Teaching Different Age Groups: What Works and What Doesn’t?
When teaching different age groups you’ll realize the importance of being able to relate to what is going on in your students’ worlds. You begin to look back at when you were their age and wonder what appealed to you, and if it will still resonate with them today. This article will look at how best to relate to the age group you are teaching by keeping your lessons relevant and exciting.
Anyone who has taught kindergarten knows how much energy the students have. It is a full lesson of go, go, go. As cute as the kids are, if your lesson is not jam-packed with active, high-energy games, you’re going to lose them. In order to keep the students active and entertained as well as get the target language across, you will need to be innovative.
This age group responds very well to songs, colorful images and movement. Make sure your activities include at least one of these three elements to keep them interested. Not only must the activity have movement, so should you. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Kindergartens react well to exaggerated facial expressions, big movements and loud sounds. For example teaching them about animals in the jungle is most effective when you make the sounds of the animals and role play to the students. They will not only love the acting but if the teacher is comfortable with acting like a kindergartener then they will feel more confident in the classroom and being among other students.
Keep lessons active while including the target language in fun ways. Try not to include activities which require a lot of coordination or ball skills. This age group is still developing those skills and if they are asked to do something they lack confidence in, the student will shy away and not want to participate.
With the correct balance of learning and fun these lessons will be a huge success, so clown around and enjoy being a child again.
Related: Should You? Pop Songs in ESL Lessons
Elementary School Students
Elementary students still have a ton of energy, but tend to be more focused than kindergartens. These students are now at school in structured classrooms with lessons, as opposed to the kindergarteners whose day is made up of playing indoors and outdoors. The elementary students are at a stage where they are slowly beginning to think for themselves and many of them think they already know it all.
At this age role-playing is effective, as the students like to see themselves as tiny adults. Playing games where they role-play adult occupations is fun and an easy way to include the target language. The lessons can now also include a competitive aspect as this age group does not shy away from competing with each other.
When planning a lesson for an elementary class, it is all about the balance between energy, brain work and friendly competition. Have a few high energy activities in the lesson but split the room into teams to add a competitive spirit. To balance the high energy parts have some puzzle and quiz activities where individuals can shine and show their skill. A great way to get students to produce the language to each other is to set up role-play situations or make-believe. For example, if you are teaching them shopping vocabulary, set up a small shop in the classroom. You can have each student play the role of cashier, shopper and shop assistant. This is great as not only are they having fun assuming the adult role, they are also seeing how English works in the real world.
Although this age group may seem like they know it all and like to take on adult roles, never forget they are still children so keep all the activities light-hearted and fun. Even though lessons can be more competitive than in kindergarten, keep in mind that the goal is for the students to enjoy their class and have fun while learning English.
Don’t let the junior age group make you think it is easier to teach older students. It’s not. Teaching this age group has its own challenges. Being a teenager is not an easy task, and with so much changes going on in their lives and their bodies, their confidence is up and down. You will find that your juniors have begun to care about other people’s opinions and how they are seen by others, so make sure activities are comfortable.
The best way to make this lessons for juniors work is to make them relatable. The first lesson will always be awkward no matter what, as the students are just getting to know you and their classmates. So use the first lesson to get to know them. Do this by doing a quiz, or a questionnaire to find out their favorite movies, music and things they do in their free time. Once you have this information, you are able to get to know their world, and they have had a chance to learn about each other, often finding common interests. Now that you know what their interests are, use them to make your future lessons more relevant. If the lesson is structured around a topic they understand or have an interest in, you will more easily keep them engaged.
Not only can you make use of the students’ interests, also make use of popular media channels they use. For example set out an activity where they need to make a snap chat video in English, or write up a good Instagram caption. This will encourage them to use English in their everyday lives and understand various situations that certain language is used in. Keep it fun as always, and never show judgement to something one of the students likes or follows as this can be a huge step backwards in their comfort in the classroom.
Many new teachers are afraid of teaching adult classes as most of the time you will be teaching someone older and more experienced than you. Don’t let this bother you. Remember they have come to learn a skill from you and they are feeling just as insecure for being taught by someone younger. Due to this dynamic, make the classroom a neutral place.
You will need to have a different attitude to this class as they are not children you need to discipline. Have the classroom environment feel more like a meet up of friends, a place to learn from each other and help each other out. Try not repeat words of praise like you would with younger students as this may sound condescending. Your attitude towards these students must be transparent, open and honest.
When getting to know them, find similarities between yourself and them. Talk about music, sport or current affairs around the area which the students may know about or be able to relate to. This gives a sense that you’re from the same world. With lessons on everyday English use places they know as examples. If your students like shopping, ask where they do most of their shopping, mention where you go and use these locations in your activities. Some good activities are word searches, job applications, mock telephone calls or ordering goods online.
Across any age group, we want to remember to practice patience and keep learning fun. This may seem obvious but can be forgotten once you have been teaching for a while. Always ask yourself how you would like to experience learning a language and how you would like the teacher to treat you. Keep it light-hearted and fun for all ages and turn your class into something they look forward to every time.
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About the Author
Tatum Condon is a 27-year-old South African girl with an Irish family. Her dream growing up was to be a mechanical engineer for Formula One’s McLaren Team. Name any sport which is in the water, and she is doing it… even if the water is frozen! She is currently teaching and living in the land of smiles, Thailand, while sharing stories of her adventures.