How to teach English to Little Kids

How to teach English to little kids

For the last few months I’ve been a glorified English babysitter for two Chinese five-year-olds. I’d like to say I’ve done a pretty decent job. I taught them the basics like numbers, colors, the alphabet and how to write their names. While the writing is still a bit iffy (for some reason “a”s are a problem), I think I’ve accomplished a lot so far.

Getting these kids to actually sit still, however, is a huge challenge. Of course the parents don’t help. For some reason these little boys can not sit in their chairs, and would much prefer to climb under the table and untie my shoes. They also like to scream the English songs in gibberish.

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teach english little kids

Currently, the parents of the children I tutor want to put their kids in an English school, and would like me to be the teacher. I was a little annoyed because instead of teaching two kids, I now have to teach roughly six kids (TBD). I also have to take the bus to the school, whereas before they came to my campus. We still haven’t decided on the salary, but I better get paid a bit more than I was previously.

A few days ago I gave a free sample class at the new school to all of the students who were interested. This led to me teaching nine kids ranging from four to seven years old. Yes, it was as bad as it sounds. Also, all of the parents and the owner sat outside my partitioned room, and didn’t help me manage the students at all; the exception being the time one of my students literally ran away. Don’t the parents want to observe the class to see if it’s worth their money? I guess not.

ESL China

The girl with the tutu is AMAZING

In addition to these little terrors, I also teach a class of four seven-year-olds at another English school once a week. Three out of four of these children are actually awful. One week I was five minutes late and the owner was out of town. The girl manning the front desk left my students in the classroom by themselves. These four kids literally destroyed the classroom. DESTROYED.

Let me paint you a picture: I walk into the classroom and chairs and stools are tossed about the room. The potted plant is knocked on its side with dirt everywhere. A large stack of papers has been thrown up in the air, and multiple DVD cases have been opened with their contents scattered around the room. Two students are hiding under a table, another behind the door, and the fourth I finally found hiding on the bottom shelf of a bookcase.

ESL China

Sometimes I force my students to wear my clothes.

One student in particular, Leo, is especially problematic. When Leo misbehaves, the class follows suit. One time Leo actually pulled the curtains off the window by wrapping himself in them and twirling around until he fell over. Of course, this happened in less than 5 seconds while I was writing a word on the board. Only one student, Nola, sits quietly, taking notes in her pink notebook. Nola is precious and I want to steal her.

Teaching young children English is equal parts exhausting and entertaining. It’s also quite lucrative. I’m currently getting paid $30 USD an hour. Since I teach twice a week that’s $60 a week. This is great because it completely covers my day-to-day living expenses with money left over to travel… or pay back my student loans.

For those of you thinking about teaching English to little terrors, you’ll need to be patient, fun, and full of smiles. You’ll also have to be good at discipline and other things like singing, dancing and being ridiculous.

That said, here’s some tricks to get little kids to pay attention and not demolish an entire classroom

China public elementary school

For some reason teaching 40 kids is easier than teaching 4.

How to teach English to little kids

#1 Stickers

When kids do something right, give them a sticker. Bonus points if you stick it to their face.

#2 Games

Preferably games that involve movement. My five-year-olds like to do an Easter egg hunt for colors. I hide colorful slips of paper around the classroom and tell them which color to find and bring me. My older kids love the “color game”. The person who’s “it” shouts out a color. If you’re wearing that color you have to get up and find a new seat. The kid who doesn’t get a seat is now “it”. This can get aggressive and mildly violent.

Disney English Beijing

So much sass.

#3 Songs

One way to get kids to stop talking? Make them sing! Bonus points if these songs involve body movement. “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” is always a hit… except for when your five-year-olds collapse on the ground and start screaming the song in gibberish while rolling around and grabbing at your ankles.

#4  “Teacher Says”

Just like Simon Says, except they always have to do everything I say. I make them jump, run, spin, lay down, sleep (complete with snoring), eat, skip and more. I do this until they’re so tired they stop trying to break the classroom.

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China little kid banquet

Teacher says smile!

 #5 Videos/Movie Clips

Kids love movies. Especially when there are songs involved. This also gives my voice and head a break.

 #6 High Fives

I don’t know why this works, but it does. When a kid says a sentence or answers a question correctly, give him or her a high-five. All of them will start paying attention because they want to be able to high-five you. Be warned, some children are aggressive high-fivers.

 #7 Look for Lesson Plans and Activities Online

It can be really difficult to constantly come up with lesson plans, games and activities by yourself. Websites like ESL Expat have a ton of valuable resources you can use to create an entertaining class. Feel free to tweak activities for your age level, and use what works for your kids.

Little kid playing China

 Anything I’m missing? What are your tips for teaching English to babies kids?



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

18 comments on “How to teach English to Little Kids

  1. haha-Their high 5 break my hand sometimes! Do you have a Chinese assistant with you at all? I always have a Chinese staff with me in my younger classes and we give stars or take them away based on their behavior. I have no idea why but they get really into getting those stars. My teaching contract precludes me from taking other side jobs or teaching privately or I’d be all over that to save some extra cash.

    • I actually just teach at a few new schools as a side gig on top of my studying. Since they’re new, they don’t really know what they’re doing and usually just leave me with a bunch of kids and tell me to do whatever I want.

  2. Pingback: How to teach English to Little Kids | Travel Tips

  3. I’ve been using playing cards as a way to earn stickers. For example, 3 cards at the end of the class means the student gets a sticker, and they are rewarded with cards for being good, raising their hand, etc. You can also punish them by taking cards away when they act out, etc. I like to give each student one card to start the class just so you have a bit of leverage to punish them if needed.

  4. Hi Richelle,

    God Bless You lol ;) You’ve more patience than me. Just last night I noted a fam with pretty oblivious parents; the kids were screaming like mad, for minutes, crying their lungs out. Definitely a “I should have taken the kids outside” moment but they refused. Because I’m calm, and I’m in Bali ;), I let it go, and they quieted down. Nothing to do with them being Chinese lol…..because kids are kids, like people are people….but it’s ironic indeed.


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  10. I like your article very positive. I worked as a teacher 5 years ago. And in this work, I realized that no teacher receives thanks for his work from students. I’m from Italy myself and I know a website that will help with the education of preschoolers.

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