Prep school

It is believed that the sooner we start learning a foreign language, the better results we may expect, and therefore a lot of parents are interested in finding a kindergarten where a foreign language is taught and then, a primary school in which their children will continue the education. children themselves seem to be interested in playing rather than learning, and they may not be willing to be involved in the learning process. Thus, the best strategy to be used while teaching English to children appears to be the play. All teachers should take this fact into consideration while preparing activities for children. However, one should remember that children are spontaneous, and like taking part in every new situation and experience. Children can be divided into two groups: those from kindergarten for whom motor movement involved in every play is important , and those from primary school for whom the learning process is more conscious, with play still occupying a very important place in their life.

The main purpose is to present some effective ways of teaching English to children. An overview of teaching methods emphasizing individual features of learners as the main factor affecting the teaching and learning process will be presented.

Childhood is a period of our life, which is thought to be the time of play, spontaneity and fun. However, looking at the issue more closely, childhood also appears to be the time of physical and mental development. The mental processes include: acquiring the first language, gaining knowledge about the world, as well as remembering and forgetting. All of the processes are connected with memory. All the received information is separated and stored in a child’s brain. starting with communication with parents, children gradually develop their linguistic competence.


First and the second language acquisition

The process of first language acquisition (FLA) is more natural in comparison to the process of acquiring a second language (SLA). The process of first language acquisition starts very early and develops gradually, while the process of acquiring a second language starts when a learner has already acquired the first language.

Brown (2000) called the process of acquiring the first language a child’s language development and divided it into several stages:

- birth – crying,

- 6 weeks- cooing,

- 6 months – bubbling,

- 12 months –one - word utterances,

- 18 months – two - word utterances, telegraphic speech,

- 2 years – word inflection,

- 2 years until 4 years – questions and negatives,

- 5 years – more complex construction, a child speaks a lot,

- 10 years – natural speech,

- school age in general – a child learns what to say and what not to say.

There are some theories which may explain why children acquire languages so quickly and effectively. These theories include: behaviourism, the nativism and the interactionism, also called functional.

Behaviourists, such as Skinner claimed that “children come into the world with a tabula rasa, a clean slate bearing no preconceived notions about the world or about language, and that these children are then shaped by their environment and slowly conditioned through various Schedule of reinforcement”(Brown 2000: 22). What is more, Jenkins and Palermo year put emphasis on imitation as the most important factor in first language acquisition. They believed that children learned their first language by imitating the verbal behaviour of their parents and other adults surrounding them. However, that theory ignored the child’s creativity and failed to account for the interactive nature of language acquisition.

Nativists asserted that language acquisition is innately determined. They claimed that ”we are born with genetic capacity that predisposes us to a systematic perception of language around us, resulting in the construction of an internalized system of language” (Brown 2000: 24). Apart from that, Chomsky and McNeill year suggested that this innate knowledge is embodied in ”a little black box” called Language Acquisition Device (LAD). LAD consists of four innate linguistic features:

- the ability to distinguish human speech, sounds from others,

- the ability to organise input and transform it into intake,

- knowledge that certain linguistic system is possible,

- the ability to evaluate a language and create simplest possible system.

Nativists took into consideration the creativity, the meaning, and the abstractness included in a child’s responses.

The interactionists stated that ”what children learn about language is determined by what they already know about the world” (Brown 2000: 28). Additionally, Gleitman and Wanner year noted that ”children appear to approach language learning equipped with conceptual interpretive abilities for categorizing the world”(Brown 2000: 28). For the interactionists, interactions between a child and an adult are a crucial element in first language acquisition. Moreover, Slobin (Slobin 1986: 28) presented two steps to the language development:

- the functional level – the development based on the growth of the conceptual and communicative capacities – innate cognition,

- the formal level – the development is based on the growth of information – processing capacities and innate pat tern of grammar.

