Practical techniques for teaching young learners

17/05/2010 09:01


 by Barbara Ussher-Crespi

School Advisor for teachers of English, A. Athens


Things to do

Things not to do

1. Introduce one new concept at a time - be sure that the concept is understood before moving on

2. Involve children physically in presentation of new language concepts

3. Use visuals: flash cards are easy to make

4. Sing songs, use music, play games

5.Find short activities

6.Use variety: not all children

  learn in the same way

7. Repeat basic concepts as much as


8. Reward all progress –PRAISE

  try to make your pupils like


9. Plan two lessons ahead so

  children can bring teaching aids

 to class


REMEMBER: Learning is doing


1. Don't make your pupils copy too much from the black board e.g. I am walking, you are walking, he is walking, she is walking, it is walking etc.

2. Avoid metalanguage unless you're sure it's understood by everyone, e.g., if you teach that 'verbs' are doing words, this information must be accompanied by actions to demonstrate the concept

3. Don't explain grammar through use of formal rules;

4. Don’t give bad grades

5. Avoid negative criticism






Benefits of group work

1. Pupils are interacting independently -exchanging ideas, comparison of personal opinions, solving problems. (there are few opportunities for real NS-NNS exchanges for pupils)

2. Increase of pupil talking time.

3. Less face threatening - slower learners not shown up in front of whole class.

4. Pupils work at their own pace -better for individuals in mixed-ability classes.

5. Two heads are better than one -enables cooperation to discover language rules.

6. Relaxing - It encourages cooperation not competition -Greek can be used where communication difficulty.


Disadvantages of group work

1. Difficult to organize, inflexible seating.

2. T feels she/he is not in control- difficult to monitor, excites pupils, upsets colleagues (and head teacher) in adjoining classrooms.

3. Artificial - pupils use L1 for real communication not L2.

4. Pupils learn each other’s mistakes - not getting enough ‘correct’ input from the teacher.


How do we cope with group work?

From the beginning of the year ground rules should be established - good habits are learnt through repetition. Pupils must be trained in doing group work:

·      To move chairs quietly -2 pupils turn chairs round to join desk behind them, groups of 4 the most practical in Greek classes

·      To elect a group leader and a scribe (change regularly)

·      So as not to make too much noise - try playing quiet instrumental music while the pupils are working.



Reasons for making a lesson plan:

1. Helps teacher think logically about the stages of the lesson and time available.


a) WARM UP           Teacher controlled     

b) PRESENTATION            "      "           

c) CONTROLLED PRACTICE     "      "           

d) (FREE) PRODUCTION    Pupil controlled   


NB: These stages may not all be included in the lesson. They may not be in this order.


2. Keeps teacher on target. (Although we must not be too rigid)

3. Acts as a record of lesson and may be used again.


Questions to ask before making LP:

1. What language do you want to present, practice or revise?

2. What do you expect Ps to be able to do at the end of the lesson?

3. What will you do to make that possible?

4. What role are you and the pupils going to take at each stage?

5. How will you break up the lesson into main stages?

6. How will you link the stages?

6. Is it realistic?

7. Do the activities match the aims?


The lesson plan itself:

1. Important items should be hi-lighted or in bigger letters.

2. It must make sense if it's to be used again.

3. Leave space to add comments after the lesson.

4. Note at the top of the page: the class, the level, the course book, the     number of Ss, possible difficulties.


Things to take into consideration:

1. The age of the pupils

2. The level of the pupils

3. The size of the class

4. The physical conditions: size of classroom (for activities involving

  physical movement)

5. Is it the last hour of the day, near holidays, near exam time? etc.

6. Should Greek be used sometimes to save time in explanations? (the higher

 the level the less need there should be)

7. The aims of the lesson - if they only need practice because they already

 know it, presentation won't be necessary.

8. The long term goals of the pupils - not all pupils need to know a lot of new

 language, but they need to use what they know more fluently.


Example of teacher’s organiser: Week 13, Nov 30 – Dec 4


Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

After lesson comments

3rd grade





4th grade





5th grade





6th grade

P26 (pictures)

Sailor,fat man (belly etc

P 27

P28(flash cards)

Game for comparisons

Miss p 29




Flash cards should be clearly drawn and large enough for the whole class to see if blu-tacked to the blackboard. Use a thick pen to draw. They can be cut from a magazine. They must be simple. They can be made on a piece of white card and used again and again. Commercially made flash cards are a little expensive but if they can be used for many different activities it may be worth investing in a pack. Stick men can be drawn or downloaded from the Internet free.It is easy to make your own flash cards.














1. Action games:

Simon says. 

Used to teach imperatives, giving instructions, parts of the body etc. Everything the pupils have to do must be prefaced by “Simon say …” , e.g. “Simon says put your hands on your head”. If the teacher (pupil) gives an instruction without saying “Simon says” the pupils who do the action must sit down. The last one out wins.



This can be used in a number of variations for beginners. Write 20 past tense verbs on the bb. Ask 2 pupils to come to the bb. Then give the rest of the class the present tenses of the verbs on slips of paper and ask them to call them out in random order while the 2 Ps try to put a ring around the past tenses using different coloured chalk. The P to cross out the most verbs is the winner. This might be done with any grammar such as plurals, or even short sentences. This is noisy!


 2. Word games:

Noughts and crosses. (triliza)

This can be used for determiners (some, a few etc) on the bb. Ps have to produce correct sentences using the required language to get a point. Also irregular past tense verbs.


how many   how much   a lot   

 little   a little     few

 some      any        a few


Hang man. (kremala)


3. Memory games:

How many can you remember?

Draw 6-8 objects on OHP. Show the class. Turn off the OHP and get Ps to write down as many objects as they can remember. This can be done with objects which can be covered up. This can be used to practice plurals. The T moves the objects then asks Ps to remember what she has done. Describing and comparing may be done.


4. Question and answer games:

Don’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Divide the class into groups. Ask questions very rapidly of any group. The question cannot be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example “Your name is Peter isn’t it?”, must be answered with something like, ‘I was given that name when I was born”. Each correct answer gets a point. After a mistake go to another group.


5. Picture games:

Arrange the pictures.

Photocopy cartoons. Cut them up. Put them in envelopes and get the Ss to put them in order and then tell the story to the class.


Happy twins.

Mount line drawings of 2 parts of a whole such as a cup and saucer, hand and glove, key and door etc. Divide the class in 2 and give each half to the 2 different groups. Ss start to describe their picture to the class without showing it. The student who has the pair must show it and his or her group gets a point if he’s right. If he’s wrong he loses a point for his team.



Breen, M.P. and Littlejohn, A. 2000. Classroom Decision-Making, Cambridge: CUP

Cameron, L. 2001. Teaching Languages to Young learners, Cambridge: CUP

Doff, A. 1988. Teach English, Cambridge: CUP

Harmer, J. 1990. The practice of English Language Teaching, (Longman)

Lee, W.R. 1985, Language teaching games and Contests (OUP)

Lewis, M. & Hill, J. 1981. Source Book for Teaching English Overseas,


Rinvolucri, Mario 1984 Grammar games, (CUP)

Shaw, P & de Vet, T. 1980. Using blackboard drawing. (Practical Language


Wright, A. 1989. Pictures for Language Learning. (CUP).

Wright, Betteridge & Buckby 1990, Games for language learning. (CUP)

Fried_Booth Diana, 1990, Project Work. (OUP)