Review: The Routledge Handbook of Teaching English to Young Learners

This review of The Routledge Handbook of Teaching English to Young Learners by S Garton & F Copland (Eds) first appeared in IATEFL Voices Issue 276.

This handbook provides an overview of teaching English to young learners across a wide variety of international contexts. The editors state that this 540-page volume outlines the key issues in young learner teaching and offers a ‘plausible research agenda moving forward’. It achieves this for the most part, although there will inevitably be gaps given the scope of the book.

The handbook is divided into six parts. It begins by framing ‘macro issues’ in the teaching of young learners, which include language policy and planning, debates about a critical period for language learning, and teacher education. The volume then moves on to issues in the context of the YL classroom, notably classroom management, translanguaging and differentiation. All of these are covered in detail, and the suggestions for further reading (as in every chapter) are a good inclusion.

Part 3 includes summaries of research into young learner pedagogy. These include skills development, along with selected approaches such as project-based learning. There is also a welcome overview of critical pedagogy and teaching English to children. Overall, the topics have been well chosen, although the chapter on Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) could have framed the method in relation to connected approaches such as English Medium Instruction (EMI).

Part 4 explores technology and the young learner curriculum. Technology-related chapters focus on gaming, classroom technology, and mobile learning. These are interesting yet naturally some of the content will date quickly. A chapter focusing exclusively on low/no-tech environments may add balance. The chapters on materials evaluation and assessment are particularly useful for practitioners.

Part 5 focuses on researching young learners. It would be useful for those doing further studies or training courses on teaching young learners. Part 6 offers regional perspectives on the teaching of young learners in Africa, East Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Pacific. This section could stretch to a handbook in itself, but the summaries are well-collated and provide useful insights into each context.

This is a great resource for any young learner teacher, especially those undertaking further studies or research in this field. It is a relatively comprehensive volume, although it would be good to see further contexts covered in a second edition. For example, Teaching English to young learners in international schools is rarely mentioned despite being relevant in various chapters.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of useful and engaging summaries in this handbook which is well-organised, current (pre-Brexit, pre-COVID), and accessible.

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