The horror of teaching Young Learners

I feel like this post needs a little disclaimer, so here it goes. Disclaimer: all the stories and opinions written below are my own and come from my personal experience teaching in Spain. Teaching (very) young learners can be rewarding and a lot of fun, but it’s not for everyone! We need to remember that even the youngest students are still students, should be treated with respect and be surrounded by professionals who know how to give them what they need.

Teaching young learners comes with a stigma. During my time teaching ESL in Spain, I have met only ONE person who truly loved teaching young learners. All the other teachers treated those lessons as a chore, this thing that you do twice a week and forget about it as soon as it ends. This thing that you don’t teach – you survive.

I’m not proud to say this, but I was the same. When I first started teaching ESL, I was excited to teach English to adults and teenagers. I was able to discuss many things, play adult games, joke around…with kids it was a different story. Every week, I struggled thinking about the types of activities we could do. I tried to keep it fresh and entertaining, bring a lot of games, research crafts that we could do as a group. I spent hours looking for the perfect tasks. There were times when all my efforts paid off, and the students loved everything we did. However, more often than not, that just wasn’t the case, and I’d finish the class feeling disappointed and stressed thinking about next week. I had six hours teaching non-stop, starting with a group of VYL and ending with adults, and I’d always tell myself, If you survive the first hour, the rest will be a breeze.

I tried to think of the reasons why I felt this way and different ways in which I could improve. Here are some things that came to my mind.

Going outside your comfort zone

I think that this sentiment is shared by so many of my fellow ESL teachers for one common reason – language academies expect ESL teachers to go out of their comfort and expertise zones. I can’t think of a situation in which a public school teacher has such a variety of students, level and age-wise. A kindergarten teacher focuses on VYL, and a high school teacher deals with teenagers. Then why do ESL teachers need to know how to cater for 3 year-olds and an hour later have a business class? One hour you do the Hockey-Pokey and the next you discuss the socio-economic problems of your country.

I remember having a YL class sandwiched in between two adult lessons. Let me tell you, that wasn’t fun. I’d quite literally roll on the floor with the kids, dust off my pants, fix my hair and suddenly act all professional. It was ridiculous. I asked my boss if I could wear more comfortable clothes for the YL classes and I wasn’t allowed to do that, because I had an adult class right after and there was no time to change. Plus, when we did crafts…let’s not talk about the chaotic cleanup and table moving.

I understand that ESL teachers often need to educate themselves on different topics, sometimes the ones that they’re not even interested in, just to provide a topical and engaging class. But this seems to be somewhat extensive, hence mentally exhausting.

Hiring non-professionals to teach children

Another thing that quite literally drives me crazy, is hiring non-professionals to teach young learners. I’m CELTA certified and feel best surrounded by students aged 12 years old and up. However, there is a belief that adult students need to be treated with respect and require a professional (at least professional-looking) teacher to keep them satisfied. The children don’t need that because they don’t know any better.

I strongly believe that kids need to be in the presence of a professionally trained teacher more than adults for many different reasons. First of all, children may need your assistance with most basic tasks like going to the toilet. In my first year of teaching, I had a group of eleven 3 year-olds, and at least two of them had to go and usually needed me to help them out. This meant that I had to leave the other children alone in the class while assisting the one child (I didn’t have an assistant).

Secondly, I knew how to plan an engaging lesson for adults, but I struggled with thinking of new ideas for the children. I was aware that they needed a lot of repetition, so I’d start every class with vocabulary revision. However, I couldn’t think of any new material, which kept me busy all weekends, researching and worrying about the classes. On the flip side, once I got more comfortable, I found a bunch of useful websites that provide ready lessons plans and games. I frequently visited ESL Kids Stuff which offers over 60 free lessons plans! WOW English YouTube channel has many interesting ideas for classroom games. I always tried to use some of their activities to make my classes more engaging and fun. If you spend some time going over their videos, you’ll find some gems that became my all-time favourite.

