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Can-do statements in preschool English classes

Can-do statements are all the rage in English teaching due to the ever increasing influence of the ALTE/ CEF levels, but they are probably least used in the kinds of classes where they could be most useful- with the under 5s. Creating can-do statements for your present or future classes has many potential benefits:

  • Providing a structure to classes that have no textbook
  • Giving motivation to teachers who feel their students are progressing slowly compared to older students- especially in areas like grammar and in contrast to the common belief of earlier being better for foreign language learning
  • Providing attainable aims for teachers who don’t yet know this age range well
  • Providing realistic aims for students who might have no real need for the language for several years
  • Providing a selling point for parents whilst also making them more realistic about what can be achieved
  • Making sure that the teachers, parents and school management are all pulling in the same direction
  • Showing that things we teach like games have a cultural value of themselves, and so hopefully make up for the progress in grammar, functional language and even pronunciation (the apparent strength of young learners) being less than the expectations of parents who expect the progress to mirror that of children who move abroad.
  • Showing how we combine age appropriate goals and things that can help in further studies.
  • Helping parents know what is going on in class and why, and so how they can help their children

The example of a can do statement below shows how these things can be written up in a way parents, school management and teachers can agree on and use.

An example of a pre school English course syllabus/ can-do statement for students studying 5 hours a week

After 2 years your child will be able to…


Mix with native English speaker and non-native English speaker adults and children in a classroom, social, sports and play setting

Understand new classroom activities explained only with English, pictures and gestures and reply in basic English in most of those situations


Hold a two or three minute conversation one-to-one with a native speaker adult or child on first meeting them, including typical topics when talking to children you don’t know such as age, family, likes and dislikes, favourites, pets, nationality, weather, birthday, and abilities

Sing along to and perform the actions of at least 20 songs that a native speaker child that age would know

Use basic polite language- Please, thank you, you’re welcome, May I.., Can I have.., sorry, here you are, etc.

Report common needs and problems to the teacher in English- tired, pains in body, toilet, don’t understand, can’t etc.

Be able to produce the sounds th, a/u, shi, si etc. that do not exist in their own language

Be able to name all the objects in their classroom environment

Make some basic statements and conversation about typical situations where they might meet and mix with English speaking children outside the classroom (zoo, park etc.)


Understand instructions for new games entirely in English- line up, make teams etc.

Perform basic classroom actions for study and chores from English-only instructions (stand up, sit down, turn around, make a line, )

Follow instructions for craft activities just in English (cut, fold, stick etc.)

Follow instructions in English on basic playground equipment


Read basic native speaker story books for a younger child

Able to come up with at least two words of English for each letter of the alphabet and recognize many more


Fill the gaps in a basic pen friend letter with personal information such as name, age, favorites, country

Culture and Body language

Recognise common gestures used in English speaking and other foreign countries, especially those commonly used in school

Shake hands

Know at least 30 names and flags of foreign countries they are most likely to meet

Be able to join in with native speaker children in basic games, songs and ceremonies from foreign festivals, e.g. sing Christmas carols, fill in the gaps of a letter to Santa, do Trick or Treat

Know what Japanese and international toys, comics, cartoons, films, games etc. are popular internationally

Be able to play at least 15 games that a native speaker child at that age would play (What’s the time Mr. Wolf, Hopscotch etc.) and identify them by their name

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net October 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.


  • Alex Case says:

    Not playing for them, but always welcome nonetheless! Sometimes makes up for the lack of pay…

  • Alex Case says:

    Glad this has stirred a bit of debate, as this is my latest attempt to solve the problems that came up in the writing of the article I gave a link to above rather than the final solution to teaching preschool English. It might help if I explain the situation in more detail:
    – I believe that the best way for very very young learners to learn English is through play, as long as there is a suitable teacher to student ratio, a teacher who knows how to turn that play into language learning, and enough classroom hours. Unfortunately, these things are rarely the case. In most large classes of an hour or two (or even half an hour) a week with a native speaker teacher trained just to teach adults, something that looks much more like a class (if a class made up mainly of songs, stories and games) will be more productive, especially with the five to just turning seven year olds that make up the majority of the market in Japan.
    – Parents and kindergarten owners often already have unrealistic expectations, the most common being that their preschool child will pick up a native speaker accent and progress much quicker than older kids just due to their age. If you are going to lower those expectations, you have to offer something in return or you will be out of a job and a teacher who will give them grammar lessons (a recent TEFL.net forum topic) will be giving them much worse lessons instead.

    The last point is more important than I had pointed out as the first time I wrote a Can-Do list for preschool was as a sales pitch to a chain of kindergartens who were looking to bring in native speaker teachers and were considering using ones from our school. If I hadn’t been asked to work on this, it never would have occured to me to give parents who seemed to trust me a “stick to beat me with” in my own classes, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like a structure to build the stakeholder model of such lessons that I had talked about in my article (link above) for MET. To summarize those problems again in case anyone else has a better solution, they were:
    – Native speaker teachers who knew how to make the classes fun and enjoyed them themselves for a while but found the lack of direction and progress demotivating and so almost always said they didn’t want more kindergarten classes
    – Unrealistic expectations from parents and school managers
    – Their regular teachers and parents at home teaching totally unrelated, often far too high level, English and different things with each teacher and parent
    – A textbook that tried to teach A and AN to 5 year olds, and so an alternative structure needed if the book was to be scrapped

  • Alex Case says:

    Thanks Sue. As I said in reply to Patrick, I would indeed agree that some of the examples don’t really match, it was just supposed to illustrate the kinds of things that could be included in the Can Do statements. The other possible confusion here is that the UK is about the only country where Preschool means under 5s, with kids starting primary school in most countries at the far more sensible age of seven. At that age I have often managed about half of this with just an hour a week (although with lots of support from parents and other teachers, another thing this is supposed to help for)

  • Alex Case says:

    Hi Patrick

    All good points, although many could be solved simply by seeing this as one example of what a document could look like without, obviously, taking any of the details and trying to apply them to your own classes. All the details in here can and should be changed, especially as these are the combined effect of brainstorming stages from several different projects rather than one real example that we use. The other thing is that pressure is often already coming from somewhere else anyway, and I see this as a good way of defecting pressure from ridiculous things like asking for grammar lessons and giving 5 year olds native speaking accents into areas that you will be working on anyway like social skills and learning songs. It also provides a framework for teachers who find themselves playing games to little purpose and quickly get demotivated, as I found when conducting a questionnaire for this article:


    Having said all that, if anyone things the best way of putting all the pressures together and coming up with a solution is to scrap this system and try something completely different, I’d be very happy to hear what that something different could be as I’ve been looking for a solution for years!

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TEFL.net : TEFL Articles : Young Learners : Can-do statements in preschool English classes