10 useful terms for teachers of young learners

Teaching with Bear, what a classic!

This post is for anyone about to start a training course in teaching young learners. These 10 terms came up a lot on my YL training course so it’s worth reading up on them before you start. I’ve explained each one in brief, but you’ll also find some links for further reading. If more jargon pops up during your training I recommend this good online glossary for ELT related terms from eltnotebook.

  1. Differentiation

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, differentiation is ‘tailoring instruction to meet individual needs’. Carol has a great summary article on this on the Reading Rockets site, which you can access here.

You can differentiate in tonnes of ways – adding more support or more challenge to a task, having graded outcomes, allowing learners to choose how they demonstrate learning, adapting the learning environment, etc. Tomlinson provides a fair few examples in the aforementioned article.

Rachel Roberts is also a great source of info on differentiation. This article and this webinar are worth viewing.

If you really want to get stuck into this topic, Larry Ferlazzo’s page is probably what you’re looking for. I’d say this is a must learn phrase! Then again, it doesn’t even make the glossary of Annamaria Pinter’s ‘Teaching Young Learners’, so perhaps its losing its ‘buzzwordiness’.

  1. Scaffolding

Scaffolding is providing structured support to help learners achieve a task. The clue is in the word I guess… Personally, I used to think of scaffolding as part of differentiation, until I read this useful definition from edglossary.com. The concept of ‘scaffolding of learning’ is attributed to Jerome Bruner. One important aspect of scaffolding is how teacher support given to learners is gradually taken away as the learners become more independent. I’ve posted a few examples of scaffolding in action, here’s my favourite.

It’s worth reading about Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) if you want more context for Bruner’s ideas.

  1. Whole child development

The ASCD site state that developing the whole child means ‘ensuring each child… is healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged’. It involves equipping learners with a broad range of skills that will benefit them in the long-term. For example, we can go beyond simply teaching English language and use English as a means through which to explore citizenship, or use tasks that promote collaboration, development of motor skills, digital literacy, critical thinking  and so on. You can read more about the whole child initiative here.

Note: I mentioned in this post that I had to include ‘aims related to whole child development’ on my CELTA YL lesson plans, so that’s something to bear in mind.

  1. Learning styles

This is the idea that learners show ‘preferences’ for different styles of learning. To give a basic example, some learners prefer to learn through seeing, some through listening, others through doing. Some theorists suggest that if we understand a student’s preferred way of learning, we can tailor input and activities to suit their learning styles (Google ‘Meshing Hypothesis’).

The VAK model (of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic ‘learning modalities’) is well-known and has featured in almost every training course I’ve taken. There are plenty of other models which expand this categorisation of learner styles. However, learning styles is an area where research and practice seem a bit at odds. Most researchers consider learning styles a ‘neuromyth’, and Cambridge recently decided to drop the teaching of learning styles from the CELTA and DELTA syllabus. However, for some teachers the myth persists. If you believe this stat from the Guardian, 93% of teachers believe learning styles exist.

Learning styles pop up in coursebooks, training sessions, class profiles on lesson plans… It’s well worth reading about learning styles as it’s a hotly disputed topic and every teacher in the staffroom will have an opinion. For more on this, this post, this one, or Carol Lethaby’s research and webinars.

  1. Multiple Intelligence

Much of the above about learning styles applies to the theory of multiple intelligence (MI). This is the idea that there are many forms of intelligence. The main proponent of MI, Howard Gardner, defined eight different intelligences in his earlier work. These included verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematic, visual-spatial and interpersonal intelligence. Many researchers feel there is a lack of empirical evidence to support MI theory. Nevertheless, you’ll find it is advocated by many YL teachers and coursebook writers, notably Herbert Puchta and Mario Rinvolucri (see this book, or English in Mind).

  1. CLIL

This is basically teaching other subjects (Science, Maths, etc) through a foreign language. It stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning, and Onestopenglish explain it briefly here. As the article mentioned, the dual focus of learning the subject and the language is the main idea of CLIL. We teach a ‘CLIL-based’ syllabus to young learners at our school. The coursebook we used before (Incredible English) was also CLIL-based… this is a pretty good buzzword to know!

  1. Stirrers and Settlers

This refers to the balance of activities in a lesson. You need activities that will get learners up, moving, and generally active. You also need tasks that will calm students and help them focus or settle into a routine. This article from the BC gives a few examples of stirrer/settler tasks.

  1. TPR

This stands for Total Physical Response. It’s coordinating language and movement (well put Wikipedia). This is a must for the YL classroom. Learners can show listening comprehension by responding to commands through actions. This is great when learners aren’t ready to speak the language (maybe through lack of confidence, lack of range or just through choice). Good for vocabulary acquisition and concept checking, among many other things. Type TPR into YouTube, there are plenty of demo videos.

  1. Growth Mindset

Having a growth mindset means, among other things, seeing failure as a chance to grow and improve, embracing challenges, and realising that your ability can be shaped by your effort and determination. The fixed/growth mindset continuum was described in detail by Carol Dweck in this publication around ten years ago. For a good route into the topic with YLs, ClassDojo have a short series of growth mindset related videos. Carol Dweck recently mentioned some misconceptions of her concept in this article.

You might also find reading up on GRIT quite useful.

  1. Gamification (vs game-based learning)

There’s a difference between these two terms – here’s a post that explains it. Gamification (the use of game-like features in learning activities to encourage engagement) is another buzzword – expect to hear things like ‘I love the way you gamified XYZ’ in observation feedback on a YL teacher training course!

Anyway, there’s a bit of pre-course reading for you!

Feature image: OUP


  1. Hi Peter,
    This is a great collection of terms and links related to teaching YLs. Thanks so much for sharing all this useful information in one place!
    Growth mindset and Grit are two concepts that I find fascinating and I think all teachers can benefit from reading up on them and allowing them to guide their teaching strategies.
    Thanks again! Micaela

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, cheers for the feedback. I know there are so many other terms to add but was just thinking of some key ones off the top of my head. What other jargon for teaching young learners would you include?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There are so many terms and concepts to keep in mind when teaching young learners! But some more to add to your list could be:
    Fast Finishers, Classroom Management, special needs (such as reading/writing difficulties or Asperger’s), dealing with parents, Use of L1… and a lot more.


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