Monday, 25 January 2016 02:14

ESL: What Young Learners Need

Young ESL Learners are young children who are just venturing out into the world and learning new things everyday. Coming to a language school might be a little frightening for some younger ones, so it is important that you create an environment in the classroom which is fun and relaxed.
Although Younger Learner students are often learning very basic words and sentences, you can (and should) plan some really creative and fun things for the children to do in class to get them using the language and interacting with one another and you.
Young Learners always love movement, music, things to sing along to and active games in class. They will follow your lead, so it is important that you personally break down the barriers as an adult and sing and dance along in class with them! Make sure that you are giving lots of encouragement and reward good behavior at every turn. A little star sticker on the back of the hand can do wonders for a child's self-confidence and self-belief. Create a safe, fun and stress-free classroom and remember to involve everyone, especially the naturally shy ones.
Young Learner Behavior
Young Learners have short attention spans and are easily distracted in class, so be sure to make your exercises and classroom activities fun and short. Even the best thought-out activities lasting 25 minutes are probably doomed to failure because childrens' brains just are not designed to stay focused that long. Make sure that you stay active, with energetic expressions to keep the kids focused on you and the activity in hand.

Create a Good Routine for Your Young Learner Classes
Get your students used to how to behave in your classes. Teach them early on to raise their hands before asking questions and not to talk over you. It is worth spending time getting this right in the first few lessons, as a well-organized, happy group of children will learn far more language over the time spent with you than if kids are allowed speak over you and generally be a bit too noisy. Children will naturally look to teachers and adults for guidance on how to behave, so set your stall out early and get a well-behaved atmosphere going quickly.
Organizing the class into three of four teams or 'houses' works well, as you can award points for good behavior or take points away for lapses. The young children love this kind of competition and it will be harder for children to misbehave if they feel that the whole team may lose points. In general, your teaching will be far more productive, as will their learning, if you create good class rules and have a good routine.
What Should You Focus On in Young Learner Classes?
The main focus on your ESL lessons should be communication and laying a good foundation for maintaining an interest in English. Students should practice pronunciation of the words, as getting this right early will have huge benefits to their language skills throughout their life. Young Learners should also learn material such as the alphabet, numbers, colours, fruits, animals and so on. There are some great ESL flashcards out there, so make sure you use these in class. Many children are very visual learners, so these flashcards will help, in addition to all the fun games you can play with them.
Introduce new vocabulary slowly and choose simple sentences that the children can practice with each other and where they can replace key vocabulary with new material. This will help the students to retain the vocabulary, as well as getting the sentences right. Make sure that part of your class reviews what was learnt in the class before. This will help the students to retain and recall language. Give out praise often.
Little Tips for Young Learner Classes
There are a couple of extra things you can do to make your little ones really succeed. Chinese parents expect homework to be set and the kids are used to it, even from a very young age. Although you may feel that this is wrong, it is the cultural norm here, so please get used to it and don't feel bad in any way. Use the homework you set to reinforce what you have taught in that day's class. It will help each child to retain what you have taught and you'll get good results and children feeling good about themselves when they remember the words. Make the homework fun and not too hard. Encourage students to do their best and not to worry about making mistakes. Check the homework at the same time in the every class. Create a routine and stick to it.

Quality Language Games and Play for Children
Create language games and activities that are fun and interesting. Help students to interact well with each other by doing pair-work, group work and team games; mix things up. Try to review material often and add new material slowly with lots of repetition. You will see marvelous results! The most important thing I can say is to make sure you have fun in each class. Use flashcards and puppets which talk to each other! Put a big smile on your face and keep it there. Make the children feel special and they'll soon be rushing in for your classes. Make your classes the highlight of their week!
By Stuart Allen


Stuart Allen has been an English teacher since 2002 and has taught Chinese, French, Italian, Austrian, Korean and Spanish students, both in the UK and China. He runs two successful TEFL blogs in China and is a well-known voice in the China TEFL industry. Stuart is the founder and owner of
“Sarah, what song are we going to listen to next week?” One of the students excitedly asked me after I finished my weekly music class. “You’ll have to wait and see,” I replied with a mischievous grin and walked away, leaving my student hanging on a cliff.  I don’t usually tell my students what song we’ll be listening to next, but rather tell them to expect the unexpected.
I’ve taught my music mystery class for more than two years and I can honestly say that it never gets boring or old, because you’re highly unlikely to ever run out of material. With music there is so much you can do. Listening to an English song in the classroom isn’t only a great opportunity for students to practice their listening skills, but also gives them the chance to talk about the meaning of the lyrics, learn new words and grammar structures.
While I seldom focus on the grammar in my music class, I do insist that students point out ‘mistakes’ in the song lyrics and tell me how they should be said. This helps them to differentiate between slang and Standard English.
A gap fill exercise is a wonderful way for the students to listen to the lyrics carefully and complete the lyrics on their own, but if you do that in every class students will get bored. Instead, engage the students with a competition: You simply pick a song; then you choose about twenty words from the lyrics. Add about five words that sound similar to some of the chosen words but are not in the song, then print it all out and stick the individual words on the wall or board in the class. Don’t tell the students about the wrong words, just ask them to listen carefully and grab the words they hear. For every wrong word they chose, they must give up one of their right words. It’s a wonderful competition to get the students out of their seats and actively involve them in the class.
Alternatively you can cut up the song lyrics, put the students into groups and ask them to put the lyrics into the right order while listening. For these competitions I tend to get a small prize, e.g. chocolates, to motivate the students. The idea of a piece of chocolate at the end of the class really gets them going.
What else can you do using music in the classroom? Well, I have taught students about different music styles and their development. We have for example looked at Jazz music and how it developed. We listened to early Jazz songs and compared them with modern Jazz songs, trying to work out the difference. We even learned about the Andean Condor!

