What to expect
Most kindergartens will have an English teacher teach three separate classes. One class is for the four-year-olds, another class is for the five-year-olds and the last class would be for the six-year-olds. As the younger students have more of a problem concentrating for any length of time often the four-year-old classes are shorter than the other classes. I usually teach four-year-olds for about 30 minutes. Then the five-year-olds class will be around 40 to 45 minutes. Last the six-year-old class will be for 50 minutes. Keep in mind that every kindergarten does something a little differently. I have taught at kindergartens that wanted me to teach their one-year-olds and two-year-olds as well. I have also taught at kindergartens that group all ages together. Sometimes you do not have a say in how the classes are grouped or the length of the classes. But if you do I suggest going with a similar plan.
For the most part kindergarten classes are very similar to any young kid’s class that you might teach at an English school. You are going to be using songs, picture books, vocabulary cards and a lot of games and activities. The big difference is usually the size of the class. At an English school the average size of children’s classes can be anywhere from 5 to 10 students. But at kindergartens you will often have larger classes. Classes of 15 to even 25 students are not uncommon. This means that controlling the class can be much more difficult. For each class you need to have a well created lesson plan. You do not just want to wing these classes. If you do you quickly will lose control of the students and pretty soon you will be herding cats.
Your First Class
For most, the first class is often the most difficult. This certainly can be said of kindergarten classes. Very often younger students (three-year-olds and four-year-olds) will be afraid of you. There might be some students who will cry if you talk to them or even look at them. The older students will be much friendlier but there is a good chance that they will be out of control. If you do experience this type of first-class don’t worry, your classes will get easier. The younger students will quickly get used to seeing you and will no longer be afraid. The older students will slowly learn to control themselves and listen to your commands.
Example Lesson Plan
To succeed, you are going to need to learn how to create a good lesson plan. Don’t worry, it really isn’t very difficult. The key to teaching English to kindergarten classes is structure. Your lessons need to have a basic structure that the students can generally understand. This way the students will know what to do, how to behave and who is in charge.
Let’s take a look at an example lesson plan. It’s always important to remember that each lesson that you make is going to depend on the number of students, the ages of the students, the amount of experience the students have and many other factors. So think of these example lesson plans as templates that can be used as the foundation of any future lesson plans. For a full explanation of an example English lesson plan for a kindergarten class click here.
Warm-up-The Drill Sergeant
Key Point Introduction-Animals
Key Point Reinforcement-Animals picture book
Key Point Activity-Find It! game (animals)
Review Activity-Hide the Card game (colors and numbers)
Progression of Activities
When teaching children at such a young age it’s a good idea to have a set of activities and games that you often use in your classes. This doesn’t mean that you can’t introduce new games or activities but compared with older students it’s best to use activities that they are familiar with. With these “core” activities we need to constantly be adding more content, more vocabulary and more phrases. Your games and activities need to “evolve” or “progress”. “Game progression” here is defined as slowly increasing the complexity of the games and activities after every class. The first time you play a game or activity you are mostly focused on introducing the rules and how to play it. The second time you can add a few extra commands. The third time you can add some responses that you want students to say to your commands. Once your students have a good grasp of all the English that you use in an activity or game you want to slowly increase the difficulty and complexity of that game. With most games and activities you can do this quite easily.
Use of Student’s Native Language
Whenever you can you should use English. But we are talking about very young children and there will be quite a lot of situations where you simply can’t only use English or body language to explain how to play a game or the meanings of certain vocabulary words or phrases. A good teacher knows how to use as little of a student’s native language as possible in order for them to understand. There will be some teachers or people who believe that you should only use English whenever you are communicating with the students. Not only is this unrealistic but it is also a waste of time.
To help you teach your kindergarten class you are going to need a few different materials. Most of these materials are a very good investment because you can use them in other children’s classes as well. In reality you only would really need the vocab/phrase cards but I’m going to put some other things that could make your lessons more interesting as well.
Out of all the things on this list I really think that these vocab/phrase cards are the most essential. You need these to play so many commonly used games and activities. With two sizes of these cards, an A4 size set and a business card sized set, there is no limit to the amount of activities and games that you can create. Most of the major publishing companies that create children’s English textbooks also create these cards to go along with their textbooks. Usually these are sold at local bookstores or you can order them online.
