Making ESL Learning Fun for Preschool Children

Preschoolers are cute and funny but they certainly have a minute attention span, and that can give pre-K teachers a headache if they do not have enough good ideas ready to hand. This article by Shelley Vernon will give you access to a wealth of great ideas, games and stories to make your preschool ESL classes more fun and effective.

The right ESL pre-k teaching tools can make learning easier and more fun. Take, for example, the research work of Dr. Howard Gardner who came up with the theory of multiple intelligences. This essentially rules out the idea that the best way for children to learn is by sitting at a table doing "desk work". Instead, Gardner pinpoints different "intelligences" which are essentially learning styles. Everyone has a specific intelligence (or a few specific intelligences) that defines how he or she learns best. This means that in order to reach all the children in a classroom, different learning methods must be made available to them. The multiple intelligences are :

  • Linguistic intelligence: Learning and using spoken and written language
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence: Logically analysing problems, detecting patterns, reasoning.
  • Musical intelligence: Performing, composing, and appreciating musical patterns.
  • Bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence: Using the whole body or parts of the body to solve problems.
  • Spatial intelligence: Recognizing patterns of wide space and confined areas.
  • Interpersonal intelligence: Effectively working with others.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence: Understanding self and feelings.
By using games and other activities in your classroom, you'll be able to create a class period that explores various intelligences and reaches a variety of children instead of just the linguistic learners.

Additionally, it's important to remember that preschoolers simply learn best through play. Just think about how preschoolers learn to count. They may count how many cars they have lined up or how many blocks they've stacked.

Here is an example of how to transform a mundane activity into an exciting game that stimulates the children's imagination and encourages better retention of vocabulary. Imagine you are teaching colours. Tell your children they are pirates who have lost their treasure overboard and they must dive down and retrieve it. Spread coloured objects or cards around the floor. Demonstrate by taking in a big breath, hold your breath and dive down and pick up one of the coloured objects, then come up for air and ask the children to name the colour, or you name it, depending on whether you are doing a speaking or listening activity. Then tell the children which colours to dive down and collect. You could make it even more dramatic by dimming the lights when the children dive down and turning them up when they surface. The children can then sort the different coloured treasure by stowing it safely in treasure chests (boxes or bags - one for each colour).

Any paediatrician will tell you that the best way to encourage a large vocabulary in your children is to read to them everyday. For young children learning English you need super simple stories, and in an ideal world, stories that reinforce the language and vocabulary you are teaching in class. You can access a free ESL preschool story with games in the resource box below the article.

As well as using games and stories you'll need to take into consideration a few other things:
  • Preschool children have small attention spans so change your activities every five minutes or so because if they go longer than that, they'll start getting restless and you'll spend more time trying to keep their attention than actually doing the activity.

  • Teach a small amount of language in any given session. For this age group, try to introduce three words at a time and then add to the list as you see the children understand the meaning of the words you've already introduced.

  • Engage the children on multiple levels. This includes using fine and large motor movement, singing, talking, listening and looking. For example, you could have a game where the children need to move around the room to stand next to a picture or object of the word they heard you say.

  • Competition in the preschool classroom causes undo stress on the children. Avoid playing games or doing activities that have winners and losers. Either have the class work together to "win" as a group or do not distinguish between winning and losing. On the same note, be sure to be supportive and encouraging to all of the learners in your class.

  • Preschool children can get very excitable so vary excitable games with quiet ones to balance out the energy level in the classroom.

  • Preschoolers are very visual. Bring in real objects whenever possible. When it is not possible, find colourful and vivid pictures.

  • Preschooler children usually are not yet reading and writing (at least not to large extent) in their own language, so don't expect them to do it in a second language. At this age, you can expect them to listen and understand first. After a while, they will begin speaking individual words and short phrases.

  • Themes work well in the preschool classroom. Focus your vocabulary learning on groups of similar types of words such as foods, colours, numbers, animals, families and body parts. You can work in short phrases that are relevant to your theme.

  • Be well prepared, plan more than you think you will use and move seamlessly from one game or activity to another. Use colouring or similar quiet activities when the children need some downtime.

  • Repeat, review and revise. You need to frequently review the vocabulary that you've previously taught them or they will quickly forget it.

  • If you have a particularly naughty or rough student in the class, keep him or her close to you. Ask him or her to be your special helper and be sure to give a lot of praise when you see him or her behaving appropriately.
Above all, just remember what you liked to do in school. If you were bored, you probably didn't get much out of the class and the same is true for preschool and pre-k children. For free games and an illustrated story written for ESL preschoolers, visit the link in the box below the article. Help them have fun and before they know it, they'll be learning!

Shelley Vernon has helped 1000s of teachers be an inspiration to their pupils Improve the effectiveness of your lessons and enjoy yourself more. Receive free preschool ESL games and stories now on


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