• Teaching Young Learners


    In the TESOL Course, we have come across the characteristics as well as the techniques of the young learners. In the following, I will try to point out briefly their different characteristics of this particular age group.

    Teaching the young learners requires different techniques as these children have different characteristics which can be categorized in three groups.

    The first is the very young ones i.e. from aged 7 years and less. These children have a very limited vocabulary and have not even mastered the grammar of their mother tongue. They have shorter attention span, are very curious, lots of imagination, easily distracted, full of energy and want to do things themselves.

    With this in mind, the techniques applied are lessons with short stories, rhymes, songs as well as lots of repetition.

    The second group is the 8 to 12 years old. Some of the characteristics of this group are: fast growing children, interested in varied activities, and love to discover things. They are interested in facts - like history and geography, and are very creative. They also like to read, write, pretend, imitate and want adult approval and are in “age of activity”.

    Hence since they respond well to being asked to use their imagination, they may well be involved in puzzle-like activities, making things, drawings things, in games, in physical movement and songs.

    The last group is described as the early teen i.e. 13 plus. They are in the “age of change”, a transition from childhood to adulthood. These children have a keen mind, a need to be challenged to learn, often unmotivated, self conscious, and a search for individual identity. Though they may be unwilling to take risks or experiment with language, they have a great capacity to learn and a great potential for creativity.

    Hence the teacher’s work is to “provoke student engagement with relevant materials” without hurting their self-esteem.

    However, though there are different techniques for different age group, there are some general guidelines for teaching young learners. Some are them are:

    • to always use English as the language of instruction,
    • to use short and direct sentences when speaking to them,
    • to speak slowly,
    • to give clear demonstrations of the response we require from them,
    • to be on eye-level when communicating with them,
    • not to put the individual child “on the spot” to produce language or a response.

    The above techniques will be not enough without taking account class discipline management. If the most important factors in a classroom are the teacher’s behaviour and attitude, we also need to think of external problems like: problems at home, seeking attention or peer pressure.

    Since young learners are very sensitive to unfairness and to peer pressure, the teacher needs to be consistent in class discipline, as well as not to threaten or inflict physical violence. He/She must not have favourites, or pressurize them in participating in lessons. The teacher must also give them equal attention they crave, and get them involved as much as possible

    However, after pointing all these, we also need to consider the cultural and social factors. Different countries have different needs, and different cultures have different ways of viewing things and before applying the above techniques, we need a very clear understanding of their culture.

    In conclusion, teaching young learners is a life-continuum process that each teacher needs to be aware. In my short experience of teaching young learners, I have been able to apply part of the above mentioned techniques, and now have learnt new ones, I will be sure to expect more challenges as well as a more very rewarding experience in teaching English.

    Source :

    • ITT Units 001, 019
    • The practice of English language teaching - Jeremy Harmer
    • Sunday School Teacher’s training course - Caroll Waddell

    Jane M. CHEUNG