It takes a special kind of person to teach kindergarteners.
I learned this lesson on my first day of teaching at an English academy for kindergarteners. I thought I was already prepared for the job because of my experience with elementary students…
Could I have been more wrong?
I quickly learned that teaching kindergarten requires you to find a special balance between patience and strictness. If you’re too laid back, you’ll never be able to control a class of 10 to 20 overexcited five-year-olds. But if you’re too strict, they’re going to be afraid of you and won’t want to participate in classroom activities.
Fortunately, since that day I’ve come up with some methods to maintain an orderly classroom and ensure that students are comfortable, happy and engaged while successfully learning and practicing English.
In this post you’ll find my top tips and activities for a high-energy but productive English kindergarten classroom.
How to Teach English to Kindergarteners: Tips and Activities You Can Rely On
As a rule, kindergarten students don’t respond well to teachers who run their classrooms like drill sergeants. Kindergarten students have needs that are completely different from learners just a few years older. Issues that seem minor to elementary students feel like an existential crisis to a kindergarten learner.
For this reason, it’s important to always listen to kindergarten students when they’re upset in order to earn their trust. You also to need plan your lessons a little differently to keep them following along and having fun.
Here’s how you can do that.
1. Develop an ESL Routine (and Stick to It)
The best way to control your kindergarten English class isn’t to constantly reprimand them, it’s to create a routine and stick to it. Structure and routines tend to work well with young learners. Many find routines comforting because they always know what to expect, as well as what they should and shouldn’t be doing throughout the day.
Try to base your routine on manageable blocks of time and make sure to prioritize application of English concepts throughout the day.
Here’s part of the routine that I came up with when I taught kindergarten ESL students:
Beginning of class — Teach the vocabulary word/sentence of the day and have students practice it
9:00 to 9:40 — Reading practice
9:40 to 9:50 — Questions and answers about the reading passage
9:50 to 10:00 — Break
10:00 to 10:20 — Conversational English practice
10:20 to 10:50 — Students complete one page in the conversational English workbook, then the class checks answers together
10:50 to 11:00 — Break
11:00 to 11:30 — Students practice the key grammar point of the day, usually something simple like the use of articles or verb tenses
11:40 to 11:50 — Song time (the students learn a new English song every Monday and continue to sing it for the rest of the week)
11:50 to 12:00 — Prepare for lunch (students line up, and in groups of three they wash their hands and grab their eating utensils)
Getting your students on a routine like this isn’t hard, but you do need to be consistent and stick to it as much as possible, especially when implementing it for the first time. Once your students get used to it, they’ll know what to do and will participate more in class.
Also, if you need a blank timetable template to help you structure your kindergarten classes, take a look at this one from BusyTeacher.
2. Gamify Classroom Management
One of the biggest challenges that kindergarten teachers face is maintaining order in the classroom without coming across too harsh. Obviously, you don’t want to be overly strict and make yourself look like the headmaster from “Matilda,” but you also need to have your students listen to you.
The best way to find the balance between being the fun teacher and the teacher kindergarten students listen to is to come up with fun little games that grab your students’ attention (while also getting them to participate in English).
Here’s how you can do that.
When students are being noisy, English call-and-response prompts are a fun way to grab their attention and get everyone back on the same page. Some example prompts are below.
The more you practice them with the class, the more likely your students will stop talking and pay attention. For a truly gamified experience, you can keep classroom points on the board for every successful call-and-response interaction.
- “Eyes on me!” Clap your hands and say “eyes on me!” Have your students respond by pointing at you and saying “eyes on you!”
- “Who’s ready?” At any point during class, whenever you ask “who’s ready,” your students need to sit upright with their hands on their knees and respond with “I’m ready!”
The Token Economy
One of the best ways to motivate kindergarten students to participate and behave is by giving them rewards. Every time your students participate well in class, reward them with a token. At the end of the week or month, let them exchange their tokens for small prizes.