Another issue is that children often can’t control their behaviour and you need to know how to deal with it. This problem doesn’t come up (at least not that often) in adult classes. I believe that going to university and learning about the psychology, emotions and behaviour of children is difficult to learn on your own. There are so many different tricks that you are taught when you are prepared to work with kids. It’s something that only professionals can control.

Dealing with the parents

The behaviour problems tie in nicely with building a healthy relationship with the parents. In my opinion, constantly reporting about the classes is possibly one of the worst parts of teaching YLs. Parents will be always watching you and getting information on you. It can be a bit annoying, but my advice is to introduce yourself on the first day and get used to talking to them regularly. Once the parents see that the kids are comfortable around you, you are golden. I had a great relationship with all of the parents of my students. It wasn’t an easy task and I put a lot of effort into this, but it was worthwhile.

I was worried that if there were any problems, I’d be the one to blame. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Well, it became an issue only once. I was a short-term substitute in a private school and got to teach a group of VYLs. The kids behaved well with one exception. One of the students didn’t want to participate and made it clear by screaming and hitting everyone around. One time she just got up and ran outside of the classroom. I was shocked and frankly, didn’t know what to do. I told the kids to stay where they were and ran after her. I managed to catch her and in return, she bit me. I immediately called the coordinator and reported this. After the class, I went to speak to her father who didn’t scold her just said Oh, Maria! You can’t bite people! And that’s it. The problem wasn’t solved, and from what I heard she bit the coordinator, too. Just on a different day. It was just a one-time thing, but it left me mentally scarred (physically, I was okay).

Non-natives to teach children

I’m very sad to say this, but I have noticed this pattern and was affected by it, too. Native speakers (even those without any experience or qualifications) are given more advanced classes, while certified non-natives get to teach the kids because, as I said before, the children don’t know any better. Just have a class and then do some crafts. It’s good enough.

Being close

Children need to be close to other people, and you need to be ready for that. Mentalize that kids may randomly hug you, will try to sit on your lap and at times try to kiss you! It happens a lot, especially in Spain. My advice is to go with it, obviously don’t cross any lines, but don’t make it weird either. Kids don’t see it as a bad thing. They get to spend two hours a week with you, they have fun with you and want you to know that you matter to them.

As I mentioned before, I assisted children in the toilet. I didn’t think it was a part of my job, but at the same time, I didn’t mind that. However, one of my colleagues felt it was wrong and refused to do that, to avoid any problems. To that I say, it’s only weird because you make it weird. Act cool and everything’s going to be fine. If it worries you that much, maybe talk about it with your DOS or the parents.

Learning how to plan for YL

I have talked about this before in Is it possible to plan for very young learners. Planning for kids is so much different from planning for adults. For starters, you need to over-plan just in case. Children will give you immediate feedback on any activity they love or hate. And oh boy, if they hate what they are doing, it feels awful. Especially, if you had spent hours thinking about it. However, you need to go with the flow and adapt your plans as you go. With adults, the situation is a bit different, as they normally won’t complain to you about an activity that turned out to be a flop. It makes it a bit less stressful.

It’s good to prepare a range of activities, a mix of stirrers and settlers, to give the appropriate amount of stimulus for YL to learn. It’s good to have some reading and colouring time, mixed in with some singing and dancing, maybe some crafts, followed by some kinesthetic tasks. It’s a journey, but the truth be told, a successful YL class will pass quicker than you expect! And if you over-plan, don’t worry about it. You can use those activities in the next class.

Lack of resources

Once I had it all figured out and I knew how to prepare a class for the YLs, other problems started showing up. One of them was a lack of resources. I needed plenty of materials to make classes engaging and memorable. Unfortunately, I was teaching in a village that was far away from the academy (where all the resources were), so if I had to improvise, I couldn’t. I started buying a lot of materials and paying for them out of my pocket, a practice that I don’t do anymore. So if you ever find yourself teaching children, ask for the basics – coloured paper, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, pencils and rubbers. That’s the minimum that you need to have!

