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Tips for Teaching English to Young Learners in Turkey

Most entry-level ESL teaching jobs in Turkey involve teaching young learners or high school students. In this article, OnTESOL Graduate Yasmin Ozturk explores different approaches and techniques to consider with young learners.

Recommended for teaching English to Young Learners: CELTA-equivalent 120-hour TESOL with 20-hour TEYL specialist. Save CA $199 / US $150 when you combine both courses.

Teaching Kindergarten to Primary Students in Turkey

Turkish people typically first encounter English in kindergarten and their early experience tends to be very positive. What is expected in young learner classrooms is a dynamic experience, with children coloring in pictures, singing songs or answering simple questions, and playing games. Flashcards and vocabulary drills work well, as they will give all learners the chance to speak and improve their pronunciation. Songs are also good for young learners in Turkey.

While there are certain schools where English is the main language of instruction, English is normally taught for a couple of hours a week as a stand-alone subject. Therein lies the main problem: the parents, probably having not had the same opportunities during their childhood, may expect miracles from this limited exposure. While it may seem cruel to give young children homework, assigning fun coloring and matching activities to do at home will placate eager parents and help to extend their exposure to the English language.

Teaching High School Students in Turkey

English is also taught in the national education system, although with a varying degree of enthusiasm and success depending on the particular institution. Starting in the second grade, English is a key subject in the national curriculum right through high school. Nevertheless, it isn’t part of the official university entrance exam, meaning that English receives less and less attention as students progress through their high school years. Despite this, teaching in a Turkish high school can be a rewarding experience.

The English presented in-state school course books at each grade tends to be largely a repetition of the previous years’ work. This offers both a challenge and an opportunity. Students will have little motivation to go over the grammar structures they already know, but this means they are open to new techniques and activities. They seriously love technology and any attempt to use technology in the ESL class will be appreciated.

A great way to motivate teenage learners is to get them working in groups, researching topics on the internet, making posters and presentations on laptops, and playing online games. Students will generally be happy to do coursebook related exercises, such as gap fills and multiple-choice exercises, for homework, if it means that they can do something more engaging during class time.

Turkish high school students are acutely aware that being able to speak English well will be a big advantage to them in their future. Consequently, they often feel frustrated by the lack of importance placed on English by their educational system. Making presentations and class discussions are great activities, as they give students the chance to improve their speaking skills.

Rote Memorization vs Communicative Language Teaching

In order to better adapt one’s teaching style for ESL instruction in Turkey, it is necessary to understand the general education system and mentality. Turkey’s education system renders the value of daily education almost moot, as getting from elementary school to high school even requires passing a standardized test.

The prep school industry here is huge. This means that no matter how good the education at whatever school, kids still essentially have to make their way through the system by learning from rote. This means that attempting to engage students in the Communicative Approach and Task-Based Learning takes a little more effort than it normally might.

Using Communicative Language Teaching methods in Turkey slices two ways. It can take some time to adapt because ESL students, who are used to being taught through the Direct Method, may interpret an instructor attempting role-plays or popping in a video for context as gimmicky. If you manage to push through this, however, ESL students enjoy the Communicative Language Teaching lessons because it’s a refreshingly different way of learning than what they’re used to and it also shows greater results in their learning.

The tendency for ESL schools in Turkey to offer modern and international experiences has made it easier to teach English with the Communicative Language Teaching method. In my experience as an ESL teacher before and after completing my TESOL certification with OnTESOL, I can tell that both Direct and Communicative methods are effective for teaching grammar and vocabulary but I found that communicative and task-based ESL lessons are much more effective at teaching communication skills.

When looking for a TESOL job in Turkey, I recommend asking in job interviews or doing some research on the school you are thinking of working at or applying to, to see if a) they have had a system in place for any significant duration of time, and b) if they are an organization that is less inclined to the direct and translation methods.

Class Sizes

Class sizes can vary to anywhere from 8-10 students to 30-40 students. High schools generally have larger classes, with public high schools having the highest number while private high schools depend entirely on the school; they can be very large or small.

There are a lot of private preschools that provide good work as well. They usually have classes in the 10-20 student range, which I prefer because there are enough students for engaging group activities but not that many that you cannot pay enough attention to every one of them.

Resources

You should also inquire with any school about what materials and resources they have available. This varies greatly. Some schools will tell you they do not want to push technology on young children, and so their preschool will have no computers, and will sometimes expect instructors to purchase their own materials – more often than not a cost-saving ‘approach’.

On the other hand, there will be schools that expect you to be able to present all your lessons with the aid of projection materials and fluency with PowerPoint. You should probably base your decision on what school to work with on this fact, as the best ESL employers in Turkey will generally prefer something between the two extremes; possessing average computer fluency and making do with the essential technologies and authentic materials.

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