Teaching young learners English

pretty asian preschool girl with crayons

Are you looking for ideas for your ESL preschool class?

Anyone new to teaching young learners English will tell you that it is a challenge.  While they are cute, funny, and often eager to learn, preschoolers are also energetic, active, and often difficult to keep on any particular task for more than a few minutes at a time.  That is why it takes a special kind of teacher and fun ideas to teach young learners English effectively.  Games, stories, and songs are the perfect answer to the challenge!

If you don’t have much experience, here are some tips and tricks to help you enjoy your students more.

Top tips for teaching young learners

Small attention spans

Remember that preschool students have small attention spans.  So you’ll want to change activities every five to ten minutes or so because if they go longer than that, the children can become restless, and you will spend more time trying to keep their attention than actually doing the activity.

Little and often


Teach a small amount of language in any given session.  For this age group, try to introduce three words at a time and then add more as you see pupils integrate and understand the vocabulary.


Teaching young learners English requires a host of games and activities.  Engage your students on multiple levels, such as using fine and large motor movements, singing, talking, listening, and looking.  For example, you could have a game where the students move around the room to stand next to a picture of the word you say, thus engaging them through listening, looking, and moving.

Preschoolers are very visual.  Bring in objects whenever possible.  When it is impossible, find colorful and vivid pictures to use in place of the actual thing.

Don’t use the same game every time or let a game go on too long.  You’ll get bored and so will the students!  That said, don’t be afraid to repeat your students’ favourite games that you know will always be a hit.  The best ones are games that are adaptable to any topic or theme.



Preschool students can get very excited.  Vary excitable games with quiet ones to balance out the energy level in the classroom.

If you have a particularly naughty or rough student in the class, keep them close to you.  Ask them to be your special helper, and be sure to give a lot of praise when you see them behaving appropriately.

Avoid competition


Competition in the preschool classroom causes undue stress on the students.  Avoid playing games or doing activities that have winners and losers.  Instead, have pupils work together to “win” as a group or do not distinguish between winning and losing.  On the same note, be sure to be supportive and encouraging to all learners in your class.

Focus on understanding and speaking


Preschool students usually are not yet reading and writing (at least not to a large extent) in their language, so don’t expect them to do it in a second language.  At this age, you can expect them to listen and understand first.  After a while, they will begin speaking individual words and short phrases.

Use themes


Themes work well in the preschool classroom.  Focus your vocabulary learning on groups of similar words such as foods, colours, numbers, animals, families, and body parts.  You can work in short phrases that are relevant to your theme.

Keep momentum


Because the activities are short and you don’t want to give preschool students too much “downtime” between them, make sure you have all of your supplies ready before the children enter the classroom.  On the same note, plan more than you think you’ll use.  Sometimes an activity will not go over well, and other times it will go faster than you had planned.

Revision and patience


Teaching young learners English requires revision and patience. It is essential to review vocabulary periodically, or children will quickly forget it.

Be patient and don’t expect preschool children to speak the words right away.  It may take a while.  Keep going, playing games so that they at least understand what you’re teaching.  The speaking will come.

Don’t give up!


If you use a game that doesn’t go well, examine what went wrong, put it away for a while, and give it a try another day.

Have fun!


Above all, teaching young learners English is fun! If you and the children are enjoying yourselves while engaged in English games and stories, then the chances are the children will be learning.


Shelley Vernon has inspired thousands of ESL teachers with her games. Try her free games and receive a free story with activities written specially for 3-6 year-old preschoolers learning English.  Receive the free materials below!

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