Young Learner Needs

Young Learner Needs

by Sophia McMillan

(Shane Training Centre, Japan)


Shane Corporation Ltd

There are similarities and differences between Adults and Young Learners (YL) as language learners. It is important to remember that learners are all individuals so the ideas below are general not specific to a learner type.


 Can deal with abstract concepts

 Can deal with metalinguistics

 Can work independently

 Understands discourse e.g. will listen to what the other person says & use that to shape their response

 Generally internalize all language during individual tasks

 Have decided to study English for their own reasons


 Need drilling

 Need clear goals & purpose for all tasks

 Needs language presented in context

 Require a variety of learning styles to be present in a lesson

Young Learners

 Need concrete (not abstract) vocabulary

 Need a lot of emotional support

 Must have clear, obvious meanings to all phrases

 Enjoy playing around with language, inc. non-grammatical utterances

 Often externalize language during individual tasks

 Are studying English because they are required to in some way.


 Adults: have personal reasons for choosing to study English. They are able to view language as an object in itself and can analyse and break it down in to structures and forms. They have a greater life experience and are more able to organize their own study

 Young Learners: Are usually studying because their parents want them to. They do not necessarily see the value of the language in itself and must be presented with clear, personalized goals. They cannot break language down metalinguistically and need meaning to be clear and self-evident.

 Both: Everyone needs language to be relevant, personalized. Basic lesson elements (presentation, drilling, concept checking, correction, feedback) are universal to all learners.


Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

The distance between what a learner can do by themselves and what they can do with guidance from a teacher (or peer). This represents a different way of looking at a learner’s level. Rather than looking at what they can do now, it looks at what the learner could reasonably achieve in the lesson with help (scaffolding). This help usually comes from someone at a more advanced level. In children’s classes usually the teacher but it could also be strong peer. Scaffolding can be from other sources, textbooks etc.

So rather than looking at what your learners can do, consider what they could achieve if assisted by you. With this help the learner’s language level will hopefully move into the gap between their current language level and the language level they may achieve.

Private Speech

This is speech intended only for oneself; it is often used to clarify language or to overcome problems. As adults this is usually internalised and not said aloud, while YL tend to externalise it and talk to themselves.

This is a good thing as research indicates a link between the use of private speech and academic achievement. Private speech enables learners to get a clear mental image and is useful to overcome problems. Learners think about the language, produce it and so hear it again. All helping to boost understanding and uptake. As such they should be encouraged to use private speech, demonstrate doing the task yourself with externalised private speech for the learners to use as a model. Naturally, this means you must accept a higher level of noise in your classes. Hopefully private speech would be in L2 but even in L1 it will provide the learners with help and support during the task. Remember many YL are unable to internalise their thoughts and must talk themselves through any task they undertake.

Motivation: Intrinsic & Extrinsic

Motivation is crucial in the classroom. While in many YL classes Extrinsic motivation is higher (driven by external factors e.g. parental pressure) Intrinsic motivation (driven by internal needs or wants) should also be present. We can and should be helping them develop intrinsic reasons for studying.

In order to do this we need to:

 create fun interesting lessons the learners enjoy

 create goals the learners want to achieve

 allow them to express


 provide a social function where learners can interact with each other and you

 provide praise and emotional support that makes the learners feel good about themselves.


Motivation can be broken down into two types:

 Integrative orientation usually occurs when the learner is placed in an L2 environment and wishes to communicate or be part of that group. As such, when the learners all share the same L1 it is difficult for this to occur authentically in the classroom. However young learners enjoy communicating and being part of a group. Communicative and collaborative activities work well and encourage integration and interaction. Example activities: singing songs together, expressing opinion (e.g. I like… I don’t like…), closed pair activities, ball drills, classroom interactions (jokes etc).

 Instrumental orientation is focussed on the completion of a task or achieving a goal. Learners are motivated to use the language in order to achieve this. Example activities: pelmanism (pairs), memory games, gap fills, competitive games, craft activities (completing the project.

Teaching Approaches

When teaching TL lessons/activities should be:

1. Full of practice: Learners have the opportunity to use the language themselves in a number of activities of different types.

2. Supported: The learner is helped by the teacher or other learners to produce the language and/or complete the task

3. Meaningful: The language is real or has a purpose that the learner can easily relate to or understand.

4. Purposeful: There is a reason to use the language, and learners need to perform an action in order to complete the task or transaction.

5. Enjoyable: The learners are interested in and get enjoyment from the language or activity.

6. Social: The learners have a chance to interact with others and try to recreate real scenarios.

For example: Shop role play Activity

Some learners are shoppers, some are shop keepers. Learners move round the class buying items.

1. Full of practice: Learners go round a number of different shops to do the role play. Roles can be reversed (Shoppers become shop keepers) and the activity run again.

2. Supported: Teacher draws picture of a high street on the board. Teacher monitors and joins in to ensure the transaction occurs.

3. Meaningful: Genuine real life situation, learners are familiar with it. Activity is intuitive.

4. Purposeful: Learners receive items. The language serves a practical purpose (to receive the correct item).

5. Enjoyable: Children enjoy let’s pretend. Children get to receive items.

6. Social: Children work round a number of different shops talking to different people.

Activities in YL classes are more likely to be successful if theses 6 factors are present.

Lesson Structure

As with all learners the pace and structure of the lesson is crucial. There are problems if learners are sitting for too long especially doing tasks that require a lot of concentration (learners will become bored and lose motivation, tasks will become dull and learners may not produce the target language) or up and moving around for too long (learners may get over excited, become louder and louder, teacher may have trouble keeping control, learner will lose concentration)

It is better to pace the lessons so you are alternating between sitting down and moving activities or stir and settle activities.

 Settle activities allow the learners to regain concentration and focus on the lesson, they are often slower paced, and can be more individual work.

 Stir activities can get the learners attention if it has started to wander, learners are re-energised into the lesson. Activities are often more physical and require interaction between learners.

While there is not necessarily one correct way to stage the YL lesson generally speaking YL lessons follow the stages below:

 Warmer

 Review

 Phonics

 Presentation

 Practice 1

 Practice 2

 Reading activity

 Writing activity

 Bookwork

 Final activity

Planning for YL should generally follow a fast-slow-fast pace, although 2 settle or 2 stir activities can be back to back if they are both short. Reading and writing activities do not have to be settle activities e.g. run and circle words on the board.

About kintaro63

Writer and teacher in Japan
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