Despite all the negatives, teaching YLs can be very satisfying. Once you get to know the little ones, they will show you affection and gratitude like no one else. I can’t tell you the number of drawings and little gifts I received over my time teaching kids. Plus the biggest advantage of teaching children is the fact that you can go completely crazy, let loose and play so many cool games that you are otherwise too old to play!

If you feel like you need more practice on teaching YLs, you should look into IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers. I haven’t done it myself, but I heard that it’s quite useful. You learn some theory and at the same time, you are being assessed on your teaching. You finish the course with a certificate that will give you leverage when looking for new jobs. Remember that in Spain, ESL teachers will have to teach YLs 99% of the time!

The oversaturated market of ESL teaching

The Internet is full of websites for potential ESL teachers. There’s an ever-growing demand for English teachers, but the market is so oversaturated that it seems almost impossible to stand out from the crowd.

Demand for ESL teachers in Spain is constantly growing. Unfortunately, so is the number of teachers fighting to get the students. The two top websites to find and book private students are tusclasesparticulares and superprof. I’ve used both of them, and I must say that even though the latter is much easier and more intuitive to use, I’ve got a higher success rate on the first one. A higher success rate doesn’t mean that I got what I wanted. It’s a constant battle against other teachers – a battle that seems to be never-ending. There are so many problems with the ESL teaching market, but instead of complaining, I would like to focus on different ways in which you can stand out while maintaining your value.

Networking

The teaching websites work, but networking works better! Some of my old work colleagues and people who I’ve only connected via WordPress or Twitter told me about work opportunities. I was referred to certain people and there was a time that I received a few messages on the same day just to discuss my prices and the way I work. Obviously, some of those didn’t work out and there is no shame in that. So be kind to one another and whenever you find yourself in a better position, maybe you will be able to help someone else in need.

Don’t burn your bridges

Whenever I change a job, I always try to stay somewhat friendly with the previous company. Over a year ago, I left my very first academy and moved to Alicante. I talked every few months with the bosses to see how everything was going. And guess what? When I found myself looking for something to do, they offered me a few hours online. It was a perfect solution for me. First of all, they helped me while I was at my lowest and most desperate moment. We already know each other, so I got to skip the job interview and went straight into teaching.

Ask for references

All online teaching websites suggest asking your past students, coworkers, bosses or family and friends to write references for you. I began my campaign by messaging my past students with whom I had the best connection and experience (obviously). All of the reviews were lovely and gave me a much-needed confidence boost. Not so much of a student boost, but my superprof profile started standing out within the crowd. I think this also helps to justify higher prices.

Build a good student-teacher relationship

I can’t stress this enough. My current students are my priority. Some of them came back to me after a few years because they not only like the way I teach but also they want to maintain the relationship we developed. I try to be as flexible, understanding and nice as possible. I want them to know that they can always approach me with any issue, and I will try and adapt to the best of my abilities. It is also a good way to get other students. If they are happy with you and your work, they will give you the best publicity imaginable. For free! Right now I have the best students I could have asked for, and I wouldn’t change that for anything!

Don’t appear desperate

I’m so guilty of this one. In the beginning, I was doing anything to make sure that I was noticed by anyone. The thing is, the more announcements I put up, the fewer responses I got. People looking for their ideal teacher go to the same websites and see your face plastered everywhere. I don’t think it’s a good sign – it means that the business isn’t going too well, and there’s probably a reason for it. Instead, I decided to cool it just a bit and announced my services less frequently. Much to my surprise, I got way more responses. Now I “boost” my announcements maybe once every few weeks and get more answers than before. Remember – Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Value yourself

