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Very Young Learners 
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Joined: Tue Jan 23, 2007 4:33 pm
Posts: 41
Location: Ibaraki, Japan
Post Very Young Learners
This is my first post here, so first of all I'd like to thank Mark for the great materials and website he's created here! Thank you!

Anyway, on to the question. I teach elementary age students for the most part, but I also teach 2 and 3 year olds as a sideline, and that's what I wanted to ask about. I have been teaching three little girls once a week for a while now, not so much a lesson as playtime that just happens to be in English. But I'm running out of ideas, and I repeat enough as it is- I'm looking for some inspiration on what sorts of things to do with this age. If anyone out there works with toddlers and preschoolers, I'd love to hear about the kinds of things you do with them.

Tue Jan 23, 2007 4:41 pm
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
Posts: 2130
Location: Nagano, Japan
Maia - Thanks for the nice comments and welcome to the forums!

I teach and have taught kids that young. It can be difficult because you won't see the benefits for years to come. At that age, they are just taking everything in. They don't speak much but the listen like you wouldn't believe. Once they are older they can belt out much longer phrases and have no problem with me speaking at natural speed.

However, it can be discouraging for the first few years.

I generally start out with some cards for review. (The first 5-10 minutes is peak attention span.) I show the cards and we talk about them, name them or whatever. I do two sets and with the second set we play a game.

I hide little treasure cards under some of the cards while students hide their eyes. Then they turn around and choose a card by saying the item. This is fun and easy and they like it.

(gotta go to class. I'll be back.)

Build up! Be positive! Teach hard!

Wed Jan 24, 2007 9:44 am
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Joined: Tue Jan 23, 2007 4:33 pm
Posts: 41
Location: Ibaraki, Japan
That's a good idea with the cards- I'll try it this week. The lesson is short, only a half an hour, so I don't run into as many attention span problems as I used to with a longer lesson- there generally isn't time to run any given activity longer than five or ten minutes even if the kids were up for it.

Anyway, thanks for the idea! I'll let you know how it goes. :mrgreen:

Wed Jan 24, 2007 10:43 am

Joined: Fri Nov 10, 2006 3:35 pm
Posts: 119
Location: Yamaguchi, Japan
Hi Maia,
Kids love songs and dancing type activities as well. They may not be able to sing but they can copy actions. The Wiggles from Australia are good value, Barney is known here in Japan and I am sure there are countless other groups. It doesn`t matter how many times you repeat them, it is you who will tire of them before they do. I know this from my own kids who always went back to the same videos despite my attempts to change them.

(I used to work in Shimotsuma in Ibaraki 14 years ago.)

Wed Jan 24, 2007 12:12 pm

Joined: Tue Jan 23, 2007 4:33 pm
Posts: 41
Location: Ibaraki, Japan
14 years ago in Shimotsuma? That must have been an experience. I'm in Moriya, which is pretty much a suburb of Tokyo for all intents and purposes.

I do try to work in singing and dancing activities, but my selection of music for that age is woefully small. I should see about changing that. :roll: I wonder if the local rental place has much of a selection for kids in English? It can't hurt to check, anyway.

Thanks for the input, Simon.

Wed Jan 24, 2007 2:44 pm
Post Teaching Toddlers
Hi Maia,

First I'd like to recommend some CDs that I had a hand in making called Super Simple Songs. We created them for our classes of younger learners here in Tokyo and they are ideal for kids in the 2-7 range. You can see some videos of them in action at and get some activity ideas. We've gotten a lot great feedback from teachers of toddlers all over.

As for organizing classes for 2-4 year-olds, I'm sure you know a lot of the basics...have a lot of activities ready to go, keep things moving. But be careful not to set a frenetic pace. Change activities often but transition gently.

Here's a standard 45 minute class for me for 2-3 year olds:

We have the students knock on the door and we say hello and let them in. If they are speaking, we'll ask, "What's your name" or some other simple questions. If they are not speaking much yet or are relatively new to the school, it's just a friendly "hello" and come in. I recommend having music playing.

I usually like to have some activity set up in the classroom before the students enter so that when they enter there is something that immediately interests them and takes their minds off of any worries they may have. Ideally, this is a tactile activity not requiring speaking but can be adapted so the children need to listen to the teacher.

For example:
Fishing: Cut out a bunch of fish from different colored paper. If possible, laminate them so they'll last. Put paper clips where there mouths go. Make "fishing poles" from some kind of stick (chopstick is a little dangerous...something rounder and bigger works better), some string or yarn, and a magnet. When the kids come into class, first sit down with them and notice the fish together. Point out all the different colors. Show them how to fish by saying, "I'm going to catch a yellow fish!". Give each kid a fishing pole (make sure to monitor them carefully). Say, "Let's catch a yellow/green/blue fish!" If you are reviewing colors, that should be enough. If you are introducing colors point out the colors for them. Continue til all the fish are caught. Count the fish. Collect the fish. Ask for each color one by one, "Can I have all the yellow fish, please." (Always make cleaning up an activity into an activity on it's own).

