15 techniques for calming down a pre-school class

“Cooler” activities and techniques like these below can be good for classes who tend to lose concentration and/ or get injured when they get overexcited, to change pace when there has been something like someone crying that interrupted a previous activity, to let them get their energy back before the next active stage, and/ or […]

“Cooler” activities and techniques like these below can be good for classes who tend to lose concentration and/ or get injured when they get overexcited, to change pace when there has been something like someone crying that interrupted a previous activity, to let them get their energy back before the next active stage, and/ or to give the quieter students a chance to shine. Although it can depend on the class, a general rule of thumb for pre-school classes is to have a lesson plan where you alternate lively activities like jumping quickly with the kinds of quieter activities and variations described below.

1. Do the actions slowly
If students are getting overexcited while running around pretending to fly like a bird etc, which also often means they are also just copying each other and not paying attention to what you are saying, get them to do a few actions in an extremely slow way, saying the name of the action very slowly too. Making it extremely slow means it is still fun even though the concentration levels are increased and the noise level decreased. The anticipation of doing it fast again eventually also leads to controlled excitement. This technique also works with action songs like “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”.

2. Stop
An even easier way to control action games and songs is just to get them to freeze whenever you randomly shout “stop”, stop the music or hold up a red card with “stop” written on it. You can increase the fun and make them pay more attention by getting the last person to stop or the first person to move to do a forfeit, such as taking the teacher’s role. You can increase the level of control further by stopping after shorter and shorter periods of movement and/ or stopping for longer and longer each time.

3. Sleep
Even more calming than stopping is getting them to spend a few seconds pretending to be asleep. This can occasionally be used in any kind of action activity after “stop”, or can be tied into the lesson by deliberately using a song or storybook that has it included. Gently waving bye bye as in a “this is the way we wave bye bye” verse in the song Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush also has a similar calming effect.

4. Balance
Another variation on stopping that can add control and fun is to get them to balance in someway when they stop, e.g. stopping on one foot while practicing “hop”. This can also be done with object, e.g. balancing your plastic fruit on the ledge of the whiteboard rather than just running and touching it.

5. Drill slowly
A similar effect to doing actions slowly can also be achieved in drilling, where students mouthing a word very slowly “poooootaaaatooooo” decreases the noise levels and helps them concentrate on mouth positioning and the pronunciation of English.

6. Drill quietly
Another thing to add to the mix of drilling for the purposes of variety and control is to compete to say the word as quietly as possible while still being audible. Alternatively, you can start at a usual loud level and decrease the volume more and more by bringing the flashcard down towards the floor. This also works well with counting down from 10 to 1.

7. Drill silently
Even better than drilling quietly, you can get them to copy your mouth movement silently and then guess what it is you just said.

8. Marks for accuracy
Another way to control drilling is to occasionally stop the usual shouting out the right word as quickly and loudly as possible and get a few students to try to produce the word or sentence with the best pronunciation they can. This is particularly useful as a tie break when you don’t know who should get the card for guessing what it was first.

9. Chinese whispers
A team game that involves whispering is lining up a team of students and getting them to whisper something along the row, e.g. the flashcard that the person at the end of the row must slap. You can make sure they really whisper by having the other team listening carefully to try and overhear what they are saying and beat them to, for example, touching the door.

10. Step and stop
The most well known game of this type is “What’s the Time Mr Wolf?”, in which students take the number of steps the teacher (= the wolf) says as the time and try to touch the wolf’s back before they hear “Dinner time!” and must go running back to the safety of the back wall. Other games that use this idea of taking steps and waiting (usually) patiently for instructions include “Please Mr Crocodile”, in which they can only step forward if what the crocodile says is true of them (e.g. “Only if you are wearing white socks”)

11. Take away points
One problem in a suitably exciting and lively pre-school English class can be students getting so enthusiastic that they are shouting or touching everything at random without listening at all. You can calm them down a little by making everyone who makes a wrong guess sit down, lose a point, take the teacher’s role etc.

12. Finger songs
These not only involve action while sitting down, but also tend to have calming tunes. There are plenty of ones that are used with native speaker kids that can be adapted, e.g. “Two Little Dicky Birds”, and some primary and kindergarten EFL courses include their own versions.

13. Stories
As you may remember from your own school days, only the naughtiest kids don’t pay attention during story time. The problem with an EFL situation is that paying attention doesn’t necessarily mean they are learning any English, so you will still need to get them actively involved with the use of guessing the next page, drilling the new vocabulary etc.

14. Memory games
Being fascinated with memory games is not something I remember from my school days, but 4 to 6 year olds tend to love the mental challenge.

15. Go back
A surprisingly effective way of giving them pause for thought and therefore of getting them to use their heads more than their bodies is to take a step back for moment. For example, when drilling a group of vocab cards, catch them out by going back to the beginning of the pack. Even better, take a jump back to the beginning of the lesson by seeing if they can still remember where you hid one of the flashcards etc.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net June 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • Amy Cherwin says:

    Thank you. I have yet to see a list of classroom calming activities on the internet that matches this one.

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