Group These Ell Students For In-Class English Language Arts Activities Classroom Activities For Young ESL Learners

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Classroom Activities For Young ESL Learners

The brain likes to learn in small chunks. Small children have short attention spans. Put these two thoughts together and add the fact that learning a new language is not an easy task. Therefore, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher has a daunting task to keep young students interested, awake and motivated to learn.

My young students range from 5 to 14 years old and my classes last two to three hours. Preparing interesting and relevant lessons is an ongoing challenge. Working from a textbook is a good place to start. Textbooks for children generally offer some good activities, but I find that I have to supplement these. For one thing, the texts are often designed for a multilingual class of immigrant children who are learning in a new English environment such as in Canada, England, USA or Australia. In my case, I live and teach in Thailand, so almost all my students are Thai and most of the texts mean nothing. For example, dialogues like “Good morning, José. “How are you, Aziz?” need to change. Foods like “bacon and eggs”, “roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding” or “ham and split-pea soup”. are unknown and meaningless to Thai children. I often end up writing my own short dialogues with local names and familiar foods, places, etc. The key is to make the learning relevant, especially with young students If you don’t have it, you’ll get bored quickly.

Every fifteen to twenty minutes, try to change the activity, leaving the most difficult things first (grammar, spelling, phonetics, etc.). Children know that if they apply themselves to learning at the beginning of the lesson, they will be rewarded later with some fun activities. But, even hard things can be lightened. For pre-teens, I live a series called “The Grammar Lab”. It is centered around an imaginary group of strange and decidedly eccentric characters: Splodge, Ruff and Tumble, Mo and Snapper, Mabel and Mildred. I have also used parts of the texts with some of my adult classes.

Students relate to visual stimulation and I like to engage them in learning activities rather than standing in front of the class and teaching them. The boys draw pictures of words that start with a specific letter. Use the great phonics material from and. He likes to color, so try to make this an educational activity such as coloring numbers, shapes, letters or pictures with easy captions.

Simon Says is very popular with my young classes. I use it to teach actions: Stand up, sit down, touch the nose, turn left, for example I often end a class with five minutes of Simon Says.

Board games like concentration are fun. Instead of matching pictures, sometimes students have to match a picture with a word. This is good for building vocabulary.

The Never-ending Story is one I use often. About fifteen minutes in, I’ll start writing on the board “A funny thing happened to me on Saturday.” Then, I hand the chalkboard marker to a student to write the next sentence. Students enjoy creating their own story and writing in characters and situations. I use this to teach descriptive adjectives, pronouns and other grammar points.

Another good vocabulary builder is “Categories”. I write 30-36 words on one end of the board and five or six categories such as Office, Water, Colors, School, Hospital or Job. Students have to go up to the board and one by one place each word under the correct category heading.

I added a twist to Snakes and Ladders by asking students to use a word or phrase before moving on.

Because the brain learns best in small doses, changing the activity regularly is how I keep my students as interested as I can. Learning should be fun and it’s up to the teacher to make it happen. If you have the opportunity to try some of these activities in your classroom, I would be interested to hear from you how they were received. Email me at [email protected] If you would like a copy of my eBook “Introduction to Teaching Overseas”, contact me at [email protected]

Dr. Robert Taylor

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