If you’ve ever taught English to young learners, you know how challenging it can be. It’s pretty tough to integrate target language acquisition with characteristics of young learners. Today, we’re going to give you tips on how to do it.

But before we get into it, let’s look at some characteristics of young learners in classrooms. This will help us know what’s going on under the hood so to speak.

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Characteristics of Children in Classrooms

Remember, children are children all the time. They don’t transform once they enter a learning environment. So, what we see below reflects the way young learners are.

1. Energetic

Children are by nature energetic. If they’re not, something’s probably wrong. Being energetic means they prefer burning that energy doing something. They’re just not built to sit in chairs for long periods of time.

2. Limited Attention Spans

Children have limited attention spans. And studying is often the farthest thing from their attention. A good rule of thumb is about one minute for each year of age (e.g. a five-year-old has about 5 minutes of attention span).

3. Need to Be Engaged

Having limited attention spans means children have to be engaged. Unless they’re focusing on something, their minds … and bodies will wander.

4. Like to Talk

Apart from moving their bodies, children like moving their mouths. So, they need to be able to use their speaking skills. Sitting quietly and listening to the teacher talking doesn’t quite match that.

5. Need Reinforcement

They also need a lot of reinforcement. Who among us with children can attest to that? If you say something once, you’ll surely need to repeat it. Then, say it again, and again, and again.

Read: TEYL Approaches For Effective Learner Engagement

Discussion of Characteristics in the Classroom

Let’s put it all together and create a kind of patchwork quilt using the characteristics above.

1. Energetic

Give young learners reasons to get them moving their bodies. Rather than just questions and answers from a textbook, try experimenting with various activities. Break out of the traditional routine of ‘read and answer.’

2. Limited Attention Spans

Children have limited attention spans, so why not change things up every 10 minutes or so if necessary. Try not to dwell on any one part of a lesson in its academic form for longer than that.

3. Need to Be Engaged

Find words, characters, and verb forms (e.g. find all of the present tense verbs in this paragraph). Have them underline, box, circle words, and phrases, sketch, or even color in addition to just listening.

4. Like to Talk

Don’t just ask the questions in the text like it’s an oral quiz. Try making things more conversational. Since children want to talk, let them talk. Find ways to get them asking the questions. Young learners don’t want to hear the intricate details of subject-verb agreement. They just want to talk. So, find ways to get them speaking.

5. Need Reinforcement

Young learners need constant reinforcement, so try multiple activities that do the same. Games are a great way to do this. And, they’ll learn without knowing they’re learning!
When the dots are connected, it’s easier to see what may or may not work in a young learners’ lesson. So, how can we address these characteristics to our advantage and for their English language learning benefit?

Read: Using Technology To Teach Young Learners

Tips for Teaching Young Learners in Group Classes

The suggestions below will give you a better idea of how to put things together into a class that addresses children where they are and offers language learning benefits at the same time.

1.Addressing the Energy Excess

You can get creative and do an activity I call “Finish Line.” For example, tell them they can move one step forward toward the wall (the finish line and an awaiting prize for each) only if they hear or read/see (as on a flashcard) correct statements as per the target language.

2. Keeping Their Attention

Children are quite visual, so using visual aids will get their attention. Whenever you have a language target, have images or other concrete items available. For example, if it’s a lesson on basic prepositions of place, show pictures of at, on, or in. Here, we can use the term, “target aids” in young learner lessons.

3. Engaging Them with the Lesson

Make things fun and you’ll have engaged young learners. Using the preposition target above, engage young learners with an activity. “At, On, or In” is a fun way to demonstrate these concepts. Separate your class into three groups. Ask one group to do something that reflects “at,” another group to reflect “on,” and another, “in.” That could be anything from “at” a desk, “on” a chair, or “in” a box. As long as you get them to demonstrate, you’ll have them engaged.

4. Talk, Talk, Talk

Since young learners like to talk. Let them! Give them activities that get them talking. One way to do that is to ask them to tell stories using the target language. Or, instead of you, the teacher, reading a text that demonstrates the language point, why not have them read. If it’s a group, have each person read a small portion of it out loud. Any shy students? Don’t force them.

5. Reinforcement

Games are a great way to reinforce the target language because they offer opportunities to repeat what was taught. Again, using the prepositions of place, “at, on, in,” you can do a kind of Simon Says game, replacing Simon with “teacher.” You’ll give requests such as, “Teacher says … sit ‘on’ the table.” But, then again, you can say, “Teacher says … sit ‘in’ the table.” If anyone makes a move for the table, they have to sit down.

These ideas will help you connect with young learners in such ways that make the practice of teaching them more facilitating to language acquisition. The trick is to meet them on their level. If you do, you’ll create lessons where they don’t know they’re learning!

Wrapping Things Up

Today we shared a little more about how to teach young learners in group classes. We also reviewed the characteristics of children in a language learning environment. In the end, be creative, experiment, and enjoy your lessons with your young learners. Beyond that, language acquisition will just happen.

What do you think? We welcome your comments, ideas, experiences, or suggestions about our topic today. Feel free to leave a message in the comments below.

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