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Being an English Teacher: Toddlers Vs Teens

As teachers, we’re typically responsible for teaching a range of children, from screaming little toddlers to attitude-filled teens. This is especially true when teaching kids ESL! The methods and approaches used to teach these varying ages of children obviously vary quite considerably. Looking like an idiot isn’t going to work for teens in as much as an hour-long PowerPoint lecture won’t entertain 3-year-olds.

Each teacher has their preferred method for each class, and everyone has their preferred type of class. You’ll have your favourite classes as well as those you can’t wait to get out of the way. Each age group has their own unique challenges to cope with. Each has its own levels of behaviour, the difficulty of work and general fun. So let’s compare them!

Teaching Toddlers

Ease of Teaching Toddlers

Actually teaching a lesson is quite difficult with toddlers. They’re babies, they simply have a lesser level of understanding, as well as a very restricted vocabulary to try and explain anything. Your explanations have to be incredibly basic which can become tricky with certain words.

Esl kids teaching
Class is in session

Another is trying to define and explain the use of a word where it’s near impossible to explain to an English speaker! How are you going to define the word “for”  or “to” to a 5-year-old in another language? The only thing you can do in this situation is show examples of how it’s used and hope that it sinks in.

Level of Work

With kids of this age, you’re trying to teach the basic aspects of ESL and should be very easy for students to pick up. All the information is things they should know already, you’re just providing the word in another language. It won’t take too long to teach a child “A makes Apple” or the names of animals.

Your aims for each lesson are incredibly simple, usually consisting of a few new words and a couple of examples of how they’re used in a sentence. All very repetitive which makes it a hell of a lot easier for the kids to remember. In that sense, teaching toddlers is one of the easiest things in the world.

How Much Fun Are Toddlers?

Without a doubt, this is a huge advantage of teaching toddlers, as it’s way WAY more fun than the older kids. The students will respond to something fun and engaging, therefore the same has to be true of you. You quickly learn the more stupid you are in front of the class, the more entertaining you are. This is where gestures and flamboyant use of physical movements are incredibly useful. Not only are they entertaining, but can also become a future reference, where all I’ll have to do as a teacher is repeat a gesture to remind students of a word. If you don’t entertain these kids, they simply won’t listen to you.

Esl kids teaching
Educating this world’s future!

The work you’re teaching is also easier to have fun with. The majority is based around activities which are simple games to make the work more fun.

Behaviour of Toddlers

As you’d imagine, a class full of kids can be one hell of a handful to control at the best of times. Sometimes your hyperactive loud demeanour becomes a double-edged sword, putting the kids into a frenzy! You also have to remember they’re just kids…they’re known not to listen, that’s what they do best!

Teaching the happy little toddlers!

Despite that, bringing these students under control can be done quite easily, which is down to the system the school uses. A student can earn stars (e.g. for correct answers, and participation) and will subsequently lose stars if they aren’t listening or misbehave. Simple yet incredibly effective. The kids really take these stars to heart, as it’s a display of their accomplishments, and you see the devastation in their eyes as they stare at the empty space where a star once stood. It’s so effective even the threat of losing a star is enough to keep them straight.

How Much Preparation Needed?

Considering that the level of work is much simpler, so too are the preparations. Kids of these levels prefer routine, they feel much more comfortable and familiar as the lesson progresses. So much so that I have 3-5 year-olds yelling out the next activity in my class before I’ve had a chance to. They sprint towards the light switch yelling “SING A SONG”.

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This means that practically throughout the year you can do pretty much the same routine with new materials every lesson. This familiarity makes it easier for both the teacher and the students. As the school provides all the materials I’d need for a lesson, with one or two things thrown in by myself, it’s quick and simple. As is their age, most of what they learn will consist of a photo with its name underneath e.g. an Elephant

How Exhausting Is It To Teach Toddlers?

Without a doubt this would have to be the biggest “downfall” of teaching toddlers; these kids demand such a high level of energy. Kids of this age learn best when an activity is engaging and fun, so standing still in front of the class with a monotone voice ain’t gonna cut it. You have to be hyperactive, jump all over the classroom, and mime each word with elaborate gestures. If you don’t keep them entertained, they’ll just drift off and all attention lost.

Game time in class. Photo by Pixabay.

This isn’t to mention in between your classes. The kids will regularly get given a break where they can watch some TV (more often than not the high-pitched nightmare Mickey Mouse) and have their snacks. However, more recently my time is now spent further entertaining kids who now run up to me in groups screaming “FLY! FLY!” with their arms in the air. I made the fatal mistake of putting one student on my shoulders and running around the class…so of course, now every single child expects a turn on the 2-meter-tall giant.