You know you are a good teacher. It’s somewhat tempting to lower your prices when you are surrounded by people offering classes for half if not a third of your class! Naturally, many students will prefer to go with the lower price, but it raises one main question – are they getting a good quality service? If someone decides to go with me they get for what they paid. I’ve got experience, all the materials, proficiency in the use of technology and most importantly – I am qualified. You shouldn’t lower your hourly rate for the most obvious reason – this rate doesn’t include teaching only. It includes preparation time, finding and sharing the right materials, and of course, homework/exam corrections. All the time that students don’t see you working, goes under their radar and doesn’t count as paid time. Recently, I’ve spotted a perfect quote by teachitwithchantal – “It’s not your job to worry about students being able to afford you! It’s your job to show them WHY they should afford you!”

I couldn’t agree more with her opinion. You can indeed have five students for 5 euros an hour, but are they going to get the same type of commitment and preparation as one or two students at a bit higher rate? There are so many things that you could do to attract more students. I’m already lowering my prices for prepaid classes just to make sure that my students will stay for a bit longer and don’t ghost me from one day to another – a problem I have already discussed before in The flakiness of adult students.

Whenever I feel a bit unsure about my prices, I compare myself to a mechanic or a hairdresser. Afterall, I am giving a certain service and so I should be paid for it appropriately. The same way I get a service from my mechanic. It took me some time to find the one, but now even though he may take more than others per hour, I’m always happy with the way he takes care of my car, knows its history and wants the best for me. I do the same – I take care of your language needs, I know your history and I know what’s best for you to get the best results.

Build your online presence

This can be anything. You can post educational posts on IG, record teaching videos to YT, blog or tweet about learning/teaching English. Don’t force it, though. Try to enjoy it as much as you can. Social media is full of ESL teachers, but if you have this special something, you can stand out. I chose to talk about the teaching aspect and not explaining English to the students. It isn’t ideal to find students, but I managed to meet other ESL teachers all over the world who motivate me and help me with my problems (look at networking!).

Sign up to reliable online teaching websites

While looking for online students, I found so many teaching websites. Some of them seem to be quite reputable, e.g. Italki, others… not so much. I try to stay away from those that seem to be a bit sketchy and have relatively low reviews. I read weird things about being accepted as a teacher and then dealing with the obscene behaviour of people taking advantage of free 20-minute classes. Before you sign up for any online teaching website, read the reviews and weigh all the pros and cons. You don’t want to put your name in places that may damage your reputation or take advantage of your vulnerable position. I understand that sometimes the money can be tight, but don’t put yourself through anything unpleasant for a minimum hourly rate.

These are some of the things I’ve learned while I was looking for private students. I decided to take it slowly because I feel like I was overdoing it and it affected my mental health. Now that I relaxed a bit, it feels like I’m getting more responses to teach people and groups that I actually want to teach! What do you do to stand out from this oversaturated crowd?

Halloween themed B2 speaking

Happy October! As an ESL teacher, you know what that means – themed lesson plans! I’m not a fan of conducting the standard History of Halloween lessons. Instead, I like to have the best of two worlds: exam preparation and Halloween.

Last year I was working with the second year of the B2 Cambridge exam preparation group. They were all great – just a bit stressed out about the upcoming exam. I decided to reduce the stress of the speaking exam and turn it into something a bit more fun – a speaking exam task (all the parts!) related to Halloween. It was one of my best classes. My students were excited to talk and sometimes even wanted to steal each other’s questions because they had so much to say!

This class contains a PowerPoint with all the questions and pictures (in case you either don’t want to print anything out or for all the online teachers out there!). It also has the examiner’s speaking guide (this part includes pictures and the discussion topic, available for printing). All you need to do is to download the files and you are good to go! Keep in mind that if you do this class with teenagers, you may not have enough time to finish it! Since it’s a Halloween themed lesson, I’m not very strict with time and I just want my students to have fun.

