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Using Task-Based Learning Activities to Teach English to Young Learners

  • 7 min read
  • TEYL

Task-based Learning (TBL) is one of the common approaches for teaching English to children. Young students like fun task-based activities because it’s a time for them to be active and creative, making your ESL lesson more memorable.

This blog will give you some tips for using Task-based Learning with young learners, and includes examples of 7 fun task-based activities for children at different levels.

About the Author: Rosemary Hanson completed the 250-hour TESOL Diploma and 20-hour TEYL specialist with OnTESOL. Rosemary has more than 3 years of experience teaching English in China, starting as an Assistant Teacher at a Montessori school before moving on to teaching ESL lessons at preschool and college levels.

Tips for Using Task-Based Learning Activities with Young Learners:

If you are teaching English to lower levels, it might be more challenging to develop and explain task-based exercises. This is why many English teachers in East Asia prefer communicative activities over task-based ones. If you want to try task-based exercises, there is always a way to tweak English activities for children at lower levels.

Model for Lower Level Students

Model what you expect the students to do as much as you can without taking away the creative and problem-solving aspects of an activity.

Give Written Instructions for Mixed-level or Higher Level Classes

While modeling is sufficient for explaining task-based exercises to lower level students, the addition of written instructions gives children another element to practice in the language acquisition, development, and retention process. Always write clear and concise instructions.

Check On Students Regularly

It is important to let students figure out the ESL activity on their own rather than giving up and getting the “answer” from you. It’s also crucial to make sure that they are on the right path. If they are struggling, ask leading questions that will point them in the right direction. This makes for a smoother exercise for all.

Recommended TESOL course for K-12 teachers: Add a 20-hour specialist on Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL) and Teaching English Online to the 120-hour TESOL course. Save up to CA$400 / US$320 when you register with OnTESOL.

7 Task-Based English Activities for Children

1. Story/Comic Compare

Give your students a story with a character and an occurrence. Tell them that they have a number of minutes to finish the story. Have them work in groups to practice listening to others, evaluating, responding, and compromising. Once the allotted time frame has finished, have each group present their story to the class.

Exploit as many skills as you can in your ESL lesson with collaborative and fun task-based activities to increase student engagement and communication. Asking groups to act out the end of the story or write comic strips are my favorite ways for groups to present and compare the ending of their stories.

Read: Writing a Short Book as a Fun TEYL Writing Skills Activity

2. In My Room/In My House

This is a great information gap task. It requires students to listen to another, make sense of what they’ve heard, and demonstrate their understanding through drawing. In addition to serving as an information gap task, this ESL activity enables students to practice comparing and contrasting as well.

Split the class into pairs, with each student receiving a sheet of paper. One partner will be the speaker while the other is the drawer. The speaker will describe his/her bedroom or the entire house to the drawer, who will then create it. The drawer is free to ask questions to clarify where things are. Once the drawing is complete, the students switch roles.

In the end, they will both possess a drawing of their own bedroom or house created by their classmate. As a class, you can then discuss the differences and similarities in the drawings. For example, “I have a toy box in my bedroom. Timmy does, too!”, “My house has two bedrooms, but Jane’s has three”, “Mary has three soccer balls and dolls in her toy box, I have my legos and hot rods”.

3. Tracing

TEYL classes China and abroad

Tracing is one of my favorite, low-prep English activities for children in lower level classes.

Using large cut-outs of the letters or words, or even with examples written in chalk, have students trace letters or words with different parts of their bodies.

According to the teacher’s instruction they can trace with fingers, with toes, with their heads with their elbows –any body part will do.

This will help cement the shape and mechanics of a letter, even without writing the letter on paper. It provides a mental template that they can then apply later.

4. Walking

If space permits, make your English activities for children as kinesthetic as possible. Walking can be done as an extension to the tracing activity if the there is access to an outdoor space. Students can be encouraged to walk the shape of a letter or word, the way their pencil would.

The walking activity can be done with guidelines on the ground or in small groups, by following the teacher with an example of the letter or word available for the students’ reference.

This TBL activity can even be expanded past walking to hopping, skipping, “swimming” and jumping. Kinesthetic activities will help your students retain interest and focus!

5. Dancing

Dancing is a fun task-based activity for kindergartens everywhere. It can be done to music, to a chant, in response to teacher instruction, or even better as a group activity for multiple students to form a word.

Of course, the song has to be in English to expose your students to authentic material. Start the song to let your students move and dance. Then pick a word that describes the theme of the song and is also part of the language they are learning. Students form the shape of the letters with their arms and legs.

Read: Teaching English with Songs

6. Writing on the Walls

Similar to tracing, students write letters and words with fingers, toes, elbows. This time, instead of using a template, they write from memory.

In this activity, they are writing the letters or words in different parts of the classroom – the floor, the walls, or even their fellow students’ hands – as instructed by the teacher.

This is a particularly fun and silly way to practice mechanics and recall, and is especially effective for teaching spelling to young children.

7. Building a Letter

Activities for TEYL classes

Using any material that is at hand – glass beads, woodblocks, leaves – have your ESL students “build” letters and words by placing these materials in the shape of a letter, both with and without a template.

This is particularly effective if they are using a material associated with the material: rocks spelled in rocks, or flower spelled in flowers.

This task-based activity for slows down student engagement with a word or letter. Instead of the purely mechanical act of writing and re-writing, they have a visual image that they can remember.

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