10 things I miss about teaching young learners
By Xana de Nagy
I have always loved teaching Young Learners but unfortunately nowadays I don’t get to do much teaching as I spend more time training teachers of young learners both online and face-to-face. Over the past weeks, we have all spent a lot of time sharing ideas about teaching online and this got me thinking about what I miss about the day-to-day teaching of YLs.
This reflection has also made me think about the ‘type’ of teacher I like to think I am. My teaching and training beliefs are similar. For example, when talking about assessment, I fall on the side of continuous and less formal assessment. I also don’t think I am a disciplinarian and I like to think that I believe in making the learning and training experience as positive as possible for both learners and teachers alike.
With that in mind, here are 10 things I love about teaching YLs:
1. The fun
There is no doubt that teaching YLs is fun. By this, I don’t mean that the lessons are all about fun and games. It is possible to ‘teach’ and have fun. The challenge of making activities enjoyable for the children is an important one. Adults also need to feel engaged in the lessons, but they come to class with a different attitude and an awareness that it isn’t always about being fun but that it is necessary.
*A useful tip – always start and end the lesson with something fun. You can do a quick review activity at the start of the lesson or a game at the end to recap what was covered.
2. The rewarding nature of the teaching
Teaching YLs, and especially low levels, is particularly rewarding. There is nothing like seeing them progress and be able to use language they have learnt in class. Teaching YLs, you get to see this more often: sometimes it is just a new word, a chunk they have picked up, or even the fact that they have understood and followed your instructions…finally.
*A useful activity – record their learning in some way. Wall charts, posters, making their own mini books are all good ways of keeping a record of what has been learnt.
3. Their spontaneity
YLs, and Teens to a certain extent, are very spontaneous. They think it, they say it. They react in a very honest way to what is happening in class. In contrast, adults tend to reflect more before responding to what is happening in class.
*A useful tip – don’t overreact to what they say and do. Sometimes their spontaneity might not be what you were expecting or in some cases might not be appropriate. Try to turn it into something positive, react naturally but calmly to what they say and do.
4. Their enthusiasm
Most of the time YLs are enthusiastic about what is happening in class. Of course, there are always some classes and some learners who feel they do not want to be there and are less enthusiastic. Again, this is one of the great challenges of YL teaching – find the trigger, the thing that motivates them to come to class, to participate actively, to engage with the material.
*A useful resource – stories, always stories. There are stories for all ages and everyone loves a story.
5. Their naughtiness
An unusual one I know. I like this. I like that sometimes they are naughty and respond in a very genuine way. It is natural for children to be naughty and again it is the teacher’s job to challenge that energy in a more positive way. I know that this is sometimes a problem for teachers of YLs and Teens and I would be lying if I said that I have not struggled with some classes in the past. However, overall, I would say that these classes and their ‘naughty’ moments, always helped me grow as a teacher as it made me reflect on why they were behaving that way and what I could do to deal with this situation. The surliness of teens is odd, I know, but it goes back to the challenge of winning them over and trying to motivate and engage them in the experience of learning.
*A useful tip – make sure they know what is acceptable and what isn’t. Classroom routines are essential to help you manage these moments.
6. The ‘no lesson feels the same’ feeling
This is relevant to all classes, no matter what the age, but it is one of the things that makes teaching such an amazing experience. Every class has a different feel, a different personality, different challenges and so no two days are the same.
*A useful tip – notice these differences. Sometimes you teach the same lesson two or three times with different groups. What works with one group might not work with another. Why not? What makes it different? What can this teach you about your own teaching, the learners, etc. Experiment with differentiation to help you expand your range and ability to deal with a variety of learners.
7. The materials
On a typical day, a teacher teaching YLs, teens and adults gets to use materials that are interesting and varied. You can use lots of visual prompts, do some handicrafts, relate to new social trends, discuss current affairs, etc.
*A useful resource – short films and trailers are a great source of material for all ages and levels.
8. The interaction with children and teens
We all have stories of interesting conversations we have had with young children and teenagers that keep us on our toes. On a ‘selfish’ note, it also helps us stay ‘young’ and in touch with what’s trending in the world, especially with teens.
*A useful activity – incorporate more ‘chat’ into your lessons. Plan for a five-minute chat at the start or end of the lesson, let them chat to each other, to you, share their own stories, experiences, etc.
9. The laughter and silliness at times
It’s fun to laugh and YLs are good at this.
*A useful tip – fun and laughter can sometimes get out of hand. Make sure you have thought about this and make sure there is a clear focus in what you are doing.
10. The challenge
Anyone teaching YLs knows that it is a challenge. It’s easy to keep them busy but it is more challenging to ‘teach’ them. You are not only dealing with the children themselves but also with their parents and their expectations.
*A useful tip – the old favourite of ‘take-aways’: make sure that they learn something new in each lesson, no matter how small it is. This is the ‘take-away’ they leave the class with.
Wrap up: Same but different
Interestingly all of these would apply to both online and face-to-face teaching. In recent times, we have all had to adapt our methodology to the online context and in many cases, some activities and materials have had to be changed to suit the different platforms. However, our beliefs and principles as teachers remain the same. How we respond to learners shouldn’t change, our classroom routines should still be in place and our learners are still the same too.
What about you? What do you like or miss about teaching YLs? What does this tell you about your teaching beliefs?
Author's bio: Xana de Nagy is a teacher/teacher trainer in Lisbon. She started teaching in 1984 and training in 1990. She spends most of her time working on CELTA courses, but also trains on IHCAM, DELTA, IHCYLT courses and runs sessions for state school teachers. She has always had a special interest in teaching children and has a MSc in TEYL