These are not as important as a vocab/phrase cards but they are probably the second most important thing on this list here. These “picture books” or some people call them “story books” are simply basic stories created for young children who are just starting to learn English. These books usually are made for non-native English speakers. Most picture books that are created for native English-speaking children are too difficult. They are also too broad in what they are trying to teach, where the picture books for non-native English children are more specific. There are many different publishing companies that create these books, some of them are really good and some of them are really bad. You can take a look at our reviews for many of these books here. Very often these books come in two different sizes. One size is very large, sometimes twice the size of an A3 sized sheet of paper. And the other size is more “normal”. Obviously the bigger sized picture books are more expensive but easier to see for the children when you’re reading them. You don’t need 30 or 40 of these books. About 10 good books would be enough. The kids like you to read the same stories to them over and over and you can take the same approach with picture books that you take with games and activities in terms of increasing the complexity each time you read them.
Also be aware that there is “good” way and “bad” way of reading these books. Many beginner teachers simply think that showing the pictures and reading what’s written on the pages is enough. It really isn’t. It’s not the most difficult thing in the world but there certainly is a way that you can read the books and have the children participate that will increase the amount of English that they learn.
English Song CD
For those teachers who are not too shy or embarrassed to sing and dance in English song CD can be a good tool. Keep in mind that these are specific CDs created for children learning English. Don’t bring in your favorite pop star’s recently released CD.
Pack of Playing Cards
For many children one of the first things that they learn to do in English is to count to 10. So for the younger students a pack of playing cards can be used to practice and review the numbers 1 to 10.
Pack of UNO Cards
Similar to a pack of playing cards is a pack of UNO cards. For those of you who don’t know or have never played UNO, UNO is a simple card game where the cards can be one of four different colors and have the numbers zero through nine written on them. This can be used to practice numbers and colors.
A newspaper can be used to teach how to play “rock, paper, and scissors”. Give each student a page from the newspaper, have them stand on it, and then teach them how to play “rock, paper, and scissors”. Then when everyone knows how to play, start. Everyone is playing against you. So if someone throws “paper” and you have thrown “scissors” that student loses the round and they have to fold the newspaper in half. You do this with all the students at the same time. If the students throw the same symbol as you do then they also fold their newspaper in half. When the newspaper pages get so small that the students can’t stand on them they are out. The student who is left is the winner.
A simple ball can be used in a number of ways and in a number of activities. You can use it to play a game of catch with your students. When you throw the ball to the student you can ask them simple question and when they catch it they have to reply with the correct answer. You can also do this with days of the week, months, and other sets of vocabulary. This is more for the five-year-olds and six-year-olds as most of the three and four-year-olds can’t really throw or catch a ball very well yet.
Balloons can be used the same way as a ball can be. Most of the games can be similar to. But probably the best use of balloons is in teaching numbers. You can have the students say a number each time they tap the balloon in the air. You can make groups of two or three students and each student has to tap the balloon and say the next number. There are a lot of simple games that you can use with balloons and all of them are very fun for the children.
Textbooks can be used to help you create your various lesson plans but the textbook is more for the teacher and not for the student. What I mean is that you don’t want to put a textbook in front of a kindergarten student and expect to teach them English using it. You might be able to do this with older children around the ages of eight, nine, or ten but for young children you really need to create games and activities. These young children don’t have the necessary amount of concentration that is needed to study from textbooks. So do not make 20 copies of a lesson from a textbook and have all the students sit down in letter little chairs at their little task and hand them out. It’ll be a terrible lesson and the kids won’t learn much at all.
What you want to do with textbooks is use them as a guide for your own lesson plans. Basically they are an easy way to create your class’s curriculum. The textbooks usually come in sets. Each textbook is aimed at a certain age group or a certain level of experience. You can use the topics and the vocabulary that they use in those books to help guide your own curriculum for your kindergarten classes. You certainly don’t have to fallow the book page by page but it really does help beginner students to know where to start from and how to slowly increase the difficulty of their lessons. Textbooks can help you do this.
Now there are a lot of things in these textbooks that you won’t be able to use in your kindergarten classes. Some textbooks have example conversations to introduce that lesson’s topic. These you won’t use. Some textbooks will have some phonics practice; some might have some reading practice that you generally wouldn’t use in kindergarten classes. But then again there are a lot of things that you can use in classes. Any kind of listening quizzes or review exercises can be easily turned into a game or activity for your classes. But the main reason to get a textbook is that it gives you about a year’s worth of curriculum so that you can center your lesson plans around.
