Teaching Children Versus Adults

How do children learn? Can you teach children grammar? What about skills lessons? Pronunciation? Can they do pair and group work? What about classroom management?

Webinar Summary

This post is also available in: English

Well, this is our third live about professional development courses for teachers, just talking about the courses. So we’re having a bit of a series of lives that we’re talking about each course separately. Now we’re talking about one more specific course which is the IH Certificate for Teaching Young Learners. 

How do they learn? Is it the same as adults?
Well, it’s kind of yes and no, because young learners is a very broad term because really young learners covers anything from 4, 5, 6 up to 16-17, they’re still young learners. It’s just that we tend to categorize teenagers, especially between ages of 15 and 18, as young adults. And in fact I should say 16 to 18 are considered young adults but of course children mature at different rates. So some 13 and 14 year old children are actually a bit like 18-year-olds because they’re just more mature and more grown-up.

People often say young learners when they’re thinking about primary aged children, which, of course, depending on countries can range from 5 to 11, or 6 to 11. And then we’ve got the next group, sort of 11,13, 14, which has different names in different countries, we tend to call them middle school, or in the British system they would be called lower secondary, in the American system, they would be junior high. So these are all names for pretty much the same thing, that’s just different ways of describing them.

Obviously, children are, younger children especially are cognitively different especially before they get to sort of 12, I would say 12-ish because children do develop at different rates. And so, the way they learn is different, if you’re talking about five and six-year-olds, then we can’t do much writing because they still haven’t learned to write particularly well in their mother tongue and they’re still learning how to write in their mother tongue.

So, obviously in teaching English, we can’t expect to do too much writing with them because and that applies to reading as well because they’re still learning these things, these skills that are taught to us in our mother tongue. So that’s going to be a big difference if you’re teaching young primary and KG. Obviously, you won’t be talking about grammar rules because they don’t even know what that is in their own language.

So it means that a teacher doesn’t teach them grammar.
We do, just differently. Basically, with children, if we’re showing them how to make simple sentences, we can do it with pictures or colored cards. So we’ve done grammar but in a way that makes sense for the child. You can use realia, as we do in adult classes too, and we use pictures in adult classes, but we’re going to use cards. And if they’ve got to the stage where they’re reading reasonably. Well, I can also show them words as colors.

So we teach you grammar for adults and for young learners, the way is different.

How about the skills lessons, like listening, reading, writing, speaking and so on?
Again, this will also depend on how much they’ve done in their mother tongue. So it’s usually advisable to wait until they’ve started reading in their mother tongue. You don’t have to, here’s plenty of research that says you can do both at the same time and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s like learning the mother tongue and English. Because children with bilingual parents, mixed marriage parents, for example, pick up languages very easily, so in terms of speaking and comprehension, that’s absolutely fine.

And if they’re reading in their own language, then they can be ready to transfer that basic skill, let’s say for the younger ones, into English and even if the alphabets are different, because they’ve already got used to decoding, blending, especially for teachers who are using phonics, who are very familiar with it. So if we’re doing reading lessons and perhaps we’re going to start with easy texts, maybe with songs and things like this. And we might have to take into account that we might have to use some teaching reading techniques, like phonics systems, blending, sounding out, we might need to do some reading aloud, which we don’t do in adult classes, because adults don’t need to read aloud because it’s not a life skill, whereas reading aloud with children is okay because that’s part of the emergent reader process.

And when the children are a bit older and getting better at reading, becoming more confident, we can still do the same things we do with adults, like skimming and scanning, and more intensive comprehension so listening. Listening and speaking are easier because we can do those things through songs and stories nursery rhymes, because they’re good at listening and repeating, they’re good at copying. 

Whereas writing, that’s a skill that needs teaching directly, because they’re probably emergent writers in their own language, especially for the younger ones and especially if you’re writing in Arabic, for example, so they’ve got to learn the other direction, form shapes.

So you might have to do some basic literacy teaching depending on where you’re working. If it’s a language center, usually the children who come for classes already have those skills, they’ve already been taught at school, but you’re going to have to take Into account that they’re not going to write long sentences and you got to start with short sentences.

Maybe start with children’s poems, show them how to make poems and shapes with words. And again, as they get older, they can write sentences, they can write paragraphs, but they will need help. Plus, especially the younger ones, we shouldn’t force writing too much because they’re still learning how to hold the pen correctly, the thing is quite difficult and it’s painful because it’s using different muscles, so we have to be very patient.