Comparing all these theories, it may be concluded that input given by adults and constant interaction are the most powerful factors affecting first language acquisition. However, there is also one more factor which is crucial, namely it is age. As Harmer notes, ”acquisition (…) is guaranteed for children up to the age of six, is steadily compromised from until shortly after puberty, and is rare thereafter” (Harmer 2001: 37). That is why, in order to find out the answer to the question whether age influences language acquisition many research studies have been carried out. Lenneberg was the first scholar who started to Take into consideration the matter while observing children and came up with the conclusion that “the ability to develop normal behaviors and knowledge in a variety of environments dose not continue indefinitely and that children who have never learned language (because of deafness or extreme isolation) cannot return to normal if these deprivations go on for too long. He argued that the language acquisition device, like other biological functions, works successfully only when it is stimulated at the right age’ (Lightbown – Spada 1993: 11). Later Lenneberg presented the theory of the Critical Period Hypothesis which states that there is a biologically determined period of life when a language can be acquired and beyond which acquiring language is disturbed or even impossible. Following the Critical Period Hypothesis for first language acquisition, some researchers suggested that there is also a critical period for second language acquisition.

Lenneberg, in his research, concentrated on the human brain and its participation in the process of acquiring the first language Many researchers followed him and attempts have been made to study the functions of the brain in the process of acquiring a language. The human brain matures and due to that certain functions are assigned to the left hemisphere of the brain, and others to the right one. This kind of assignment is called lateralisation of the brain. Lenneberg suggested that „lateralisation is a slow process that begins around the age of two and is completed around puberty” (Brown 2000: 55). functions such as intellectual, logical and analytic thinking appear to be located in the left hemisphere, while generalization, metaphors, artistic expressions, emotional and social needs are located in the right hemisphere. Later, Scovel year proposed these findings of Lenneberg for second language acquisition. He noted that “plasticity of the brain prior to puberty enables children to acquire not only their first language but also a second one”( Brown 2000: 55).

The aspects of the critical period and lateralization should be both taken into account when teaching a language to children, as they emphasize the importance of age in the acquisition of one’s first as well as a second language.

When starting learning a second language, usually regardless of age, all learners have already acquired their first language. That is why the process of second language acquisition can be described as the way in which people learn a language differently to the way they acquire their mother tongue. The prior knowledge can be an advantage in the sense that the learner has an idea how a language works. However, some researchers (such as Scovel) claim that the same knowledge may lead to incorrect guesses about how the language works and may make learning the second language difficult.

The theories of second language acquisition, such as the behaviourist theory, the cognitive psychology theory and the constructivist theory all mention the issue of the interference of mother tongue.

According to behaviourists, learning takes place through a habit formation. Lightbown and Spada suggested that “learners receive linguistic input from speakers in their environment, and positive reinforcement for their correct repetitions and imitations. As a result, habits are formed. Because language development is described as the acquisition of a set of habits, it is assumed that a person learning a second language starts off with habits associated with their first language. These habits interfere with those needed for the second language speech and new habits must be formed” (Lightbown , Spada 1993: 23). However, behaviourists suggest that the influence of habits on second language learning can be decreased when a learner systematically uses the knowledge already acquired while learning a new language.

The cognitive psychology theory puts emphasis on speaking and understanding of the second language. Researchers claimed that “at first, learners have to pay attention to any aspect of the language which they are trying to understand or produce. Gradually, through experience and practice, learners become able to use certain parts of their knowledge so quickly and automatically that they are not even aware that they are doing it” (Lightbown, Spada 1993: 25).

The constructivist theory states that when learning a second language one needs some social interaction and a particular context or reality. Piaget and Vygotsky, both commonly described as consctructivists, differ in the extent to which they emphasized a social context. Piaget year stated that the individual cognitive development is the most important and the social interaction only triggers the development at the right moment in time. On the other hand, Vygotsky year claimed that life, coexistence, learning from society were foundational in a person’s cognitive development.

Taking into consideration the first and second language theories, we may notice that the main difference between first and second language acquisition is that, the mother tongue is acquired in a more natural way and when learning a second learning an artificial environment is created. The difference is especially important when our learners are children who do not have enough knowledge to understand abstract situations. consequently, it is vital to create appropriate conditions for children to learn, prepare proper tasks and crucially, in order to achieve success when teaching English to children, to choose the most effective method of teaching.


Approaches and methods in the practice of teaching English

Many approaches, methods, procedures and techniques of teaching a second language have been introduced by different researchers and scholars. Choosing and matching an appropriate approach with learners’ needs is a key to success.

