Dave Dodgson who is currently based in Turkey shares this post with great tips….
Tips for Connecting with Young Learners
I never planned to teach kids. I was trained to teach English to adults and never pictured myself working in a ‘school’ setting with students who only came up to my waist. And yet, here I am now in my 9th year of working in a primary school! I have to admit that my original reasons for taking the job had little to do with education or advancing my career and I suspect that, just like me, many EFL teachers who work with kids ended up doing so by ‘accident’ with little or no training given beforehand.
Now, I should stress that I love my job and I have no regrets about the career move I made back in 2002 (although I thought I would at the time!) but the first year was difficult. I had never been around children much (I’m the youngest in my family) and had little idea of how to connect with them, motivate them or understand them. In those days, all I was concerned with was keeping order in the class and I achieved that by being strict – I shouted, warned, threatened and glared (using my height to full effect!) – but I soon realised that that wasn’t the way to go. I needed to ensure the kids felt secure and confident in their learning environment and that they saw their teacher as approachable and someone they connected with. And so, I set about making this happen and this is what has worked for me over the years:
Be on their level – literally!
Think back to your primary school days – do you remember how big the teachers seemed? Well, we seem even bigger when we are standing and the kids are sat at their desks! This can be intimidating for some children so it’s important to put them at ease. Whenever I go to a student’s desk to monitor, help them or answer a question, I crouch down and put myself on their eye level. Even a small gesture like this can out them at ease and help them connect with you.
Ask personal questions – and remember the answers!
It can be particularly difficult for children to connect with a foreign teacher who perhaps doesn’t know their own language that well so I always strive to find out personal information about my students, even when their level of English is basic. I ask about their likes and dislikes, their families, their hobbies, their favourite celebrities and so on, all of which can be done with basic language. I then ask them about what they told me, whether in the lesson or in the corridor at break time. This really helps them feel valued and listened to. Just last week, I asked one girl about her baby sister and if she was talking yet – her face really lit up and she proceeded to tell me all sorts of things about her sister and her family. She even promised to bring a photo in on Monday, which I look forward to seeing.
Tell them about yourself and share their interests
I used to avoid telling students personal details about myself. I’m not sure why – maybe I thought they would make fun or use it as a chance to distract me from the lesson plan – but it was an unnecessary self-imposed barrier. How could they connect if the personal information only went one way? I’m not saying you should stand in front of the class and just talk about yourself of course, but it’s important to find and share common interests. For example, my students with younger brothers and sisters love hearing about my 5 year-old son and we exchange stories about them; students with pets like to know about my cat; the boys like my football facts and they are often surprised to learn I used to watch wrestling! Although I’ve outgrown that a bit now, I still feign an interest.
Keep your promises
Nothing can be more disappointing for a kid than when they feel let down by an adult. I experienced this early in my young learner teaching career when I promised we would start a story book on our syllabus the following lesson but then decided to wait until the following week. The class was really upset and had no interest in the lesson I had prepared instead. Even if these things seem minor to us, they can be very important to children so only say they will watch a video, play a game, do a project or have their work displayed somewhere in the school if you intend to follow through on it and are 100% sure it will happen!
Give them choices
Offering choices to students is a great way to make them feel a part of the learning process. If there’s only enough time left for one activity nut I have two or three more on my lesson plan, I’ll let them choose which one they want to do. When possible, I let them choose whether they want to work in groups, in pairs or individually. Sometimes, I even let them choose the topic for the entire lesson! This really helps show them that their teacher is willing to listen to them, is receptive to their ideas and is approachable.
Better that than some glaring, shouting, threatening giant!
What are your tips for connecting with kids? If you were not trained to teach kids, how did you adapt to working with them? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!
Try implementing some of these ideas and share with us your post about the experience!