A Guide to Teaching Young Learners

A Guide to Teaching Young Learners

ESL teaching in Taiwan


This handy guide to teaching young learners will  be just what you need in preparation for your new class of little ones.

ae4This is a phrase I’ve heard countless times, “I could never teach small children, I just don’t have the patience for it! They can get so out of hand!” I also believed I could never teach small children, until I did it.

I’ve also had my fair share of difficult, noncompliant students who require special types of attention. With a little practice, some teaching techniques, and a lot of patience (mine is tested constantly), those rowdy younger learners can become your most memorable students.

The opportunity to work with young learners is the opportunity to shape another person’s life forever. When I was working in the U.S. at a Montessori K-5 school I asked one of my co-teachers if she thought my students would remember me in the future (I sure don’t remember my K-2nd grade teachers).

Her response really left an impression on me, “They may not remember you as Vadim Rubin the person and teacher, but they will certainly remember Vadim Rubin as an idea. The lessons and advice you give them now will form their idea of who you are as a person and, in turn, who they will become.” A pretty big task, right? You bet it is.

Although it seems like a monumental task, it can be made much easier with the right tools. I hope by the end of this article some new, and even experienced, teachers will be able to feel more comfortable when confronted with those challenging students.

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This always seems like the most difficult part of teaching. Even the most experienced and intelligent teachers become frustrated from lack of disciplinary techniques. How can you impart all of your knowledge and wisdom to students who are hardly paying attention?

Students who constantly disrupt class, have difficulty staying on task, have trouble listening, they all can seem like too much to handle at times. Sometimes it seems easier to just ignore the problem, in turn, ignoring the student.

Surprisingly enough, this can sometimes be the solution. If you find that a student has difficulty sitting still and is constantly moving, let him be, just as long as he is not distracting other students.

Taking your full attention away from your class full of students to focus on one minor distraction will do more bad than good.

Create a hand signal for those students who are really having trouble keeping it together. Discuss this hand signal with your student(s) and let them know when you show them the sign it means, “Your behavior is starting to distract others, please calm down.”

The hand signal I use for some of my rowdy learners is putting my index and middle finger into the air together (much like the Hunger Games hand sign).

When my kids start getting out of hand I show them this sign and they immediately understand they need to tone down their behavior.

I kept consistent with it and even now I’m so surprised by their immediate response.

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Sending a student out of the room or having them sit away from the group is also a good way for them to recollect themselves and calm down.

The most important part of this is to bring the student back to the group when they seem ready! Sometimes the students sits out of the group even after they have shown they can behave and cooperate. This leaves students feeling forgotten and uncared for.

Selective Language

Choose your words carefully when talking to young learners, especially those prone to acting out. Avoiding words like “don’t” “can’t” “never” “bad.”

Children are constantly being told what NOT to do – instead, tell them what you want them to do. “Don’t yell, you’re disrupting class.” “Don’t speak when the teacher is speaking.” “You can’t stand there in line.”

Okay, so you’re students understand what NOT to do, but do they understand what you want them TO DO?

Some more positive ways to use your words could be “Can you keep your voice down? Other students really want to learn.” “When the teacher is speaking, students should be listening.” “Move to [a certain spot] in line.”

Also, notice I am avoiding the word, “please.” I try to reserve that word for when I really need to use it. When a student needs to fix a behavior they are not doing the teacher a favor, they are actually benefitting themselves.

Hold Students Accountable

Adults are held responsible for their actions, why not young learners? Create rules for your classroom and set repercussions when they are not followed.

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If you stay consistent with your consequences you will find students will, both respect you more as a teacher and will begin to understand responsibility.

If a teacher sets rules for the classroom with clear cut consequences but doesn’t follow through with them students will try to push the limits of the teacher’s leniency.

When a teacher has trouble following through with his/her promises all the students in the class pick up on this, especially at a young age.

Stay consistent!


This is the most important of all. Young students need to feel cared for. They will love you almost unconditionally and it’s important you do the same for them. A little bit of love can go a long way!

Young students really respect their teachers and it’s important we reciprocate that respect.

Have you ever had a class of young learners? do you have any hints and tips you would like to add in? Let us know in the comments section below. 


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