Two weeks ago we blogged a little bit of information about cram schools, and what you can expect if you head to Asia and end up working in one. Cram schools are great fun and a good entry level job for TEFL teachers, but like all teaching positions, you still need to work hard.
One aspect of teaching in a cram school that you might struggle with is motivating the younger students. Typically you'll be receiving these students at the end of their school day.
They'll already likely be "studied out" after a full day at school, so how do you keep them motivated to learn, while also giving them an opportunity to unwind?
In today's article, we're presenting you with 11 things you can try to keep kids motivated in class. If you want to know about motivating teenagers instead, we've got an article for you here.
1. Give Them Goals
Whether it's just a "by the end of the lesson" goal or an ongoing goal that lasts a whole semester, kids work well with targets. Many schools will have a reward system where students receive a sticker/stamp, or something similar every time they work well in class. A certain number of stickers/stamps can be traded in for a gift at the end of term.
On a shorter term, you can also use a scoring system in class to keep students motivated to answer questions and win points. Whether you award them individually or split them into teams is up to you. Different class sizes and student ages will help you decide this.
Generally, the youngest kids are more self-orientated and prefer having their own name and points (or smiley faces).
2. Reward Good Behavior Rather Than Punishing Bad Behavior.
Of course, sometimes you'll need to punish bad behavior, but if you put the emphasis on rewarding good behavior, kids will be much more motivated.
A lot of the time when young children start acting up, it's because they are seeking attention. Rewarding the ones who behave well will be appear as an easy source of attention for the ones that crave it, and they'll end up following suit.
Bear in mind that you shouldn't only reward students who get answers correct or who answer the fastest; this will only discourage other kids. Make sure everyone gets a chance to answer a question correctly, and put emphasis on behavior and participation.
This is another reason why a points system is effective. When there's a team involved, you can simply give additional points to the team that is best behaved over a certain period of time (say 10 minutes).
3. Change Or Supplement The Material
Don't just use the textbook every class and work through it. Bring in some additional items to show students, treat them to a one-off game that they don't usually play, or mix things up in another way. You'll have to make sure that you are supplementing, not replacing, the curriculum though.
It's also important to discuss these things with your school manager and ask them what is appropriate to bring in.
Review classes or also a good opportunity to mix things up and give kids a break from the standard lesson structure. As long as you remember to review the target language in the process!
4. Change The Seating Plan Or Layout
Changing a seating plan can make a big difference to the class dynamic. Sitting naughty students next to the whiteboard or if you have one, the teacher's assistant, is a good move as well. If students are usually not allowed to sit where they want, then try rewarding them once in a while by letting them do so.
Of course, let them know that if they don't behave they need to go back to the usual plan.
As well as changing the plan, you can try changing the actual layout of the classroom. Chairs usually lined up along the wall? Try arranging them in rows instead.
A simple thing like this can send a wave of excitement through a class of elementary school kids.
Adding an element of competition to the class is enough, in most cases, to keep your students engaged. Splitting them up into two teams and awarding points, as alluded to earlier, is the best way to do this.
One thing you have to be careful of is that really young students don't always respond well to competition, especially if they lose. If you're dealing with young kids, you should test the water first by trying a few "light competition" activities and seeing how they respond.
You can also tweak (or 'fix') games slightly so that every student has a chance to win.
Another simple thing to do is put all students on one team and you on the other.
6. Personalize Their Learning
Students are going to respond better to having the target language relevant to their lives. Use THEIR names, their city, their school, their friends, and similar things in your examples and sentence patterns.
Give them opportunities to fill in the blanks based on their own preferences as well. Don't just have them repeat "I like pizza" when you could get them to tell you what they actually like.
7. Challenge Them
Whether it's with a physical activity (like throwing a ball at a target), or something that challenges their brain, you should always try to keep students challenged. Young children are always trying to figure things out and understand the world, so they naturally like being challenged.
You have to make sure that they can achieve their goals though. If something is unrealistically difficult, you'll find it creates the opposite effect.
Challenging them also means constantly introducing new games to them. Once they've got used to a game and it becomes easy, it can start to lose its appeal.
8. Give Them More Than One Opportunity To Succeed
There's nothing more frustrating (for people of all ages) than making a small mistake and missing out on a chance to succeed. These kids are learning a new language, so give them plenty of opportunities to succeed. If one student is struggling, move on to another one so they can see how it's done, and come back to them later.
Reward their success just as much as you would if they had got it right the first time.
9. Be Consistent
Consistency is beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, children do very well with routine. Mixing things up too much will force them to keep trying to figure out what you want to do and will lead to frustration.
Secondly, if you're inconsistent with your discipline, prizes, or promises, students will lose faith in you or interest in activities. They might have short attention spans, but they still remember whether or not you are doing what you're supposed to be doing, and that includes keeping promises and being fair.
10. Motivate YOURSELF
If you don't look enthusiastic, the students aren't likely to either. In many cases your enthusiasm and energy is going to keep them going, especially the younger students. Think of yourself as 90% teacher and 10% children's entertainer.
With elementary school students, you can often just teach a class armed with energy, enthusiasm, a dice, and a few board markers, and the kids will love it.
This obviously takes a bit of experience and practice, but you can see the difference almost immediately.
11. Vary The Lesson Pace
Since very young learners have very short attention spans, you'll want to keep the lesson moving along and keep activities short where possible. On top of this, you should vary the pace. Mix up fast activities with slower ones (such as book work).
Have activities where all the kids are up and running around, then follow it up with an activity that involves them sitting on their chairs looking at the board, or even sitting on the floor (if your school allows it).
Keeping younger students engaged can be difficult when you first start. A lot of beginner teachers forget that they are talking to children and not "mini-adults". They need stimulation and entertainment.
The good news is that because they are so young, everything is hilarious to them and it's very easy to keep them entertained once you develop a style and routine. Work at it, and you'll do very well.