Needless to say, a 50-minute session of clown improv, leaves you drained and lacking a voice. One particular all-day class lasts from 8 am until 4:30 pm, which if it wasn’t for the blessed 2-hour nap in between, I’d collapse with exhaustion.

Teaching Teens

Ease of Teaching Teenagers

When it comes to teaching a new concept, it’s much easier with older learners. They have a wider range of vocabulary and understanding, meaning it takes much less effort to explain something. At this level, you don’t have to be as aware of the language you use. While teaching toddlers, you’re walking on eggshells, using a limited number of words you know they understand to try and explain. Teens can hold a conversation, therefore easier to discuss the use of the new language.

Level of Work

This is where it becomes a negative to teach the teens, as the work is much harder and more in-depth. Often you’ll find you’re teaching things even you don’t completely understand. Sometimes you’ll even question why the hell you’re teaching this to the kids. Do these Chinese kids really need to know about the Gold Rush or the Great Depression?

Esl kids teaching
Reading time

As the work is more in-depth, so must your research. The materials the school provide don’t really explain the concepts, it’s left for you to fill in the gaps. Most of this is what your lesson plan suggests, and you come to the conclusion it’s bullshit, they don’t need to know it. In that case, you have to construct your own lesson with accompanying materials. In one class I’ve completely removed a subject and started teaching biology, simply as that’s what the students wanted.

How Much Fun Are Teenagers?

They’re just not as fun honestly. They’re much less interested and what’s more at this age, they have a more independent realisation of “I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to”. The much simpler activities are incredibly fun for toddlers but stupid for teens. Activities become more difficult to make and get the students engaged. It becomes more like your regular boring high-school class, where you just sit, listen and write.

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The topics which are being taught are made more difficult to be “fun” to teach. They’re based more on correct grammar or looking at the English language in more detail. “Today kids we’re going to learn about the differences between “might have” and “could have”, YAAAAAY!”. 

Behaviour of Teenage

It’s unfair to label teens as having more or even less trouble than toddlers, they’re just a different type of difficulty, with different issues to contend with. Firstly, they’re at the age where they realise they have no real obligation to listen to you, you’re not the boss of them. So too comes the difficulty of trying to punish the student if they’ve misbehaved or don’t listen. With toddlers it’s easy, the threat of losing a star is devastating to them, but a teenager won’t care about a pointless star. Shout at them all you like, it isn’t going to make them care. Thankfully however there is one very strong threat that always works, particularly to these Chinese students; threatening to talk with their very strict and demanding parents. Enough to send shivers down any poor Chinese kid.

Esl kids teaching
“I have a question miss”

Another problem I didn’t expect to deal with is mobile phones in the classroom, now I appreciate my previous teachers’ grievances. It is quite irritating trying to teach something and you see someone’s head down. Particularly if in 5 minutes they’re going to say that they don’t understand. Homework have also become a new annoyance, which simply won’t be done, like any other self-respecting teenager.

How Much Preparation Needed?

As is the level of work, it requires much more preparation which could take a considerable amount of time. The students will fly through the work and simply lose interest if you repeatedly try to explain something they already know to fill in time. This means you yourself will have to provide more work/information to keep them engaged.

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Also as a considerable amount of the lesson plan is removed, I have to fill the void myself. I have to decide what these kids should learn, and how they should learn it, and provide all the materials myself. All of which takes up a lot of time.

How Exhausting Is It To Teach Teenage?

Teaching teens is in no way as exhausting as teaching toddlers, but frankly much easier on the heart rate. The work needs much less explanation, and thankfully the clown act can be dropped as it doesn’t work with teens. There’s much less student-teacher interaction, as a lot of the work is left up to them. Most of the class will be spent completing worksheets. it can be quite an easy session.


As I said at the start, all teachers will have their preferred classes, ones they just enjoy much more than others; I’m no different. Without a doubt, I prefer to teach younger learners, simply because of the enjoyment you get out of it. I can become a big kid myself, playing games and singing songs throughout the class. I unleash my caffeine-raged hyperactive performance to the screaming of the enthusiastic teacher. Compared to being the teacher who’s stood in front of the class reciting work I’m not interested in, much like high-school teachers, isn’t as fun.

Thank You for Reading! Check Out These Other Helpful Links!

Thank you so much for reading Being an English Teacher: Toddlers Vs Teens! Check out these other helpful articles!

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