by Eleonora Pannacci
Five- and three-year-olds: a real challenge, since I had never taught English to such young learners, who cannot yet read and write.
The lessons took place in a pleasant and relaxed environment, which made both the children and me feel at ease. The parents left us alone and I felt free to teach according to my methods and ideas, which helped me be more spontaneous and effective.
A book becomes a creative tool
The Easy Read book “Philip on the ship” was the main teaching tool and all the activities were based on it. Every lesson followed the same pattern: reading one short chapter at the beginning and trying to make the children grasp the meaning of the words and phrases through pictures, face expressions, body language and physical movements.
After that I usually worked on the vocabulary encountered in the chapter by using different activities, such as handmade flashcards and authentic bingo with words and pictures.
I also let the children move around in the room, touch objects, show me items and tell me the corresponding word in their own language to build self-efficacy and a feeling of success.
They also loved cutting, gluing and creating their own English notebook, so I gave them the opportunity to recognise the written form of the words I was saying, cut them out and stick them on a paper.
I pronounced loudly and very clearly words and phrases and repeated them several times during the whole lesson. Lastly, I concluded every session by reading the whole chapter again in order to sum up all the work we had done.
Improving the learning
Rehearsal, repetition, support and encouragement are fundamental factors to make the lessons successful and to generate and sustain the pre-school children’s motivation and curiosity towards a foreign language.
Furthermore, parental support is important. When the parents read their own language version of the same Easy Read book parallel with the English course, it helps the children learn faster. Hearing the same story in their native language supports the children’s comprehension of the foreign language.
Face expressions, body language, intonation, prosody and physical movements are excellent ways of helping pre-school children grasp the global and general meaning of the text.
Using creativity for the activities proposed is crucial: flashcards, interactive presentations showed on a laptop or a telephone, pictures, drawings and the illustrations in the Easy Read books are perfect to attract their interest.
Reading slowly and clearly, repeating the same structures, phrases or words in different ways and with varied activities are in my view the best teaching strategies for foreign language acquisition for this age group.
Finally, teachers should not be afraid of using too much English, even tough kindergarten children’s linguistic level is still weak.
They do not need to understand every single word, but as scientific research shows, a full immersion in the foreign language will have positive effects in their learning of foreign languages now and in the future.