Horacio’s Tips for Teaching English to Very Young Learners

My friend Horacio teaches English in Vietnam just like me. I asked him to share some of his thoughts on teaching. I hope this post can help teachers everywhere!

You can find Horacio’s blog here.


I’ve recently returned to teaching English to VYL (very young learners) and I didn’t want to be overwhelmed with all we had to face last year when we suddenly migrated online with little time for adaptation or training. So I took my time and did my research, I advise you to do so always.

My friend Sean, an English Teacher in Vinh, Vietnam, has asked me to make a list of online teaching tips as he insists other teachers might find it useful and I hope they will.

My spare usb camera

Tech Requirements

  • A PC or laptop
  • Internet connection
  • A LAN cable long enough to reach the router from your desk, mine is 15 m. long
  • A LAN-USB adapter
  • Headphones
  • An email account to log in to your preferred video call software
  • A video call platform (Zoom, Google Meet, etc.)
  • Powerpoint or google slides knowledge
  • A virtual highlighter (You can learn more about the highlighter here

Optional

  • An usb microphone (I use it not only because of sound quality but also because it becomes a very interactive prop, remember you don’t need buy one as you have already the computer and headphones mic)
  • A second usb camera (I use mine only once during the lesson, as a routine)

Streaming Room Settings

  • A quiet place with good natural/artificial light
  • A white wall as a background (or a green screen for better video quality)

Online Teaching

As my students are between 3 and 6 years old it means I need to keep the energy level high, motivating and engaging.

As I was very excited to start teaching again I started researching online mainly on Youtube about teaching VYL online and I found tips from many different sources. I will post here the main tools I am using at the moment.

You can also find videos with very useful tips on how to use your videocall platform of preference, in my case Zoom. I took many ideas from the video below.

My Project Corner

There are many props I use before or during my lessons, I find them to be great attention grabbers and children become familiar with them along the way.

You can make these props out of recycled materials and paint them with water colours. So far I’ve made a dinosaur puppet, a name tag and I made my microphone and my second usb camera to look more ‘cartoonish’.

Tino the puppet

Routines

Children’s attention span is short, I make sure that the activities I plan will be engaging and short enough so they don’t lose focus.

I make all my students participate in the activities. Using a mini whiteboard or an extra slide for my reward system with the class, I draw stars or hearts next to the student’s name to know that they all got involved.

I start with a warmer activity as students join the session. I take out my fruit and veggies toys and ask if they know their names in English. This way they are learning or practising vocabulary they already know. You can also use the alphabet or numbers. I usually go from one to twelve.

Instead of setting hard rules for the online lesson, I make this part more of an interactive task.

For my students to understand where to sit in front of the camera, I show them three photos of a little penguin toy, where in two of them I can’t see it properly but on the third one I do. I ask them if the penguin is sitting nicely or not.

A name tag made out of pizza cardboard, a plastiline toy and my usb-lan adapter

After that I ask them if they are ready to be on TV and I show them my cartoon-like camera (This is the spare one). Then I activate it through the advanced settings of screen sharing on Zoom and point it to the screen so they can see themselves and how they look like from my perspective.

Then, showing my microphone, I ask them if they can speak English and I nominate a student to imitate the word I say three times ‘Helicopter, helicopter, helicopter’ And I go one by one, changing the word for each student.

From then on is quite straight forward. We review the vocabulary we are learning and then I make them answer individually.

For all the activities you should have the same procedure as when teaching face to face: Give instructions, provide an example and demonstrate with a teacher assistant or a strong student.

Use Songs!

You need students to have short breaks and songs are great for this. They are also very good for reviewing or introducing new vocabulary.

You can use action songs or songs related to the topic you are teaching. There are plenty of channels on Youtube for you to choose.

My modified usb microphone

Reflect on your Teaching

It’s important to have a teaching journal, you can write there what have you tried and how the lesson went. I recommend you to write in the journal as soon as you finish the lesson so you don’t forget and then read it again before planning for the next lesson. You will see how this helps improve your teaching.

Teacher Training and Personal Development

I completed an International House training course on teaching online three months ago. I am very happy with what I’ve learned and with all the aspects of my teaching and my own knowledge about technology I had to reflect about.

International House Certificate in Online Tutoring

I will always recommend to keep learning and improving your teaching skills.

I also found a very good book about teaching VYL by Oxford and is totally worth it, check it out if you are teaching the same age group.

“Very Young Learners” by Oxford University Press

I hope you find these tips useful.
Happy teaching!

About Horacio

Hello, my name is Horacio

Horacio has been teaching English in Vietnam for the last two years and a half. He wants to inspire students of any age to keep learning the English language as it has given him amazing opportunities to travel and live in other countries.

You can read some of his traveling experiences here.