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TEFL Training In Costa Rica | Updated: 03/11/2023

Teaching Young Learners

Written by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica

Love working with kids but wondering what it looks like in the world of teaching English as a Second Language?  In our 4-week TEFL course in Costa Rica, we will spend time explaining the ins-and-outs of working with young learners and practice appropriate activities.  In the meantime, let us explain some important things to consider when teaching these students. 

"Young learners" is a term that refers to students that are 2-12 years-old but does not refer to their English level.  You can have a group of 9-year-olds that are at the starter level of English or a group of 9-year-olds that are already at the intermediate level, so all of the activities you use in class should be at the right level of English and the cognitive childhood development.  They have to be cognitively ready for such tasks as spelling, counting, or telling the time.   For instance, most 5-year-olds don't know how to read a clock yet, so that should not be the focus of a lesson. 

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This should not come as a surprise, but remember to keep the lesson simple.  In one lesson, you will Introduce only about seven new words or phrases.  Then you will use a variety of activities that review the same vocabulary and grammar structures throughout the lesson.   Activities will be repetitive, but as long as they are engaging and are helping the students master the language being taught, the students will be interested.  Incorporate a lot of visuals or realia, which are everyday objects brought to the classroom to teach a concept.  For instance, if I am teaching a unit on school vocabulary, I bring in actual school supplies:  a backpack, a notebook, pencils etc.  This allows the students to get a better understanding of what I am saying. 

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Also make an effort to address kinesthetic (movement), musical, and naturalistic intelligences . Another important thing to consider when planning lessons for young learners is that children typically have a shorter attention span than adults.  Each activities should last five to ten minutes.  This can sound daunting when it comes to lesson planning, but don't forget, young learners will be willing to do an activity week after week if they really enjoy it!  If I try to do an activity in a class with adult students that I did last week, they are going to say, "Come on, teacher!  We just did this activity!" 

Using Visual Aids & Technology in the Classroom

Listening and speaking are the most important skills in these classrooms as most of your young learners will not yet be fluent at reading and writing, even in their first language.  Therefore, your lessons will include a lot of pictures, drawings, actions, sounds, singing and dancing.  Even when students don't feel comfortable speaking, they can perform nonverbal responses, like doing actions and  pointing at things, to show you they understand.  Simon Says is a perfect example of this type of activity. 

One of the most challenging parts to working with young learners is classroom management.  Kids tend to get off-task and can find themselves in trouble.  We recommend creating a short list of classroom rules and instead of punishing bad behavior, reward the good behavior.  Focus on behaviors you want, not what you don't want.  Give lots of positive feedback! Establish a routine, so students always know what the expectations are.  Alternate quiet activities with those that require movement, and model all activities for the students.  Classroom management is a fine balance between stimulating motivation and dealing with discipline issues, but make sure you are consistent, persistent and fair. 

Once you get into a routine as a teacher and find your teaching personality, you will love working with young learners!  They are sponges just waiting for all of the information you have to share with them!  Want to learn more about working with young learners?  Sign up for one of our 4-week TEFL courses today!

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