Teaching English to elementary-aged children is fun, is exhausting, and requires much improvisation. My experience as an English teacher in South Korea focused heavily on teaching students of this age, and I have lived to tell the tale if that comforts your nerves a bit.
While many aspects, such as the necessity of a sense of humor and creativity, remain on par with teaching all young students, there is one particularly distinct difference (Or advantage in my view): elementary students have been exposed to English before. In South Korea, all students study English at school through the EPIK program, and many continue their studies at an English hagwon in the evening.
How you approach lessons will differ slightly depending on whether you are working in the school system or at a private after-school hagwon. You have much more freedom in the lessons, for example, when you work in an evening language academy.
Regular schools have a curriculum to follow, and you will typically have a Korean co-teacher present during your lessons. This can be both an advantage, for translation and disciplinary purposes, or a hindrance, if they are not on the same methodological plane as you.
An important thing to remember when teaching elementary school students is that, even though a large amount of pressure is put on them already by their other classes, they are still kids who like to laugh and have fun.
I found that most elementary ESL textbooks in South Korea drill vocabulary and grammar, offering little to no supplemental activity suggestions. For this reason, using activities that get kids learning in a physically active way is my route of choice. I was a hagwon teacher, receiving my students in class after they’d already spent eight to nine hours in other classrooms. Without movement, elementary students are bound to doze off into robot mode.
EPIK schools and hagwons in South Korea will have a requirement to teach a certain number of sections from the textbook each day. Do this and be as quickly as possible before moving on to making the ESL class more engaging with a task or game.
Supplementing the textbook with fun activities is neither lazy nor non-educational. As you probably already learned on your TESOL course, it requires more work but it is more rewarding for your students. The textbook serves as a guide on the topics you need to teach, so you can make ties between the material and the activities you want to use with your elementary students. The OnTESOL Graduate blog offers some articles on supplementing the Cheonjae textbook for elementary students in South Korea.
Recommended TESOL certification for teaching elementary students South Korea: –Online TESOL Course with Teaching Young Learners Specialization!–
Use Games to Teach English to Elementary Students
In order to really learn, as opposed to memorizing sentence frames for a test, kids need to have fun. “Trick” them, in a way, into forgetting that they are in a classroom. English teachers are literally the only teacher that they see during the day who has the option and ability to do have fun while learning. All kids love games, in some way, shape, or form.
While it can be a challenge to create a game, task, or activity that appeals to all of the differing personalities of your students, it is your duty to try. Any grammar or vocabulary practice can be made into a full-body activity- seriously.
Type sentences onto paper and cut them into segments, challenging pairs of students to be the fastest to put them back in logical, working order. Honestly, almost any kid in any country will respond to the use of a timer. Use a ball to ‘popcorn’ spell or work on grammar patterns. Challenge students to be able to complete humorous comics using the topics at hand. There are so many ways to go above-and-beyond filling-in the blank and reciting material over and over again.
When I say, “Get creative!”, I realize that this is surely a challenge, especially for new English teachers and with particularly challenging classes. No one assumes (or at least they shouldn’t) that you alone have all the answers to every situation.
Utilize online resources and work together with your coworkers to share things that work and don’t work. Working completely independently would be a waste of time, not to mention limiting for your students. There are so many resources out there to help people like you: use them and pay it forward!
Of course, not every method and activity will work for every scenario and for every group. This is something you must accept and be able to adapt to. Embrace it and move on from the frustration of a textbook heavy educational system, and give your students a reason to enjoy coming to English class.
Teaching abroad is often an awkward and ridiculous experience, and you will surely find yourself doing things that you never imagined yourself doing, just so that one quiet and unconfident student will have a laugh.