Building English Language Confidence in Children

ESL curriculumLet’s assume you’re teaching rhyming words to your ESL class. Some of the children are interested in your rhyming words lesson but others aren’t participating. Perhaps they are shy, frightened or unfamiliar with some of the sounds. It’s important to understand why many English Second Language children feel frightened and insecure, but it’s more important to find a way to help them. This article discusses why some might be having difficulty participating and suggests some types of activities that could help them.

Why Do ESL Children New to an English Speaking Culture Have Difficulty Participating?
These students often have trouble understanding the language used by other kids on the playground, so they tend to withdraw from group participation. Perhaps they are confused about the behavior of the other children because they don’t understand the way the others react to different situations.

Why Do Some Children Living in Their First Language Environment Withdraw or Act-out in an English Foreign Language Class?
These children may reject learning a language different from the one spoken in their community. One child commented: “I don’t want to talk funny”.
They have no knowledge of what their future needs might be. It is understandable for them to want to cling to the language and culture that they know.

Suggestions for Helping Children New to an English Speaking Culture
or Those Learning English in Their First Language Environment.

ESL curriculum


For shy or frightened children with very little English, give them a small drawing assignment where oral language isn’t required. They should remain sitting with the rest of the group you are teaching. This removes the pressure for them to understand and speak, but they are hearing the lesson, they are still a part of the group and perhaps they understand some of it. They will want to be like the other children and they will participate more and more if their small attempts are recognized and they receive lots of teacher encouragement.

Songs and Verses:
At the pre-teen level these can be repeated many times. Songs are easy to remember. Students who have difficulty participating can sing with the rest of the group. Young shy or frightened students will enjoy participating in action songs or verses. It is important, however, that for the ten, eleven and twelve year olds, the choice of songs is what the other students consider to be “cool”. 

ESL curriculum

Friendly Alien Puppet

ESL curriculum

Boy Girl Puppets

These are another effective way of helping children to speak. At first they can take a puppet’s role by speaking in unison with another child. As they gain confidence they will be able to speak for the puppet by themselves.  For the child, it’s the puppet that’s talking, so the fear of making a mistake is minimized.

Every classroom group is different. Try any or all of these suggestions and adapt them to your style of teaching. If they help even one student in your classroom to feel more confident, then any changes you have made have been worthwhile.

About brian_mu8dft39

Successful ESL was created out of our first company, Learning English With Laughter which began in 1990 when we, George and Daisy Stocker, traveled to the historic city of Karlovy Vary in Czechoslovakia, to teach English in a private language school. Communism was over and the people were embarking along the road to democracy. There were hundreds of students eager to learn the English Language, but suitable textbooks were non-existent. Consequently, we wrote as we taught, making countless revisions as we listened to the students' special needs. Upon returning to our home in Victoria, Canada, we have adapted the Teen-adult Series to meet the cultural needs of students in a number of different countries. A variety of adaptations have been achieved through contacts with many countries. Thousands of students have encouraged us to use a conversational approach to English that stresses communication in a variety of everyday situations. See our facebook page:
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