By Nancy Tasiopoulou, English Teacher, Doukas Primary School
Teaching young learners is a unique experience, as it brings together the use of art, music, games, storytelling and technology. Not one day in the kindergarten is the same with another, as the children’s spontaneous and inquisitive nature can lead the lesson to new paths of acquiring knowledge. Young children get bored easily and the teacher needs to continuously search for engaging material that appeal to their interests and imagination.
Setting up routines
One of the most important aspects in teaching young learners is to set up specific routines. The lesson, for example, can start with the students sitting on the carpet in a circle, on a specific spot, singing the “Hello” song, followed by any other songs they have learned so far. This helps them to settle down, get organised and make them feel comfortable that they start with something they already know. Then, the lesson can continue with the introduction of the new language in the form of flash cards, songs, or literature. The teacher can sometimes dedicate the lesson to the consolidation of already acquired knowledge with the use of games, technology or artwork. The lesson should always end in a specific way, like singing the “Goodbye” song, indicating that the lesson has come to an end and providing a smooth transition to the next one.
It is important that the teacher also establishes routines as far as tackling behavior issues. The children should know what to expect in case they do not follow class rules and this has to be made clear to them from day one. The teacher needs to be consistent with classroom management and treat all children equally and fairly.
Read out loud!
Reading children’s literature in the classroom has multiple effects in language learning. Sloan (2003) states that not only can stories cause belly laughs in the young, but can also engage their emotions and imaginative energy. By listening to a story and looking at the book’s pictures, children experience literature in a way that ignites their imagination and stirs their emotions. The teacher should vary the pitch, the volume or the tempo of the voice when necessary in order to animate the story and get the students immersed in the language. The teacher can then ask questions about how the students feel about the characters or the plot of the story. This helps them create their own voice in the classroom and pose their own questions developing, thus, their thinking skills. Reading literature in the young learner’s classroom can also help them become fluent in the target language. Children’s literature is full of repetitive patterns and refrains that facilitate the comprehension and production of the language. Young learners love to play with words and rhymes. Rhythm, alliteration and assonance appeal to their senses, especially the kinesthetic one, as they delight in moving to rhythmic chants and stories. The teacher should bring quantities of story books in the classroom so as to promote the notion that reading is a fun and interesting activity.
Music is a vital part in teaching young learners. Not only does it create a safe environment in the classroom where all voices are heard, but it also introduces and consolidates language learning. Children love to sing and, from what we hear from parents, it is the first thing they take home with them after school. Singing songs in the foreign language gives them a sense of comprehension as well as a sense of achievement. Music soothes their soul, especially to those young learners who cannot separate from their parents early in the morning. I cannot help but remember the case of a little girl coming into class sobbing and almost being unable to attend the lesson, only to find out that we were singing her favorite song and making room for her to join us. She soon overcame her difficulty and was happily singing along. Music brings children together and appeals to their naturally optimistic nature.
Playing games with young learners is a fun activity for both parts. Freeman and Freeman (2001) state that language learning is primarily a social process, meaning that students learn continuously from one another and bring their own past and present experiences in the lesson.
Games is an effective as well as fun way to have students work in teams, interact with one another, comply to classroom rules and regulate themselves in the sense of peer teaching. Students can also consolidate language through games by recalling and repeating relevant vocabulary. The teacher is the facilitator who can sometimes take part in the game, too! Technology can take the notion of gaming to another level. For example, the use of iPads in our school has helped the students play memory games, matching games or putting pictures of a story book in the right order. It is engaging, it promotes the students’ social skills, as they always work in teams, and it urges them to recall language.
Have fun with art!
There is no place to have fun with art like in a young learners’ classroom! Children love to color, play around with paint, playdough, sticks, paper and any kind of material the teacher gives them. Art work is the culmination of the lesson where the students activate their motor, thinking, as well as creative skills. They can work alone or in teams, in projects inspired by famous artists, authors or even the season they are currently in. The topics for artwork are endless and the students enjoy expressing themselves in any way they can. There is no right or wrong in art, so all voices are heard and each artwork is celebrated equally in the classroom. Exploring the language, exploring the world, exploring oneself through art is a one of a kind experience for each student, bringing learning to a whole. Goldberg (2001) believes that art gives students a sense of confidence and builds their self-esteem.
Teaching young learners
Teaching young learners can be quite an experience for a teacher, as their affectionate, spontaneous nature keeps adults on their toes. They are thirsty for knowledge and absorb everything their teacher says. However, as a final thought concerning children, I cannot help but quote Fyodor Dostoevsky who wrote in his book “The Brothers Karamazov”, “ Love children especially, for they too are sinless like angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts and, as it were, to guide us.”
Freeman, D., and Freeman, Y. (2001). Between Worlds: Access to Second Language Acquisition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Goldberg, M. (2001). Arts and Learning: An Integrated Approach to Teaching and Learning in Multicultural and Multilingual Settings. Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.
Sloan, G. (2003). The Child as Critic. Developing Literacy through Literature, K-8. New York: Teacher’s College Press.