Are young learners difficult to teach or is this a myth begging to be busted? A part of me wants to say it’s an exaggeration, but having taught young learners for a while, I’m inclined to say it’s not terribly difficult, but you “must know” what keeps them excited. The young learners I’m referring to here are children, toddlers even. There are at least three methods in the toolbox that work with (almost) any young learner: realia, TPR and flashcards. Each method can be branched out to various activities and be used over and over again for very subtle drilling. You could even mix the methods up and see what happens 🙂
First, there are different contexts in which you might be given the task of teaching (very) young learners: is it one-on-one or in a group? Is it online, in a classroom, or at home? Are the parents present or not? Can you take walks outside or to the library? These are all important points to consider because it makes it easier to prepare and foresee any obstacles you might face. I’m currently teaching children one-on-one at their home, and we can take walks outside/ to the library. However, I’m confident that whatever I’m doing works in different settings if modified a little.
Children need stimulation, therefore realia is key! They love touching and recognizing items that they see everyday but can’t name yet. I hide various objects in the room and we race to find them. When my student, Dante, finds the object, he puts it in his basket and clearly names it. Sometimes it helps if they say the colour or the size and state exactly where they found it. For example, Dante will say “I found the small purple eggplant behind the pillow! It’s mineeeee!” This last part simply means he will put it in his basket. Obviously he has a lot more items in it than I do, because, as he says, I’m really bad at this game. I do the same with his own toys; I even hide flashcards around the room (that’s a mix of two methods). This is a great activity when I want to review targeted vocabulary, for example vocabulary about colours, shapes, professions, food, indoor or outdoor objects, etc. I have a long list of activities just with realia! Email us for more and we’ll definitely share!
Flashcards are a big deal, and there are so many types of cards: there are large ones, small ones, double sided ones, ones with or without captions… the students can’t possibly be bored. One of my favourite games with flashcards is building a house of cards and then having the student try to get the cards off one after the other while naming what they see. Sometimes they guess and then they see if they got it right. Another favourite is having the student use the flashcards to teach me, or others…keep on reading. Dante’s favourite toy in the whole wide world is Buzz from Toy Story. He’ll get Buzz and his fellow friends (Woody, Jessie and Rex) to sit in a corner of the room (the classroom), and he’ll use my flashcards to teach them through the voice of Buzz. It’s hilarious, and yes, very effective!
What about TPR, Total Physical Response? Well, for this one you might as well put on your workout gear because it might get sweaty! Running around is, for some strange reason, a favourite activity for young children. This is awesome because their blood is flowing and they get really pumped. It’s okay to be silly with them. Other than the popular “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, “Ring Around the Rosie”, or “Simon Says” I’ll ask my students to run to a particular object (toy, flashcard, realia, etc.) and either bring it to me or freeze pointing at it. I’ll say “find an object that’s square!” and they will bring me one or two or even seven! We’ll run, hop, skip, fly, drive, or even swim towards the objects. I’ll definitely participate or I risk being seen as boring; who wants to learn with a boring person?
That’s all for now!
What do you think of these tools in my toolbox? I’d love to hear more ideas! Stay tuned for my next blog where I reveal even more activities using these methods and how they can be adopted for even older students.