Keeping Insecure ESL Kids on Task

esl curriculumAs you move into the teaching hour or day you want to keep each child on task. They need activities that keep them interested, that keep their attention focused on whatever you have assigned.

Let’s assume that the children settle comfortably into the class and are starting to feel a little confidence when they speak English. You’ve started the class with something interesting that has motivated them to participate and begin any work you have assigned. However, now you are part way through the lesson and some of  them are getting tired.

There will always be children who can work on and on but we want to concentrate on those who tire quickly. These children may be very good at other tasks but find English difficult or they may be hearing their first language at home mixed with many English words. The parents use the English words to help their children but the child becomes confused about which words are English and which ones aren’t. These children are often very quiet because they are afraid of  being laughed at by their peers. Speaking English is very traumatic for them so they often sit quietly staring at a picture or out the window while the rest of the group is participating.

What can we do to help confused ESL children stay on task?

 Action songs and verses help ESL children. They are learning complete English sentences that the actions help them to understand. Singing or repeating a verse with the other children isn’t threatening as no one will hear their mistakes. After they have sung a song or repeated a verse a few times they will remember it and use that basic pattern in their speech. Doing actions with a song or verse will reinforce the words in their memories. They will likely remember these for the rest of their lives. Remember, you don’t have to be a Mozart or a Beethoven. If you can’t lead the class in song, teach them to recite verses. Verses are just as effective as songs.

Role-plays help ESL children speak. For the ESL child who is fearful and has difficulty staying on task, it’s helpful if several children play the same role in unison. This allows the insecure student to feel safe as he or she answers. These role-plays can be followed up with an independent assignment where the child is given a picture of the characters and prints in the callouts just what he or she said during the role-play, or prints what everyone said. Some children who have difficulty speaking enjoy doing written work. All of the sentences used in the role-play can be printed on the board for the child to choose and copy.

esl curriculum


Puppets are important for ESL children.

The puppet allows them to be someone or something else. It’s often okay if the puppet makes a mistake because it’s not their mistake. However, for insecure students, it’s best to have them speak their part in unison with another child. This is very safe and the child will gradually be able to speak alone if the subject matter is familiar.

Stick puppets are very easy to make.

Print pictures of any of the characters that are a part of the children’s program. Use light cardboard or if that isn’t available have the students bring boxes from home and paste their character onto the cardboard, color it and cut it out. They will be highly motivated to do this and will gain from following the oral instructions. Finally they are to paste a small stick on the back. A popsicle stick or another piece of strong cardboard will do.

 Bingo games are always popular.


esl curriculum

Teacher’s Copy

As soon as the children start to get tired, suggest to the class that when

they finish their assignment it would be good to have a Bingo game. It is amazing to see the sudden change in the class. They will all start to perk up, and they will even encourage the ones who are behind to “hurry up so we can play Bingo.”

esl curriculum

Teacher’s copy

Crossword Puzzles are another good resource.

Children who are tired and disinterested will often apply themselves very well if they have an interesting crossword puzzle to solve. Let the children help each other with this, it is all good learning.

It is a good idea to alter the routine of your class frequently. If you can keep your class guessing what will come next, they will be more attentive. You can reinforce this by hinting that later in the class there might be some fun activities if everyone cooperates.

You might also be interested in the following:

Our Children’s ESL Storybooks make ESL classes interesting!

Motivating the Children’s First ESL Lesson of the Day

Tips for Keeping English Second Language Teen-agers Interested

Motivating Young Children During Difficult or Boring Subjects

Hand Puppet Resources

Simple Rod Puppets

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:
This entry was posted in Children's ESL, ESL Activities, ESL Storybooks, ESL Suggestions, Teaching English, Tips for Teachers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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