Can-do statements in preschool English classes

By Alex Case

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 October 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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