Key Differences Between Teaching Kids and Adults
When you teach adults, they usually come into the class already motivated to learn. Kids’ lessons are booked by the parents rather than the kids themselves, so the kids are often not already motivated. They’ll be happy to learn with you if you make your classes fun and interesting, but they’re much less likely than adults to have specific language learning goals that will keep them going even if they’re tired or bored. It’s your job to create an environment for them in which they’ll learn to enjoy what they’re studying.
When you teach adults, they come into the classroom with plenty of knowledge about the world around them, even if they don’t know the words for certain things in their target language. For example, if you are teaching an adult the names of the seven continents, you can assume that they already have an understanding of what continents are. A child might not know this information, so if you want to teach a young kid something, you need to be aware that you might be teaching about that thing conceptually as well as linguistically.
Kids have shorter attention spans than adults. They can’t always spend a lot of time doing the same activity. Typically speaking, the younger the kid the more different activities you should plan for the lesson. That does not necessarily mean throwing in lots of content! If you’re working with a four year old who you know can handle three new words and one new sentence structure per lesson, then that’s the amount of content you should teach. Maybe that four year old has an attention span of about three minutes. The key in that case would be to find ten different activities to teach/reinforce/practice the content you want the student to know, in order to fill up a 30 minute lesson.
You’re more likely to have to make difficult decisions if you teach kids. If an adult is in the hospital but decides to take a lesson on their phone, that’s their choice. If a kid is in the hospital, but their parent puts them on the phone to have an English lesson, you need to make a judgement call about whether or not the parent is making the right choice for the child, and how you want to handle the situation. If an adult jokingly tells you that they used to cheat on tests in middle school, you can laugh and move on. If a thirteen year old confides in you the various ways in which he cheats on his tests, you have to decide whether or not to tell his parents. It’s worth thinking up some worst case scenarios before they happen, so you can decide in advance how you’ll handle them. Try asking people who teach a lot of kids what kinds of situations they’ve encountered. You can’t predict everything that might happen, but it’s important to be aware that teaching kids entails a different kind of responsibility than teaching adults.
If you are teaching adults, the student is your customer. If you’re teaching kids, the students’ parents are your customers. That means that managing parental expectations is a big part of teaching kids.
Getting Started - Teaching Materials Shopping List
Having lots of stuff on hand isn’t a requirement for teaching kids, but it makes it easier. It also makes it more exciting for the child. Having lots and lots of visual materials on hand helps kids, who might be coming to you as absolute beginners in the language you’re teaching, understand what you’re saying. The below list isn’t meant to consist of things that you HAVE to buy, but I’ve found all of these things useful.
Text Books - Even if you’re not planning on sticking strictly to a specific set of books, having some books on hand is a good way to figure out what kinds of things to teach and in what order. I recommend looking into a series that offers books at several levels, so you can take a systematic approach with long term students.
- A small whiteboard / dry erase markers - You’ll want this in order to play almost any game. Get one that’s magnetic.
- Puppets - These will help you keep the kids’ attention, and they’re great for modeling dialogues.
- Flashcards - Kids need lots of visual support. You can make your own flashcards and reuse them, or you can buy pre-made sets. If you laminate your cards or buy ones with a plastic finish, you’ll also be able to write/draw on them with your dry erase markers.
- Photo booth props - If you search online, you can usually buy cheap sets of paper hats, mustaches, funny glasses, funny mouths, etc.
- Small costume pieces - wigs, animal noses, crowns, magic wands, etc.
- Cute magnets - sets of magnets shaped like animals, every day objects, popular movie characters, etc.
- Party supplies like balloons and noise makers.
- A globe
- Attractive looking bags and boxes
- Plastic food and other kinds of small model objects
- A dice
- Materials to make spinners
A versatile trial lesson is important when teaching kids, because their language levels can vary widely, and they don’t always correspond with their ages. You’ll want to use lots of fun props and activities in the trial lesson, to capture the students’ attention. Some kids can be shy or reluctant to study, so it’s your job to convince them that they want to be there.
