Teaching English to Preschoolers

“Ma-ma-Mohammed!”

“Fa-fa-Farah!”

“Ba-ba-Bashar!”

The children enthusiastically shout their names and the sounds that go along with them, delighting in learning the English letters that their names start with.  They are my students at Al-Namothajia daycare, where I have been teaching 4 and 5-year-olds English phonics for the past two and a half months.  In addition to being the cutest beings on Earth, my students are filled with eagerness and quickly absorb the many songs, games, rhymes and words I teach them.  English is a ubiquitous language around the world, and even at this young age, I know that they hear English on TV, on the radio, on the street and in their homes constantly.  It must be thrilling to begin to make sense of the jumble of English they hear, like piecing together the clues to a mystery.

The biggest focus of my lessons has been for my students to learn the phonics, or sounds, that go along with the English letters.  The children had mastered the alphabet’s order and the names of the letters—their favorite song to sing is the alphabet song!—but the connection between, for example, the letter “D” and the sound “duh” hadn’t quite been made yet.  The nursery teachers asked me to focus on one letter per week, and the unhurried pace has proven valuable.  I plan two lessons a week, all centered around the letter we are learning that week.  When we did the letter “E,” for example, I played games where the children “exercised,” we looked at pictures of “elephants,” and sang songs beginning with the word “everybody.”  Throughout it all, I would repeat the letter E’s phonic: “Eh-eh-elephant,” the kids would happily chirp.

In the last three or four weeks, I have seen promising retention of these concepts.  If I use a word we previously learned, several children will say the phonic unprompted with it—“Ha-ha-hand!  Fa-fa-finger!”  I have also started informal assessments of the children’s ability to find the letter on an alphabet chart that corresponds with a certain sound.  At this point, at least 50% of my students are able to correctly identify the letters.

But the lessons in no way are all grammatical!  A large part of my goals in teaching at this nursery is for the children to simply participate in activities that are done entirely in English, even if they don’t fully understand all of the words I am using.  Learning English songs, or simple games like Simon Says, will increase their capacity to learn English later in school, as they will have had practice forming the sounds, words and sentence constructions associated with English.  And a personal benefit for me—I have had to learn some basic Arabic to translate the meanings of some of my lessons to the children.  It is truly a symbiotic relationship, and as much as I give the children as a teacher, I know that the joy that they bring every time they greet me with smiling faces and a zestful “Good morning, Miss Ashwini!” is worth more to me than I can begin to describe.

-Ashwini

Ashwini is an intern at TYO Nablus.

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