Although I enjoyed the majority of my classes as an English teacher in South Korea, I can’t help but admit that I did have a favorite group: my Kindergarten class. It’s not very PC to have favorites, but these little ones were the beam of light that started my teaching day, radiating all the happiness and eagerness to learn that you’d expect from five-year-olds. If you agree (or get assigned) to teach a Kindergarten class, there is a very good chance that your young students will enter your classroom without ever hearing (let alone speaking) a word of English. While this can be daunting, especially for new teachers, try to embrace the positives. These students are complete clean slates, not yet victims of the mistakes or habits of others and not yet confused by the accents, styles, and methodologies of other teachers. They are the perfect canvases for us as teachers to make our marks, get them excited about learning a foreign language, and set them off in a great direction educationally.
Of course, teaching absolute beginners means you must start from the absolute beginning. It can be easy to get carried away with incidental language that is far too difficult for Kindies to understand, so it’s crucial to pay extra attention to your body language, speed, tone, and pronunciation. As some of you might assume, Kindergarten English starts from the very beginning, with greetings, introductions, and the alphabet. Although children’s minds are typically like sponges, it’s important not to rush through the ABCs and corresponding letter sounds just because they nod their heads in apparent understanding. Remember: these kiddos are just starting regular school in their native language, as well, so you can’t have too high of expectations for them. The overall goal of Kindergarten, for me anyways, was to inspire the kids to enjoy English class and want to continue actively studying it. My Hagwon employers clearly agreed with this approach and style, because I was the only teacher who was repeatedly given Kindergarten classes.
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During my time in South Korea, I found that students become more and more timid, shy, and stressed with age as they progress through the public school system. However, this never applied to my Kindergarten students, who hadn’t yet developed any of these characteristics and traits. The younger children never cared that they couldn’t speak English. As long as I appeared happy and eager, they felt comfortable trying to communicate. Even if they tried to share a weekend experience with me minus a verb and an object, I always encouraged their free talk in order to make them feel comfortable with trying. I heard some great words of wisdom once, and I applied them daily to teaching the younger students: a smile is the same in every language. As long as I greeted my Kindies with a smile and an enthusiastic, “Hello!”, they were excited for class and prepared to learn, even when we had to do the more ‘boring’ tasks of tracing and writing letters and completing the typical assessments to demonstrate the students’ progress to parents and administrators.
The best part about teaching Kindergarten is the freedom from strict curriculum. Because these learners are at such a basic level, you have the freedom (and, really, responsibility) to supplement lessons with activities. Don’t be scared by this! In case you’ve forgotten, kids are pretty easy to entertain, when you put your mind to it. I utilized games, songs, interactive stories that usually turned into plays, and super dramatic actions to get my young ones practicing their newly-acquired English skills. There are many creative variations to the ABC song, for example, and kids never get tired of doing red light, green light style dancing to it. I also created a life-sized game board using the floor of the classroom. Students had to jump like frogs from space to space and read the letter or blend the sounds written on the paper spaces (i.e. cat, bat, pig, wig, etc.). I never had a single student who didn’t enjoy this game, and they never got sick of trying. Charades is an excellent option for teaching animal names and basic verbs, and it a sure-fire way to have your students rolling around in blissful laughter. One of my Kindergarten classes’ favorite activities, however, came from the very beginning of the school year. After learning and practicing the alphabet for a few weeks, I would instruct them all to stand in a line. I would shout out a letter name, and the students had 10 seconds to make the shape of the letter on the floor, using their bodies as a group- we had Kindergarten classes on the carpeted floor of the library, so perhaps exercise some judgement when choosing this activity. The kids loved it and, after they got used to the letters, I would decrease their allotted time.
If you’re still feeling apprehensive about taking on your first Kindergarten class, take solace in remembering this simple fact: you know everything that you need to teach them! While you might struggle to remember when to use specific verb tenses and how to explain figurative versus literal language, you certainly know the alphabet, phonics sounds, and basic blending combinations. All you need to do from there is use creative methods, like the ones I mentioned above, to keep the energetic youngsters engaged and having fun. When in doubt, sing a song in a silly voice and have the kids enjoy mimicking your actions. Happy Kindy teaching!