How to Teach English to Children at Home

Will Harris


Across the globe right now, schools have closed their doors and parents are doing their best to provide their children with a good education during these difficult times. If you’re one of these parents, the task might seem daunting, but it is actually far less stressful than you might first think. At least, as far as teaching reading and writing skills is concerned. So, allow a former high school English teacher to guide you through the best practices and simple methods of teaching your kids valuable and fun reading and writing skills.

How to Encourage Reading

Your main priority when taking over the education of your child is to help them discover the magic of learning, and while that sounds lofty it can all be done by encouraging reading. Reading is the answer to everything: it encourages empathy and emotional growth, broadens the imagination, inspires laughter and sorrow, and fuels enthusiasm for discovery and experimentation. If you can have your children reading books, and enthusiastic about reading books, for the duration of their time at home, you have more than succeeded with just that alone.

Consider the age of your child and provide them with a stack of age-appropriate reading material. This can be both fiction and non-fiction but, since we’re focussing on English right now, prioritise fiction. Have them be a part of the choosing process. If they’re already a reader, ask them what their favourite books and genres are. If they aren’t, ask the same question but about movies and video games. Shop on Amazon or The Book Depository together and discuss (with enthusiasm) what kinds of books they would find most interesting. You’re off curriculum right now; they don’t need to be reading Lord of the Flies. So, here is their chance to discover their own new favourite book, and to learn from it.

Once you’ve got your books, read with them. Find a comfortable space to hole up together and start reading. Here are a few tips to make reading more engaging for them and for you:

· Turn the book into a play where you embody a few character roles, as well as the narrator. Act it out.

· At the end of a chapter, discuss why you think a certain character behaved the way they did, and debate what might happen next and why.

· Draw a map of the world; draw what you think the character looks like; draw a timeline of events. However you can, incorporate drawing into the reading process.

· When you’re not reading, bring up the characters and story in conversation. Ask what the protagonist would want for dinner, what they do when they wake up, where they would go on vacation.

How to Teach Poetry

Poetry is perhaps the most daunting aspect of the English curriculum, even for professional teachers. Even if you’re a poetry fanatic, it can be difficult to teach the subject to others, given how personal one’s connection to poetry is. That being said, there are a few simple approaches to poetry which can make the process of teaching and learning easy and streamlined.

· Make sure you’re choosing poetry that is age-appropriate. The best way to do this is to simply check the curriculum. Visit your country’s exam board websites (for the UK, for example, it would be AQA or Edexcel), and see what poetry collections are being taught right now.

· Each day, focus on a single poem. Make sure to read it aloud. You read it first and have them listen, then have them read it aloud. Poetry is rhythmic; it should always be read aloud.

· Without writing anything down, have an open discussion about the poem: What is it about? Who is the speaker? Does it rhyme? Does it have rhythm? Why or why not? What do you see when you read it?

· Once you’ve spent some time talking about it, have them make notes around the poem. They can underline rhyming words, jot down ideas or simply how the poem makes them feel. Focus on emotion; that is key.

· And, with that, you’re done. All of this takes half an hour and can be done every day or even just once a week.

How to Teach Creative Writing

Creative writing should come after reading. Before you can get them to really engage their imaginations, you must encourage your child to read. Have them read for an hour a day for a week or so, and this will ensure that they are passively developing their spelling and grammar skills, as well as having their imagination fed and nurtured. Don’t be afraid to let them watch movies and play video games, too, but just make sure that these are rich narratives rather than mindless competition.

They should be watching genre movies (sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, romance) and playing single-player narrative video games (not Fortnite or Call of Duty). These narratives can be as inspiring for their imaginations as any novel, but you must make sure that the game’s they’re playing and the movies they are watching are narrative focussed.

As for how to teach creative writing, your role is very hands-on at first and then becomes more passive. The first thing you need to do is to build a plan with them. For this, you’ll need paper, pens, and some drawing utensils. Have them pick a genre. Discuss examples of stories they’ve read within that genre. Talk about how the story usually plays out. From there, start plotting a story together. Start with a setting (time and place), then a protagonist. Pick their name, age, appearance, job, and personality. Add more characters from there. Then choose where the story begins, what the goal is, how you want it to end, and how you will get to that end. Finally, map the story on a timeline. Use a big piece of paper and plot out your hero’s journey (even if it’s a romance story, you will still have a hero and they are still on a journey of sorts).

The rest of the process is up to your child. They need to do the writing themselves. Your job is to check in with them regularly, read over a section when it’s done, check for spelling or grammar issues (you don’t need to be a stickler for this; any simple pointers are helpful). During the writing process, you need to simply sit back, support, encourage, read, and show enthusiasm.

How to Teach Critical/Essay Writing

This seems like the toughest part of teaching and, honestly, it is optional if you don’t feel confident enough. I can’t stress enough how important it is to simply have your child engaging their imagination. And, to do this, they only need to find a joy for reading, to read every single day, and to engage with a little creative writing. But, if you want to do the very best that you can for your child during this time, then critical and essay writing can be done at home, and here’s how.

Any book or poem can be analysed critically, and critical writing simply means engaging with a book or poem with a more critical eye: looking at the good and bad, what works and doesn’t work, and why that is. Consider how the book is written (first or third person, and why). Discuss the protagonist: their motivations, personality, dreams. Most crucially, talk about the book’s themes: what is it about? What is the book’s purpose? What does it want to make you feel, and why? And how does it accomplish that?

If you’re not confident with how to structure a critical essay, have your child write a book review that discusses everything I’ve mentioned above. A book review is nothing more or less than a simple critical essay. It asks the writer to consider the book’s strengths and weaknesses, details of its story and characters, and what the book has to teach or show its reader.

Turning a book review into a critical essay is a matter of context. That means turning to the internet and doing some research about the author, where they are from, their influences, the time in which they were writing, and maybe even some interviews with them about the book and how/why they wrote it. This is great for turning your new book enthusiast into a literature buff.

Where to Find the Best Resources

Think like a teacher: where do they get their best resources? Some come from training, some come from the school, some come from the depths of their imagination. But a lot comes from Tes. Tes.com is a beloved website for teachers in the UK. It’s free to sign up and start browsing resources. Many are free but some must be paid for. These resources are mostly uploaded by fellow teachers looking to give one another a helping hand. Well, you’re a teacher now and you need some help. So, turn to Tes.

I also encourage you to build a community and reach out to other people. These can be fellow parents in the same boat as you, or maybe ex-teachers looking to offer a helping hand. Email your children’s teachers and ask them for advice, resources, book recommendations, and anything else you need to know. Turn to Facebook groups or build your own. Make a call out on Twitter for any advice and resources you need. People are generous during these tough times.

Hop onto Amazon and order your child the CGP study guides. Check what year your child is in and buy the appropriate book (KS3, KS4, GCSE, A-Level etc). CGP are study guides which you probably already know about. They’re fantastic study aides which will give your child some structure when it comes to studying English.

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