As you can see the class requires absolutely no preparation time. The examiner’s notes were written using the original B2 exam speaking script. If you want to keep this class a bit more educational, you can ask other students to take notes on their colleagues’ mistakes and things that went well. You can also time them and end class with general feedback.

The class starts with Part 1, which is just a little bit different than at the exam. Ask students to spell Halloween related words (they may be shocked that they need to spell, but it’s good to keep them on their toes!) and then some general questions about their likes and dislikes about Halloween.

I prepared this class for a group of four, so all my students had something else to talk about in Part 2. I’ve prepared four sets of pictures. Each set is supported by the main topic and a follow-up question for the other candidate. Remember to give them 1 minute to talk!

Part 3 is a pair discussion about what makes a successful Halloween costume. You read the imaginary scenario and students discuss what would make their outfits stand out at a party. It is followed by an additional question about which of the Halloween costume qualities would win them an award for the best costume.

In my opinion, Part 4 is always the best one. Ask students about Halloween celebrations, potential dangers, traditions, etc. I remember my students being so excited, willing to answer the questions for the rest of the class. They were so engaged that we didn’t have time for any error corrections! But it’s okay! It was a special class and it created many happy memories for me. I hope you will enjoy this class as much as I did!

Click below to download all the files for free!

New chapter: becoming a freelancer

This post was meant to be about something else. However, as I was enjoying what I thought were my last few days of holidays, I received a news so unexpected that it changed my way of thinking and motivated me enough to change my current work ambitions. Let me tell you a story about teaching ESL in Spain – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Teaching ESL in Spain is sure fun and has many benefits. First of all, you work half-time and with a little bit of organisation you can fit in a lot of other activities that you truly enjoy. The worst part of it is that the amount of work you put into it is not properly rewarded and often times you try finding ways in which you can improve your current working status.

I’ve been teaching English for three years now. Last year I changed academies and signed a work and service contract aka the garbage contract. My service ended mid-June and I was offered to teach a month long intensive courses but I rejected it. You see, the summer placement was short time and paid under the table which doesn’t sit well with me. On top of that I wanted to finally visit my family so taking this time off seemed like the best option. Regardless, in June I talked with my boss who told me that I can come back in September and work with them for one year more…except not! Exactly two weeks before the start of the academic year, I received an email thanking for my year of work and wishing me all the best in the future. I felt shocked and a bit betrayed. However, my story isn’t unique. Unfortunately, in Spain it’s very common to ditch your workers without giving any explanation. My shocking news circled other work colleagues and as it turned out, I wasn’t the only one put in this situation.

After the initial shock wore off, unexpectedly came a sense of relief. I’ve been wanting to become a freelancer for some time but decided to wait one more year to fully commit to this idea. The feeling of working evenings, commuting one hour each way, working weekends and earning peanuts started getting to me. I needed a change and this situation pushed me to implement my plan just a little bit sooner. It’s actually quite funny as the night before this life-changing message I was saying how I feel quite ready to become autonomous and I was writing different ways I could teach my very own students! I guess everything happens for a reason!

So here’s my initial plan, a new chapter of my teaching experience – becoming my own boss. I feel a bit scared but definitely ready for JoannaESL 2.0. I even came up with some points that I’d like to achieve this academic year 2021/2022:

  1. Be my own boss! Become fully autonomous and work as a freelancer. I’d like to have my own students and work online, maybe get a few teaching hours in an academy as I do enjoy being in a classroom and feeling the presence of my students.
  2. Find more than one source of income. I’ve been trying to do this in many different ways but so far no success… I decided that if I stay committed to my blog for more than 6 months, I’ll get a paid version of it and get even more serious. Additionally, I’ve been researching other teacher platforms. I’m so captivated by Teachers pay Teachers and I started uploading my free worksheets on there too. I have some ideas that I can post on there and be rewarded at the end.
  3. Keep being creative. After a few months of being online and trying to network with other ESL teachers, I felt like my creative juices stopped flowing. However, I feel inspired again and have my head full of ideas that I just can’t wait to implement and share with everyone!