So those things that we have to bear in mind, because the thing with adults and children is adults have learned those skills already because they’re adults, they’ve been to school, many have been to university, so they’re already confident readers and writers. Whereas when you’re a child, you’re still learning those skills, so you’re going to need some extra support. So as the children get older, to 10, 11, 12, 13, obviously they’ll be very confident writers by that stage unless they have learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

How does it go if I teach pronunciation to young learners?
Probably the easiest job in the world, actually, because we do it through songs and nursery rhymes, especially the smaller children, and it’s the best time because they copy everything. So everything you say, they copy, and they are often copied perfectly and so pronunciation is usually pretty easy to teach, especially if you do things like songs chants, nursery rhymes, doing them at natural rhythm. 

The bones here are still very soft, so this is why so many linguists recommend teaching children as many languages as possible while they’re very young because their bones can make all those different sounds that may not exist in their mother tongue.

Pronunciation is the least of your worries. Usually children who start learning languages at a very young age usually have very clear pronunciation. Basically their pronunciation is as clear as yours. So if your pronunciation as a teacher is clear, that pronunciation will be clear.

One of the things that we had to focus on when we’re teaching adults and this was emphasized to a great deal, even in the TEFL or CELTA course, which is group work and pair work. So not to make the class teacher-centered, you need to make it student-centered. So how do we do this with young learners? 
It is going to be a bit more teacher-centered, especially in the early years because children are not used to those ways of working, it’s not how children work and especially if the children are the only one because they’re not used to sharing, and even kids sometimes who grew up with brothers and sisters are not very good at sharing.

And so we have to go slowly with group and pair work, and what you find is that, especially the younger primary kids, they like working with other children around them, but they might want to do something on their own so it might not be natural for them to work in pairs with their friend at the beginning, but we can teach them how to do it.

You just have to start slow and build up. You have to teach them, don’t assume that they know how to do it immediately and you might find for a while they don’t do it very well.  It’s just because it’s new, because remember, when children are four, five and six and seven, they’re still getting used to that sort of school routine, things that you do at school, that you don’t do at home. So some children learn very quickly and others don’t.

So how can I manage a classroom if I’m teaching young learners?
It can be absolutely terrifying teaching children when you’re used to teaching adults. Well, the first thing you’ve got to remember is adults choose to come to the language center for lessons. Most of them paid out of their own pockets and many of them know their reasons and they are adults, they’ve got life experience and they have a clear idea of what they want in life. So they know that English will help them, good command of English will get them a better job.

Children don’t have a choice in going to school. So they don’t have any choice in the matter. They are motivated, but it’s maybe a different motivation. So we have to find out what their motivations are, because their world is a very different world. The things that interest them are things like mummy, daddy, brothers and sisters, toys, including mobile devices and stuff like that.

So, again, children need to learn how to operate in learning environments. So things like pair work, if they want something when at home they probably just take it, so they see a pen and they grab it. So that might be okay at home, but it’s not in class because usually they’ve taken that pen from another child. So you got to be prepared for things like that and you have to teach them to say, “can I borrow your pen please?”

They need to learn those skills, that when they want something they have to ask. Even if they’re coloring a picture in class, for example, I have the box of colored pencils and they have to ask me in English, but let’s say they’re five-year-olds and six-year-olds and not very good at sentences but they have to say the color, and “please” So they get into the habit of understanding that they have to ask for something. They must ask politely and they don’t just take it like that, so we have to teach them social skills.

So like you said, teaching adults is a piece of cake in terms of classroom management, because the worst thing that they’ll do is speak their mother tongue a bit too much, or they come late because they have responsibilities, or they got caught in the traffic.

So children are different because they are still learning how to manage themselves. So we kind of have to teach them because those are things they should be learning at home, but of course, that will vary. Some people are doing a better job than others because we know that in caution if you teach children from rather rich families, the kids can be very spoiled and are not used to doing what they’re told. So that varies as well, that can make a big difference.

So we have to plan our classroom management. On CELTA, for example, we didn’t teach you how to do that because we were preparing you for teaching adults. If you’re teaching kids, you need to be very clear on the things that you’re going to do, like do you have a system for getting the books out, do you have a system for collecting colored pencils at the end of the lesson or giving out paper for drawing, there’s a whole load of things you need routines for. 

