Methods and Approaches for Teaching ESL to Children

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to children requires specialized methods. Young learners absorb information differently than adults and often need engaging techniques that cater to their unique learning styles. Here’s an overview of essential ESL teaching approaches and how to apply them in your classroom.

1. Total Physical Response (TPR)

  • Description: TPR emphasizes the connection between language and physical action. Teachers use simple commands, and students respond by performing the corresponding actions. TPR is especially suitable for beginners, as it builds a foundation of vocabulary and basic understanding.
  • Example:
    • “Stand up.” (Students stand.)
    • “Point to the door.” (Students point.)
    • “Clap your hands three times.” (Students clap three times.)
    • As vocabulary grows, commands can become more complex: “Touch your nose, jump twice, and turn around.”

2. Natural Approach

  • Description: The Natural Approach focuses on creating a low-stress environment where children acquire language naturally, similar to the way they learned their native tongue. Teachers prioritize comprehension over immediate production, with a gradual introduction to speaking and writing.
  • Example:
    • Reading stories aloud and using a lot of visual aids helps with comprehension.
    • Using gestures, props, and real-life objects to demonstrate vocabulary.
    • Avoiding direct grammar instruction early on, focusing instead on natural communication.

3. Whole Language Approach

  • Description: This approach emphasizes learning language as a whole, rather than breaking it down into isolated grammar and vocabulary lessons. It focuses on using authentic texts and integrating reading, writing, speaking, and listening activities.
  • Example:
    • Interactive storytimes where children predict what happens next, discuss characters, and act out scenes.
    • Creating classroom labels and charts together to build functional vocabulary.
    • Journal writing where children get to express themselves freely without much emphasis on grammar correction in the early stages.

4. Communicative Approach

  • Description: The Communicative Approach prioritizes real-world communication skills. Students interact through role-plays, games, and information exchanges, focusing on using the language in meaningful ways rather than solely studying grammar rules.
  • Example:
    • Playing “store” where children practice buying and selling using simple vocabulary.
    • “Show and tell” activities with objects brought from home, promoting the use of descriptive language.
    • Working together to solve a puzzle or problem with a focus on communicating ideas and instructions.

5. Audio-lingual Method

  • Description: This method emphasizes habit formation through repetition. Students engage in drills, chants, and dialogues to practice and internalize grammatical structures and vocabulary.
  • Example:
    • Pattern drills: “I like apples. Do you like apples? Yes, I do.”
    • Chanting rhymes to practice pronunciation and rhythm.
    • Short dialogues focusing on specific grammar points, acted out with repetition.

Important Considerations:

  • Age: Younger learners often benefit from TPR and Natural approaches, while older children can handle the more structured aspects of Communicative and Audio-lingual methods.
  • Variety: No single method is perfect. The most effective teachers combine elements to create a diverse learning environment that adapts to individual students’ needs.
  • Fun: Games, songs, stories, and movement are essential elements of successful ESL instruction with children, regardless of the specific approach.

By understanding these methods, you’ll be well-equipped to create a dynamic and engaging ESL learning experience for your young students.