Teaching children can be fun but it can also be tricky if you don’t prepare properly. Before coming to Italy, I had very little experience with children. I’d spent 9 months as an English Language Assistant in a school in the Canary Islands and I’d worked as an au pair but I’d never been responsible for a group of small children.
If you have no experience, the Internet can be a treasure trove of fantastic ideas. However, it can also be overwhelming. My teaching evolution has been very much trial and error over the last two and a half years. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. In many poor areas, you may find yourself with very limited resources so it’s best to prepare in advance. If you can, buy some cheap games before you leave your home country so you have something to use when you begin. So if you’re starting out with a group of kids and you’re not sure what to do, these tips may be helpful. At then end, you’ll find a list of the websites I use regularly to help me in my lessons.
1. Plan your year in advance
Talk to your school, find out how many lessons you have, how long they are and what the children will be expected to learn. Once you know what is expected of you, sit down and draw up a syllabus (if they don’t give you one). Remember that young children are not expected to be able to construct full sentences. You should be aiming to get them understanding short instructions and classroom language, recognising basic vocabulary and being able to repeat it. Think numbers, colours, animals, food. Don’t try to overwhelm them. In my class, we usually focus on a theme a month and introduce 3 or 4 words a week maximum.
2. Flashcards are your best friends
I love flashcards and I never go to a lesson without them. I use them with both adults and children and, very often, I make my own. I search for colouring pages that suit my vocabulary needs, print them off, colour them in and stick them onto card. Not only does it ensure that I have the vocabulary I want, the colouring also helps me relax. You can also make extra copies of the pages for the little ones to do in class.
3. Display your students’ work
Last year, we installed pinboards in our children’s room. The students were so proud and happy whenever they were able to put their work up. They would even drag their parents in to show them what they had done. We separated the boards by class and focussed on our theme each month. At the end of the month, collect your students’ work together and present it to them as a pack at the end of the year.
4. Sing your heart out
Kids love songs. If you can find a song that matches your theme, use it! First, introduce the key vocabulary before you introduce the song. Use your flashcards to do this. Then you’ll have to repeat the song every lesson and the kids will soon start picking it up. Put it on in the background while they’re colouring or playing a game and make sure you sing it, too!
5. Games galore
Just as much as singing, kids love playing games. Two of the most popular games in my classroom are Memory and Go Fish! These can be played with vocabulary from any theme. Make smaller copies of your flashcards and stick them onto card. For Memory, you’ll need two copies of each word. For Go Fish!, you’ll need either two or four copies, depending on how many words you’re doing and how many children are in the class. Memory can be used with any age and level, whereas Go Fish! is better with older children as they have to ask each other questions. With Go Fish!, write the question and answer sequence on the board.
For example, if you are learning about food, the sequence would be:
Do you like ___________ ?
Yes, I do. Here you are. (Student gives matching card)
No, I don’t. Go fish! (Student picks up a card from the pack)
If it’s about sports, it could be:
Do you play/go//do ________?
Yes, I do. Here you are.
No, I don’t. Go fish!
This game can be adapted to all vocabulary and virtually any grammar function. Just use your imagination!
6. Have Extra Activities Ready
Kids go at their own pace and very few of them will use the time you allotted to finish the activity. Some will scribble like Sonic just to finish and others will take their own sweet time. For those who finish quickly, have some extra worksheets handy that are related to the topic. If all else fails, give them some plain paper and ask them to do a drawing of something related to the topic. For those that go at their own pace, it’s very difficult to hurry them up. They could take a whole hour to finish something that should take 15 minutes. Sometimes you’ll just have to get them to finish it at home or, if it’s a craft-type activity, you may have to finish it for them so they can take it home.
7. Don’t Show Kids Where The Games Are Kept
This point kind of speaks for itself but once they know where they are, you won’t get anything done. Kids have a habit of helping themselves to what they want so keep the games out of reach and don’t let them know where they are.
8. Penguins Go To Bed
This comes from an anecdote of a colleague who had bought some animal toys to use in class. The kids ended up fighting over the penguins and she got so exasperated that in the end she had to tell them that the penguins were going to bed. Sometimes you simply have to concede defeat and admit that the activity isn’t working. When this happens, don’t try to fight the kids to save it. Move on to a different activity and continue with the lesson.
These are just some of the tips I’ve picked up in the past few years. If you have any more, let me know!
These are the sites that I use on a regular basis to help prepare my lessons