How to Teach ESL to Kids

Are you new to teaching ESL to kids or looking for tips on how to teach ESL to kids? I hope to help you two steps forward with this article.

When I got my first ESL teaching job in China I had no clue what to do. I had studied economics and was a traveler. I was thrown in front of a small class with no plan, no curriculum and no lesson material. Not quite the ideal setting for a great class. I want to save you some of the trouble and give you a kick start with your ESL classes.

Teaching a new class for the first time is always the most daunting. For the teacher, but for the kids even more so. Here’s what you can do before, during and after class.

Simpsons How to Teach ESL to Kids

Before class

Do your research.
Ask your colleagues about the age and level of the students. Ask what they are like and what do they like to do in class. Ask what they have learned so far and ask what they think you should know about them. Ask what teaching materials are available. The more your colleagues can tell you, the better. For the first class you can take it easy and find out what the students are like.

Plan your lesson carefully. Preparation is the best cure for nervousness or uncertainty. Prepare different sorts of activities and have back-up activities. Activities that are fun and interactive are good ice-breakers.

Ensure that you have all your teaching resources at hand. Teaching material like books, songs, flashcards, balls, hammers, sticky-balls, etc.

Take it easy the first class. Try not to cover too much material in one class. Focus on interacting with the students. Show that you’re interested in what the students are thinking. Get to know each other. Include plenty of opportunities for students to ask and answer questions.

Your first job is to make the students comfortable and see you’re just a human being. If it’s a class of young children, play some children’s music in the background before class starts. Children usually come a little early, so make good use of this time and play around with them a bit. Toss a ball or balloon around. I learned how to make balloon animals and figures and made them before class to give to the new kids as a reward after class.


Time for class!

Talk to the students and smile a lot. Smiling is key! It’s basic psychology. Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your and your student’s brain.

Greet your students all together, introduce yourself and then go up to them one by one asking their names. If they are sitting down, you can let them stand up to shake your hand.

I always like to throw them a ball and ask their name, then let them throw it back at me. It makes the introduction a bit more relaxed when they get to do something fun like throw a ball. You can demonstrate this little activity first by throwing the ball in your assistant’s hands, asking ‘What’s your name?’. She will reply ‘My name is Yoyo. What’s your name?’ and throw the ball back to you. Then throw the ball to the students, and ask them their name, one by one. You can ask them another question as well, e.g. ‘What color/animal/sport do you like?’ If the class is too big (15+ kids) you can have them pass the ball down the line. If a child doesn’t want to say their name, then just move on to the next one.

You can have another round in which you throw the students the ball and the one holding the ball gets to ask YOU a question. This is great for them to get to know you and for you to find out their English level and creativity.

After this go straight on to the next activity. This can be a song, activity, ice-breaker or TPR.

Extra tips:

Speak clearly and a little slower. When you speak to your students, speak clearly and a little slower than you naturally would. Articulate your words and adjust the simplicity of your sentences and questions to your student’s level. When you see your students don’t understand what you’re saying, try to say the same thing in a different way. Or ask the student that did understand to demonstrate it with you. Comprehension always precedes production. When your students understand what you’re saying, it’s only a matter of time before they will be able to produce it themselves.

Don’t forget about the shyer students. When you ask the class a question, don’t let just the students who put their hand up speak, but also the students who are a bit shyer. Give them a chance to speak, but if it takes too long for them to answer, I would say ‘Bye, bye!’ and wave and go on to the next student. The student doesn’t have to feel bad about this, we don’t know failure in class, I will give them another chance soon after and give them praise. This will build their confidence. We want the students to try and not being afraid of being right or wrong. It’s fine to make mistakes, this is the way we learn best.

Transition quickly. Try to get a natural flow throughout the class. Transition from one subject or activity to the other quickly and smoothly by using bridges. Quickly move on so you keep everyone’s attention. Keep the energy moving!


After class


Evaluate your lesson. Write down what you got to know about the students. Think about what went well and what can you do better next class.

Talk about it with your colleagues or on my website. Ask for tips and what other teachers would have done in certain situations.



It’s important for an ESL kids teacher to be patient, creative, flexible and understanding. See the world through your children’s eyes. Children will pick up on your enthusiasm. Explore new territories, expand your interests. Arouse their curiosity.

Ask open-ended questions (“I wonder what will happen if…” or “how did you do/make that?”). Respect children’s ideas, feelings and thoughts. Have fun.

You chose this profession for a reason. Enjoy each day. Don’t worry if something doesn’t work out as planned. Reflect and learn from your experiences.

You can find many more practical information on how to teach ESL to kids in my e-book here.

Dora How to Teach ESL to Kids

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