Friday, 10 August 2012

Tips for Motivating Children in Class


Here are some tips to help ESL and general teachers who work with young children. Teaching children can be very challenging, but it can also be the most rewarding age group to teach. Don't be afraid to try out new things or to look silly, you never know, it might just be the method that gets the most out of your students! The methods below have mainly been learned through trial and error. Some of these ideas can be applied to different ages while others are more applicable for young learners or teenagers, depending on ability. 



1. Ask children to bring in their own toys to use for illustrations. 

A very simple but highly effective use of realia (tactile or visual objects used as learning tools). Obviously, children are very attached to their own toys and will be far more receptive if you include familiar toys in lessons. If you want to teach prepositions for instance, you could ask children to bring in dolls, Barbies, figurines etc. and give instructions like:

  • Put Barbie on the table
  • Put your doll under the desk 
  • Put Teddy on your head
  • Put Action Man in your bag

Alternatively, you could place the toy somewhere yourself and then ask the students, 'where is Barbie? ' 

This method doesn't have to involve a lot of planning, you can be spontaneous. If a child has brought a toy into the classroom, you could spend a few minutes chatting about it before the lesson begins properly. Over the last few months, I've used Star Wars Lego to narrate favourite scenes from the films, a globe to learn the names of different countries, and a Barbie doll to learn body parts in English. 

If a student is preoccupied with something he brought into class, this method could be used as a invaluable starter activity as a way to divert the children's attention back to the lesson. For example, a child once brought in a sticker album and wouldn't put it down but kept showing it to other students. I used the opportunity to teach them names of animals and made a game out of it, seeing how many animals they could name. Basically, use the toy as a teaching tool rather than fighting a battle against it.


2. Mix Realia with the Ridiculous

During TEFL training, teachers are encouraged to use real situations to give grammar a grounding in real life so that students can relate to it and regard it as useful for their own learning experience. When it comes to teaching children however, I've found that a mixture of real and ridiculous works best. 

Comical mental images (i.e. a shark playing tennis) keep their attention far better than the standard grammar examples you find in most text books. One trick for teaching grammar is to do it in such a way that children (and adults) not realize that's what they're learning. Ridiculous games are perfection for this kind of diversion. I often use surreal examples for a game I developed called 'Preposition Pictionary' where children have to draw scenes including a target preposition such as 'a witch on a surfboard' or 'a hippo on a pirate ship.'  

I usually have an emergency boardgame to hand (usually just a paper photocopy in my bag) such as snakes and ladders. When a student lands on a square, you can get them to guess a phrase of Pictice Pictionary or act out a mime (a great way of using up excess energy). For ages 10+ you can use more complicated mime scenarios such as eating spaghetti on a rollercoaster. These scenarios makes the laugh and ultimately they're more likely to remember them in the future. 


3. Be Honest and Open with the Children 

Children are very intuitive and know if you're giving empty promises so if you make a promise, always stick to it or everything else you say will lose all credibility. At the beginning of the lesson I like to explain that we'll spend the first part of the lesson doing work while we're all awake and then they will be rewarded with a game if they finish the work. You can tailor the game to revise the aims of the lesson. Games are an important part of learning as they reinforce everything you've done.


4. Tap Into Their Interests (and Obsessions)

Find out the interests of your students and use them to your advantage. Young children often have focused, almost obsessive, areas of interest. Tap into them and you'll have their attention instantly. I once taught a student who wouldn't pay attention to anything but the 100+ Pokemon cards in his pocket. I decided to make tenuous links to Pokemon (Can Pikachu swim?, Does Bulbasaur eat carrots?) and amazingly it managed to keep his attention for the whole lesson. 

Usually you can pick out areas of interests from whatever they are talking about before they settle down to study or you can simply ask them during mini breaks.  This is also good for building rapport with young learners. It's important them to keep up to date with the latest trends or films or at least have a general awareness. For the sake of my students I've put myself through Justin Bieber music videos and whole episodes of Selena Gomez's Wizards of Waverley Place! This method involves changing tactics for each class. What interests one set of students may be disastrous for others. Justin Bieber is particularly divisive.



5. Keeping the Attention of Talkative Students

As tempting as it is, I learned that if you start shh-ing, it never stops and your classroom will end up sounding like someone has left the tap on full blast! This is always a tricky situation and you don't want to resort to simply telling the student off. It's better to try other tactics. If a child is constantly talking, ask them a question while they're mid-sentence rather than telling them to be quiet. often they stop speaking to work out what you said. Using the names of students in examples will usually catch their attention (Does Matteo hate One Direction?) or ask them to translate a phrase with their name in it. 


6. The Power of Stickers 

Don't underestimate the power of colourful stickers for young learners! If if works for dentists and Jamie Oliver, it can work for you! My young students proudly plaster their books with stickers and flick through them with pride. You can build anticipation by letting them choose their next sticker halfway through the lesson. This motivates them to work well for the second half as they know the reward at the end (and the risk that another child might get their sticker if they don't get in quick).


I hope you've found these tips useful. Please leave a comment if you any other effective tips you use in the classroom. I'll post a second part in the series soon. 

Next Post: Travel Journal: Bolognese Recipes and Culinary History

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful blog thank you for stopping by mine. Happy Little Feet

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