I guess that’s all I have to say about my life changing event. Being an ESL teacher in Spain isn’t always glorious and easy. When you move to Spain and decide to join this business, get ready for many mishaps and events that may put you off. It doesn’t matter how much you love teaching, you’ll most likely meet people who will make this job so difficult and unrewarding that you’ll want to quit. However, try turning every bad situation into a growing experience and turn it around so the odds are in your favour!

Hope you are as excited as I am for my new adventure and if you’ve ever had any similar experience, please do tell me how you dealt with it. I’m so new to this that any advice, even the silliest one is more than welcome! JoannaESL 2.0 – here we come!

First class – what can you do?

Attention all the ESL teachers in Spain! You’ve got less than a month of holidays left. Time to mentally prepare for the first day and introduction classes. Do you know what you’re going to do this year?

I’ve said it a million times before, I will say it again – I do NOT like the very first classes. In fact the first two weeks, even though they’re incredibly exciting, they are equally as awkward and painful. I always look for the perfect activity and so far nothing!

A few weeks back I posted a picture onto my Instagram profile with sparks notes of my Introduce your classmates lesson plan for adults.

I was so happy to see that some of my fellow ESL teachers shared their ideas and opinions with me. Teaching with Tracey, Paranthropus and Calum – English Teacher inspired me to create a list of first class activities.

1. Two truths and a lie

Oh what’s that? Snoring? A very controversial and unpopular opinion warning: I hate this activity. Let me tell you why. During my first years of teaching ESL it was my safety blanket. I had it all figured out, the best two truths and one lie about me. However, the more you do it, the more you realise that if you’d done it many times before, the chances of your students doing this activity in the past are high too. Last year I did this activity one time with a group of B2 students who told me that they play this game EVERY YEAR. Keep this activity for other occasions. I actually used it with a group of A2 adults to revise Past Simple and it was a success!

2. Three things in common

On the first day of my CELTA course, our tutors divided us into 3 groups of 3 and asked us to find 3 things we’ve got in common. I think that it is a good icebreaker for higher level students as it really encourages them to get back into the swing of things and at the same time gives them opportunity to get to know each other without you around. Keep in mind that the things in common have to be very specific, e.g. the same birth months, the same number of siblings, the same hobbies…the sky is the limit.

3. Love, like, dislike or hate

While I was doing my research I found 5 introduction activities at Oxford Seminars by Robin Granham. You’ll notice that many of the activities are the same as before but we aren’t reinventing the wheel. I loved his Four Corners activity because it can be adapted to all the levels! All you need to do is label four corners of your classroom with love, like, dislike, hate and mention different things or actions.

For young learners, you can let them run around the classroom as they show their preferences. You can model your language and ask them about different food, subjects, free time activities, etc. Older students can get a set of labeled signs (as seen below) that they can use to answer your preference questions. With lower levels you can practice verbs of likes and dislikes, as well as Present Simple form. With higher levels you can ask more complex questions and then ask for explanations.

Feel free to download the cards and for durability laminate them. You can also glue them onto sticks to make little signs. It’s a gimmick that makes sure everyone is engaged and answering.

4. Riddle me this

This activity was found in Busy Teacher’s Top 300 Ice-Breakers, Warmers and Fillers a book by Busy Teacher. It’s a fun way to start the class and ask your students to work together. You start by drawing objects starting with the first letters of your name. You can see my example below!

What’s my name?

You can divide students to work in groups to solve this riddle. You can prepare more riddles like this so students have to guess some more facts about you. Once everyone knows your name, it’s their turn to create their own name art.

5. Find someone who…

A classic game with a fun twist to it that I found in 300 MORE Warmers, Fillers and Ice-breakers by Busy Teacher. A teacher provides random criteria, for example Find someone with the same colour toothbrush as you or Find someone with the same pet as you. The list goes on, you can come up with questions that can reveal your students’ personalities and preferences, or you can go with something more random. At the end you can ask students to report on what they learnt about their colleagues.

