Teaching ESL to Children

An ESL teacher of children has a difficult and challenging job; however, the job is also very rewarding. To teach children ESL you must be patient, fun as well as playful. You might think you are teaching ESL to small adults, but this would be incorrect. Teaching ESL to children is different from teaching adults. Below are a few tips to help when teaching ESL to children.


1. Use activities that are hands-on

The mind of a child is open and free therefore they can learn by directly absorbing concepts as well as ideas. This also means that children need to be active participants in the learning process. They must be engaged in activities or else they will lose interest. This is similar to adults, but the difference is in the amount of activity. Children need movement, enjoy singing songs as well as playing many games. Students will remember your lessons more if they are full of hands on experiences and activities.

2. Avoid lecture-style lessons

Children have a short attention span; so, speaking at them for a long period of time will cause them to lose interest. The energy level of an ESL class full of children will drop if you run a teacher centered class. The class should be student centered. You should keep the students moving. When explaining an activity, do so quickly and then start the activity. If an activity you had planned doesn’t work, move on to the next. Always have extra ideas planned because children need constant stimulation.

3. Interaction is good

Children learn well when they can interact with other students as well as the teacher. Make an effort to speak individually with each child during each class. Use a lot of group and pair activities to encourage interaction. Try to vary the groups and pairs so that the children get to practice working with a variety of other children. This helps with socialization and also creates a sense of class unity. Try to remember small facts about each student and always acknowledge birthdays. This also helps with interaction between students and the teacher.

4. Review, Review, Review and Praise, Praise, Praise!

Children learn best when new information is meaningful. They like to know how new concepts connect to ones they already know. A review at the beginning of each class, discussing what was done in the previous class as well as at the end of your lessons, will help the children remember important concepts and get students engaged. It is also important to let students know that they are doing well. Positive reinforcement will make children motivated to learn and help with classroom engagement as well as management.  You can praise students in many ways. It can be as simple as saying “good job”. Some teachers of ESL children’s classes use a reward system to help praise and motivate students.

5. Encourage Self-Correction

Being able to correct yourself is an important part of learning. You should encourage children to ask questions about their progress in your ESL class and help other students. This can be done by pairing students, who understand concepts, together with students who might be struggling. You should also circulate around the class during group and pair work asking the students what they are working on and if they have any questions.


Teaching ESL to children is difficult at first and takes getting used to. It will also probably be the most fun you ever have in a classroom. The rewards far outweigh the difficulties you might face.