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How to teach EFL/ESL to young learners?

Updated on May 29, 2012

English as Foreign Language (EFL) or English as Second Language (ESL)

I had spent two years in Fukuoka, Japan teaching English as Second Language/Foreign Language (ESL/EFL) to the students of various age groups right from preschoolers through university students and adults. I had thoroughly enjoyed my experience of teaching English as second language there though I have majored in Chemistry and the amout of love and respect that I had received from all the people I had interacted there will always remain in my fond memories.

This question from a respected hubber pressed that button and triggered the happy recollection of the teaching tools and practices which I had learnt there. In this hub I am planning to share the resources and teaching methodologies which I used to employ with the young learners and also share some photographs taken from that time.

Music is like an anchor

Music was the first thing which we used, especially with smaller kids of age group 1-6 years. I had some very good CDs of English songs and nursery rhymes, which I played at the beginning of the class and the students were taught to act the lyrics out. The body movement and the melody kept them enthused about the English class and before we could do anything else they were ready to have some fun in the next one hour. For example one of my favourite songs which was also a great hit with my little students was, "Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed", they sang the song and doing the gestures was the most enjoyable part.

  • Tips: Select some very good rhythmic and fast-paced songs with some humour in it, burn them on CD and play them.
  • When first introducing the song, show them pictures of the words in the song and enact them using body parts. Children are fast learners, they easily get the meaning if demonstrated with pictures and gestures. For example, show the picture of a monkey and pointing to the picture, say that it's a monkey. Teach them counting and say with show of fingers how ten monkeys become nine, then eight etc. 'One fell down and broke his head': so numbers and the body parts can be taught with this song.
  • After they get used to the songs (say four to five) and actions, you will see that they already have learnt a lot of vocabulary.
  • Review the same songs in every class, then add new songs one at a time depending on the learning needs of your students.

Music is an excellent way to get young learners sing and use English spontaneously, without being conscious that they are using a language other than their own.

Games will hold their attention and a lot can be achieved

Playing various games is another fun way of learning English, whether vocabulary or short sentences. With the kids of the age group 3-10, bingo and concentration games using flash cards work really well, but I used to modify the games in every class so that my students never lost interest. You could download board games, mazes or small flash cards for playing bingo from the following website. A lot of game ideas are available from this one-stop resource for ESL.


  • You can create games and see which ones are loved by your students or children, they give a lot of cues regarding how to teach them in an enjoyable way.
  • For example, young kids like preschoolers enjoys moving around a lot, running, hopping, jumping, skipping. So when I wanted to teach them new vocabulary, say things inside the house, then I used picture flashcards to introduce them to the new words. Then to review, we played games like, "Skip and get the bed" or "Hop and get the kitchen" etc.
  • You can spread the flashcards on the floor and make a maze of your choice, then ask the children to skip or jump or hop around to get the vocabulary which you want them to review.
  • You can also practice some small sentences by playing, Who am I? game. Take a picture of banana and hide it from your children, say 'I am yellow, I am a fruit, monkeys like me etc., very simple and short sentences and let them guess the hidden picture. So you can review colours, names of common things around us and more importantly small sentemces in chunks.
  • You can always have fun and teach through playing games like Hide and Seek (counting, sentences like, "I found you" or "I can see you" or Lock and Key. Remember whatever you play, you must continue to speak in short English sentences and use gestures.
  • Always give incentives or little rewards, whether smilies or stickers or certificates to keep up their motivation level. The children who learn ESL speak in their mother tongue to express their feelings, so to speak in English they need to be inspired.

Organize parties occasionally and celebrate special days

Integrating culture is an important part of learning any language. Organize small parties on special occasions like Christmas, New Year and have them ask for drinks or chips using polite sentences such as "Thank you" or "Can I have some more" etc.

Give them opportunities to celebrate festivals and special occasions of other cultures as well, realizing the importance of learning English is the key to their imbibing the language. Show them pictures or presentations or videos of children from all parts of the world, children being sensitive get connected to other children of the world and find English as the means of communicating with them.

More than anything the children need a congenial environment to speak, sing, do, play in English confidently and not only keep feeling guilty of not being able to pronounce well or use the correct accent. Accent and pronunciation will fall in place with more maturity. But to be able to communicate freely without hesitation is the key, which we used to focus on while teaching ESL.


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    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      Songs and games were fantastic for my younger primary school students (also in Japan - Fukushima). I found that the high school teachers were less open to using such activities, preferring to focus only on the textbook. I encouraged games that revised their textbooks as often as I could. It was hard to manage the prep and activities when jumping between 3 high schools and so many primaries, but invaluable teaching experience.