Supporting young learners

Young learner classes at our school are mostly organised by age. This means there can be quite a range of abilities, and differentiation* is an important part of planning.  I generally find that our materials can be a bit on the tough side for my class, so I’m used to providing more support rather than extension tasks.

Here’s an example of how I supported my young learners in class last week. We were studying celebrations. I produced lots of short reading texts about different festivals/events and displayed these around the room. I’d made a couple of words in each text bold. Students did a vocabulary matching task, here’s part of it…


Note the HELP box. If students felt they needed more help they could move the box. There was a clue underneath telling them which text the word appeared in (e.g. ‘Text A’). This meant their choice was narrowed down to two words. (more…)


Planning tasks for young learners

To an experienced YL teacher this post is just stating the obvious. To me it’s not, because I’m new to teaching primary aged learners.

I’ve got in the habit of tweaking almost every activity to try and make it fun. I enjoy getting my planning hat on and making things more engaging for YLs. Things like the spelling races and the travel quiz I spoke about last week are the recent additions to my toolkit.

Things to consider

A few general tips for tweaking tasks to make them more YL friendly:

  • How do things look? Changing fonts, adding images, colour… these can all make your activities look more engaging
  • Can I make my tasks more ‘multisensory’? Sorry, I’m not buying into the VAK neuromyth with this! I’m just suggesting that varying tasks in general can lead to more interest and engagement
  • How long are my activities? Short activities are better. I try and keep most stages under 10 minutes, but of course it depends what you’re doing!
  • Where does the activity fit in the lesson? What comes before and after it? It’s good to have a balance of ‘stirrers’ (get students up and active) and ‘settlers’ (calm down, focus, etc)
  • Can I add an element of competition? I guess this depends on whether you want to… My students respond well to competition. I like that a competition element often promotes teamwork and collaboration, but students do come to expect a game element a bit too much sometimes…
  • Do I need to differentiate the task? You probably will, so how can you make sure that you meet the individual needs of each learner?

Se at TalkTEFL is a brilliant teacher of young learners. I know he has tonnes of posts lined up on YLs, so I’ll leave this topic to the expert. However, I will share one example of a tweak I tried which has gone down well:

Hiding words for matching tasks. Instead of giving learners a set of words and meanings for a vocab matching tasks, I just hide the target words around the room. Everywhere – stuck on the projector, on the underside of skirting boards, in the middle of the dictionary… They have to find the words and write them (correctly) in their books before I give them the meanings to match. They go MAD for this for some reason!

Feature image: valeriabfranca.com

I’m writing a series of short posts in response to Martin Sketchley’s blog challenge. You can view his new blog here.

Disappearing dialogues, colour-coded support

On the CELTA YL course I did a story retelling task. The students had watched a Shaun the Sheep video, and I’d pre-taught some of the tough vocab. After the video I wanted them to retell the story, but they needed a bit of scaffolding.

I gave them a set of sentence parts all chopped up. I modelled structuring one sentence, which showed them that the sentence order was colour coded (i.e. they knew each sentence would start with a blue part, have red in the middle and green at the end):


This helped them construct the sentences – they had some picture prompts too. They had to make sure the sentences were in the correct order (following the story). Then…

  • I asked them to read through the sentences together to practise retelling the story
  • I asked them to do it again, but this time include sequencing language (First, next, then, etc) and try to connect shorter sentences with conjunctions
  • All the sentence parts are individual bits of paper, so I told them to remove 5 blue parts. They told the story again, remembering the info they’d removed
  • I told them to remove X amount of green parts…
  • Etc, until they could retell the story without support

What would make the activity better?

The segmentation of the sentence parts here is a bit random. You could get some better learning from it by colour coding with more purpose (noun phrases, verbs, etc). Mine’s a bit loose but I hope it gives some people an idea for scaffolding.

I’m writing a series of short posts in response to Martin Sketchley’s blog challenge. You can view his new blog here.


12 tiny tips for writing lesson plans

I recently took a CELTA extension course for teaching young learners. The course went well and I quite enjoyed writing formal lesson plans again. Tutors said that planning was my strength, which probably meant my teaching wasn’t that good!

I’ve looked back at the positive comments from my tutors and shared some tips below for anyone who needs to write a formal lesson plan. These are a little random, and most are specifically aimed at those teaching young learners.