My usual trial lesson topic is animals. I have a wide variety of animal themed props and pictures. I adjust how I use them based on the child’s ability. A child who has just started learning the language might just be learning the words for the animals. A child who has a lot of linguistic ability already might be explaining to me how different animals live, what they eat, and so on. I’m able to use the same props and materials regardless, and by the end of the lesson I have a good idea of what the child is already capable of.
I reserve the last five minutes of the trial lesson to have a conversation with the parents. That way, I’m able get them to explain more in-depth what they want for their child, and any special requirements they may have. I also send the parents a PDF outlining my teaching strategies.
Communication with Parents
Some parents like to be extremely involved in their child’s studies! Here are some things they will probably want to know:
- What text book you are using, or what your long term teaching plan for their child is.
- What their child is learning each class and how well they are mastering the material.
- How they can help their child review after the class.
- If you plan to make any changes to your lesson content (for example, switching to a higher or lower level textbook).
- How you handle it if the kid gets off-topic. Personally, if I go into the lesson planning on teaching a specific topic, but the student starts excitedly showing me their favorite toys, I’ll let them do it and possibly change my lesson goals very quickly. However, I try to tell the parents about how I handle this before the situation occurs, and make sure they’ve consented to this kind of relaxed approach. For some parents, it might be important that you finish a textbook in a set amount of time.
There are cases where parents will have very specific ideas about what they want their child to learn. They might have a set of books that they want you to use. They might reference specific teaching methods that they want to see in your classroom. It’s important to communicate clearly with parents what you will and won’t do, so that they can make an informed choice about whether or not you’re a good match for their child.
Although I’ve never had a parent directly ask about it, I’ve found that making parents aware of my method for correcting a student’s mistakes helps the lessons go more smoothly. If a student makes an attempt to say something, I always praise them for it, even if it’s incorrect. Then, I go back and help the student work through their errors. For some parents, hearing the teacher praise their child for something that they know is wrong can be worrying, because they want their child to use the target language as accurately as possible. If they understand how I use praise and correction from the start, then they’re less likely to worry.
Some parents might seem to hover over their children, constantly correcting them. If you come from a culture where this isn’t common, it might bother you at first. During my first few weeks of teaching English in China, I rarely corrected students, because I wanted them to feel confident. Eventually, my Chinese co-teacher pulled me aside and told me the students felt like I wasn’t listening to them and didn’t care, because I was neglecting to correct their errors. Keep in mind that a parent who seems overly critical might just have a different communication system than you, based on their culture. If you let them know what your communication and correction system is like, the lessons are much more likely to go smoothly.
When you are thinking about how to price your kids’ classes, keep in mind that you might be spending a significant amount of time communicating with parents outside of class.
Obviously, your step by step lesson plans are going to vary a lot from child to child. Nonetheless, here’s a quick sample lesson format, if you’re looking for ideas.
Step one: Greetings and routine questions
This is where you say hello to the child and ask some basic questions according to their level. With young/low level kids, this might mean asking “How are you?” and singing a song they already know together. With older/higher level kids, this might mean getting them to tell you about things going on in their lives recently.
Step Two: Review what you did last class.
This is a great time to play a game.
Step Three: Hook/Context Setting
This is the part of the lesson where you introduce the main thing you are teaching. At this point, you need to do something exciting that will convince the student to be interested in the topic. This might mean watching a short video, getting the child to guess some information, showing a funny picture, or telling a story, or bringing in props that the student hasn’t seen before. The most important thing is that this should captivate the child, because kids won’t study something if they aren’t interested.
Step Four: Presentation/Practice
Some people prefer to make practice and presentation two different steps. I think with kids, the teach-test-teach method works well. That means presenting a small chunk of information, doing an activity to make sure the student understands, presenting another chunk of information, doing another comprehension test, and so on.