Sorting activities: Go to the 100yen store and buy a bunch of different colored "pom-poms", those small little puffy things (oh how my English vocabulary has declined). Buy some multi-colored containers or small baskets, one for each color of pom-pom. Have the pom-poms spread all over the classroom. Let the kids just come in and play with them and then ask them to help you clean them up. Sort them into colors. Count them. Put the purple pom-poms in the purple basket, yellow in yellow, etc. 2-3 year-olds really love sorting and cleaning up, so as long as you mix up the sortables (buttons, straws, beanbags, etc.), you can do this all the time and it's great for getting kids into class with the simple language of colors and counting.

Mystery Box:

Matching or puzzle activities. Cut items into two pieces and scatter them around the room...have the students help you put them you do so, introduce that vocabulary. For example, cut pictures of different fruits in half. Place halves all around the classroom. Keep the other halves to yourself. When the kids come in, show them you are trying to find the matching piece to one of the halves you have by just going around the classroom trying to make a match. Once the kids catch on, give them each a half to find a match for.

Next we do stickers. Our school, like many, gives each child a passport, and at the beginning of class, I ask for "Passports please!", encouraging the kids to say "Here you are" as they give me their passports. Count the passports together (with that age, we are always counting (How many?) and naming colors (What color?)). Call each child one by one and let them choose a sticker for their passport. "What color do you want?"

Next, we sing our Hello Song, and usually follow that with another song like "Make a circle" "Seven Steps" or "Walking walking". Something simple and fun...a little more active now.

After that, it's usually on to an activity that does not always have a specific language function but where a lot of natural English is used. This might be playing with a parachute or simply a sheet (all kids grab part of it..."up" "down" "higher" "lower" "faster" "slower" "shake it" "round and round"). Have the children put a Teddy Bear on the sheet and encourage them to say "jump Teddy Bear!" as everyone lifts the sheet at the same time. (be careful, this is probably not well-suited for many two year-olds...but "older" two year olds and three year-olds will enjoy it).

Or we might feed a puppet with different colored pom-poms or plastic fruit.

Then we have another song, something like "Walking walking", "Head, Shoulders...", a numbers chant, etc.

Next we usually get into some of the thematic language for the of the body, animals, numbers and colors, etc. We do use flashcards, but we use them with a "knock knock house". The cards go behind the door and the kids need to knock on the door and answer a question before opening the door to reveal the card. That extra step, having to open the door to reveal the card, makes the activity exciting for the kids. If you are going to use flashcards or realia in class to introduce or review vocabulary, think of ways give some wonder to the activity. Use a Knock Knock House, a Mystery Box, have cards hidden around the class room, etc. Never just bring out flashcards and start drilling.

Remember when you are done with flashcards to have the kids help you clean them up, don't just put the cards away quickly. You can pretend to drop them if you like to make it even more fun. Ask for each card by name. It's a great time to gauge comprehension.

Then, another song, this time often related to the thematic language. If it's food, then "Are you hungry?". If it's clothes, then "Put on your shoes".

Next, story time. We sing our storytime music which indicates it's time to sit down and be quiet. Ideally, the book is related to the thematic language of that class, but need not necessarily be. Some favorites for the 2-3 year-olds..."Where's Spot?" "Where's Maisy?" "Good Night, Sweet Butterflies"...books with flaps or things kids can touch.

Then we're back to passports and stickers or stamps.

And last, a goodbye song.

The time goes very quickly.

Some things stay the same almost every week...Passports, Hello song, Knock Knock House, Story Time, Passports, Goodbye song. A certain degree of routine in comforting to the kids, and it allows you have some natural interaction with the kids. Some of the most useful language we learn in class comes during passport time when I get to interact with each kid one to one. Some things change a little but are still familiar...different songs, different sorting activities, etc.

And then every once in a while you'll probably want to totally mix things up. Get online and find some age appropriate crafts that may take a little longer than activities you typically do in class. Forget about the flashcards and all the other activities and have a fun craft day.

Always have a plastic microphone with you from the 100yen store as well. Young kids are not always sure if you want them to say something or what they are supposed to do. With a mic, you can indicate when you'd like them to respond or repeat after you. As they speak more and more, you can also sit in a circle and pass the mic around, each child saying their name or answering simple questions like "Are you hungry", etc.

Sorry if I rambled here! Hope some of the ideas help!

Tue Jan 30, 2007 12:56 am

Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2007 6:54 pm
Posts: 52
Location: Kanagawa, Japan
2 year olds love to kick beach balls, go fishing, do bowling, play a fly swatter game (put velcro on the back of a fly swatter and then they have to swat a picture that also has velcro on it), clothesline smack(put pictures on a makeshift clothesline at a height that requires the student to use a magic wand to hit them), being lift up in the air.

Wed Jan 31, 2007 9:33 am
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