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Managing young learners

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Teaching young learners requires a knowledge of the developmental differences between children and teenagers and of the appropriate management skills.

Gail Ellis, Teaching Centre Manager, Paris and Janet Leclere, Teacher, Young Learners Centre, Paris

This article concerns the personal observations and experiences of a teacher who moved from teaching teenagers to teaching young learners. It includes ideas for classroom management and teaching strategies.

  • Inside and outside the young learners classroom
  • New dimension
  • Classroom management and discipline
  • Using the board
  • Routines and activities
  • Work

Inside and outside the young learners classroom
The young learners market continues to grow amidst a decade of changing attitudes towards this sector of teaching. The teacher is now viewed as a highly skilled professional who has the knowledge, skills, flexibility and sensitivities of a teacher both of children and of language, and one who is able to balance and combine the two successfully.

The term 'young learners' in the network covers a wide age range; 4-18 years of age, and most problems encountered by teachers are due to a lack of understanding of the developmental differences between children and teenagers, and of the appropriate classroom management skills to deal with these. Differences include conceptual and cognitive variations, variations in attention spans and motor skills such as drawing and cutting, as well as social and emotional differences. An understanding of these differences can help develop the flexibility that teachers of young learners require.

New dimension
Janet Leclere joined the Paris Young Learners Centre last September, bringing with her valuable experience of teaching eight to ten-year-olds in French state primary schools. Her classes include a group of five-year-olds using Pebbles 1 (published by Longman); an age she had not taught before. 'Having been used to teaching older children, I found it difficult to accept that some children's attention would drift,' admitted Janet, who quickly realised that her classroom management skills needed to take on a new dimension to control and cater for the needs of these children.

As it was not possible to observe classes at the centre, Janet took charge of her own self-development and arranged this at a local nursery school. These are her observations, which we hope will provide the starting point for further reflection and discussion in your own centres.

Classroom management and discipline

  • When children arrive, they put their coats on pegs, bags on the floor at their table places and then join you round the board. Only books and pencil cases on the tables. Avoid clutter - very young learner classrooms need to be very organised.
  • Use two areas of the classroom. For presentation of new language, practice activities using individual children, storytelling and opening and closing of lesson, the teacher sits on a stool next to the board and half-faces the children. Children should sit on the floor at their teacher's feet, with a further row of children behind on chairs to form a closed circle. This avoids sitting on the floor and makes you feel more in charge.
  • For activities, three or four children should sit at each table. Colour-code the tables. When children move from the board to the tables, get them to move group by group, not all at once. Children keep to the same places.
  • Expect children to do what they are told, but be nice to them - even when you are feeling impatient.

Using the board

  • Present new language at the board. Use lots of flashcards. Involve all pupils - ask individuals to perform a small task: pointing to something, choosing a picture or sticking it on the board. Children like to be picked, so make it fair. Ask the whole class a question, get them to repeat or drill.
  • Explain and demonstrate tasks you want children to do at the tables at the board. If using a worksheet, stick it on the board and demonstrate.

Routines and activities

  • Establish routines: always sit round the board to begin, play a game touching heads when taking the register, sing 'hello' to characters or sing a song they know. Everyone starts the lesson feeling confident and attentive.
  • Surprise activities can help to settle a class if the children become too excited. Try a series of movements in sequence e.g. touch your head three times, then shoulders, then knees. Vary the count and see if they can follow.
  • When changing activity, try using a rattle (e.g. rice in a box) rather than raising your voice to attract attention. This becomes a signal that children recognise. Start the activity, even if not all children are attentive. They will eventually join in with the others.


  • Be aware of what sort of work children are doing at school. The teacher I observed worked on the skills of matching, comparing and classifying. These are all things we can develop and adapt.
  • When children are working at tables let them finish as much as possible. Fast finishers can do another drawing, or colour in. As children finish, write on their worksheets to explain what they have drawn, stuck or classified etc. questioning them at the same time.

Many thanks to Chrystel, teacher at the Ecole Maternelle, Val Joyeux, Villepreux.