Step Five: Feedback and additional resources (or homework)
Let the student know how they did, and try to exchange some words with the parents. Provide something that the child and their parents can use for additional study. I like to make videos presenting an abbreviated version of the main points of the lesson to send to the child’s parents.
Alternate Plan: Always have some alternate plans, in case the student isn’t interested in an activity you choose. Also, be aware that kids might take the lesson in a different direction than you’re expecting.
Here’s a list of games/activities that I’ve found work well with online teaching:
Set up your whiteboard like a board game with questions or words the student is studying. Choose one magnet to represent you and another to represent the student. Play rock/paper/scissors with the student. Whoever wins can move forward one step, but only if they can make a sentence with the word/answer the question.
- Tic-tac-toe/knots and crosses
Set up your whiteboard as a tic-tac-toe game, with new vocabulary written or drawn in each square. To claim the square, the student should make a sentence with the word (or just say it, if they’re a beginner). Three in a row wins the game.
- One, two, action
This game is most suitable for young learners. If you hold up one finger, they should say the word you are studying once. If you hold up two fingers, they should say it twice. If you hold up three fingers, they should do an action related to that word.
- Bomb Game
Write or draw the words that you are learning on your whiteboard. Doodle pictures of yourself and your student. Draw a bomb next to one of the words on the board. The student should repeat the words after you, but they shouldn’t say the word with the bomb next to it. If they say it, the bomb goes off in their direction, and you get a point. If they don’t, it goes off in your direction, and they get a point. Whoever gets three points first, wins. Draw the points under the doodles of yourself and your student.
If you don’t want to introduce something as violent as bombs into your class, you can also play a variation with animals. Draw an animal instead of a bomb next to the word you don’t want the student to say. If the student doesn’t say it, you “change into” that animal. Act out being that animal, and and add a part of that animal to your doodle (for example, a pig nose if that animal is a pig). Keep adding parts of whatever animals you and the student change into to your doodles, until the game is over and you have a very strange creature drawn onto your whiteboard.
- Yes Game
The student needs to ask you questions, and if your answer is “yes” they get a point. This can be used to practice asking questions in different tenses. It’s fun for the student, because they have to think about the best questions to ask to get the answer they want.
- Two Truths and a Lie
Write three sentences about yourself or the topic you are studying. Two should be true, and one should be a lie. Let the student find the lie. You can also let the student write three sentences about themself or a topic, and try to guess their lie.
- You are the Teacher
After you teach a topic to the student, take out a puppet, and ask the student try to teach the topic to your puppet. You can have your puppet make mistakes and ask questions, to make your little teacher’s job more interesting.
- Picture Story
Give the student pictures from a storybook that you are going to read together, but remove the text. Let the student look at the pictures and try to tell the story based on what they see. After they’ve done this, you can give them the actual story to read, and see how close their interpretation was to what really happened.
Before the class starts, put on several costume pieces, like funny ears, animal noses, weird glasses, wigs, hats, etc. Tell the student that a witch has put a spell on you. You can only change back into your real self if the child can answer her questions. For every question that the student answers correctly, you can remove a costume piece.
Help your student do an exercise (grammar, reading, substitution drills, etc). Ask the student to do it again, but set a time to see how quickly they can do it. If they make a mistake on a certain point, correct them and ask them to do that part again. After they’ve finished the exercise once, ask them to do it again to see if they can beat their time.
- You describe, I draw
Ask your student to describe something to you, for example their mother or their living room. Draw a picture based on their description, and see how close it comes to the real thing. You can also describe something for the student to draw, then show them a picture of what it really looks like. For extra fun, let the student describe something to you, and try to draw it blindfolded.
- Surprise bags/boxes
Get some colorful boxes or bags. Put different words or questions inside each box/bag. The student should tell you which bag or box they want to look inside, and then ask them to answer a question or make a sentence with the words in the bag or box. You could also fill the bags/boxes topics that they need to speak about for one minute, or with actions they have to do.
Please is basically “Simon Says” without introducing the confusing element of Simon (who is Simon, anyway?). Ask the student to do an action. If you say “please” they should do it. If you don’t say “please” they shouldn’t.
