Children have a reputation as the best second-language learners. Language learning, in fact, comes naturally to many of them. If you teach English as a second language to children, take advantage of their strengths and work with their proclivity to learn a second language. See that your class provides a comfortable learning environment and emphasises oral work and communication. Make learning fun by an eclectic approach that addresses their individual interests and learning styles.
Maintain an accepting, cooperative environment so students feel at ease learning English. Education author D. Scott Enright also suggests making their cultures and customs a part of the lesson to make them more comfortable.
Emphasise listening, especially for beginners. Children normally learn their first language by listening before they speak; they also learn oral language before writing. Don't be dismayed if some children hesitate or even refuse to speak at first. Language acquisition author Stephen Krashen states that a silent period is normal whether a child is learning her first or second language. You can elicit nonverbal participation instead. For example, ask children to point to objects in the room as you name them. Use action games like "Head and shoulders knees and toes" or "Simon says." Your students will make the motions first and speak or sing later.
Give students a lot of practice in speaking in a variety of communicative activities. Have them use English to accomplish tasks both in the classroom and outside. For example, set up a play grocery or clothing store where some students are clerks and others are customers, or give them questionnaires or surveys for classroom and community use.
Allow children to learn grammar naturally, through using the language. Grammar does not need to be a special focus of instruction, especially for younger children. Correct their mistakes as a parent corrects a child learning the first language, however.
When you teach reading, combine a variety of techniques. Teach phonics, or the sounds of the letters, with basal readers as a necessary part of the curriculum, but add language experience and literature as well. In language experience, students tell their own stories to a scribe---usually the teacher at first. Then they learn to read their own stories. A literature approach at the elementary level introduces folk tales and children's poems to keep the lessons interesting and lively.
Integrate reading and writing with communicative activities that include listening and speaking. Have them write a shopping list for their play store, for example. Ask them to interview family members, write the results and summarise them orally to the class. For example, they could ask friends or family members what they eat for breakfast and lunch.
Keep the lessons relevant to their age, interests and other activities. Relate a lesson to topics in their school subjects, such as science or social studies. Bring in extra-curricular interests such as sports as well.
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Remember that children want to play and have fun. Bring the joy of games, songs, toys, puzzles and movement into the ESL classroom. Use video clips and real objects. Have the children put on puppet shows and do role plays. Teach them children's songs, folk songs or easy pop tunes. If you use variety in your lessons and add fun to the ESL classroom, chances are that all of your students will learn English better.
- Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting: First- and Second-Language Acquisition in Early Childhood
- "Supporting Children's English language Development"; D Scott Enright in "Teaching English"; Marianne Celce-Murcia, Editor; 1991
- "Teaching Children to Read in a Second Language"; Barbara Hawkins; in "Teaching English"; Marianne Celce-Murcia, Editor; 1991