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TESOL Abroad: Teaching English to Kindergarten Students in South Korea

Although I enjoyed the majority of my classes as an English teacher in South Korea, I can’t help but admit that I did have a favorite group, my Kindergarten class. These little ones were the beam of light that started my teaching day, radiating all the happiness and eagerness to learn that you’d expect from 5-year-olds.

Setting Expectations for Teaching Beginners

If you get assigned to teach English to a Kindergarten class in South Korea, there is a very good chance that your young students will enter your classroom without ever hearing (let alone speaking) a word of English. While this can be daunting, especially for new teachers, try to embrace the positives.

These students are complete clean slates, not yet victims of the mistakes or habits of others, and not yet confused by the accents, styles, and methodologies of other teachers. They are the perfect canvases for us as teachers to get them excited about learning a foreign language and set them off in a great direction educationally.

Of course, teaching English to absolute beginners means you must start from the absolute beginning. It can be easy to get carried away with incidental language that is far too difficult for Kindergarten students to understand, so it’s crucial to pay extra attention to your body language, speed, tone, and pronunciation.

Kindergarten ESL classes start from the very beginning, with greetings, introductions, and the alphabet. Although children’s minds are typically like sponges, it’s important not to rush through the class just because they nod their heads in apparent understanding. The OnTESOL Graduate blog offers more articles on teaching beginners in South Korea.

Remember that these kiddos are just starting regular school in their native language, as well, so you can’t have too high of expectations for them. The overall goal of Kindergarten, for me anyway, was to inspire the kids to enjoy English class and want to continue actively studying it. My Hagwon employers clearly agreed with this approach and style, because I was the only teacher who was repeatedly given Kindergarten classes.

When I was teaching English in South Korea, I found that students became more timid, shy, and stressed with age as they progress through the public school system. However, this never applied to my Kindergarten students because they haven’t yet developed any of these characteristics and traits.

The younger children never cared that they couldn’t speak English. As long as I appeared happy and eager, they felt comfortable trying to communicate. Even if they tried to share a weekend experience with me minus a verb and an object, I always encouraged their free talk in order to make them feel comfortable with trying.

I heard some great words of wisdom once, and I applied them daily to teaching the younger students: a smile is the same in every language. As long as I greeted my Kindergarten students with a smile and an enthusiastic, “Hello!”, they were excited about class and prepared to learn, even when we had to do the more ‘boring’ tasks of tracing and writing letters and completing the typical assessments to demonstrate the students’ progress to parents and administrators.

The best part about teaching Kindergarten is the freedom from the strict curriculum. Because these learners are at such a basic level, you have the freedom (and responsibility) to supplement lessons with better activities. Don’t be scared of this! Just take a quality TESOL certification course to teach you how to plan your English lessons, and don’t forget that kids are pretty easy to entertain.

Keep it Fun and Keep The Class Moving!

The TESOL course you completed hopefully prepared you to plan lessons using Task-based Learning and Total Physical Response. If not, I recommend the 120-hour TESOL certificate program with a 20-hour TEYL specialist for young learners offered by OnTESOL.

I utilized ESL games, songs, interactive stories that usually turned into plays, and super dramatic actions to get my young ones practicing their newly-acquired English skills. I also created a life-sized game board using the floor of the classroom. Students had to jump like frogs from space to space and read the letter or blend the sounds written on the paper spaces (i.e. cat, bat, pig, wig, etc.). I never had a single student who didn’t enjoy this game, and they never got sick of trying. Charades is an excellent option for teaching animal names and basic verbs and is a sure-fire way to have your students rolling around in blissful laughter.

One of my Kindergarten classes’ favorite activities came from the very beginning of the school year. After learning and practicing the alphabet for a few weeks, I would instruct them all to stand in a line. I would shout out a letter name, and the students had 10 seconds to make the shape of the letter on the floor, using their bodies as a group. We had Kindergarten classes on the carpeted floor of the library, so perhaps exercise some judgment when choosing an activity.

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