7 suggestions from OTTI Tutors on how to teach Very Young Learners

You’ve been given a class of very young learners and you feel lost. You have already taught a group of 8 year olds and feel that this is just so different.

What does a 4 year old look like? Do I know any 3 year olds? Can I use the same ideas and materials I used for my YL class last year? These are maybe just some of the questions that are going through your mind. There are many similarities and also some clear differences that you will need to consider.

Here are some suggestions from some of the tutors on the IH Certificate in Teaching Very Young Learners.

  1. Routines and repetition. This is very similar, all VYL (or YL) classes need clear routines to help you and the children know what to expect. Routines help the children feel safe and give them a feeling of familiarity. They also provide a clear purpose for some real language use e.g. giving instructions; greetings; etc. Using a variety of familiar games and repetition drills to practice new vocabulary are also a must in the VYL classroom.
  2. Songs and chants. Most teachers have a chant for all classroom instructions for example 1-2-3, look at me! These are a good way to help the children remember the instructions and also to learn ‘chunks’ of real language. Make sure you provide a clear model before you get the children to start any activity. Have them follow you and break the instructions down into small manageable chunks.
  3. Keep it short. Young children often find it difficult to concentrate for a long time, so it is best to have short, sharp activities that last approximately 5-10 minutes. Have realistic expectations and always have a plan B, C, D. What works one day may not work the next, what works with one group may not work with another etc.
  4.  Crafts are great! Having activities that have a tangible outcome are a good way to keep the children motivated and helps work on other aspects of their learning, such as hand-eye coordination. Don't be scared, just make sure they are achievable and again keep the instructions short and simple (and have spare copies just in case!!!)
  5. Maximise language production. Give the children ample opportunities to practise and use the new language. Some examples: They could jump to the flashcard chanting the word they are heading to; say 'Here you are.' as they give you their jacket to hang up; 'Can I have a....... please?’ can be chanted and used while they are doing a crafts activity; etc.
  6. Take time to get to know what VYLs can and can't do. Be aware that there is a huge difference between what you can expect a 2 year old and a 3 year old to do, so imagine having 2 and 4 year olds in the same class. Have they ever been in a classroom before? Can they hold a pencil? Remember (or learn!) that they aren't being rude and uncooperative if they don't want to share. This is related to their developmental stage.
  7. A positive learning environment is very important. You want them to feel positive about learning English. Take time to make sure this happens. Get down to their level when you talk to them. Being able to look at you in the eye is so much more reassuring than craning their necks to look up at you! Make this first experience of learning English a positive one.

Most of these suggestions apply equally to online and face to face teaching. However, if you are teaching Very Young Learners online, make sure you get the parents involved. They can help you with the technology from Day 1. Don't forget to nominate the children by name, ask those online to be mini helpers, counting how many children are in class for example; they can also run and get their favourite toy/something blue, etc to show to the others. Make the most of them being at home and in their own environment. For example, What can you see in your kitchen/out of the window? etc. There are many online tools that can help you too e.g. Wordwall or Educandy are just two examples.

Make the most of what is out there to help you make this teaching experience a positive one. And when you don’t know…don’t be afraid to ask!

These 7 suggestions were offered by our expert tutors on the OTTI Very Young Learners course. If you would like to get further training in the field of teaching Very Young Learners, study with our tutors, and get more practical ideas on how to teach VYLs in your specific context apply for the next course here.

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