Nowadays, the procedures which influence English language teaching are: the Grammar-Translation Method, the Direct Method, Audiolingual Approach, Community Language Learning, The Silent Way, Suggestopedia, The Communicative Approach, The Natural Approach and Total Physical Response.


The Grammar –Translation Method – was originally used to teach Latin and Greek, and was applied to the teaching of modern languages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Its main purpose was to make students explore pieces of literature. Students first deductively learned the rules of grammar and bilingual lists of vocabulary. The method may be useful when teaching students at a high proficiency level, but it does not appear to be useful for students at lower levels, especially for children who do not have any ideas about the rules of the grammar of their mother tongue and have just started to form their abilities.

The Audiolingual Approach, also known as the Aural-Oral Method of language teaching, relied heavily on the habit-forming drills which were designed in order to minimize the possibility of making mistakes. Students are required to repeat utterances till the moment they are able to produce them without any mistakes. This method, however, has some drawbacks, as language is not put into context and carries little communicative function. Moreover, spending a whole lesson on repeating the same utterance may be boring, especially for children who may also be unwilling to speak when forced to do so.

Community Language Learning (CLL) – the first principle of CLL is that the teacher plays the role of a counselor and provides the language necessary for students to express themselves freely and to say whatever they feel like. The method does not seem to be suitable for children who need to be provided with ideas to learn and the constant repetition of the previously introduced material.

The Silent Way – every learner is responsible for what they learn and must use their own inner resources (such as experiences, emotions, knowledge of the world) to absorb learning from their environment. The method would be good for students at a higher proficiency level who have gained some knowledge of the world but not for children who very often cannot control their reactions and who are incapable of taking responsibility for their learning process.

Suggestopedia – the method emphasizes relaxation techniques and concentration as crucial to activate learner’s subconscious resources. It involves pleasant atmosphere, soft lights, baroque music and comfortable seating. Suggestopedia is a dialogue based approach in which the input material is exclusively prepared. However, it might seem to be uninteresting for children who cannot see a real context of artificial dialogues.

The Communicative Approach – The method stresses the importance of language functions rather than grammar or vocabulary. The method is related to the idea that “language learning will take care of itself, and that plentiful exposure to language in use is vitally important for a student’s development of knowledge” (Harmer 2001: 85). However, this is not exactly the same in the real world because we know that in order to learn a language a child needs not only exposure but also, or even more importantly, interaction.

The Direct Method – the founders of the method believed that students learn to understand a language by listening to it in large quantities. Language is learned through the direct association of words and phrases with objects and action without the use of mother tongue. The method is appropriate for students who have already had some experience with the target language. However, the method may be difficult to implement with children, since it does not involve translation and children may have problems guessing the meaning which the teacher presents in the form of other words, body and facial expressions.

The Natural Approach – the method stresses the importance of teaching and practicing vocabulary via oral skills and puts little emphasis on structural accuracy. All activities are contextualized and personalized. The method emphasizes teacher-centred questioning techniques but it can be easily connected with other procedures.

Total Physical Response – a language teaching method built around the coordination of speech and action, is based on the belief that listening comprehension should be developed fully in the same way as it is done with children learning their first language before any active oral participation is expected. Skills can be more rapidly acquired when the teacher appeals to students’ kinaesthetic-sensory system.


To sum up, as far as teaching children is concerned, three approaches should be considered when making the decision about which method to choose: the Direct Method, the Natural Approach and Total Physical Response. These techniques, when combined, create a very useful tool in the process of teaching a second language to children.


Teaching very young learners

Some features of a child’s development are vital in order to understand children’s? abilities as far as learning a second language in concerned. When discussing teaching English to children, one must distinguish between young and very young learners . According to Reilly and Ward (1997:3), the term ‘very young learners’ ”refers to children who have not yet started compulsory schooling and have not yet started to read”. From this statement one may assume that very young learners are children around the age of three to six, and more recently, because of new regulations, to five years of age. Therefore, during the teaching process, teachers must consider the most important features of very young children.

