Criteria for a good pre-school English class

By Alex Case

1. Use of movement
Using movement not only matches how children learn best, it also makes the meaning of what you are teaching clear, makes it easy to spot if they are paying attention and burns up any excess energy that they might have so they can sit down and concentrate during later bookwork or worksheet stages. The simplest way to get them moving is simply to do a mime for every piece of language (e.g. peeling for “banana” or jumping with your arms down for “frog”), including things that come up in dialogues (raising your shoulders to show questions) and storybooks (combing your hair for “his mother…”). There are also many action songs, both ones used with native speakers like Itsy Witsy Spider and ones designed for EFL learners, and active games such as racing to touch the classroom object or flashcard that the teacher names.

2. Use of music
As well as the action songs mentioned above (and it is possible to make almost any song an action song with a bit of imagination), you can also use songs and chants to give them classroom instructions and mark transitions in the classroom like packing up their books or saying goodbye. Any use of songs both helps with classroom management such as getting their attention and makes the language more memorable.

3. Use of visuals and realia
Flashcards are an absolute essential in kindergarten English classes. They concentrate the students’ attention at one point in space, are very adaptable for games (e.g. revealing the cards slowly until they guess what it is), and are often the only way of explaining the vocabulary you want them to learn. There is one thing that is even better than flashcards, though, and that is 3D versions of what you are trying to teach them, such as plastic animals. These can be hidden around the room, guessed from the shape under a piece of cloth, made to do actions, balanced on different parts of your body or put inside different clothes.

4. Picture books/ storybooks
Another step up from flashcards is to teach the vocabulary as it comes up in a picture book or storybook. Although it is less flexible because the pages have to be turned, the plot (however minimal), surprise ending, repetitive sentence structure and any pop up flaps add to the interest and make the language more memorable.

5. Varied energy levels
As teachers discover the magical power of songs and movement to keep the children’s attention and speed up their language learning, they often completely forget about the sit down activities they used before and with older classes. This is a mistake, as children learn best from studying as many ways as possible and stimulating the artistic and mathematical/ logical parts of their brains is much easier with worksheets than it is with running around. Sit down and/ or quiet activities can also help calm students down who have become overexcited and let them regain their energy to put into a physically active game or a new language point. This also helps make sure that you give both the quieter and the more boisterous students activities that they like.

6. Flexibility
Although this is true of any class, it is especially difficult with young children to predict how they will respond to your lesson plan, even if they had almost exactly the same class last week. The reaction can depend on what happened in the class before, things that distract them, one child being a bad mood, a sulk from an earlier fight etc. To be able to respond to the mood you find the children in when you start the class and then change your lesson as their mood improves (or not), going off of your plan A lesson plan is also something that you will have to plan. Ways of building this into to the lesson plan include thinking about how you can abandon activities (and maybe come back to them later) or switch them round. Another technique is to have optional stages either written into the plan or listed at the top. Also make sure that you don’t need to complete one stage before you start the next one.

7. Some one to one interactions
This can also be difficult to achieve, but is very important as small children need teacher approval as much as or more than peer approval to motivate them. This can be achieved with something as simple as the teacher handing each student the object they are going to be balancing on their head (for body parts practice) and/ or the students handing it to each other (practising “Here you are”, “Thank you”)

8. Many short activities
In order to make flexibility and a range of energy levels possible in your class, you will need approximately 20 activities on a lesson plan for a 30 minute class. This can seem like a lot of planning, but as most of them will be repeated week after week (maybe with variations) and they don’t need to be tied together, lesson planning with pre-school classes usually takes about the same amount of time as any other kind of class.

9. Lots of revision and expansion
Small kids learn quickly (although not as quickly as you might think), but they also forget just as quickly. You therefore have to revise the same language over and over. The easiest way of combining this with new language is to tackle the same language point (animals, actions, numbers etc) week after week but expand the amount of language in that language set whenever they are ready, e.g. 3 colour words the first week, then 5 colour words the second week, moving onto “dark blue” and “gold” by the end of the year.

10. Designed for your particular students and class
Although most books about teaching children (and this article) concentrate mainly on the general differences between teaching adults and children or between teaching children of different ages, in fact individual children and children’s classes can vary as much from each other as adults and adult classes do. If you have lots of classes of the same ages it can be difficult to remember which classes like which songs and activities and which classes are progressing most quickly, so it is probably worth writing these things down at the end of each class.

11. Language for passive and active use
Children learn well not only from doing (running, singing etc) but also learn language that is around them without any apparent effort. This does not always turn into active use of that language, but then again children do not need to be able to say “Open your bags” or “Stop picking your nose”! In order to help the students pick up such language for understanding, make sure you use exactly the same phrase in each situation (e.g. just “Books and pens!” to start bookwork) until they respond to it every time without additional hints and you can start using something more complex (“Take out your book and your pens”). You can also make this kind of language more memorable by making into a chant (e.g. “books and pens, books and pens, books and peeeeeens” to the tune of the football chant “Here we go, here we go”)

12. Real communication
Although kindergarten students are unlikely to be able to give you their opinions on the latest news stories or ask you questions about your country, actually giving them things they ask for or giving them name badges when they tell your their names has the same effect on student motivation and remembering the language as it does in adult classes.

13. Personalised
This is a subset of real communication that is particularly tricky to get into most pre-school classes due to having limited language levels. It is worth the effort, though, as kids are always particularly impressed by being able to talk about themselves in English and with the teacher taking a personal interest in them. “Do you like…?” (with food or animals flashcards), “What’s your name?” and “How old are you?” are three easy ones you can start with on day one.

14. Match parent expectations
It might be that the only thing that the parents want from an English class is for the kids to have fun and learn to mix with others their own age, and all the tips above should achieve these aims. It might be, though, that they have unrealistic expectations about the benefits of learning a foreign language when you are very young. Ways of keeping such parents happy include lots of choral drilling to improve pronunciation (but adding a fun element by getting quieter and louder, slower and faster etc), always expanding the range of language even when you are doing the same topics all the time, and using more and more complex language in your instructions etc.

15. Discipline and involvement
Discipline and involvement can mean something very different in classes where running around and shouting and not being forced to speak until you feel ready are part of the teaching philosophy. You should also not have unrealistic expectations about the ability of three year olds to do things in a coordinated way or to cooperate with each other. 3 year olds will, however, pay a lot of attention to your own approval or disapproval. You can make this explicit and add a language point to it by using storybooks to teach “bad boy” or “stop that”. Your greatest weapon against misbehaviour and wandering attention, though, is fun. By keeping them surprised, amused or even occasionally scared (e.g. with a monster story), taking part in class should be even more fun than punching each other.

Written by Alex Case for May 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.


  • Kim Dammers says:

    I can use material I have learned and trained on for 8 year olds with 6 year olds with not too much adjustment, but when I was given (pre-)K EFL classes, I knew I had to get some help. Your ideas are really great. I plan to use them along with ideas from Genki English, building on TPR.

  • dooryardroses says:

    This is really helpful–I’ve been thrown into a few preschool classes and feel completely unqualified to run them! Thanks for all of your articles.

  • salim john says:

    thanx for such a beautiful and helpful stuff may God bless u

  • Yasna Rojas says:

    Thanks a lot for the material. It’s really interesting and very appealing to be read and analized by people who like to learn about this !!!

  • fanemey ranny says:

    thank you very much. your writing help me so much in teaching English process. I’m waiting for your next articles with pleasure.

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