After nine months in Thailand volunteering and living on the cheap, I eventually found myself in need of some extra cash. So, like many other travelers and expats in Chiang Mai, I landed a part time teaching job at a language institute. But under one condition – I needed to be able to teach Kindergarten. Although I have had lots of experience with kids, from my elementary school experience in America and working with Atma Seva, teaching in a Thai Kindergarten has been quite an adventure! Controlling 30 four year olds is difficult enough, but with the added language and cultural barriers, and the schools focus on strict discipline, I had to learn pretty quickly to adjust to rules of the classroom. I am still learning every class but here are some tips I have picked up along the way!
Make lessons as visual as possible and use objects in the classroom. If you are teaching numbers, count crayons and toys in the room. Or better yet have the students count themselves. If you are teaching colors, make color cards and have the kids find objects and actually walk up to it and match the color card to the object. Even for days of the week, you can write out flash cards, hand them out to students and have them arrange themselves in order. (*Hint! Only hand out cards to students sitting quietly- they will be excited to play and other students will pick up on the desired behavior.) Flashcards are helpful but be careful not to become reliant on them as the kids will be bored with them fast. Don’t worry so much about preparing too many materials or worksheets; the more you use objects they can see and touch, the more they understand how to incorporate language in everyday life.
Keep them busy and get them tired! If the kids are starting to get tired or zone out, get them up and moving. It might just need to be a stretch break, teaching body parts and classroom commands along the way (ex. stand up and stretch your arms up high!), or a teaching a dance that goes along with the vocabulary but the more they are active during class the more they are attentive and the more vocabulary they will retain. My kids can really only sit for about ten minutes tops before they are antsy and need to get up and move again, I try to plan for 5-10 minutes of instruction/ vocabulary/ flashcards followed by another 5-10 minutes of a group game. If you can teach the words with an action attached that is even better, so even when they are sitting they are still fully engaged.
Use media. Show a short video AFTER they are tired! You can repeat the video and have them sing along or stop the video to point out colors, numbers and vocabulary they might already know. If there is a dance or hand motions that go along with the video, teach the movements before hand, and then practice with the video 2 or 3 times. This is also something to be careful not be reliant on but mixed with other visuals, and games, songs and video are a great way to keep your students interested (and quiet!) and also to introduce new cultural references.
Go slow and repeat, repeat, repeat. Begin each lesson using words they already know and build on previous lessons. If you are scheduled to teach days of the week and last class you did numbers, spend the first 5-10 minutes on the numbers review and then use the numbers to count the days of the week. Keep going back to repeat letters, numbers, colors and shapes, and point them out in books, videos, songs and throughout your next lessons.
Keep smiling! Like most of Thailand, when things go wrong it is so important to just keep smiling and stay positive the whole time. Especially for the young kids learning a new language, maintaining a positive attitude helps the students loosen up and feel more comfortable to speak English even when they are making mistakes. There always seems to be a “silent period” before the kids get to know you and start speaking, so the faster you can break them out of that the better.
Other helpful Websites for Kindergarten: http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/group_games_and_activities.htm http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/alphablocks/ http://esl-kids.com