How do you teach English to children who haven’t mastered their mother tongue? Teaching Tiny Tots can be lots of fun! They have endless enthusiasm, bundles of energy and love learning languages. It can also be challenging! Can you organise activities and give explanations when nobody understands what you are saying? Is it possible to develop classroom routines and a code of behaviour with a language barrier? Here are some tips that I found useful!
Be confident and have fun!
Facing a new class can be daunting! Appearing confident is key! Remember that you are the grown-up! At this age it’s all about learning through play, so try to plan lessons packed full of fun learning activities and games. Be enthusiastic – they will be excited if you are!
Introduce vital vocabulary!
Consider what are the most essential words the children need to know. Using these you can build your classroom routines and make your behavioural expectations clear. What words do the children need to communicate with you? Eg. the words toilet and water are vital! What do you need them to know? Teaching some basic phrases will make your classes run smoothly! My favourites were: stand up, sit down, stand at the wall, over here, in a circle . Make sure that you accompany each new word with a gesture or a demonstration and use the same one each time so that the children come to associate the word with the action.
Order your topics carefully!
Start with very basic topics that are solely focused on learning vocabulary; the colours are a good topic to start with as the children simply need to identify the colours. As their vocabulary improves you can move onto things that also need conceptual understanding; for instance, to learn numbers the children need both the vocab and an understanding of what a number is!
Include lots of songs!
They’re great fun and introduce lots of vocabulary! The kids will love learning the lyrics and dance moves! Be careful with your song choice. Make sure that you choose something very simple with easy actions! Here are my three favourites sources:
Super Simple Songs: Nicely animated! Lots of the traditional children’s songs! Simple actions! Great for leaving on in the background during activities!
Dream English Kids: Lots of songs on a variety of vocab topics! Easy to learn actions and lyrics! Good for introducing vocab needed for a topic!
The Kiboomers: Lots of simple action songs! Covers lots of different topics! Also uses lots of traditional songs!
Keep it simple and repetitive!
You won’t be able to explain much so keep games simple! Try to plan activities with repetitive and similar instructions. This way the children learn the vocab needed. As their vocabulary grows, you’ll be able to play more complex games!
Vary the type of activity!
Use different methods to help the children learn. Try to alternate movement games (Eg. dance, acting) with sitting down activities. If the children have been doing activities that involve a lot of listening, break this up with some independent learning (art and craft which reinforces the vocabulary can be a good choice). Make sure to keep a time limit on activities – it’s best to change once the children are no longer engaged!
As the children’s language progresses you can plan more elaborate lessons. There are lots of children’s books around which a whole lesson or series of lessons can be based. Many of these are focused on the topics that you will be teaching. You can often find and create songs, arts and crafts activities, interactive and movement games all linked to one story. I’ve found Pinterest to be great for inspiration. It also has lots of links to other useful sites!