Teaching Young Learners

Teaching English to Young Learners


How can we approach teaching vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation to young learners? How can we create a supportive environment that encourages young learners to learn about and reflect on their learning? Simply by considering the use of topic and activity-based teaching; in other words by planning activities across topic areas.

Planning activities for YL
Capture the YL’s interest and motivate them with appropriate and engaging activities. Monitor the learning that is taking place and provide scaffolding and guidance for all aspects of their language learning. Show them how to learn helping them become more aware of what they are doing in class. Encourage them to take a more reflective approach to learning the language.

Text by: Helen Papadopoulou

Vocabulary needs to be taught in context
1. Pictures and flashcards can be shown to children as they hear words. In addition stories with new contextualized language, games, where learners need to use the new words, chunks, or phrases as well as songs, where the new language is repeated in a fun way. The meaning of the words should be clear to the young learner.

Considerations to be taken into account when teaching pronunciation
If children start learning a foreign language early in their lives, they can attain near native-like pronunciation, but only if the models they hear are near native-like, too. Just like adults, children may have trouble pronouncing certain English-language sounds; often they do not know how to form their lips and mouths to correctly articulate some sounds.

Considerations to be taken into account when teaching grammar
For younger children, due to their level of cognitive development, it is not conceptually appropriate to present grammar as a set of explicit rules and forms to be analyzed. YLs benefit from “noticing” and paying attention to features of grammar presented as “chunks” of language in familiar contexts such as songs, dialogues, stories, and other contexts.

Few YLs benefit from memorizing rules and analyzing forms. YLs under the age of 8 or 9 benefit from many repetitions of a grammar point in different, meaningful contexts. For older children with more developed powers of analysis, grammar should continue to be presented in meaningful contexts and may include brief details about the grammar points for students to notice and think about. The balance between fluency and accuracy in activities is what helps children acquire grammar.

Teaching Grammar to Very YLs (listen & identify)

Teacher Talk:

“Look! I see a park. I see boys and girls. The boys and girls are in the park. Repeat.

Children: The boys and girls are in the park.

Ask children to listen, point, and repeat.

Teacher: These are swings.

Children: These are swings.

Teaching Grammar to YLs (Present Simple)


My father is a teacher. He teaches French. (pupils repeat)

My sister is a secretary. She types letters. (pupils repeat)

My mother is a nurse. She works in a hospital. (pupils repeat)


Ask and Answer

Teacher: What does your father do?

Pupil: He’s a teacher.

Teacher: What does he teach?

Pupil: He teaches French.


Making the English Classroom a Supportive Language Environment

Support learning through the organization of the classroom. The English classroom should support the students' learning by having: examples of students' work on the walls, picture dictionaries and storybooks available to be used, lists of different types of words on the wall, available to review labels on classroom items in English (door, window, desk) etc. to help prepare beginner students for the written language by introducing models of it


Develop an environment of trust

The language classroom needs to be a place where the young learner does not feel threatened or frightened. The teacher needs to be patient as students try new things. Create along with the class classroom rules e.g.: We will listen to each other patiently. We will help each other say things in English.  

Use a variety of materials and models to present the language

Use a variety of means to expose YLs to different language models e.g. CDs with a range of different speakers, videos, and DVDs that allow children to see the faces and mouths of those speaking English. Use a variety of written models to stimulate the visual learning of the language including books, posters, examples of children’s work, pictures with captions, and labeled objects.

Provide lots of comprehensible and contextualized language

Teachers must also remember the need to introduce lots of comprehensible and contextualized language in the English class within meaningful and purposeful activities

Encourage learners to speak out without fear of making mistakes

Use topic-based teaching (like food, pets, house, colours, and so on that allows the language to be introduced, practiced, recycled, consolidated and acquired by YLs. Many teachers and specialists in the EYL world believe that topic and activity-based teaching is the most suitable way for children to learn and use the target language.

Many English textbooks for young learners are designed around this approach. A topic and activity-based approach to learning has children linking language to interactive experiences where children talk about what they are doing, what they are seeing, and what they are experiencing.

Teachers can teach the same topics to the same group e.g.

Topic - Food Function -Talking about likes and dislikes

Teachers can teach the same topics to the same group of children over a number of years (and recycle the language), but as the children grow in age, linguistic ability, and maturity, they could be looking at different aspects of these topics, so the input never has to be the same.

Stage 1: Select the Topic
When planning lessons around a specific topic, the teacher should consider five stages: Brainstorming is one of the best ways to plan a topic and the lessons that are linked to it. Put the topic title in the center of the board.

Stage 2: Think of appropriate activities linked to the topic
Brainstorm the vocabulary that is suitable for the age group you are thinking about and is linked to this topic.

Stage 3: Consider the language for each activity Think about what language (vocabulary and structures) will be used in each activity.

Stage 4: Plan the focus/approach for each activity
Consider a class survey. Carry out a class survey of your students’ favourite food and design tasks based on their favourite food.

Stage 5: Consider the order of activities
Look at how the activities flow together, considering vocabulary and structures and the challenges required in completing each activity. After determining the desired outcome of each activity, the teacher will put together more detailed lesson plans that look more closely at the steps required to achieve the proposed goals.