So that’s very important, children need routines and they feel safe. Once they know what the system is, then they start to behave more appropriately. And anyway, for many years now, most course books have really nice classroom management songs and chants. They come into class in the morning, you do a good morning song and then you get everybody together. They follow the song and then they follow the instructions. So forget the explanations, just demo everything, instructions, what you want them to do, TPR (Total Physical Response) Using your body language to show them what you want them to do.

You must also know the rules of the school you’re working at, what are the consequences, you need a system and if your school doesn’t have a clear system or a system that you know of, then you have to implement your own, things like classroom contracts. Keep them engaged, obviously the younger students, because the concentration cognitive level is lower, you’ve got to keep the class moving, keep them active, don’t expect them to sit for 30-40 minutes non-stop, because if you do, you will have chaos.

And it’s not fair to ask them to do that. That is not natural in any country, in any culture, and to force children to sit for 30-40 minutes at once is so difficult because they’re fidgeting and moving. And this is often the source of many classroom management problems because they’re bored. Whereas the older ones, 12 and 13, can sit still for longer periods of time but even so, they need brakes as well. Change the pace, change the task, and same with teenagers.
So those are some of the main differences between teaching kids and adults.

This is about IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners. You can check how to apply and so on the International House Cairo website. Look at the course content of the teaching English to Young Learners and Teenagers because the course is aimed at teachers who are teaching from age 6 up to 17.

That will help me more if I want to work for school or in a language center, but for the ages 4-5 to 17-18?
Absolutely. Well, it’ll depend where you are. Obviously, it might be useful if you work at a mainstream normal school already, and this always comes back to the laws of the country. If the government expects you to have a bachelor of Education and teaching certificate, from a university in your own country, then of course, that will be the first thing.

But this will be a useful addition because it might give you some nice refresher ideas or a few new ideas. And if you’ve never taught kids before, this course is also useful. So, there’s something for everybody, experienced or inexperienced. But nowadays, in many language centers around the world, it’s very common that you will be asked to teach kids, and it might be part of the contract. So it is more and more common that you will be asked to teach kids at least once or twice a week.

If I have just CELTA, this is enough to teach young learners or I need to do a YL certificate?
On CELTA, we don’t prepare you for teaching children. You might have one session. it is aimed at teaching adults, that’s really from 16 upwards and there is no CELTA course on the planet that ever prepares you for teaching children because that’s not the main aim. You might have one session in the last week where your tutor does a session on teaching kids, and maybe they show you a couple of activities, story and some games or whatever but that’s usually about it.

So CELTA wasn’t designed for that. Years and years ago, there used to be two kinds of CELTA courses. One was called CELTA and the other one was called CELT YL. So you could do a four-week course in teaching young learners or you did the CELTA, the Cambridge one. Until 2016, Cambridge had a YL extension certificate, which is two weeks after the CELTA course. But the IH Certificate for Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers has been around for a very long time, and it’s also accredited by Cambridge, so it’s probably the best replacement that you can find. 

So if I do a certificate of Young Learners at IH, that means it’s certified from Cambridge as well? 
Yes, you’ll get a Cambridge Assessment certificate because IH and Cambridge Language worked together on many projects, especially training courses.

Bullying between kids and how to deal with it.
That’s what you’ll have to come and do the course for because it’s a huge question. Because this is a pastoral issue and we need to sit down and talk about that very carefully because that will depend on the policies of your school because bullying is a really difficult thing to deal with, because we have to first check with the school rules, because the school has its own rules on how to deal with it. And we also need to find out what kind of bullying it is and what the teacher is allowed to do when bullying takes place in class, or in the playground.

But I don’t like to dodge this question because it’s really, really important, but it’ll take a few lives to deal with it. And so we need to find out what kind of bullying it is, where it’s taking place, what is actually happening, is there violence involved? Is it verbal bullying? And is this something we can take to the principal, the head of the school? Is the bullying so serious that we need to get the police involved? That can also happen if there has been extreme violence, where a child was very badly injured, it does happen, not so commonly, but it’s not unheard of. Sorry to dodge that question but that’s something that we would probably deal with in more detail on the course itself because it’s huge.

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