Unless you received formal training beforehand, teaching children of all ages can be extremely difficult, and in my perception is something that a novice can never completely prepare for. Yes, you can complete your TEFL course and read all the articles the internet has to offer on how to teach children; but each child is an individual, and for the inexperienced teacher it can be difficult to engage all learner types.
In my 4 months of teaching in a Kindergarten I’ve seen teachers who demand a very structured and disciplined class and others who encourage a much livelier and more relaxed atmosphere; both of which have produced excellent levels of English in their students! However, there are some commonalities across the board of teaching and things that I have both picked up and learnt from my observations that could be helpful for any new ESL teacher in China.
Beware of the Toilet ‘Field Trip’!
“Teacher can I go pee pee” seems like an innocent enough question, right? That’s what I first thought when I started teaching, and so I had no issues in allowing a child to go to the toilet midway through lessons. However, it is only later on that I understood why exactly my year five teacher would never let me go to the toilet during class.
Firstly, being fair to all children is very important as a teacher, and so if you let one child go to the toilet during lesson time, it is unfair to deny another. This therefore becomes an issue, as having to respond to five children asking you to go to the toilet mid-way through a 30-minute lesson can often severely disrupt the flow of your teaching.
Secondly, you may find that children use needing to go to the toilet as their own little break time in which I can only assume that they find the lost city of Atlantis at the bottom of the urinal and go on a small adventure! On a few occasions, I’ve even forgotten that I’ve allowed a child to go the toilet until they waltz back 10 minutes later and I realize I’ve been played.
Team Games: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Team games can be a great way to get children engaged in a lesson. Competition is a very good tool to motivate children, and the dynamic of team games rather than individual games/competition, can often help encourage the shyer children to also take part in the activity.
However, every game will always have a loser, and so you need to be prepared for tears on the losing side and sometimes bad sportsmanship on the winning side. The best way I’ve found in dealing with this situation is to plan for it, making sure to reassure the children beforehand that this is a friendly game in which the goal is to have fun.
Using Craft Activities
Crafts can be a great way to teach children. It’s a creative way of teaching that helps children to learn and remember new concepts and words; it’s a fun lesson that children always enjoy, and it helps them to develop their fine motor skills. However, when explaining to very young ESL children how to do a craft, it is understandably more difficult than normal.
In these cases children may not have the vocabulary, cognitive skills or even attention span to both listen to and carry out a more complex craft.
I’ve found three ways in which you can help yourself with this. Firstly, rather than trying to vocally explain how to do the craft, do a step by step demonstration in front of the children on how it is done; secondly, through-out the demonstration, ask the children questions regarding the craft (do I stick this at the top or bottom? Do I cut here or here?) it will keep them engaged and improve their understanding. Finally, in true ‘Blue Peter’ style, showing them one you made earlier will help them envision what it is their final product should look like and give them goal to work towards in completing the craft.
To conclude, no child is the same and what has works for me may not work for the next person. I’d say that the most important piece of advice I can give is to learn how to be flexible, and to adapt your teaching to the situation and class. If a game or routine is not working, don’t try to stick it through because someone said it worked for them- discard it and try something new. This is a skill that takes time to develop, but is unquestionably vital to for a new ESL teacher in China.