Is It Better To Teach ESL To Kids Or Adults?

Student Ages

Today's post is going to take a look at some of the differences between teaching children or adults. This is something that can be a worry for first time TEFL teachers, and comes up quite often in our interviews.

If you're wondering whether it might be better to teach children or adults, you should bear in mind that it's largely down to personal preference. Some teachers prefer adults, other teachers prefer children. Most people don't mind either way.

There is definitely a difference in the class style and dynamic between kids and adults, and even different aged kids as well. To take a look in more detail, let's start at the bottom (very young learners), and work up.

Worrying About The Age Group

A lot of teachers, particularly CELTA qualified teachers, worry about teaching children. This is largely because CELTA is an adult-based course and teachers might feel unprepared for teaching children.

A class full of noisy children can seem quite intimidating!

One thing to consider though is that the teaching methodology with adults and children is pretty much standard, and the only real differences are the activities you might prepare. Younger students just need more games and "play" time, which actually makes classes easier to prepare and run successfully.

All the positions that we recruit for here at TEFLOne come with one week's young learner training as well, so if you apply with us, you won't have to worry about being thrown in the deep end.

What It's Like Teaching Very Young Learners

VYL usually refers to children of the pre-school/kindergarten age. These are generally 4-7 years old. Learning to teach children this young can be difficult at first, but once you are used to it, this can be one of the most rewarding age groups. 

If you were to categorize this age group, you'd have to focus on their attention spans (or lack of). Kids this age really do struggle to focus on things for more than 5-10 minutes, and you'll need to change activities often. As well as that, you'll need to have a varying pace of activity.

In terms of the teaching style, in this age group you have to focus more on individuals than on teams. It's better to write each student's name on the board and award them stars, smiley faces, or other points on an individual basis.

That said, it's very easy to keep children this age happy, as in many cases a smiley face next to their name is enough to keep them motivated. 

Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of teaching the VYL age group:

Pros:

  • Target language is simple and easy to teach/learn.
  • Very rewarding.
  • Shorter class times.
  • Smaller classes.

Cons:

  • Need to plan lots of smaller activities.
  • More potential for tears.
  • Children are easily distracted.
  • Team games are almost impossible.

Overall, teaching very young learners is no better or worse than other age groups. It does have a special kind of style required, but it's not difficult to master, which makes this a great age group to work with once you are used to it.

Elementary Aged Students

Kids who have already started school (ages 8-11) can vary in the teaching style. The younger ones are often a joy to teach, love having fun and laughing in class, and are generally well-behaved. Like very young learners, they learn quickly and you only have to teach them simple language like short sentences and easy vocabulary.

As they get older, toward 5th and 6th grades, they can become more jaded with routine and you will need to keep giving them new and interesting games and activities. 

Pros:

  • Team games work well.
  • Better focus than younger learners.
  • Easy to please and love to have fun.
  • Target language is still pretty easy.

Cons:

  • Can be more rebellious as they get older.
  • Need a larger variety of games and activities.
  • Need entertaining!

Teenagers

Teenagers can be a mixed bunch, as some of them will be excellent to teach and will have interesting conversations with you, while others won't be interested in anything but going home. This is probably the most frustrating age group for first time teachers who are unsure how to engage with teenagers, but there are still going to be some great classes in this age group as well. 

It's not all doom and gloom (and angst).

Generally teenagers prefer to be challenged intellectually and require games/activities where they need to think or use skill. They are also "cool" and don't want to be seen to enjoy some of the more childish games in your arsenal.

Pros:

  • When they're engaged, you only need to talk with them to keep them happy.
  • They generally have a better grasp of English.
  • Can be rewarding to form a long term friendship with.

Cons:

  • Target language is usually more difficult to teach and practice.
  • Aren't entertained as easily as younger kids.
  • Some of them simply don't want to be there.

Adults

Adults have the advantages of teenagers (good English, engaging conversations, ability to focus) without the disadvantages. That said, you need to prepare classes for adults more thoroughly as they usually want to see a structured lesson and want to see their own progress. Adults are 99% of the time there of their own volition, which means they will want to learn, but will need to see that it is worthwhile.

You can't really prepare a lot of games for adult classes, unless the class dynamic allows it, but you can still plan interesting activities and role-plays.

Pros:

  • Enthusiastic.
  • Good level of English (in most cases).
  • You can relate to them.
  • Well behaved!

Cons:

  • Often more preparation time required.
  • Harder to "drill" vocabulary with.
  • Need to see their progress.

Other Considerations

As well as the different age groups, classes can be defined by other things like the number of students, the level of the students, or even one or two individuals. There can be great adult classes and awkward adult classes, great kindergarten classes and difficult kindergarten classes. What matters is the class itself and how well you prepare for it.

Things like the actual class type (conversation, general English, test preparation etc) can also make a big difference in what classes are "better" or worse.

Another consideration is how well you know the students and how much rapport you have with them.

Where Should You Start?

If you're a new teacher wondering where to start, then going for a school that has a number of different age groups available is ideal. This will let you get experience with each age group, without being stuck teaching one you don't like. You should also expect many "new teacher" positions to have a variety as well.

 If you absolutely insist on avoiding a certain age group though, a recruitment agency can help try to find the best position for you.