Teaching Kids: The Basics


January 21, 2014 by k. liz

I had a friend call and ask me the other day some advice for teaching language (not specifically English) to kids. I was trying to be helpful while not overwhelming, and also not super specific when the field of teaching kids is quite broad and every case is going to be different. He asked for some overall ideas, and then my thoughts on where and who to include. So, I decided while I was on the topic to give my list of top advice for teaching kids and also my answers to a couple of questions that he asked.

So, thanks to Oğuz, here is my quintessential post on teaching kids!!


5 Maxims for Teaching Kids:

  1. 405137_3529891098946_521279170_nKids are going to be much slower to catch on to concepts, but will remember much better in the long run. So, patience is key, and doing the same activities over and over and over . . . and over . . . is profitable.
  2. Kids are still developing a grammar-consciousness, so don’t spend much time on teaching ‘grammar’ . . . give examples over and over, build sentences together, but don’t focus on teaching grammar concepts. Kids go about language learning more deductively than adults, they will derive the rules later whereas adults want the rules up front.
  3. Memorization makes sense. A lot of times, teachers look down on having kids just memorize stuff, but I found when teaching Kindergarten that memorization gave students structures to fall back on in their mind. Memorization helped them link new information and use it familiar ways. So, we don’t memorize everything, but basic sentence structures and songs are a good place to start!
  4. Make it fun! When the learning is fun, the kids don’t realize that they’re learning. They will want to participate in games and activities and stories, and they don’t realize the language that they are accumulating. (I don’t think that this is strictly related to kids, either!!)
  5. Give them some freedom and authority. Now, this is definitely a matter of balance. Some kids just need to be told what to do, but some prefer the option of coloring or playing with colored blocks. Giving options can sometimes open kids up to listening and being excited about an activity. They feel that it is their idea, and they are willing to participate. **Also, semi-related to this – make a big deal about what they do. Show them videos of themselves, take pictures, hang up their drawings where they will see them . . . make them feel like what they do matters.

5 Great Activities for Teaching Kids

  • IMG_7139Anything TPR. TPR stands for Total Physical Response. This is a method of teaching where you give commands, and students follow those commands. This is really good for both introducing and checking students’ understanding.
  1. Simon Says is a great activity for this, and kids love Simon Says.
  2. Having students obey instructions – for example, coloring. Color the square red, color the circle blue . . . is a great way to check understand of basic vocabulary.
  3. Playing pretend games. I used to lead my kids around the room, swimming through a swamp, climbing a mountain, etc. I was saying what I was doing, and they were mimicking my actions. They were not producing speech, but they were hearing and thinking.
  • Stories. Kids love stories!! Reading books with good pictures (and be sure to ask questions about the pictures on every page!! What color is the caterpillar? Always ask questions they can answer!!) Tell continuing stories. Watch videos of kids cartoons (still stories!)
  1. Read a story, watch the story, act the story.
  2. Read some of a story, and then have kids finish the story with pictures and tell you in the Target Language.
  • Songs. Songs provide a good context for vocabulary and memorizing structures (see above!)
  • Highlight & Memorize Structures. I remember when I thought that I would never highlight anything for students. I thought it was funny to say the words and mark them on your fingers: “I . . . am . . . a . . . girl . . .” BUT . . . then I realized that when you highlight, it is easy to point out to students when they are missing a word. *This is great especially for English with all of those pesky little no-meaning words like articles and prepositions.*
  • Acting. Kids love to pretend! I mentioned this up in the stories point, but I remember watching the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, and then filming my student and I acting out the story. We used hats and blankets and toys to make the story come to life. Even if kids are just responding to language, this is good for their language immersion. I also did some “Kids React To . . .” videos, which my students loved. They love seeing themselves in video after a lesson! Another idea is letting kids watch and narrate a video. One particular student LOVED this activity! I would mute the video and then record (using Jing or some other program) his voice over the video. Then, we would watch it back, and I could comment on his language.

