Stephen Starkweather, tutor on our Teaching Young Learners course in Prague, has nearly 10 years of experience teaching young learners in the U.S. and the Czech Republic. Here he shares some of his top tips for teaching young learners.
1. Know your learners
This may seem like common sense but it is very challenging to get to know your learners. Students at different ages are not all the same as you have no doubt seen in your experience. Children develop and are able to handle certain tasks at different ages and it is important to understand what your students can and can’t do at their particular age level. The more experience you have with certain age groups the better you will be at determining what there needs are. For example with young learners it is very important to keep the class moving and having a variety of activities that keep the students engaged. Also, it is very important to maintain transitions between the activities. However, with older young learners you can allow for a bit more freedom.
Knowing your learners and understanding what they can and can’t do is very important for successful teaching. Most important, be aware of your learners and understand that all students will develop at different rates and may have different methods of learning.
2. Know how your learners learn
Another important aspect of understanding your learners is figuring out how they learn and also what their interests are. Once you tap into a student’s interest you will get them to buy into your class and becoming willing participants. There are many different strategies you can use to get to know your learners. They can range from surveys to just simple conversations. The important thing is you know what your students’ interests are and how they learn best.
There are also many ways to understand and identify your students learning styles. One example is the Birmingham Grid for Learning. This survey can be done by the students in the classroom or you can find many printable versions on the internet. Once you have an idea of your students learning style you can use this as a resource for developing activities for you class. I have found that incorporating many multiple intelligence activities in lessons make the lessons more memorable and leads to better learning. However, we must remember that the intelligences can shift and you should not just limit your teaching to the students’ strong intelligences.
3. Understanding the needs of your students
When you walk into the classroom all of your students will have very different needs. These needs may range from educational to emotional to social. This is what causes many teachers so much stress because it is difficult to effectively meet all these demands. Hopefully, you are in a school where your students English needs are matched into groups but not all of us are that lucky. Therefore, it may be important to get the students to be your helpers. Students of all ages enjoy helping their classmates out and they can be an important source for limiting the demands that are placed on you as the teacher. This is especially effective in elementary school classrooms and with students who have you found to be empathetic. Just because you are the teacher does not mean that you are the only one who can help students learn. Get your kids in the habit of helping each other and take of the pressure off yourself.
Communication is an important factor in education and can save you a lot of stress and frustrations. When you are teaching make sure you clearly communicate your purpose and expectations to the students and get them involved in the decision making process. By bringing the students in as collaborators in their own education they will find a sense of pride in being successful.
Communication does not just end in the classroom. It is important for teachers to communicate effectively with parents as well. When teaching children the parents can be a very important asset for making sure the kids are involved and learning because the parents will probably understand the importance of learning English more than the kids do. However, it is important to open the lines of communication from the beginning so it does not seem that you are only writing to the parents when the kids become a problem. Also, tell the parents when their child has done a good job as well! The parents will be happy to hear this and the students will be proud of their sense of achievement.
5. You are not the only one that struggles!
No matter how much experience you may have you will still face challenges in the classroom. The key is to know that it does not mean you are a bad teacher. The important thing is to find someone who you can talk to about your problems and that will empathize with you. This may be an administrator, colleague or friend. Sometimes when you bring your problems to other people they can give you an objective view and help you see things more clearly. When you feel like you are overwhelmed sometimes a sympathetic ear may be the best thing for your stress.
Also, make sure you have time for yourself. The problems that you encounter in teaching do not end once the class is over but you may carry them with you for the rest of the day. This is what leads to burn out for many teachers. Therefore it is important that your job is not your whole life and you take time to treat yourself right and enjoy your life!
If you would like to learn more about Teaching Young Learners, you might be interested in our 30-hour online Teaching Young Learners course. You may also be interested in our 4-hour specialised workshop – get more information and apply here.