6. What’s my secret?

An activity that I found on Fluentu that I will definitely use this year with my bigger groups who already know each other from last year! Students write their secrets or less known facts on a piece of paper, for example I love reading anime. Students draw secrets at random and don’t reveal them to anyone! They walk around and ask indirect questions about the secret. The game continues until everyone finds out whose secret they’ve got.

7. Form a line

Another great activity that I actually found really fascinating and I’ll definitely use in some of my medium-sized groups are Blobs and Lines written by Erin Walton at EF. In this activity students need to form a line based on criteria given by a teacher. You can ask them to put themselves in alphabetical order of their names, their birthdays, tallest to shortest. You can also ask them to form “blobs” based on their favourite food, colour of clothing, or birthday month. I think it’s a great activity as your students will be moving around while communicating as a group with you being on the side!

Well, these are my ideas for first day ice-breakers! I think this year I will give 2 truths and a lie a break from my annual introduction activities and will focus on the other activities.

What is your go to first class activity?

Is it possible to plan for very young learners?

So you’ve spent the whole weekend crafting an ideal plan for your young learners. You are confident and excited to have this class but the second you enter the classroom, you feel that something is off. Does it mean you’ve wasted your time?

I have immense admiration for all teachers who are truly passionate about working with (very) young children. They spend their entire days in a class full of energy and oh so many unexpected turns. I remember my first time teaching a group of eleven three-year-olds. I started off well, very hyped when suddenly everything collapsed. Until this day I don’t know what had happened. Needless to say, I left this classroom sweaty, exhausted and with the feeling that I don’t want to do this ever again.

I somehow managed to survive one full year teaching this group but the feeling of dread before every single class never changed. Luckily, it was only one year and since then I taught very young learners but in smaller groups and with more resources. This taught me one important thing – there’s a huge difference in class preparation between teenagers/adults and young learners!

Last week I talked about the importance of planning. While I still believe that it is important to at least think about your lessons, look at the textbooks, maybe prepare some CCQs and refresh some grammar points, I think that having a detailed plan for VYL doesn’t make much sense. Instead, we should have a general draft of the lesson that can be easily manipulated depending on how the lesson goes.

The reason for having an outline rather than a plan is that classes with young learners are a bit more unpredictable. I can think of so many times when all my kids got distracted so I had to scrap my plan and just go with the flow. To give you some examples of great distractions: a fallen and then lost tooth (we all had to go on a tooth search – without it, the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t come at night), a lost pencil (I tried giving one of my pencils but it just wasn’t the same), someone’s birthday (it doesn’t even have to be your student’s birthday, apparently a cousin’s birthday is as distracting), Halloween, Christmas, a car outside…or worst out of all of them – a boring activity.

Plan more than necessary

When you prepare an activity for a group of adults, even if it isn’t your best work, they’ll follow and most likely you won’t hear much complaining. In the case of VYL, you hear immediate feedback. Now it’s up to you to either listen to your learners and tweak the activity based on their likes or just abandon it altogether and move on to something else. For this reason, it is essential to plan more than necessary. Worst case scenario is that you used all your planned activities, the best case scenario – you have some ideas that you can use next time! Most importantly, don’t feel bad that your students don’t enjoy your task. It’s hard to predict a good activity, especially that the exact same one can work just fine some other day!

Create learning stations

On a similar note, imagine that you have a craft idea prepared but not everyone wants to do it. You have some kids who can’t wait to be a part of it and others who prefer something else. In the case of larger groups, you may benefit from creating learning stations. You can start by learning vocabulary and grammar together but then you can send your students to do the tasks that they enjoy at the moment. It requires a lot of preparation and you need to be everywhere at the same time but your students enjoy the class and that’s what matters the most.