With the token economy, you’ll want to come up with criteria students have to meet before receiving a token, so that everyone has the same opportunity. For this reason, I made the following requirements before I gave my students tokens at the end of a lesson:
- The student has to raise their hand and try to participate in three or more questions.
- The student can only be reprimanded one time for not paying attention in class.
- Students who fight with each other during the lesson are unable to receive a token.
And believe me, kindergarteners are the first to know when you’re not being consistent or fair with your rewards!
3. Keep Kid-friendly English Activities in Your Back Pocket
A good kindergarten teacher is one who’s energetic and comes prepared with a lot of activities. Kindergarteners aren’t able to sit quietly at their desks for extended periods of time, so they really need to move around and have fun in order to get the most out of their English learning experience.
Even if you’re teaching from a kindergarten textbook, it’s a good idea to have supplemental ESL activities waiting on the back burner just in case they move through your lesson quicker than you expected.
Below are some ideas for activities that you can add in your lessons.
Nursery rhymes are great because they’re already geared towards kindergarten-aged kids. They’re also fun because they help the students practice simple English phrases, including routines, animals and days of the week, in a way that gets students excited and allows them to move around.
If you’re looking for various nursery rhymes to include in your lesson, YouTube is loaded with resources. Two channels that are particularly useful for kindergarten lessons are Fun Kids English and Little Treehouse Nursery Rhymes and Kids Songs.
With the rhymes and other songs on those channels, students can learn about shapes, the alphabet, numbers and a variety of other topics associated with kindergarten-level English.
With your students standing in a single-file line, whisper a phrase into the ear of the very last student. That student will then whisper that phrase into the next student’s ear, and they whisper to the next student and so on.
Once the sentence has reached the last person, they’ll say the sentence aloud, then the class will check to see if the sentence stayed correct the entire time.
This is a great activity to practice pronunciation and is especially useful if you have a daily expression that your students learn.
Incorporating fun but educational technology is one of the most effective ways to engage a classroom full of young learners. FluentU is an English teaching tool that you can rely on for entertaining videos that get language results. Its vast library contains plenty of videos aimed directly at children, and each video comes with interactive transcripts and quizzes to reinforce your lesson!
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
The game is one of my favorites to use with young learners. Kindergarten students especially love it because it gives them the opportunity to move around and have fun while learning English.
To play this game, make flashcards that use the key vocabulary words and expressions you’ve been going over with your kindergarten students. You want to go with flashcards that use pictures, as most kindergarten students have difficulty reading—especially if their first language uses a different writing system.
Place three or four flashcards on the board, with all but one being the correct card to choose from. In pairs of two, have students come up to the board with fly swatters (or something similar they can slap with) and say the vocabulary word or expression. The two students then slap the cards on the board and the first student to choose the correct card wins.
If you’re looking for flashcards to download, or you’d just like some inspiration when creating your own, check out ESL-Kids’ flashcard section.
Hot potato is another energetic activity that works really well with kindergarten students. Simply designate an object like an eraser, ball or anything that’s lightweight and easy to handle as your hot potato.
While you play music, students pass the potato to the next person, and the student holding the potato when the music stops is expected to speak.
The good thing about this activity is that you can modify it to cover a number of kindergarten-related English topics. For example, the student holding the hot potato can…
- Introduce themselves
- Ask another student to introduce themselves
- Make a statement or answer a question related to the material they’ve been learning—examples include students saying their favorite animal, favorite food, time they woke up and more
- Ask another student a question
Just make sure that the object is hardy and won’t break when dropped, because kindergarteners tend to get really excited when playing this game!
As you can see, teaching kindergarteners English isn’t hard. You just need to be patient and willing to have fun with your students. If you want to teach a kindergarten lesson like a pro, you just need to be fair and consistent, energetic and plan activities that get them moving and participating in English.
By doing this, you’ll be the teacher that kindergarten students listen to, as well as the fun teacher that they all love.