How to Motivate Children to Learn English

Teaching is a piece of cake when your students are highly motivated to learn.

As motivation is a two-way street, seeing them put effort in the tasks and homework you give them will also motivate you to try even harder to make your lessons unforgettable. They affect your motivation without even being aware of the fact.

But how do you motivate your students? It may be easier with adults. They usually have some practical goals related to learning a language; moving to a foreign country, having a new job that requires certain language skills, studying abroad... You praise them when they’re doing well and add to their self-esteem, and even a touch of tough love can make things work.

What about children? The youngest ones? 5-year-olds don’t need English for work-related purposes. So, how do you really motivate them without pointing out the practical benefits of learning a language? Here are some tips that could help you when it feels like they could use some encouragement.

Don’t be afraid to be silly

For little kids, English classes are supposed to be fun. They should laugh a lot, play games a lot, and learn something in the process. Your job is also to teach them to love learning and exploring new things. So, don’t be afraid to act totally silly and make them laugh. Use funny faces and voices to help them remember words and expressions. If they’re supposed to draw something, do it as well! Even if you’re not talented—the point is to have fun together.

Let me tell you a secret. I realized how helpful laughter is with my five-year-olds. We were learning about animals, and while we were practicing, I’d show them a flashcard with a picture of a cow, for example, and say: This is a chicken! They wouldn’t stop laughing! You see, the teacher making a mistake, it’s unthinkable for them! And that’s exactly why it’s so funny and efficient too. Later, as they were leaving the classroom with their parents, one of the kids said: This was the best class ever! 

Let them be in charge.

In most activities, we tell the children what to do. We give them instructions and then evaluate the results. If the activity and the time allows, let them be in charge for a while. For example, if you’re playing Simon says, don’t always be the one who’s Simon. If you’re teaching them colours, let one of them tell the group what colour to find in the classroom.

By putting them in charge, you show them you believe they’re going to do it well and you make them feel important. This will boost their confidence, as well as give them a chance to be more independent. 

Don’t hold back the praise.

Your youngest students won’t always be able to enjoy the results as adults do. Sometimes, all they’re going to seek is your attention and your smile. They won’t always care about what they’ve learned and the fact that they have won’t be enough to make them happy. This is why you should be very generous with praising and encouraging your little ones. Even when they make a mistake, it should be followed by a high-five and Well done! Let’s try again!

This way they’ll learn they have your support no matter what, and they won’t let the fear of not doing it right stop them from trying. It’s a healthy attitude towards learning and towards life in general, and you’ll be the one helping them build it.

Play games as much as possible.

Games are the best way for young children to learn. They are not mature enough to sit tight and follow the traditional teaching methods, nor should they. You should encourage and cultivate their imagination and play as much as possible.  Games are engaging and dynamic, and they’re not just for fun. If well-structured, a game can have a good point and give your students an opportunity to practice many language skills while playing, as well as some problem-solving and social skills.

Having fun in the classroom will contribute to the overall atmosphere and motivate them even more.

Implement different learning styles in your lessons.

Every child is different, no need to emphasize this. Some of them learn better when they hear your instructions, some prefer visuals. Some of them need to keep moving; some of them will want to touch everything. This is why your lesson should be flexible and give everyone an equal chance. Try to adjust the activities and games to different learning styles. Include song-singing, some drawing, some running and jumping, some sitting on the floor. Choose games that require speed, imagination, drawing skills, or good memory.

You’ll help the children discover what their talents are and each one of them will feel included and important.

Have them encourage each other.

At such a young age, building relationships and teaching them social skills is almost as important as teaching them English. They’re only beginning to learn what it’s like to collaborate with someone in order to get results, so you should encourage sharing and being kind. Always have them clap for each other and give each other support, whether a kid has made a mistake or they’ve got it right. If they feel like they fit in, they will be more relaxed and more open to learning.

Help them feel proud of themselves.

Encourage your students to show their parents what they’ve learned as soon as they see them; to sing the songs they’ve learned, to show the pictures they’ve painted, everything. They’ll do great because it will all be fresh after the class and they’ll see both you and their parents smiling and praising them, which will make them feel very proud of what they’ve done. However, make sure the kids are the ones who take the initial step and share their new skills with the parents. Interrogating the children while they’re still packing up their things after the class doesn’t really contribute to a fun and relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.

These tips are actually very simple to implement in the classroom. Just listen to your instincts and be yourself - the dedicated and loving teacher you already are. When the children see you enjoy the classes, their motivation will certainly follow.