Answers to a Couple of Questions:

  1. IMG_1645Where is the best place to teach small groups of kids? In my opinion, a quiet, private place (but not the children’s room or a room with their belongings and toys in it.) This is because you want to have the freedom to do whatever it is that you want to do with kids. Teaching kids requires a bit of craziness, and so you don’t want to be in a public place for this! (I don’t anyway!) I always enjoyed teaching them in my home office.
  2. Who should be there? Again, this is my opinion, but I think that teaching with just the teacher and the students being taught is the best scenario. I have a much harder time being crazy if there are parents or other adults in the room, and if there are kids who are not part of the lesson, they will just be distracting. That being said, I LOVE teaching small groups of kids (2-5). Small groups let you play competitive games (bring on competitive bingo, simon says, battleship), and talk to each other, instead of just to the teacher/adult.
  3. How long should a kid’s lesson be? I don’t think that more than an hour at a time is a very good idea. An hour is a long time to do one-on-one with ANYBODY!! Kids need to keep changing activities, so if you break your time up and have little games to do in between each activity, then you can make any time-frame work. But, I will say that an hour seems to be a really good amount of time for young learners.

A Few Resources for You

ana aMost of these are for English teachers, because that’s what I am. But, some of them may be adaptable to other languages, and they are at least springboards for more ideas!!

  1. youtube!! Specifically, I love Kids React, Charlie & Lola, Debbie & Friends, and lots of other random videos.
  2. Barnes & Noble: online storytelling.
  3. Learn English Kids: lots of stories, videos, and activities. I love this site!
  4. Anglomaniacy: this is great for introducing basic grammar concepts and practicing one in particular (I know, I said don’t do this, but for some learners it really works.)
  5. twinkl resources & sparklebox: coloring sheets/label sheets . . . mostly classroom resources.

There are so many more, but those are my top few for you today. How about you seasoned teachers? What did I forget or leave out? What is your best advice for my friend, Oğuz, who is teaching Turkish to young learners?


2 thoughts on “Teaching Kids: The Basics

  1. debbiemac5 says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I mostly work with teenagers but teach a few kids as well and always find it difficult coming up with new ways of presenting information. It’s easy to fall into a routine so I appreciate the ideas/resources! I love Learn English Kids!

    Do you have any suggestions for keeping lessons fun/active when it’s one on one? I find that the hardest time to keep lessons exciting.

    • k. liz says:

      Hi Debbie!!

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I know exactly what you mean about the one-on-one lessons, they can be so hard!! And, they are always different! My approach with kids, which may not be the best idea, was always to have a very general idea of what the lesson was going to be about, and I would pretty much make it up as I went. I had an ‘arsenal’ of activities that I liked, and I would pick them based on the kids’ mood. Some days, they would respond really well to something, and then hate it another week! So, I would try to figure out what they needed that day and work accordingly.

      One big tip is to make sure that you have a lot of different kinds of activities that can accomplish similar goals, that way you can still teach what you need to, but you can also mix it up. Even just giving a kid a choice between two activities can make a big difference! I usually used my computer when working with kids, and I figured out which kids liked which websites the best. One student loved creating stories with pictures, so I would go to a story-telling website. That same student was not very confident with speaking, so we didn’t do narration exercises. The student that came after him, however, loved speaking and did not have much patience for drawing or creativity.

      Get to know your students, and then keep an file of activities that you can rifle through. Sometimes you will find that they will end up going much longer than you anticipated on one activity, but other times, you will plan 10 minutes and they will be finished in 2 minutes. You can’t feasibly plan two hours worth of activities for an hour lesson, but you can have lots of activities stored that can be adapted to whatever topic you are talking about. And, I think that in one-on-one lessons, you have to get a little more comfortable killing activities when they don’t work. But, at the same time, you can also repeat activities more often.

      Anyways, sorry that response got really long! Those are my thoughts on one-on-ones with kids, though. I think that there are pros and cons, and the skills I built while teaching one-on-one are so helpful!!

      Thanks again for stopping by!!

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