Just one preschool classroom has enough energy to light up an entire town. Add to that liveliness the increasing number of children whose home language is other than English, and the preschool teacher is faced with not one but two rewarding challenges. The most important steps to creating successful classes for preschoolers whose first language is not English is to put all of that natural childhood energy to use through music, games and art, all of which reinforce language skills.
Children from all cultural backgrounds are more likely to retain new words when connecting them to music. For example, after the class learns the song "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," you can point to the named body parts while you sing. You can even create additional verses with new vocabulary. For example, in the same familiar tune, replace the body parts with "red, orange, green and blue" while pointing to the colors in a class-made mural of a rainbow. You can expand this idea to fit any familiar song with any list of words.
Games are an excellent strategy to use when teaching children whose second language is English. One game that encourages language learning is a ball toss in which the children stand in a circle. A ball is thrown, and the child who catches the ball exclaims whatever phrase the teacher has demonstrated, such as "I am 4 years old. How old are you?" Repeat this process until every child has had a turn.
Playing with blocks is another way to teach colors, shapes and names of places. As children pick their blocks, have them announce the color and shape of the block. After they have built their object, give them the opportunity to describe it to the class. A simple game of non-competitive charades, using verbal cues rather than written words, can also go a long way in helping little ones learn and remember names of animals, people or places. Because most preschoolers don't know how to read, the teacher can whisper the word, such as "toothbrush," into a child's ear and then help him act the word out for others to guess.
Drawing and other forms of artwork are also highly effective in helping preschoolers experience a hands-on way in which to learn English. Creating “hand animals” by tracing their hands and then making the drawings into whatever animal is being studied can enhance a preschooler’s understanding of English. After the children create their animals, they can sit in a circle and share their art with the class, identifying the animal's body parts by speaking the new terms they have learned. Another art project is to have students draw a series of pictures in a row and then tell a story to the class about the pictures they drew.
It is also important for second language learners to use their native language at times. For example, when practicing counting, allow children to count in their own language first. When singing a universally popular song, like "Happy Birthday," ask students to sing it in their native language afterward. This will foster a classroom environment of inclusion, which allows for a sense of safety and belonging.
Anitra Lahiri is a seasoned English teacher and writer. She has been teaching English since graduating with her Bachelor of Science degree from NYU in 1996. She is also a registered yoga teacher who holds a Master of Science in Natural Health. Her passion is writing about health and spirituality.