Also Harmer (2001:38) presents some features of very young learners. He states that:

- children respond to the meaning even if they do not understand individual words,

- children usually learn indirectly rather than directly, additionally they do not understand abstract ideas,

- children have a need for individual attention and approval from the teacher,

- children are characterised by a limited attention span, which means that unless activities are extremely involving, they can easily get bored, losing their interest after a few minutes.

Moreover, Scott and Ytreberg (1990: 3) add that ”young learners love to play, and learn best when they are enjoying themselves. But they also take themselves seriously and like to think that what they are doing is ‘real’ work”.

According to Komorowska (2002: 29), what characterizes children is the need to listen and inability to read and write. consequently, there is a huge need to provide children with an appropriate amount of listening activities such as stores, songs and rhymes, for children acquire their first language through listening. What is more, very young children cannot read and write which means that the teacher cannot use reading material in the process of teaching English. Apart from that, children can easily get bored and, as a result, activities that are used in the classroom should be short and involving.

On the basis of all these features, one can infer that for young learners the most effective lesson will be the one which will satisfy their needs. That is why, such a lesson must involve a wide range of activities, must suit young learners and these can be: songs, rhymes, projects, stories, different total physical response tasks and games. On the basis of these arguments, it is clear that teachers should pay more attention to prepared materials and adjust them to the children’s needs. The next step would be also to include some language games into lessons.


Stories, which are based on such a wide range of vocabulary, offer a major and constant source of language experience for children. It is said that stories are a motivating tool of teaching as children have a constant need for stories to be read or told to them, and are always willing to listen and read. Moreover, stories help children become aware of the general understanding of the language melody and help teachers introduce language items and sentence constructions. The experience of the stories encourages spoken and written responses. It is natural to express own likes and dislikes and to exchange ideas and associations related to read or heard stories, and all those lead to real, undisturbed communication. Children learn how to speak and write so that listeners and readers will want to listen and read and are able to understand.

Songs and rhymes

Songs and rhymes are an entertaining and memorable way of contextualizing language. Learners can easily tolerate repeated re-playings of songs and rhymes, which is not the case with other classroom listening tasks. Songs also have inbuilt repetition, such as when the lines of chorus are repeated, which adds to their potential as sources for incidental learning. There is a wide range of authentic songs available, but when choosing them, teachers must be careful, as the lyrics are upgraded and may sometimes contain ungrammatical structures. For that reason, songs written for language learning purposes are of a better choice. Scrivener (1994: 338) indicates that nowadays a lot of coursebooks contain songs specifically focussing on particular grammatical or functional items. Saying rhymes and singing songs are practical techniques to practice pronunciation, word or sentence stress and intonation with children. Children often sing a song, say a chant or rhyme all together and that helps build confidence and the feeling of achievement.


Through project work, children are encouraged to develop their intellectual, physical and social skills, as well as autonomy. The intellectual skills involve describing, drawing conclusions, using imagination, reading. The physical skills developed thanks to projects are colouring, paining, cutting, folding, writing. The social skills of sharing, co-operating, discussing making decision together. Making responsible choices, deciding how to complete tasks, getting information are examples of learner independence skills involved in projects. Through the series of activities, which are linked to form a tangible end-product, children may gain a real sense of achievement. Projects involve the development of the whole child, rather than focussing narrowly on teaching language. Language introduced and practised within a project is directly related to the task, so children use the language needed for the successful completion of the activity. The most important feature of the project is that it can be cater for classes in which there are children with a range of abilities, needs and interests. Within class project work, there are a lot of opportunities for children to make different contribution depending on their capabilities. If individual contributions are valued, the children’s confidence is boosted and they feel positive about their English classes (Maley 1999:66).

Total Physical Response Tasks

TPR techniques are sets of physical movement to react to verbal input introduced by the teacher. The activities are basically action-based drills in the imperative form, including coordination of speech and action. Children associate the movement with the language taught and that helps them learn faster and remember better. Additionally, not being forced to speak, children are still active by being involved in actions. Children listen to language, understand and respond accordingly. Teachers work with the whole class, letting students feel confident and later, role-plays are introduced, and still later individual work is presented, so as students are allowed to develop their speaking abilities in natural pace.


Although some researchers see games as a waste of time, many methodologists think that games can be a very useful and effective tool in the process of teaching very young learners.

