An activity-oriented, communicative approach is usually followed with children. In most schools, Korean teachers teach half the time and the foreign teacher covers the other half. Textbooks used for children vary widely. Many larger chains of schools have developed their own instructional materials.
Much of what goes on in a young learners’ classroom involves building confidence and encouraging students to try new language and to feel comfortable with foreigners. Attitudes towards foreign cultures and language learning that children develop in the pre-teen years will influence their language-learning outcomes for the rest of their lives. Regular praise is essential. Successful communication should always be acknowledged and attempted communication should be encouraged. Many schools have reward systems in place whereby students receive stickers or points for good behavior. While these work to some extent, praise from a foreign teacher is much more valuable.
A Typical English Lesson
The following applies to any English language class. Though the content and activities may be quite different, the structure of a lesson is the same for learners of any age. Kindergarten requires shorter, more focused activities. Most children’s schools hold classes that are 40 – 50 minutes long. Each lesson usually covers a function (or structure) and a vocabulary set (or target vocabulary) In a lesson about weather, functions are How’s the weather? and It’s + adjective. The vocabulary set for the same lesson is made up of the adjectives needed to answer the question: sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc. Typically one function and one vocabulary set of 5-10 words are taught each lesson. For the example below, I am imagining a group of about ten students, 8-10 year-olds, boys and girls mixed.
At the beginning or the end of a lesson, both the previous lesson and another lesson from the past month should be quickly reviewed through a communicative activity or teacher-led Q&A. This should take less than five minutes.
A good 40 – 60 minute lesson has three distinct parts, sometimes called the three p’s: presentation, practice and production.
Part One – Presentation (10-15 minutes)
It is important to create a context wherein learners see the need for the language before it is presented. One way to do this would be to draw simple pictures of different kinds of weather on the whiteboard and then ask students simple yes/no questions about the weather that day. When they are answering correctly to questions like Is it sunny today?, ask them an open question (a question that requires more than yes/no) like How’s the weather today?. They probably won’t be able to answer it, though a few students will probably try by answering yes or no). Answering this kind of question requires producing the correct word, not just recognizing it. If the students are at the correct level, they probably won’t be able to do this effectively.
Follow this directly with presenting the vocabulary and structure. Flashcards are often used. You could start by asking the question How’s the weather? and then holding up a flashcard or pointing to a picture on the board and answering the question yourself. Then, ask students to repeat both the question and the answers, first as a group and then individually. You can also write the structure on the board and remove one word at a time. For example, on the board write How’s the weather? After seven or eight repetitions with different answers, erase How’s and have students repeat several times. Next, erase the, etc.
This part of the lesson ends when almost all of the students are able to produce the target structure and vocabulary without prompting.
Part Two – Practice (10-15 minutes)
Students complete related exercises in their books. Normally, exercises progress from closed to open. Controlled and uncontrolled are also used, as are restrictive and free. Here are four examples:
A very closed written exercise:
Is it sunny? ______ Is it snowy? _______ Is it rainy? ______
Here the student has only to write Yes or No (or make a tick or an x). The exercise is almost entirely passive.
A somewhat closed written exercise:
How’s the weather?
There is clearly one preferred answer, “sunny.” “Hot,” “warm,” or “nice” would probably be less desirable in the context of a full set of exercises since “hot” and “warm” would appear elsewhere and “nice” would not be part of the vocabulary set. Any reasonable answer should still be praised.
A somewhat open written exercise:
We go skating when it’s _____________.
There is more than one likely answer. “Cold,” “cool,” “snowy,” “winter,” etc. are all possible and acceptable.
A more open written exercise:
When it’s hot, I ______________________.
Any appropriate verb is possible.
I like _____________ weather best because I can ________________.
Any weather adjective and any appropriate verb are possible.
Because the classes are small, the teacher can circulate among the students and help them as needed. It’s usually possible to check the work while doing this so there is no take-home marking.
Part Three – Production (15-20 minutes)
This is the most important part of the lesson, and that which requires the most planning. A game or activity is conducted wherein students are encouraged to produce the target function and vocabulary set. Choosing an appropriate game and planning how this will work effectively is key to the whole lesson because this is the stage in which students should internalize what they have learned and have some fun.
An example of a simple game for the above lesson is dividing the class into two teams. The teams should be facing one another. Give each team a set of weather flashcards. One member of Team A asks a student of his/her choice How’s the weather? and holds up a flashcard of his/her choice. The opposing team member must then say It’s rainy (or whatever the answer is). Award one point to Team A for correct question formation and one point to Team B for a correct answer. All sorts of variations on this sort of game are possible. If time remains, you may want to play a 5-minute game that reviews language from another lesson. No single game or activity should last more than about 15 minutes, unless you are dealing with older students.
If your school doesn’t have a reward system, you can make your own, using points that are accumulated for a prize (like a pencil case, a ruler, or an English book). It’s well worth spending $5 a week on a reward system for the time and energy that you’ll save on classroom management.
While planning for the above three stages may seem like a daunting task, keep in mind that materials will probably already be on hand for the first two stages and, after you’ve tried out several different game formats you’ll be able to decide what kind of game to play very quickly, just by looking at the lesson contents before class.