Whether to teach a kindergarten class the alphabet or not is a common question for new teachers. After teaching English at various kindergartens for the last 15 years I’ve only once been asked specifically to teach the alphabet to kindergarten students. More specifically I was asked to teach how to correctly write the alphabet and get the students to a point where they could reproduce it on their own. The students were all six years old at the time. For most kindergartens that you teach at I think the kindergarten owner or classroom teachers will leave it up to you.
If you do decide to teach the alphabet I was suggest doing it in stages. Certainly the three-year-olds, four-year-olds would have a lot of difficulty with any writing exercises that you would try to have them do. More than anything it is a concentration problem. But that being said you certainly can make interesting games or activities where the kindergarten students recognize the names of certain letters and associated words with them. So they can recognize that the letter A is called “A”. And that this letter is often associated with the word “Apple”. This association can help them later on when they start to learn how to read English. In many ways teaching the alphabet like this is very similar to any other basic vocabulary word or set of words that you would teach.
Teaching children how to write the alphabet can be a little more difficult. More than anything it is a time problem. Most of your classes will be relatively short. Teaching children how to write can take a big chunk out of your class. Not only do you have to get the tables and chairs set up but you have to explain and demonstrate how to write a particular letter, have the students attempt it on their own, correct any of the students who can’t do it correctly and then when everything is finished you have to put the tables and chairs back. I know that most of you reading this now think that it could be done very quickly but in all honesty usually it took me a minimum of 10 minutes and more often than not 15 to 20 minutes. But if you do decide to teach the older students (five and six-year-olds) then it certainly can benefit them when they go into the elementary school later.
Without a doubt the most important thing in determining if your classes are successful or not is your ability to make the class fun. There are many different tools that you can use in order to accomplish this but first and foremost your attitude and your speaking style should all be very energetic and if at all possible funny. It really doesn’t take a lot to make a child laugh so many of the “jokes” that I will do in a classroom are very simple and easy. Let me give you a quick example.
Pretty much every class that I have, I will do an activity that I described in a different section of this article that I call “talk time”. “Talk time” is basically when I have all the students sit in front of me and I will call individual students to come up to the front of the class next to me and I will ask them three or four questions. Most of these questions the student learned in previous classes and even if they can’t reply correctly I will help them. The basic idea of the activity is to practice questions and responses and various phrases. This could very easily be a very dull and dry activity. But I found a way to do it that was fun for everybody. Usually I will transition into this activity from the “Drill Sergeant” game. With the “Drill Sergeant” game most of the children are “out” at the end of the game. When the children are “out” they have to sit along one of the walls in the classroom. So I will sit down near the middle of the classroom and call out “boys, sit down here” and then I will call out “girls, sit down here”. When they have all sat down I do “at attention” kind of body gesture. Basically I stick out my chest I put my hands on my hips and I thrust my head up high, while doing this I say “huuumph!”. Then the children will all copy me. Then I will call out one of the children who I think is doing the best impersonation. The kids really seem to like this and it really is a good way to tell the kids that the activity has now started and they need to listen and pay attention to me. When the child comes up in front of the class and stands next to me I will sometimes look the other way and with my arm closest to the child gently push him to the back of the chair I’m sitting in. While I’m doing this I’m pretending to look for the student. When I look to the right while gently pushing them behind me I might say something like “Where is he?” Then I will repeat this but this time to my left, with my left hand gently push and the other way while my face looks to the left side, then again while saying “Where is he?” By this time the children will probably be saying “Behind you! Behind you!”, then you can ask the rest of the students “Behind me?” And then repeat the process. After you’ve done this a couple of times finally you “find” the student and act very surprised. The entire class will be laughing I guarantee you.
Games and different activities are the tools that you will use to create your lessons. It is very important to have a good list of games and activities that you can use in your classes. When I first started teaching kindergarten classes I really didn’t have anywhere or anybody helping me so I had to do a lot of trial and error. So that you don’t have to go through all the work here is a list of games and activities that we often use in our own kindergarten classes. English Games and Activities for Kindergarten Classes
Well, that was a long article but by now you have a pretty good idea of where and how to start teaching your kindergarten classes. Be patient. Be friendly. Work on your lesson plans. Find games that the kids can like. Do these simple things and your class will be a success.