Once you’ve decided to embark on your career as an English teacher, the next question you need to answer is who are you going to teach English too? Most teachers find it easy to decide between kids and adults, but for those of us that go down the route of teaching children, there is the additional question of which age group. The differences between teaching kindergarten, primary and secondary school children are vast and will have a huge impact on your teaching life. In this article, we will highlight why primary-aged students might be the ideal age group for you.
Primary vs Kindergarten/Secondary
Kindergarten is probably the cutest age group to teach, but the prospect of controlling a class full of three-year-olds can be pretty daunting to a new teacher. How on earth do you teach English to children who can barely string a sentence together in their own language? Then there are the frequent problems like tears and tantrums – not to mention wetting themselves – that come with the territory of teaching little ones.
Secondary school-aged students are problematic in a whole different way. By this level, students of the same age are often widely different from each other – time is the great divider, and kids aged 11 to 18 are changing so rapidly it can make life difficult for their teacher, particularly when they’re all developing at different rates. Then add in other difficult elements like mood swings, sassy chat-back, emotional issues, skipping class… it’s a tough age group to handle.
Primary kids are the perfect in-between. They’re big enough to use the toilet themselves but not yet so grown up that they’re giving you attitude and rolling their eyes. Primary aged children have their own challenging behaviours too, but at this age a child can often be reasoned with and disciplined effectively.
The Sponge Years
There’s evidence to show that if a child starts learning a language before the age of ten, it is possible for them to achieve native fluency – something which is very difficult to attain as an older learner. While kindergarten kids probably pick up their second language faster, primary aged students are still at an age where they can absorb loads of new information. Importantly, this is also an age where it’s possible for kids to have self motivation – very few four-year-olds are driven to study a second language, but by eight or nine years old, a child has the capacity to know that they like learning language and choose to do so. This self-motivation is a brilliant tool for teachers to utilize.
Not Yet Set in Their Ways
At primary school age, children have much more distinct personalities than when they were in kindergarten, but are certainly still developing as individuals. This has so many benefits for a language teacher. Some of the positive aspects of them not yet being set in their ways are:
- they’re yet to be impacted by the low confidence which often hinders teen language learners
- they have a positive attitude – if something is fun they’ll want to do it and are unlikely to shy away from work for fear of looking nerdy
- with teenagers being exposed to so many different information channels (friends, parents, books, TV, Facebook, Twitter…) it can be hard to bring something to the class which is new for everyone. However, primary aged kids are not so widely informed and so you can still wow them with something brand new
- at this age, children love to explore – they want to learn and discover new things
- kindergarten kids are hard to control, and teens can be rude and sassy, but in terms of behaviour and punishment, primary aged kids are the most pliable. They know how to behave, and for the most part they want to be seen as a ‘good’ student.
Primary Kids Are Fun!
Toddlers are too little to understand and play many classroom games and activities, and teenagers will roll their eyes and sigh even if they actually do enjoy the activity. But primary kids are a joy to teach because they like classroom games and activities and will be more than happy to try out whatever you throw at them, as long as you pitch it correctly. There are dozens of classroom games and activities which wouldn’t work with students of other ages but which can be used to great effect in a primary classroom. Use their enthusiasm to create fun, interactive, energetic lessons.
Primary aged children are such a joy to teach. They still have respect for authority figures and often develop huge amounts of admiration for their teachers. When you think about teachers you liked best as a child, you’re probably remembering a primary school teacher. Kids of primary age want everyone to like them, teachers included, and have a lot of love to give out themselves. Of course, there are challenges and difficulties for teaching this age group, just like students of any age, but there are so many excellent reasons to focus on teaching English to this age group, they’re a great choice for a first-time teacher.
About the Author
Celia Jenkins is a TEFL teacher and freelance writer living in the UK. She spent five years teaching English in China and Japan, and now teaches Skype lessons to students around the world. She writes pedagogical articles, travel guides, and stories for children.