According to Brzezińska (1995:86), a game combines all development tendencies of a child and affects its progress. She argues that play can be called the most important activity determining development of each child.

According to Halliwell (1992:6) “…games are more than an extra fun. They also provide an opportunity for the real using and processing of a language while the mind focused on the ’task’ of playing a game. In this way, games are a very effective opportunity for indirect learning”. She also underlines that games “are a central part of the process of getting hold of the language”.

Following Scott and Ytreberg’s (1992:6) opinion that “children have an amazing ability to absorb language through play and other activities which they find enjoyable”, teachers should try to apply different games into the process of teaching very young learners.

Games are fun and children like playing them. Through games children experiment, discover and interact with their environment. Games add variation to a lesson and increase motivation. Games are task-based activities which involve clear rules and ultimate goal, additionally, English is a tool for children to reach the goal and becoming useful to the children, brings the target language to life. Teachers may use language games to introduce new material, to practice recently learnt items, to introduce or practice certain themes, or to relax or energize a class.

It is important to know what types of games are available in order to plan a lesson. There are different types of games:

-          movement games

-          card games

-          board games

-          dice games

-          drawing games

-          guessing games

-          picture games

-          role-play game

-          singing and chanting games

-          team games

-          word games.


Examples of games to play outside the classroom


Red /Green lights

-          In this game, one person plays the "stop light" and the rest try to touch him/her.

-          At the start, all the children form a line about 2 metres away from the stop light.

-          The stop light faces away from the line of kids and says "green light". At this point the kids are allowed to move towards the stoplight.

-          At any point, the stop light may say "red light!" and turn around. If any of the kids are caught moving after this has occurred, they are out.

-          The play resumes when the stop light turns back around and says "green light".

-          The stop light wins if all the kids are out before anyone is able to touch him/her.

-          Otherwise, the first player to touch the stop light wins the game and earns the right to be "stop light" for the next game.

It’s your ball

-          This game is useful for teaching the apostrophe “ s” for possession (Betty’s), his/her, my/your

-          The children say his/her ball depending on whether they are sending it to a boy or a girl

-          One child throws the ball to another child, saying it’s your ball. The second child says, on catching the ball “It’s my ball” and then throws it to a third child, saying “It’s your ball” and so on.


Examples of games to play inside the classroom


Touch something

-          This game is good for teaching colours, certain adjectives and other lexical sets.

-          Put some drawings up in different parts of the classroom. Call out the name of what is in one of the drawings you have put up. The children run and stand under this picture.

Writing on backs

-          This game is useful for practising vocabulary, the letters of alphabet, spelling short words sand listening to and giving orders.

-          Ask children to stand in a circle, one behind the other so that each child is looking at the back of another. Each child writes a number or a letter or draws a simple picture on the back of the pupil in front of him/her, using just his/her finger.



According to Teresa Siek-Piskozub “ modern school is being criticized for formal realization of the plan” (1994:7), which impedes the development of creative thinking and has some impact on the development of emotional and motivational sphere. For instance, when the effects of some work into which a child puts a lot of effort do not satisfy either the child itself or the child’s parents or teachers, the child can easily lose not only the interest in learning but also, more importantly and worse, his or her self-esteem. That is why teachers should resign from authoritarian teaching, with the teacher being a dominant person, and change their attitude towards learners. Instead of telling students what they must do, teachers should give students opportunities to choose what they would like to do, which make them feel more confident and secure and more willing to communicate with teachers and classmates.



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Brzezińska, I. Anna. 2005. Psychologiczne Portrety Człowieka [ Psychological Portraits of a Human Being].Gdańsk: Gdańskie Wydawnictwo Psychologiczne

Halliwell, Susan.1997. Teaching English in the Primary Classroom. Longman Group UK Limited.

Harmer, Jaremy. 2001. The practice of English Language Teaching. Pearson Education Limited.

Komorowska, Hanna.2005. Metodyka Nauczania Języków Obcych [Methodology of Foreign Language Teaching]. Warszawa: Fraszka Edukacyjna.

Lewis, Gordon – Bedson, Gunther. 1999. Games for Children. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Siek-Piskozub, Teresa. 1994. Gry i zabawy w nauczaniu języków obcych .Warszawa: WSiP.