12. Younger Learners

Remember when you were young and how difficult it was to concentrate on the teacher’s lesson when there was so many interesting things going on elsewhere? As teachers we have to capture the younger students attention in fun, active and creative educational ways. Younger learners range in age from 4-10 years; pre-kindergarten to about grade 5. During these years, younger learners are exploring the world through doing, socializing, and playing. The young brain is wired to develop the rules of language through interaction with the world. However, younger students have short attention spans so as teachers we must instill language skills through clear direction and repetition through captivating fun lessons.

Song and movement or dance are creative ways to teach English and quickly grab younger student focus. Younger students are high energy so creating an environment and teaching style that preoccupy the young student is key to keep them returning to class and learning. Some of the ways to provide such an environment and teaching style is to:

  • Create a classroom that is warm, friendly and comforting
  • Clearly set simple guidelines, rules, routines, directions and transitions
  • Have a variety of fun activities that include much participation that include repetition
  • Language that is holistic; cohesive language that is interconnected to form a whole; recurring theme throughout
  • Lesson tasks that include physical activities; lesson that uses all or some human senses. The more the better.

As teachers we have to be enthusiastic in what we are teaching so the younger student will be curious hopefully then be interested in joining in. A simple fun activity is the ‘Sing out the body parts’ song together in class in unison. It goes ‘Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes, eyes, ears, head and nose’. The teacher slowly line-by-line while pointing to the body part (associates) sing out (teaches) to the class the song movement activity and the students copy the action. The teacher keeps on repeating this activity until the student memorizes the song movement activity through repetition by example. The student can use this task to learn new word vocabulary; in this case body parts. As a simple and clear song and movement activity that gets everyone involved, students will find it fun learning together. The more students involved and playing this learning ‘game’ together the better language learning skills are practiced. When the ‘Sing out the body parts’ song is learned, another exercise to master the knowledge would be an independent word search puzzle to learn the vocabulary in reading and writing practice.

Another similar way to get students involved in learning is to chant out verbs of actions while performing the actions. In this activity the 3 verbs are: Walk, Drink and Eat. The teacher repetitively chants aloud the verb ‘Walk’ while physically walking in place. The teacher would chant the verb out over and over while perform the verb physically for each verb until the students understood the association between action and meaning or the verb and then repeat after the teacher’s commands. When the verb is memorized with said action, the teacher would chant out the verb and the students would perform the action associated with the verb. Later, the teacher would do a combination of the verbs with other directional movement words like chant ‘Walk to the left’ to complete a sentence with the accompanying physical action performed to practice. The teacher could also play with verbs and directional words like chant “Eat to the right’ with accompanying physical action performed. This would test the student’s understanding of words usage in a sentence while being awkward yet fun to perform these abnormal activities. This technique is called the TPR Total physical Response approach and is very effective.

The activities mentioned above are whole classroom involvement exercises. However, they are simple and not focused on the individual learner so to teach using the learner-centered approach. Therefore, teachers have to create stations each with a different resource activity that is able to entice the students to ‘learn to play’ or ‘play to learn’. The classroom should be divided into stations where students are able to go to each station freely when done with an activity to another and be independent to setup the activity, do the activity and clean up. The teacher can roam the class helping individual students as needed.

With younger learners we can expect them to be either active and spontaneous or reserved and shy. So have activities where all young learners can feel free and also included in activities like the activities and resource stations mentioned above. Young learners are like adventurers so provide them with every opportunity they can to express their creativity and imagination using all their senses to explore and learn from.