From 6 to 5: How to Teach EFL to 5-Year-Olds

When the new semester began this past March, I got some news. It was nothing bad, just a change. For the past couple of years at my current English academy, I’ve been teaching the 6-year-old kindergarten classes. But once the new semester began, I moved to teaching the 5-year-old classes. I had to adjust my methods a bit, since my students’ overall comprehension is quite low compared to my previous classes.

It’s a welcome challenge and I have already fallen in love with my kids! Some have shown to have some skill already in speaking and/or writing English as a second language, while others are on-level in their L2 development. In any case, it’s important to keep teaching methods and materials age-appropriate. So, without further ado, here are a few tips for teaching 5-year-olds ESL!

Six Tips for Teaching ESL to 5-year-olds

Teaching young learners English as a second language isn’t too different from teaching older students. You focus mostly on phonics, sight words, vocabulary, and basic sentences. It’s about allowing young learners to be exposed to a second language, and feeling comfortable producing sounds and words in that second language.

  •  Keep it active! – Young learners have tons of energy! Sometimes that makes it hard to manage them, but it also can be used to your advantage. Using Total Physical Response (TPR) techniques can increase effectiveness when teaching vocabulary. For example, if you’re teaching animals, have an action ready to use with each animal vocabulary word. You say the word and do the action, then have your students mimic the action as they say the word back.


  • Keep it simple! – When teaching 5-year-olds as opposed to older students, remember their L2 comprehension and production skills are quite limited. Stick with basic greetings, feelings, weather, colors, numbers, and the alphabet:
    • “Hello”
    • “How are you?” “I’m happy/sad/angry/excited/etc.”
    • “How’s the weather?” “It’s sunny/windy/rainy/snowy/etc.”
    • Sing the “Alphabet Song” and introduce each letter appropriately.
    • “What color is it?” “It’s red/blue/purple/orange/etc.”
    • Practice counting from 1-20.


  • Review often. – Since young learners’ memory retention is still developing, it’s important to review concepts as often as you can. Have students repeat the target language after your introduction, then again mid-lesson, and one more time before the end. Do this with each lesson, and you will see your students begin to produce the target language more easily and comfortably.


  • Use songs to help teach. – Using music in the classroom has many benefits for both teaching vocabulary and memory retention. Young learners may love to sing, and music helps them become excited about learning! You can read about the benefits of using music/songs here, here, here, and here. YouTube has lots of great channels for learning English through song. Some of my favorites are Super Simple Songs, Dream English Kids, and Pink Fong.


  • Be prepared! – Make sure you have enough materials for your lessons. This advice seems very straight-forward, but you’d be surprised how many novice teachers (and even veteran teachers) come ill-prepared for lessons. Whether you’re giving out a worksheet, using flash cards, or playing a matching game, don’t show up with not enough materials. It is embarrassing and can also lead to poor classroom management.


  • Stick to your learning targets! – I have said this before, but it needs to be said often. With each lesson and activity, you MUST have a specific goal in mind. Learning targets should be clear, attainable, and measurable.
    • A clear, attainable, and measurable goal means being able to produce target language (sentences or vocabulary) within a certain time period.
    • For example, if you’re teaching weather, the target language should be recognizing and producing a simple sentence such as, “It is sunny,” by the end of the week/month/etc.

It may be challenging to teach young learners, but it is also very rewarding. Seeing them learn and then speak a second language on their own is an amazing experience to be a part of. Young learners often try to hard and want to learn. And the ones that don’t, just need a little more encouragement!

So, for all you new and/or veteran ESL/EFL teachers for young learners, good luck and keep it up!


For further reading, check out these links!


I hope this post, and these sites, help you as you teach young learners!

Keep up the good work! You can do it!


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Filed under EFL, ELL, ESL, Kindergarten, Korea, Teaching, Young Learners

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