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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Engaging Children in EFL Lessons

When talking about differences in EFL classes and teaching styles, differences in age always play a key role. In different stages of life, we have different strengths and weaknesses, and different priorities. Our brain chemistry is different and we have different reasons for learning. For all of these reasons, it is important to consider your students age when planning lessons.

Young children go to school because it is all they know. It is their occupation, in some ways, and they are following their parents’ instructions. While this means students turn up to class regularly, the reason they need to learn a foreign language may not be apparent to them.

The best reason to learn a foreign language is to be able to communicate comfortably with other speakers. It allows people to reach understandings, collaborate, and share in a very real way. The main reason parents put their children into EFL schools, is unfortunately not to increase communication, but to lead to a higher education standard in general and improve the student’s quality of life in the future. Children, however, often feel that they are there to meet the approval of their parents and teachers, and to achieve high test scores. Your employer may feel the reason students are there is to complete their classes, achieve success and validate the usefulness of the business. As educators, we want to open students’ minds and help them express themselves.

With all of these perceived reasons for studying flying around, it is important to find a way to amalgamate them into a positive, engaging and educational experience for the students.

The best way to plan for children is to begin to with the language target. You have to decide if it is important for them to learn. Typically, childrens’ classes are prepared according to a schedule or course book that is planned for such classes. However, you may find that some of the material is not absolutely appropriate for your students, or not particularly necessary. No matter how good the course book is, you will need to evaluate how successful each stage of the lesson would be with your class.

Once you have identified the target language and thought about which aspects of that language you will teach, you will need to prepare your presentation stage. Think about the language you use to describe the language you are teaching. Consider much metalanguage are the students familiar with, and what questions you can ask to draw out previous knowledge.

Next, you will need to look at your tasks. Once again, the school or course book may have prepared activities for you to use. Even if this is the case, it is not simply a matter of saying to students- “Begin”. You will need to guide the students and demonstrate how the task is completed. Your approach is important here. Think about creating examples that students can connect with, and remember that for most students it is better if you “show” them how to perform a task, rather than just “tell” them.

If you need to create your own tasks, there are two main things you need to consider. You will need to balance the language target with student engagement. You want to impart as much knowledge on your students as possible, but by pushing the language target too much, you can overwhelm the students or just lose their attention. You also want students to have fun and enjoy the class. Students learn better when they are having fun, however, it is important that the fun they are having also has some educational benefit.

Also, when planning tasks for students, remember to vary the ways they can interact with the target language. To maximize real language acquisition, students should have chances to see, hear, speak and write the target language. The challenge is getting them to perform these tasks in fun (and natural) ways.

Thankfully, children usually take their cue from each other, or from older role-models. In order to get students excited and involved in songs, role-plays, and discussions, it is important for the teacher to be involved as well. Don’t be afraid to look silly; the children will respect you more and will be more likely to join in if you exude a positive attitude and play-along.

Another thing to remember is that children are much more sensitive than adults. Pay attention to your students’ moods, and the dynamic of the class. While students may be enjoying the activity they are performing (such as a song or game), it may be to your advantage to bring the energy level back down to set up for your next task.

In the end, teaching children can be one of the most rewarding experiences as a TEFL instructor. The speed at which they pick up new words and make connections allow you to see real improvement, and the joy on their face when they can express their thoughts to you in English is priceless.

Do you have any more tips for teaching children? Do you have any activities that you find work particularly well? Let us know in the comments section below.

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