Listen to your students

Now, hear me out. Sometimes your students enter the classroom and they know what they want to do. It’s normally a game or an activity that they’d done at school and enjoyed it. There are times that the ideas are not great but more often than not I learnt new games that I adapted to my lessons. At the end of the day, you show that you have trust and respect for your students as their opinion matters to you. The same goes for some of your activities. If the activity is a bit off and you can see that students don’t really enjoy it but have an idea how they can change it, then give it a go! You may have a hidden gem on your hands and you just need some courage to try it out. Again – if it’s not working, you can always stop it.

From the top of my head, I can think of one example from my own class. I wanted to do a flashcard race but the kids were not having it that day. Instead, they were really distracted by…chairs. So I got up and without saying anything, put the chairs in a straight line. This already created some interest and brought back attention to me. I asked them to form a queue and we had a crawling race. Students crawled under the chairs and named the flashcards that they found on their way. At the end of the task, I had reached my objective and everyone was happy (and a bit dusty but you can’t have it all…)

Have a treasure box

Let’s imagine that you came to the class really under planned and you are running low on activities and ideas. In that case, try to have something up your sleeve. Maybe there’s a game, a song, or a dance that your students really love and you don’t do that often. In general, keep the best and most exciting activities on the low, so when you do them, you immediately get everyone on board.

By no means I’m a (V)YL expert. These are only some of my thoughts and ideas based on observation and experimentation. Keep in mind that all the groups are different and that just because one activity didn’t work one day, it may work perfectly fine next time! My only advice is to keep the lesson planning as flexible as possible and most importantly just have fun with it!

What are your thoughts on teaching and planning for VYLs?

Creating a classroom community

There’s nothing better than having a group of students who enjoy each other’s company. On the first day it is essential to build a safe space and create the feeling of community.

Last year when I was combing through the internet for the perfect first class activity for young learners. I wanted something that will help them get to know me, at the same time demonstrating their speaking and grammar skills. I found a perfect activity on ESL Kid Stuff (a great website with so many lesson plans and a range of activities!) I decided to go through their intro lesson plans for kids aged 8-12 years old. One of the activities describes drawing a stickfigure and writing one word answers around it. The stickfigure is a representation of a teacher and the answers are basic facts about you!

I decided to take a spin on this activity. My end goal is to create an arts and crafts corner for my YL groups. Instead of drawing ourselves, students can trace their hands and write the answers to these questions inside! I think that it gives a personal touch to it and students will definitely look at their classmates’ projects at least to compare their hand sizes! It also gives a sense of belonging as you create something as a group and no one from outside of it is allowed to be a part of your little family.

You can start the class by drawing a big hand on the board (or use a ppt for online classes) with certain words written inside, as seen below.

An example of a handprint with information about me – the teacher.

Now students need to predict the questions to the answers – they are quite obvious, so focus on reviewing correct word order and tenses instead! You can even ask your young learners to come to the board and write them next to the corresponding fingers. I focused on name, age, birthday, favourite pet and colour, and best friend’s name. Of course, you can and maybe even should adapt the activity based on your group! I wanted to include the birthday dates as it may help you with planning a special activity, a song or a little gift for your little ones in the future.

At the end you can either decorate the hand on the board OR show them the real craft you’d done yourself prior. As it normally goes with the little ones, you have to do some of the crafts at home to show them the visual example. So trace your hand, write the answers to your questions and decorate it! If you know that at your academy/school there are plenty of materials that you can use (markers, stickers, glitter…) then of course, use them on your project. If not, better stay away from it. It’ll save you a lot of questions and comments about your materials.

Once everyone is done you can go around asking and answering the questions. At the end dedicate one section of your classroom just for this group and display their work! Young learners LOVE looking at their art and at the end of the year they will definitely want to take them down and keep it as a souvenir. It is also an incredible way to check their progress and physical development at the end of the year!

What do you think about my introduction craft? What do you normally do with your YL on the first day of school?