The Rookie’s Guide to Running a Kindergarten Classroom

 Ellie Bouttell shares two years of experience teaching early English learners.  

When I was first dumped in front of a class of toddlers, armed only with a paper lesson plan, I was terrified.  

Over two years, I’ve learned the simple tricks to controlling and engaging these tiny humans who ricochet between laughter, boredom and tears in the blink of an eye. Read on for a crash course guide on how to minimise stress and get the most out of English classes with 5-year olds. 

PLAN

You’d think this was obvious, but you’d be amazed how many kindergarten teachers don’t do it, thinking that teaching young children will be a piece of cake because their level is basic. If you don’t plan, your lesson will be full of fumbling moments that make kids automatically zone out.


Instead, plan and fully prepare games and videos to whip out when you need them. You will need to plan a different activity for every five to ten minutes of class, because young children have very short attention spans.

If you’re doing a cut and stick, have glue, scissors and papers ready to go in the classroom. Test songs and videos before class to make sure they play. And finally, write your plan out somewhere that’s easy to glance at while you’re in class to make sure you’re sticking to it.

 

 

…And Plan Flexibly

 Every class has students of varying tastes and abilities; some kids hate colouring or dancing, while others struggle more than average with spelling. Kids will quickly become bored if an activity is too easy, too hard or too slow, so jot down some simple ways to adjust difficulty, such as spelling a whole word instead of just the beginning letter, or starting to write letters out if just reciting them is too easy. It’s also a good idea to have an activity on hand that you can switch to if a class really doesn’t like the one you’ve chosen. 

Props, Props, Props

Small kids love practical things, and the best teachers know how to wield and participate in this enjoyment.

Physical things they can play with or touch, such as toy versions of the vocabulary you are learning (think finger puppets for family members or miniature zoos for animals) will hold their attention magnetically. Dangling the reward of being able to play with whatever toy you’re using also makes kids ten times more likely to listen to you and work hard at the vocabulary. “What’s this?” “It’s an elephant.” “Good job, Suzy – here, you can touch the elephant.” And so on. Prepare great props like puppets, videos, giant games, show-and-tell or experiments and your lessons will fly by.

NOTHING MAKES LITTLE KIDS CONCENTRATE HARDER THAN CRAFTS

In a similar vein, kids as a rule absolutely love making things. One of the best lessons I ever had was making a mini aquarium using blue and green tissue paper, cut-and-stick sea animals and a shoebox. 

A simple craftwork will easily keep kids occupied for 20 or 30 minutes, and once they’re finished, I like to have them describe what they have made to the class to flex their new vocabulary and sentences. Search online for ideas if you’re struggling – Pinterest is a great source. 

…EXCEPT PERHAPS AN AIR OF MYSTERY

Producing your props with a gasp or flourish ensures that your kids are intrigued. Introduce an object by hiding it behind your back, under something or in a bag, or have the kids touch it with their eyes closed. Some kids won’t want to cover their eyes, but most love it; manipulating this natural curiosity for anything hidden is an easy way to keep eyes and ears enthralled.

TV Shows Are Your Friend. 


It might seem counterintuitive to put TV on in the classroom, but kids learn words lightning fast when they see them used in their favourite shows.

Peppa Pig is my number one go-to because it uses a huge variety of vocabulary and isn’t too fast-paced (like Paw Patrol). I give kids a choice of episode (“Do you want to watch the Windy Day one or the Playground one?”) and pause it to ask comprehension questions or have them guess what’s going to happen.

This also works brilliantly with hit movies like Frozen – pause the screen and jump on your classroom’s laser focus to ask them things: “What’s she doing?” “Is she scared?” “What animal is that?” “Where are they?” etcetera.

Don’t Take Things Too Seriously

The syllabus might say you have to get them to say one thing or another, but the number one thing your classroom should be is fun! You have been gifted with a group of kids who are not yet at the stage where they see school as a drag or get embarrassed doing goofy stuff, so make the most of that and chuck in their favourite songs or games at random points to snap them out of boredom, or as a reward after a long class. 5 or 10 minutes of pure fun will give back an enormous payout in attentiveness. 

Finally…Have Tricks to Maintain Control

The syllabus might say you have to get them to say one thing or another, but the number one thing your classroom should be is fun! You have been gifted with a group of kids who are not yet at the stage where they see school as a drag or get embarrassed doing goofy stuff, so make the most of that and chuck in their favourite songs or games at random points to snap them out of boredom, or as a reward after a long class. 5 or 10 minutes of pure fun will give back an enormous payout in attentiveness. 

A Special Thanks to