Teaching VYLs


As the learning of English around the world has become more and more prevalent, the age of our learners is becoming younger and younger. There are more language opportunities for VYLs than ever before and this means that we might be faced with teaching much younger children. But what do actually mean when we refer to VYLs? VYLs are students who are of pre-primary age, and this will vary depending on the country. Normally VYLs fall within the age range of 1-5 and it’s important to note that there are language schools which primarily offer classes to the lower end of this range.

With this in mind, teachers need to ensure that they know how to approach classes of VYLs and some of the potential issues that could occur. English teachers are often trained to deal with older children, teenagers and adults and can be thrown into these VYLs classes with little idea on how to adapt their teaching for this age group.

In this article, you’ll find our top ten tips for teachers of VYLs and the things we wish we’d known when we set foot in a classroom with them for the first time.

1. Be enthusiastic!

VYLs have so much energy and enthusiasm and this needs to be reflected in how you act in class. React to what ss say to you with enthusiasm and really show that you care about what they are telling or showing you. Even if it’s nothing to do with what you’re teaching, it’s important that students know you’re listening to them. Enthusiastic responses from teachers will encourage ss to communicate with you and other ss as much as possible.

2. Train your VYLs to be good students

At this young age, students are not only learning English, they are also learning how to be students in a classroom. Because of this, we have the opportunity to train our VYLs to be good students, something which will benefit them greatly in their future studies. This training could range from bringing stationery, keeping the classroom tidy to being kind to other students and being aware of turn taking.

3. Don’t do it for them

As teachers, it’s very tempting just to do something for a VYL when they are taking a long time to complete a task, or when they are struggling to do something which other ss can do. This, however, will not help students become independent learners in the future and will mean that they don’t develop the skills of being able to cope with more difficult tasks. Teachers should be on hand to prompt and guide ss if they need help, but always insist on them completing the task themselves.

4. Bring the book to life

Coursebooks for VYLs are a great resource and often include some very engaging stories and characters. VYLs, however, need a little bit more when it comes to increasing engagement. Make sure you bring these characters and the topics to life by making them more obvious in the classroom. Use role-plays, bring in realia and make the most of any character puppets you may have.

5. Use your gestures

Embrace your inner-flight attendant and use your gestures throughout the class. Children learn by watching and listening and this shouldn’t be any different in the classroom. Gestures mean that ss create stronger associations between what they are hearing and what they are seeing and over time these connections will mean that they are able to use the language independently. And remember, keep those gestures nice and big so that they are obvious!

6. Set a good routine

There is nothing like a clear routine to create a good atmosphere and ensure positive classroom management with VYLs. This should be something that you put in place from the beginning of the school year and continue with it every lesson, without fail. Throughout the year, you can add to this routine as the ss become more confident in their use of English and can produce more language. However, avoid changing it completely. VYLs feel comfortable with the familiar, and a good routine will facilitate this.

7. Repeat task types

For VYLs, nearly all tasks are new for them and so it can take them a while to get the hang of what you want them to do and to understand instructions for simple tasks. In order to make the most out of the language practice, it’s a good idea to repeat task types as much as possible so that ss are already aware of what they have to do. This will avoid you spending too much class time on instructions for new tasks and will ensure that ss feel confident in their ability to complete the task correctly.

8. Leave your shame at the door

In VYLs teaching, there is no space for shame or embarrassment when you are in class. If you want ss to feel completely free and relaxed, then it’s important for you not to transmit any negative feelings towards the task or activity. If you want ss to sing and dance to the songs in the coursebook, then you need to be prepared to do the same and at least look as if you’re having a good time doing so.

9. Use the extra resources at your disposal

We often don’t realise now many extra resources come with our coursebooks and how useful these can be in class. Make sure you familiarise yourself with all of the content that you get with a coursebook so that you can use this in class with our VYLs. Don’t forget the online content, which you might need a code for to access. In this case, you’ll be able to get it from your Director of Studies, or from the front of the Teacher’s Book.

10. Treat them like the learners you want them to become

Last but not least, it’s important not to ‘baby’ your VYLs too much. In doing this, you are preventing them from developing as learners and are encouraging them to become too reliant on the teacher. It’s always advisable to treat your VYLs like the learners you want them to become; looking forward to their future development prospects and giving them something to aim for. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun or be silly with them but bear in mind that you are also there to guide them and help them develop into great English learners.

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