Around Christmas we sang Christmas carols and on St. Patrick’s Day we danced like crazy leprechauns. With big ESL classes I’ve played musical chairs, just to get the students up and moving for a few minutes after a long day of class after class, which is common practice in English training centres in China.
Sometimes we just sing the song; karaoke is still a firm favourite among Chinese students. We’ve analysed music videos and even made our own. With music, your options are endless, you can do so much and all it takes is a song. You can teach them about rhetorical questions, and if you dare, even chose a Chinese song and ask the students to translate it into English. I’ve done this activity quite a few times using music in the classroom and the students have always had a blast. This activity does take a little more preparation since you either need to pre-translate the song first yourself or get somebody to do it for you. 
If you aren’t using music in your classroom, you’re missing out on a great opportunity for a fun-filled class, students of all ages will enjoy. It’s a win-win for everyone involved and if you’re teaching a lot of classes during the day, a few minutes of rest for your vocal cords, while the students listen to complete an exercise, will feel wonderful. If you play an instrument, e.g. guitar, bring it along to the class and play a song for the students, then ask them to sing with you!

by Serlina Sarah Heintze
Serlina Sarah Heintze 

I’m originally from Germany but spent most of my twenties in Ireland, working for a well-known multi-national corporation. After getting my ESL  qualifications, I left the Emerald Isle and I have been teaching English at an English training centre in Wuhan, Hubei for the last two and a half years. I’m a bit of a fitness junkie so when I’m not teaching, I can usually be found in the gym. I’m also a bit of a foodie, so trying out new restaurants with my Chinese friends has become somewhat of a hobby. I also blog at
Sunday, 24 January 2016 10:21

Using Music in the ESL Classroom

When I started English teaching, I generally used music in the classroom as just a listening task; filling in the gaps and maybe as something fun to do on a Friday morning or late afternoon.  However, since then with more experience, and from reading more widely, I have begun to realise that using music in the ESL classroom can be more than this.

Using Music to Teach Pronunciation
When I taught language students in London, it did not take them long to notice that pronunciation in London does not necessarily follow what would be seen as “standard” pronunciation. So, I used music in the classroom to highlight certain aspects of some Londoners’ pronunciation; I played a song by Dizzee Rascal, the London rapper, to highlight his pronunciation of certain words, which may not be seen by many as “good pronunciation”, but a significant feature of many Londoners’ pronunciation nonetheless, and one I thought the students needed to understand. In a task such as this, it is important that you know the song well and can highlight the features of speech very clearly, so a good amount of planning would be needed.
A good thing about this task is that it can be used at most levels, I have used it at elementary, intermediate and advanced levels and they all found it useful. It also generates important discussion about language, you could personalise the lesson by asking students to discuss what is deemed to be the correct pronunciation of their own languages, a task like this also reveals students’ thoughts about how they would like to sound in English, and what they believe is good pronunciation.
Using music to connect with your students
I have found that music is also a great way of connecting with your students beyond a grammar or pronunciation point. By adapting a task from the book Being Creative, I have used music to go beyond just filling in the gaps but to create connections between students. Instead of you bringing in the music, you ask your students to provide the music, many students have music on their phones or Mp3 players, so they often have music to hand. Ensure that you teach some useful phrases beforehand and encourage them to think of their own questions related to music; you could also build up a spider-gram of lexis on the board.
“When was the song released?”
“Who is the lead singer of the band?”
“Is it his/her/their debut album?”

Allow one of your students to play a song they like that is around 2 – 3 minutes long, and just listen to it as a group. The student can give a short introduction to the song if they think it would help the rest of the class, and it does not matter if the song is not in English.  I know this may sound strange, but the point of the lesson is to generate personalised discussion, and to learn more about your students and their musical tastes, in my opinion music is a great vehicle for this.

Write Good Language on the Board
When using music in the ESL classroom, you can make the English lesson as structured as you like or it could even be very impromptu, which was the case when I had a small class of advanced learners.  It generated a lot of discussion and new lexis, which I wrote on the board, I also learnt from my students, which is part of the joys of teaching.  If you have a large class just choose a couple of students who do not mind sharing their taste in music.  Make sure that you give the other students a couple of questions to ponder about while the listen; how did you feel while listening to the song? How would you describe the mood of the music?

Encourage Curiousity about the Music
Once the song has finished playing give the students time to think about the piece and ask any questions they might have, encourage the student who shared their song to add any extra information they have about the artist.  You often find that other students, including yourself, become curious about certain artists, even an artist you were adamant you did not like, especially if the student talks passionately about them.  Depending on how well you know your student this task is also good to use in a one to one class as there can be an exchange of more than one song.
Music in the ESL classroom is always a nice break from the coursebook or the grammar point of the week, it is also a way of creating a relaxed and encouraging atmosphere in the ESL classroom, which assists in generating useful language and interesting discussions.
By Yolande M Deane
Yolande M Deane is a highly experienced ESL teacher and ELT article writer. She previously taught ESL to language students in London and she is currently teaching ESL in Harbin, China.

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