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  Basic Teaching Tips

"Kids are keen."

If you need a mantra for your young children classes, let it be this one. Children are natural learners. Think how quickly they learn to master their own language and social environment. 

However, don't assume that because children learn their native tongue effortlessly that they will pick up English with equal ease. This is one of the myths of language learning. In fact, not all children (even very young ones) are good at learning a second language.

With little ones, comprehension should exceed the ability to speak. Try not to use broken English to communicate with your students, though you can accept it from them. Work with children's love of puzzles (and language is a puzzle) and their tolerance for imperfection.  

Having Fun

Children appreciate offbeat humor. Be wacky if it is in you. If it is not, take some advice. For example: 

1) Put a sticker somewhere on your body. The first child to spot it when you walk in the class gets to keep it. 

2) Walk into class with your coat on backwards, or socks on your hands. Tell the students you are handing out pens for writing and hand out licorice instead. When the students tell you it's a sunny day put on your coat and shiver. 

3) Ask silly questions. If you show a picture of a rhino, ask if it is a dog. Kids love this. It makes them feel confident when they understand a situation well enough in another language to laugh. If you show a picture of a fridge, pretend to open the door and take out a glass of milk. Offer it to a nearby student.


Showing a genuine interest in your students can help motivation. One of the best ways to show your interest is to come well prepared. Throwing a lesson plan together a few minutes before class shows contempt for your work, and consequently your students. 

Be likeable. Be warm. Consider the following: When adults like you they want to speak to you. Little children are no different. Try to have the sort of class where students really want to tell you what is their favorite animal or how many brothers and sisters they have. 

Use humor and show enthusiasm. Play with the intonation of your voice. Make your voice crack when you begin to speak. 

Remember you are teaching little children. Often the silliest humor works charms on them. See "Fun" above.

Young children can also often be motivated with treats or rewards. Every teacher must decide for themselves when the line is crossed between motivation and bribery. Treats can be stickers, stamps and coins, but also stories, songs, videos, and PE games. 


Greetings help to create an English (western) environment right from the start of class. They also help you to memorize the children's names and test their mood that day. Be warm and humorous. If your students answer "Here!" when you call out their names, pretend you can't hear one student. 

Say "goodbye" in some clear fashion. Use the same song, game, expression, etc., at the end of every class. This helps to avoid confusion and gives the students confidence (as they know what to expect). A fun goodbye also ends the class on a positive note, which leaves the children wanting to come back next time. 

Note: Change the goodbye song, game, expression, etc., periodically to avoid tedium. Make sure the children are aware of the change. "Today, are we going to sing Goodbye to you? No! Today, we are going to say See you next time."


Most teachers like to warm-up their class with a physical activity. This activity can set the tone and mood for the rest of the class. It can also give you a sense of where the students are that day. Are they enthusiastic, or tepid? Are they active or lethargic? Are they in for a challenge or seem to want the comfort of something familiar?

Songs or chants are always a good way to warm up the class. TPR helps get a class up and physical while working their minds into English mode. 

Interludes include short activities between longer ones, and activities to get the energy back after a long session of drills, reading, etc. 

Interludes can include short songs or chants. They may also include simple guessing games. "What is in my hand?" Or riddles, like, "What is big and has a long nose?"

Lesson Plans

Don't be lazy! Please, prepare a proper lesson plan for every class. A proper lesson plan for a children's class includes more activities than you have time for. Be over prepared in case one or more games do not please the students that day. Always have several backup activities.

Lesson plans need to have a clear language target. What sentence pattern are you focusing on? What vocabulary? What are you going to review? A lesson plan that answers all these questions clearly is one that provides focus and direction for the teacher. In practical terms, it can mean help in choosing the type of activities you will do. Having a clear focus also helps to build on previous lessons, and to integrate the vocabulary and patterns of old lessons into new ones. 

Even very experienced teachers should have a detailed lesson plan.


Always review previously taught material. If you did body parts last week and are doing animals this week, ask the children about the animals' body parts. Where is the lion's stomach? How many ears does the monkey have? If you teach English as though it were a series of independent themes and sentence patterns then your students will likely retain very little of what you teach them.

Very young children also cannot be taught grammar rules in a formal way. Even translating segments of English into the native tongue will not help much. If, for example, you're teaching "this and that" you must use frequent examples, over many classes, to get children to understand the difference. 

It is better to teach something for 5  minutes a day, every day, than 5 hours once, one day. If you are teaching the weather, for example,  ask questions every class. "How is the weather today? Is it sunny now?" And work the weather (or whatever theme) into new lessons. "What color is the sky? Is it sunny in winter? It is raining on the farm. Are the horses sad? Are the ducks sad?"

Misbehavior: Prevention

Be prepared. Your best defense against misbehavior is a clear, detailed lesson plan. But the best lesson plan will not work if half your class is absent or the kids are cranky or tired. Have a "back- up" plan. Carry a list of your favorite games, activities, and stories so that you can quickly make adjustments if you need to, with no stress to yourself and no wasted time for the students. Wasted time (you shuffling through your notes, or bag for an activity) is an open invitation to  misbehavior. 

