Teaching EFL in KindergartenI chose this topic based upon both the experiences I’ve already had and those I hope to have as an EFL teacher. Having now tutored both adults and children as young as three, I was fairly aware of the different considerations for each group; this TEFL course and its research project have taught me even more. Each group—older and younger learners—have their pros and cons: while older students may be more motivated to learn the new language, younger learners have the advantage when it comes to retaining information. Being able to maintain their interest and cultivate motivation to continue learning is but one essential tool for the EFL teacher who would teach kindergartners.
That children have a more limited attention span than adults is universally acknowledged. When teaching kindergartners then, an EFL teacher must ensure that the activities are not so lengthy or challenging as to lose students’ focus. Teachers must also remember that children are generally less knowledgeable about other cultures, so being bombarded with too much new material and too many foreign ideas may decrease their attention span all the more (Ashworth, 13-24). Ghosn’s article recommends finding children’s literature in which students can share universal concepts: she uses the story The Very Hungry Caterpillar as an example where the teacher used the food from the story—and the fact that no matter where you live, overeating will give you a stomachache!—to engage the Lebanese students’ interest on a level they could understand. The story kept the children entertained, while the simple concepts in the plot united the two cultures.
Using these simple and appropriate concepts is also key: as Karen Frances points out, children are still learning basic concepts in their L1, so “they are unlikely to grasp these [advanced] ideas in another language.” She recommends then, like Ghosn, sticking to concrete concepts such as “colors, animals, numbers, things in the classroom, and action verbs like run, jump and sing; words that have clear definitions and are featured prominently in small children's lives.” Anyone who has worked in a preschool or kindergarten, then, will quickly see that being an EFL teacher has most of the same challenges and requires much of the same patience as teaching early native english
speakers. In addition to using simple concepts, the use of rhyming, songs, games, kinesthesia, and lots of visual aids will contribute to a fun—but also efficient—learning environment (Corbin and Frances).
As mentioned, regardless of where the students are being taught, be it in their native country or in an english
-speaking country, a teacher ought to be familiar with differences in culture, both for the comfort of the student and for his/her parents’ expectations (Ashworth, 13-24). In a monolingual classroom, this may be easier, since all of the students will be on similar ground, so long as the teacher him/herself is familiar with the customs and cultural differences. In a classroom with many different cultures, teachers may use these differences as teaching points: Ashworth points out that food, for example, is a both concrete and age-appropriate concept and always a welcome lesson! Allowing students to discuss their favorite dishes or the foods that accompany special occasions and holidays will go a long way for both class discussion and maintaining student interest.
Finally, with kindergartners who have little to no experience with the english
language, having some familiarity with the students’ L1 may, according to Ghosn, aid significantly in the classroom. She gives the example of the teacher discussing the story with her Lebonese kindergartners, who often responded enthusiastically in their own language. Although the teacher did not respond in their L1, she was able to repeat in english
the children’s comments and thus “reduce the frustration and loss of motivation that may result from the lack of communication between the teacher and the children” (4). Although using the students’ L1 in the classroom is generally discouraged, some knowledge will clearly come in useful when working with the very young.
Finding these few articles has already given me several new elements to consider as someone who aims to teach younger EFL learners. These younger learners will require similar attention as the english
-speaking preschoolers I once taught, with ample repetition, games, visual aids, and, most of all, care and patience.
Ashworth, Mary. Teaching the World’s Children: ESL for Ages Three to Seven. Toronto:
Corbin, Mario R.J.. “Teaching Kindergarten ESL: A Language in its Own!” September
3, 2006. .
Frances, Karen. “How to Teach ESL to Kindergarten Children.” .
Ghosn, Irma K. “ESL with Children’s Literature: the Way Whole Language Worked in
One Kindergarten Class.” .