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Making ESL Learning Fun in the Pre-K or Preschool Classroom
The right ESL pre-k teaching tools can make learning easier
and more fun. Take, for example, the research work of Dr.
Howard Gardner who came up with the theory of multiple
intelligences. This essentially rules out the idea that
the best way for children to learn is by sitting at a table
doing "desk work". Instead, Gardner pinpoints
different "intelligences" which are essentially
learning styles. Everyone has a specific intelligence (or
a few specific intelligences) that defines how he or she
learns best. This means that in order to reach all the
children in a classroom, different learning methods must be
made available to them. The multiple intelligences are
* Linguistic intelligence: Learning and using spoken and
* Logical-mathematical intelligence: Logically analysing
problems, detecting patterns, reasoning.
* Musical intelligence: Performing, composing, and
appreciating musical patterns.
* Bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence: Using the whole body or
parts of the body to solve problems.
* Spatial intelligence: Recognizing patterns of wide space
and confined areas.
* Interpersonal intelligence: Effectively working with
* Intrapersonal intelligence: Understanding self and
By using games and other activities in your classroom,
you'll be able to create a class period that explores
various intelligences and reaches a variety of children
instead of just the linguistic learners.
Additionally, it's important to remember that preschoolers
simply learn best through play. Just think about how
preschoolers learn to count. They may count how many cars
they have lined up or how many blocks they've stacked.
Here is an example of how to transform a mundane activity
into an exciting game that stimulates the children's
imagination and encourages better retention of vocabulary.
Imagine you are teaching colours. Tell your children they
are pirates who have lost their treasure overboard and they
must dive down and retrieve it. Spread coloured objects or
cards around the floor. Demonstrate by taking in a big
breath, hold your breath and dive down and pick up one of
the coloured objects, then come up for air and ask the
children to name the colour, or you name it, depending on
whether you are doing a speaking or listening activity.
Then tell the children which colours to dive down and
collect. You could make it even more dramatic by dimming
the lights when the children dive down and turning them up
when they surface. The children can then sort the
different coloured treasure by stowing it safely in
treasure chests (boxes or bags - one for each colour).
Any paediatrician will tell you that the best way to
encourage a large vocabulary in your children is to read to
them everyday. For young children learning English you need
super simple stories, and in an ideal world, stories that
reinforce the language and vocabulary you are teaching in
class. You can access a free ESL preschool story with
games in the resource box below the article.
As well as using games and stories you'll need to take into
consideration a few other things:
* Preschool children have small attention spans so change
your activities every five minutes or so because if they go
longer than that, they'll start getting restless and you'll
spend more time trying to keep their attention than
actually doing the activity.
* Teach a small amount of language in any given session.
For this age group, try to introduce three words at a time
and then add to the list as you see the children understand
the meaning of the words you've already introduced.
* Engage the children on multiple levels. This includes
using fine and large motor movement, singing, talking,
listening and looking. For example, you could have a game
where the children need to move around the room to stand
next to a picture or object of the word they heard you
* Competition in the preschool classroom causes undo stress
on the children. Avoid playing games or doing activities
that have winners and losers. Either have the class work
together to "win" as a group or do not
distinguish between winning and losing. On the same note,
be sure to be supportive and encouraging to all of the
learners in your class.
* Preschool children can get very excitable so vary
excitable games with quiet ones to balance out the energy
level in the classroom.
* Preschoolers are very visual. Bring in real objects
whenever possible. When it is not possible, find colourful
and vivid pictures.
* Preschooler children usually are not yet reading and
writing (at least not to large extent) in their own
language, so don't expect them to do it in a second
language. At this age, you can expect them to listen and
understand first. After a while, they will begin speaking
individual words and short phrases.
* Themes work well in the preschool classroom. Focus your
vocabulary learning on groups of similar types of words
such as foods, colours, numbers, animals, families and body
parts. You can work in short phrases that are relevant to
* Be well prepared, plan more than you think you will use
and move seamlessly from one game or activity to another.
Use colouring or similar quiet activities when the children
need some downtime.
* Repeat, review and revise. You need to frequently review
the vocabulary that you've previously taught them or they
will quickly forget it.
* If you have a particularly naughty or rough student in
the class, keep him or her close to you. Ask him or her to
be your special helper and be sure to give a lot of praise
when you see him or her behaving appropriately.
Above all, just remember what you liked to do in school.
If you were bored, you probably didn't get much out of the
class and the same is true for preschool and pre-k
children. For free games and an illustrated story written
for ESL preschoolers, visit the link in the box below the
article. Help them have fun and before they know it,
they'll be learning!
Shelley Vernon has helped 1000s of teachers be an
inspiration to their pupils Improve the effectiveness of
your lessons and enjoy yourself more. Receive free
preschool ESL games and stories now on
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