Names. Know the names of all your students. Give the kids name tags if you find this easier. Watch for kids who are starting to misbehave. Sometimes just saying their name can help bring their attention back. 

Demonstrate. Clearly demonstrate what you want the students to do. Show the student by doing an action first for them. If you need to explain something, keep the instructions short and simple. Sometimes when you are demonstrating you may show what an inappropriate action would be. Show that such an action will lead to the student being asked to sit down or leave the classroom. 

Co-teacher. Often, with kindergarten or pre-K classes, you work with an assistant. DO NOT expect the assistant to cover for your sloppy discipline. DO NOT let the kids run wild and expect the co-teacher to clean up. Have a sense of what your boundaries are. 

Energy. Everyone wants an energetic class, but do not think that students are only having fun if they are crazy. This is probably the single biggest mistakes made by new ESL/EFL teachers abroad (especially male teachers). Try to imagine that the children are your own. Would you want them to be taught that it is alright to  run around the classroom whenever they want to? Or that they can interrupt the teacher or other students? Do you think it is cute when your nephews or nieces are unruly? 

Pacing. Pacing and timing are crucial. While these are skills that cannot really be taught (as they are intuitive) there are some points to consider.

1) Don't allow an activity to burn itself out. Stop it and proceed to something new before the students grow bored with it. 
2) Follow a high energy game with a calming story or worksheet. Follow a Q&A session with a riddle and reward the correct student with candy or a sticker. 
3) Don't give up on an activity just because the students didn't like it the first time. If you think it is fun, try again a week or two later. It's incredible how the same children can have a completely different response to something one day to the next. This also applies to popular games they like. If one day the kids seem disinterested, then forget about the game for a while. 

Rewards. Rewards help to prevent or stop misbehavior. Little children respond well to stickers, stamps, coins and candy, especially if they can turn groups of these objects in for bigger rewards like pencils, yo-yo's, books, etc.

Misbehavior: Handling

Warnings. Prior to any form of discipline, makes sure you have given a clear warning to a student that you are not satisfied with his or her behavior. One method is to get the student's attention and then write his or her name on the board. Another is to change the seating arrangement. Often this alone will alert the child to their behavior. Be clear in your initial warning, but don't make too big an issue of it.

Understanding. Try to understand why there is a problem. Children often act up because a cold or the flu is coming on. Or because they didn't get a good night's sleep. Second language teaching presents special challenges to the teacher as we cannot often ask our students directly what is wrong. If we understand where a problem is coming from we will be in much better position to prescribe a cure. 

Assistants. Make the problem child your assistant. This is a popular and often successful method of dealing with a misbehaving child. It gives the more talented a new challenge, while the struggling ones gets a boost of confidence. For both kinds of children it may allow them to participate in class in a non-disruptive way.

Exclusion. Exclude the misbehaving child from activities. This is a later (though not last) step to take. Do not let the disruptive child play games with the class until he or she seems willing to co-operate. Some teachers have a "time-out" spot in their classroom where children go to sit when they are being disruptive. Ideally the child should not sulk in this corner but think about their behavior and allow themselves time to calm down. 

Be consistent. New teachers often fail to be consistent in their expectations of the class. Too often they find themselves playing catch up, trying to stop behavior that they let go for the first few weeks. Decide before you enter a new class what are your values and limitations. Will you accept an answer if a student has not raised his hand? Will you allow students to talk to each other while you are teaching? How must students address you? What will you do if one student punches another? Or calls another a name? If you don't have a game plan, how do you expect to win, or even do well?

Alert parents. If a child is consistently misbehaved, talk to, or ask the school to talk to the parents. Mothers and fathers can often straighten out their young children much faster than you can.


Total Physical Response (TPR) was developed by Dr. James Asher. It is a theory or methodology in which students respond physically to the teacher's instructions, usually commands. TPR is meant to mimic the natural learning process of a child. 

For more information see the following sites. 


Command Language

Based on TPR (Total Physical Response) theory, command language can be classroom management language. Example of command language are: Sit down. Stand up. Open your book. Close your book. Touch. Come. Walk Run. top. Go back. Clap your hands. Stomp your feet. Both the teacher and students can practice issuing the command language.

Command language helps with discipline as the children get used to obeying commands in English. This is important if you have no Chinese co-teacher, and no fluency in the native tongue of the students. Command language, by keeping kids busy and active, also reduces boredom and its ensuing disciplinary problems.

Shy Children

For those students who are genuinely too shy or nervous to speak out (especially in the early stages) encourage them to use non-verbal cues to show they understand. They can nod their head or just touch the appropriate flashcard or object. With steady encouragement from the teacher these students can soon become confident enough to join in with the other students. 

Still Lost?

Don’t worry, the internet has a wealth of information! In fact, we have discovered one of the best ways to learn is by watching YOUTUBE! Simply type in some key words, such as “teaching English to children” or “how to teach English,” and you will see tons of video clips pop up. We highly suggest that you take some time to watch how others teach. You will gain some new insights on how to approach teaching kids!