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Teaching ESL to Children

written by: Louanne Piccolo • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 8/2/2012

Most ESL teachers have years of experience in teaching English to adults but may be daunted by the task of teaching children English. How to teach English as a second language to children involves understanding how to motivate children to learn and how to hold their attention for short periods.

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    Children and Motivation

    Motivation is the key to learning, for both adults and children. This is especially true for children as their attention span is shorter than adults and, in most cases, children themselves have not made the decision to learn English but are normally signed up by their parents who feel that it is important for their children to speak English as a second language.

    Intrinsic motivation, or interest in doing the learning activity, is natural for adults who want to speak English for professional, travel or personal reasons. How many children sign themselves up for an extra class outside of school hours? The best children's ESL teachers are those who have understood that they must enter into the magical world of make-believe and game-playing to teach English to children and to keep them motivated to learn without realising that they are learning.

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    How to Teach Children English

    Make-believe is part of the development of a healthy child. Children can be remarkably inventive and imaginative and they love to create worlds and pretend to be any number of characters from fairies to cowboys. The key to teaching children English is to join them in their imaginations and motivate them intrinsically to learn. ESL teachers can use the following teaching strategies to introduce English vocabulary and grammar to children:

    • storytelling
    • visual teaching aids like short films, photographs, posters and pictures
    • drama, dialogue and poetry
    • songs, music and rhymes
    • dance and movement
    • games and manual activities
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    Resources and Materials for Teaching English to Children

    There are book series, internet sites and hundreds of other resources designed specifically for teaching children how to speak English. Lesson plans, games, story books and plays can be easily found on internet or in bookshops. Teachers, who do not have a budget for buying ready-made resources, can create their own, as children's games and stories for teaching English do not need to be technical but simple and easy to follow. Even the most unimaginative of teachers can make up a short story that children can identify with.

    The following resources are excellent aids for teaching children English as a second language:

    • Teaching English Games is a wonderful internet site created by Shelley Vernon who specializes in language games for children and who sells a delightful series of stories, songs and plays for children from 3 to 12
    • The Cambridge Copy Collection series is made up of spiral-bound photocopiable books of games and activities and includes titles such as Primary Grammar Box, Primary Music Box, Primary Communication Box and Primary Vocabulary Box
    • Muzzy is a language course for children created by the BBC
    • TeachChildrenESL.com is an internet site created by a group of teachers and offers free worksheets, flashcards, games and songs. They also publish articles on how to teach English as a second language to children and promote other TEYL websites

    RESOURCES:

    • Teaching English Games: http://www.teachingenglishgames.com/
    • Muzzy: http://www.early-advantage.com/
    • Teach Children ESL: http://www.teachchildrenesl.com/about.htm
    • The Cambridge Copy Collection: