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Teaching esl to primary students

Do you know what you're primary students interests and preferences are? What are their favorite cartoons, tv. Programs, food, etc. If you do, then you are on the right track for having a motivated class. Whenever a teacher knows his students interests, he will be able to connect with them and get their attention.  On the following article we are going to mention some of the methods that are used specially for teaching primary students.

Primary students are capable of receipting a great amount of information, but at the same time they can get easily distracted. So in order for the teacher to take advantage of the capacity of the student to learn, getting his/her attention first is required.

How do you get your students attention first? There are several ways to do this, one of them is to use a song that they like and play it at the beginning of the class, if they already know the song, they could try singing it without the audio, the teacher gives the cue.   Another way to get their attention is by having them play a game on the board before starting the class, this could be : tic,tac,toe, hangman, etc, a simple game that lets them relax and enjoy before starting the new lesson.  Try out a vocabulary review guessing game before starting the class,  you can do it by drawing  part of a picture on the board, and ask them if they know what it is. If they don't know yet, continue drawing another part of the picture, and ask them again if they now know what it is. Keep drawing parts of the picture until, they can tell you in English, what it is you're drawing.  You can also pick a student to do the drawing for you.  This works great for vocabulary review.

Now that you have the students attention, you are ready to begin.  In every class there is always an objective to achieve.  Be sure that you always keep in mind what is the objective of each particular class, because you will need this to compare it with the feedback you will get from the students at the end of the class.


Using TPR in class

One of the methods used to internalize new vocabulary and expressions is the use of TP (Total Physical Response ) activities, in which the students

Follow commands and instructions, and perform given tasks with the use of corporal expression.  TPR is frequently used in songs, chants, and also in role plays.   For example every time that you use material which includes action verbs, could be a song or a dialogue involving verbs, make students dramatize the corresponding movements and actions.

Make groups  act out the same song, and create a small contest, to see which group does it better. To motivate students even more,  reward the winning team with a special present or treat.

The next  game is an example of a TPR activity which lets the students learn without being really aware that they're doing it.

Try out the following game:  If you are teaching colors and animals, you could do this.

(TPR activity 1)

Divide the classroom into 4 groups. Have students make picture flashcards of the colors and animals , each picture on a separate flash card .    Set all color flash cards in one desk, on another desk  put all the animal flashcards.   Both desks should be on the opposite corners of the class.  Once this is ready,  ask for one volunteer of each group.  These students will now have to race to pick up first one card from one desk and then run again to pick up a card from the other desk.  When they have both cards they have to say the phrase:   I have a  green  + monkey ! (for example) Some combinations turn out to be really funny.   I have a yellow horse ! The student that first says his phrase correctly makes 10 points for his team. If the other students say it right too, they make 5 points.  The team which makes more points is the winner.

You can also use the above game to practice the use of    adjective + noun rule !!!.

(TPR activity 2)

More vocabulary practice?  One activity that works very well, is letting students draw the new concrete vocabulary,  each word on a separate sheet of paper.  The teacher should also have pictures for him to work with. Then have the students all  stand up and form a circle.   The teacher picks up a card and  reads it to the students, not showing it yet.   Example , teacher picks up  butterfly picture and says to the class:   I have a butterfly!

Students must look among their pictures and choose the correct one and lift up this picture showing it to the teacher, all students do it at the same time.  You can let a student come and pick up a card and read it to the students. Practice until the vocabulary becomes


Using the Task based Approach.

Another great way of learning a new language has to do with the application of the language into creating something tangible, such as doing a project.  While students perform meaningful tasks they will be applying the language, following instructions, and most importantly, they will be having fun.   This projects should be done at least once a month.

Here is an example of a manual project:    The Super Robot.

Materials needed:

  • Cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Box of color crayons
  • Thread
  • Glue

All these materials should be asked for in advance, so that when the class starts all children have the required material.

This project is used for teaching geometric shapes , and colors.   The teacher will draw on the board, the different basic geometric shapes the students know, e.g.  a circle,  a square,  a rectangle, a triangle.  Next, he will ask the students to do the same on the cardboard. Ex. Draw  2 circles, 3 triangles, 4 squares, 1 rectangle, etc.   Then, the teacher will ask the students to color these shapes.   After doing these, students will cut out the figures from the card board.  Finally they will attempt to form a  robot shape by pasting all the shapes together using  thread and some glue.

Now that they have a "super robot", it's time to practice.  Start by describing the robot you made yourself to the class,  My robot ! two red triangles, 2 blue circles, 1 yellow rectangle, etc.  Model the task by asking one student to describe his or her robot to the class.

Then ask the students to form pairs and describe their robots to their friends. As they do this, walk around the class listening for any mistakes, and once they finish practicing, check these mistakes with the whole group.

These kind of projects should be done at least once for every unit that you cover of your program.

Using cross-cultural approach

Nowadays, accessing to information from around the world is becoming more and more common, and as this happens our students face the input of news and data from different countries around the world.  Being English teachers, our role in the students? education is to let them use the language they are learning to discover new tings from cultures different from their own.  We have to let them know what are the customs, traditions, habits and beliefs, of other countries.  In this way, students will be more likely to interact more naturally with people from other countries and accept their differences.

Example:  One conversational activity that can be done for a cross cultural purpose is when you teach food vocabulary. You can show the students the typical food of different countries and compare it with their own.  Ask them, which is their favorite dish, and if they know where  it originally comes from.  For example, they will be amazed to hear the story of where hamburgers were invented, and where they became famous.

Using cross-curricular approach

Are you aware of what your students are studying right now in their other subjects?  If not, then you might be losing the opportunity to connect with your students by means of relating and applying English into learning other subjects.   English teachers must share information with other subject teachers, such as math , natural science, language, art, teachers.  This can result into new opportunities to show the students that English is not a separate subject from their lives, that in can help them learn many interesting things.

Example:  Your students are learning how to add and subtract.  You may want, to practice the numbers in English, and while you do so, try testing the students? recently learned skills, not only they will practice, but the math teacher will thank you too!!!

Recommendation:  Always know what your colleagues are doing, so that you can take advantage from it.

Using complementary material in class.-

So far we have seen what the teacher can do by him or herself to make a more dynamic and motivational class, but there are also different equipments that teachers use to make classes more interesting too.

The use of audio and video material is the excellent complement for a high quality class.

How often do you use this material in your classes?  When was the last day you used it?

Did your students just watch the video and sang along, or did you have them do supplementary activities related to the video?

The following are some of the techniques that can be used to benefit more from using videos in class.

Split viewing , Vision on / Sound off |, Observe and Write ,Watch and Observe | Video as a listening tool (Pronunciation)

Video as a listening tool can enhance the listening experience for your  students.   Try this out:

Split viewing:   Some students see and hear a sequence; others only hear it.  Then switch roles.  The idea is to work only on short sequences, and let them experience relating images with sound, and then make them try to listen carefully for key words.

Vision on/ sound off:  works great for practicing, describing scenarios, people, clothing, situations.  Students just watch the video with no sound, then after a couple of  minutes, the video is stopped and the image is frozen.  Students are then asked to describe the people in the video, the situation, what is happening, and imagine what will happen next.

Watch and observe

In this activity students  have to focus on a minimum of spoken dialogue. Students watch a scene from a video  which has lots of things that they can see and therefore write the t vocabulary in their notebooks. After this can teach and test your students vocabulary by asking them  true or false questions.  If the level is appropriate you can also tell the students  to put a series of events in the correct order.

Try this activities in your classes and have fun.