Preschool Teaching

Preschool Teaching

by Sandee McHugh-McBride, Judie Haynes

One of the most frequent inquiries on the Ask Judie Bulletin Board is from preschool teachers all over the world. They have asked for themes, lessons, and materials to implement in their preschool classes. Here are some ideas that will help answer their questions.

"Help! I am teaching four and five year olds. What do I do?" you ask. Have you searched the internet? There is a wealth of information on early childhood or preschool teaching. Search also under "home schooling" and "daycare." These sites are designed to teach basic concepts to native English speakers but lessons can be adapted for ELLs.

What do you need to do to effectively teach the ELLs in your preschool class?

1. Three and four year olds seem to be constantly in motion and have boundless energy. Action-based activities will grab their attention and keep their interest. Children of this age group enjoy movement play. Emphasize acting out stories, repeating predictable text, puppetry, chants, rhymes, finger plays, songs, and role-playing. Have students make believe by playing house or pretending to be firefighters. Teach them to play games. Let them run jump, skip, dance and hop. These activities can be utilized to encourage verbal expression and language development. Use what these children love to do in order to help them learn.

2. Develop oral language skills. Teach young ELLs to speak and understand English first. They need to learn vocabulary dealing with greetings, families, body parts, school and classroom items, days of the week, zoo and farm animals, numbers, shapes, seasons, colors, clothing, and fruit. Teach them commands such as "line up, raise your hand, and go to the circle." Use songs and chants to make learning fun.

3. Use visuals, including graphs, posters, videos, picture books, educational computer games and realia to help students acquire language. Bring in a bag of old clothing when teaching the names of clothes; share banana slices or use Cheerios for counting and M&Ms for color.

4. It's great to use seasonal themes because they are meaningful to the children. One example would be teaching about autumn by collecting fallen leaves, decorating pumpkins, creating your own costumes or masks, making butter from whipped cream, dressing up as Pilgrims and Indians, and having a simple Thanksgiving Feast. These activities make the vocabulary more relevant to the children and, therefore, more memorable.

6. You will also want to build on the prior knowledge of your students. Make sure the theme is appropriate for the culture of the country you are teaching in. A Halloween theme will not mean very much to students in China.

7. Activate prior knowledge. Choose themes that can be linked to what your students already know. Pre-teach vocabulary and concepts that your ELLs will probably not know such as nursery rhymes.

Accommodations for EFL Students

For those of you who are teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL), you will need to modify these ideas to meet the needs of your English language learners. You can expect to go much slower and provide a lot more repetition. You want to develop cognitive skills but not at the expense of social, emotional, and physical development. Young children should not be learning English by completing phonics worksheets.

What are the signs of a good preschool program? Read this article on kindeergarten classrooms atKid Source.

Themes for PreSchool

1.You will want to recognize that ELLs have different needs than native speakers. Although you can use much of the curricula found on the sites mentioned below, you need to respect the stages of second language acquisition that ELLs will go through as they learn English. A brief explanation of these stages can be found at Stages of language acquisition on this site.

Art Ideas for Preschool

Songs for Preschool

Children’s Literature Sites

Commercial Preschool Curricula


Related Links

Preschool websites for teachers
"Help! I am teaching four and five year olds. What do I do?" you ask. Have you searched the internet? There is a wealth of information on early childhood or preschool teaching. These sites are designed to teach basic concepts to native English speakers but lessons can be adapted for ELLs.

Resource Picks

Language Castle
Language Castle is an excellent website by Karen Nemeth for pre-school teachers of English language learners.

Dr. Jean's Songs and Activities for Young Children
Dr. Jean's is one of the best free websites for Preschool Teachers. Look for lessons, teaching ideas, themes and resources. Her "Links" page will take you to many other excellent sites.

About the Authors

Sandee McHugh-McBride is an ESL Teacher at Howell Township Public Schools, Howell, NJ, She is also the Elementary Education Special Interest Group Representative (GradesK-4) to the NJTESOL/NJBE Executive Board.

Judie Haynes is a former ESL teacher, author and professional development provider.