, putting up their hands to speak, etc.
- Disinterest: Unlike teens and adults, young children may see little reason to learn English, particularly if the people around them speak French and the media they consume is created or dubbed in French. They’re not thinking about the future job market and that’s totally okay.
- Strong emotions: Often we associate getting emotional with teenagers, but little kids are still learning how to manage their feelings and may not always be in complete control of their emotions. As a result, they may be more likely to drift off or disrupt the lesson.
How can we mitigate these challenges?
Write down the rules
If you have specific rules for your classroom, write them down on a poster that you display on the wall, and go over them with students before your first class. This will help to cement the rules in the minds of the children.
Encourage everyone to contribute
Some kids will be shy about talking in class, particularly in front of other kids. Encourage everyone to contribute without making them uncomfortable through methods like these:
- Have kids construct role plays that are appropriate to their skill level, so that children aren’t put on the spot. This means they are less likely to make a mistake that could embarrass them and put them off speaking up in future.
- Allow kids to work on speaking in pairs or small groups, rather than in front of the whole class.
- Get kids to explore alternative methods of speaking, for instance creating a short English-language podcast on a topic that they enjoy or talking via video chat. Sometimes, it's not the talking, but the face-to-face talking that is the problem.
Check in with your students
Speak to students before you start teaching them English to see if they have any issues that might come up during class so that you can find workarounds if you need to. It might be good to tell them about a time that you found it difficult to learn something, as this will not only show kids that certain challenges are normal, but also that they can be overcome.
It’s also important to watch out for kids who might not be comfortable expressing the difficulties that they have. Try to talk to their parents and find out if there are any particular areas that the student needs help with.
A rewards system
Young children may be incentivised to learn English in the same way that adults do for other subjects or even to get children to do chores. Have them complete activities in order to get a reward.
A good way to break it down is to give stickers for smaller tasks, like learning how to ask a new question in English, and then a certain amount of stickers can be traded in for an appropriate reward, like being given an hour of screen time to watch an English film or getting a new English kids’ book.
Don’t focus on failure
Little kids are particularly prone to small mistakes, even after being corrected a few times. It won’t do to dwell on what they got wrong, as that will only hurt their confidence and could put them off learning English. Instead, celebrate what they get right and give positive reinforcement, so that they are nudged in the right direction.
Lots of short and varied activities
Children have much shorter attention spans and no matter how fun the activity, they’ll get bored if they are just doing one thing for too long. Depending on the age of the student, keep activities to between ten and 20 minutes.
It’s also important to vary what you have the kids do so that two separate activities don’t run into each other. This might mean doing one speaking activity, then a written one, then an active one.
Make learning fun
Everyone learns better when they are having fun and getting involved, but this is especially important for young children who are much more likely to be kinaesthetic learners, rather than audio or visual. This means that you can plan little games or activities for kids that will help them learn English without realising it. If you’re looking for some suggestions, we’ve got some tried and tested ones below.
- Word games: There are some fantastic games that will help to improve kids’ vocabulary while keeping them engaged. Try Scrabble and Boggle to help them form words or Pictionary and Charades to help them link images or actions to words.
- Treasure hunt: All little kids like pretending to be pirates, particularly if there’s a prize at the end. What you’ll do is create little clues in English for kids to decode in order to lead them to the X that marks the spot. For more on how treasure hunts can help kids learn English see the below infographic.
- Art projects: Little kids love creating and there’s a lot of evidence that stimulating the creative region of the brain can help them to learn quicker. Try asking them to draw something specific to test their knowledge of English words or allow them to choose what to make, but keep talking to them about it. Some good questions include: What are you making? What do you want to use to create it; i.e. pencils, paint, clay? What colour are you going to paint it?
- Get active: Kids always have lots of energy, which can make it hard for them to keep still. Burn off that energy and get them to learn at the same time by doing a game like Simon Says. Here you can help kids learn their body parts in English as well as teaching them action words like “dance,” “jump”, or “clap.”
- Sing-alongs: Songs always get stuck in our heads, so they are a great mnemonic device for learning new vocabulary. Stick to simple songs that will teach your kids what you want them to learn, like 7 Days A Week, the Rainbow Song, or If You’re Happy and You Know It.
Hopefully, this blog has helped you figure out some great ways to help little kids learn English. However, the most important things you need is patience, empathy, and a little out-of-the-box thinking, which you’ll find were inside you all along.