- Robot Teacher
You are a robot, and the student can tell you what actions to do. This works great for teaching verbs and adverbs.
- Little Alien
Get or make a little alien puppet. The alien has just come to Earth, and doesn’t understand anything! With beginners, the alien can pick up various objects and ask “What’s this?”. With higher level learners, the alien can ask the student to explain the meaning of various words. What’s a dog? What’s a table ? Etc.
16. You say the word, it comes towards you or goes away
This is most suitable for very young or low level learners. If, for example, the child is learning the word “rabbit” you can bring a toy rabbit closer to the camera every time they say the word. On the other hand, if they don’t like rabbits, you can have them say “bye bye rabbit” and move the rabbit away from the camera every time they say the word. If you want a laugh, try throwing the rabbit off into the distance the last time they say the word (but keep in mind, you’ll have to clean up after yourself later).
- Story cards
Create or buy a deck of picture flash cards. Pick out three at random. The student should use these images to tell a story.
Make a spinner with different letters or topics. Spin it. The student should do an activity based on what it lands on.
19. What is it?
Only show the student a small part of the flash card you’re using. Have them guess what it is.
You can do a lot of games with dice! You can give them a numbered word list or numbered exercises, and have them make sentences based on the number you roll. You can also give the child a picture to write sentences about. How many sentences they have to write is based on the number you roll.
In a physical classroom, you can give the student stickers or things like that for performing well, if they need an extra boost. Online, you can’t. I’ve found some online substitutes.
- Balloons - Get a balloon, and during a difficult activity blow it up a little bit each time the student gets a question right. Let the student see how big they can make the balloon.
- Knowledge Boxes - Get some pretty gift boxes. Let the student choose one as their “knowledge box”. Write out different concepts/words/questions etc that you want the student to master on pieces of paper. As you feel the student has mastered something, move it into their knowledge box. Let them watch their box become fuller and fuller. If you keep dedicated boxes for specific students, you can eventually use them in review exercises.
- Party noise makers/cheerleader pom poms- This works better with very young kids. When the student answers something correctly, use the noise maker or do a cheer for them with the pom poms.
- Pet treats - I used to have several pet rats. When a student said or wrote a particularly advanced or interesting sentence, I’d put a sunflower seed in a little cup. At the end of the class, I’d bring my rats up to the computer, and let the student choose which of them to give the accrued treats to. Then, the student could watch them eat the seeds before saying goodbye. Obviously, don’t use this method excessively, because you don’t want to overfeed your pets.
- Stars - Let the student earn stars on your whiteboard for classroom participation. Send them a photo of the board at the end of class, so they and their parents can know how many stars they earned.
Ideas for introducing grammar points
When teaching grammar points, the student is more likely to be interested if you create a story and bring them along for the ride. Here is one example of a grammar lesson that could be suitable for a child:
Past tense using was/were
Draw a picture of a desk. Ask the student to make sentences about the objects on the desk using There is/there are (There is a computer on the desk. There are two apples.). Draw another picture of the desk, with objects smashed on the floor, and a cat sitting smugly on top of it. Explain to the student that your terrible cat is always making a mess. Coach the student through making was/were sentences to list what used to be on the desk. Tell them you use was/were because the things were there in the *past* but they aren’t there now.
Then, set up your real desk with various items. Let the student use there is/there are to list the objects. Tell them you need to step out for a moment. Go offscreen, and quickly cover your face like you’re a robber. Come back, and laugh evilly as you snatch up all the items. Off screen, remove the face cover, and come back as yourself. Go through the things that used to be on the desk with the student, using was and were.
Teach the concept of the past using various old things. Show the student a picture of an old car. “This *was* a car in the *past*.” Show them a picture of a modern car. “This *is* a car now.” You can repeat with things like dinosaurs vs modern animals, old and new computers, and even your old baby pictures.
Shannon Rose (Profile: https://www.italki.com/teacher/3469507)