The first thing that one has to realize when faced with a class of ESL children is that they are not short adults, they are something entirely different. Teaching ESL children can be extremely rewarding, and all kinds of fun, but having an interesting and effective curriculum is all important.
Learning by Context
Children are quite expert at learning by inference. They can deduce the meaning of a word in a sentence by the context. This comes naturally to them, because this is how they first
learned their native tongue as babies. I once showed the children in a class a picture of myself in front of an ancient cedar tree. I asked them if the tree was bigger than me. As I said “bigger”, I swelled out my chest and stood tall. In no time at all the children agreed that the tree was bigger then me. Then I asked them if it was older than me. On the word “older”, I hunched over. Very soon the answer came back: “Yes, the tree is older than you.” That evening I repeated the experiment with a class of adults. The only answers I got were “Hey George, what’s this “bigger” stuff,” and “what’s this “older” stuff?” Children will infer the meaning from the context, but adults have to know the reasons behind things before they will take a chance.
In Budapest, we taught ESL to children in volunteer after school classes. At first we had about 16 students each, which was fine. But then, when the classes grew to 18, we became alarmed and spoke to the teacher involved. She said: “Don’t worry, lots of them will drop out right away.” Well, they didn’t drop out. The classes kept growing, until we were teaching about 22 students each class. If children have a good curriculum to work from, they will enjoy their classes and will want to come back and learn more.
Songs and Verse
Many children love to sing. If, as a teacher, you feel that you don’t have the talent to lead the class in song, reciting verse is just as effective. Although this may seem frivolous to some people, I suggest that you think of a verse and a song that you learned as a child. The first is about the days of the months: “Thirty days has September…” The second is the Alphabet Song. This verse and this song were learned by most children, and they are retained for the rest of their lives. So song and verse can be effective learning tool.
Sitting in one place doing the same thing over and over is not a natural situation for a child. They need movement and a variety of activities to keep them interested, (and learning.) The following are some activities that we found useful in teaching ESL children.
Children love to play Bingo and they will work hard if they know that there will be a Bingo Game at the end of the
class. The younger ones will play best with Picture Bingo, while the older children can play Word Bingo.
We have used very simple puppets effectively with ESL classes. Strangely, the children
shift their identity to the puppets, and this allows them to forget their fear and shyness. Teachers can make their own
While children are drawing, they can learn many good adjectives about their drawing.
Crossword puzzles can be used as part of the lesson, as homework assignments, or can be
given to children who finish their work early. The competitive spirit within most children will motivate them to work hard to solve the puzzles.
An ESL curriculum that uses these methods is sure to encourage children to be successful with their lessons, and you are likely to have happy children in your classes!