Routines with Young Learners – A guest post by Jenny Holden

Today I have the great pleasure of publishing a guest post written by the Young Learner Coordinator at my school. I’ve been trying to persuade Jenny to share her YL expertise here for some time and she finally surrendered. Some great reading for anyone who teaches young learners, especially for those of you starting new classes. One to bookmark!

Over to you Jenny…

IMG_1748It’s that time of year again as the new term kicks off and we meet our new students for the year. Meeting our new YLs can be a daunting prospect and it can often feel like we’re herding cats rather than teaching English for the first few months. Routines, or established patterns of behaviour, could be the solution…

Why Routines?

Carol Read (the Queen of teaching YLs) sheds light on this in her excellent book ‘500 Activities for the Primary Classroom‘. Her main points are summarised below:

IMG_1750Routines promote a positive learning environment as they help learners (who may have just been thrust into an alien environment with a new teacher who speaks a strange language) to feel secure and confident in the classroom. They help create a sense of community in the classroom too; encouraging co-operation, and shared purposes.

One of the most rewarding aspects of using routines is the opportunities which arise for natural language acquisition. When your students start parroting your instructions back to you or they’ve learnt a chunk of classroom language, not only does it reflect how we learn L1 but it provides the building blocks for noticing patterns in language for learning in later life.

But the greatest benefit of routines is that once your YLs are on board, they become more autonomous and your life as a teacher becomes much easier; it’s less stressful, less draining and it allows the focus to return to learning not just classroom management.
Not just a positive learning environment, but a positive teaching one too!

My top routines for primary students.

Before Class
Routines start outside the classroom; students should know where and how to wait for class. Encourage learners to line up outside and enter one by one as you welcome them in. It can be motivating to set up a ‘password’ system which is decided upon at the end of the previous lesson (A throwback from the much-loved I-Spy series).

Start of Class:
As YL teachers we’re not just teaching English but we play a part in developing the whole child too; help them develop their organisational skills; coats come off and are hung up as soon as they enter the classroom; students sit down and get everything out of their bags that they’ll need later on.


Encourage students to create a ‘book cake’ of their belongings under their chair for easy access (this will cut down on faff time later).


Date and weather 

Elicit and board the date and weather from the students; it’s then ready to be copied into their note books later on in the lesson. Or hand this over to the learners; students at this age love helping the teacher; take advantage of this!

Taking the register

  • The register provides a great opportunity to recycle and review previously studied language (and let those latecomers trickle in).
  • You could ask each child a question about last lesson to help them ‘switch on their English brains’.
  • Or, as above, why not ask a student to take the register for you; it’s a great way to review those pesky question forms!

A wake up shake up!


Movement at the start of the class is a great for you to take control of energy levels; wake up tired minds or wear off excess energy: Try this in a circle with your class (I’m sure you can imagine the moves!):

Hands up! Shake shake, shakety shake!
Hands down! Shake shake, shakety shake!
To the left, to the left, to the left, left, left!
To the right, to the right, to the right, right right!
Jump in, jump out and turn around!
Jump in, jump out and sit down!

(With thanks to Jack Williams for this)

Giving out materials/tidying up
Never do anything yourself that a student can do for you… just make sure you stage and model your instructions carefully!


  • Student signals

IMG_1756Surely one of the most common sounds from the YL clsssroom is ‘finished, finished, finished’. Having signals in place creates a much calmer atmosphere. Encourage students to put their hands on their heads / fingers on noses when they finish an activity. When playing or working in teams extend this to the whole group.

  • Teacher signals

If you want students to know that an activity is coming to the end, give time warnings followed by a countdown.  If you’re still struggling to get their attention try saying ‘1,2,3, Look at me!’ And wait. Be a lighthouse if necessary (sit in the middle of the classroom and look around the room until you have everybody’s attention. It just takes one student to understand and they’ll help the others catch on.

Closing routines

  • Allow ample time to set up homework, remembering to model activities so students understand what to do.
  • Encourage ss to record their homework (e.g on a homework record sheet).
  • Ss can then put their belongings away.
  • Use early finishers to help you tidy up the classroom; cleaning the board holds untold pleasure for students!

How to implement routines successfully

Routines do take time to establish, so have patience.

  • Start when planning, how will everyone know what is expected of them and what they should do?
  • Never explain when you can demonstrate; allowing time to introduce routines at the start of the term will pay off in the long run.
  • Use TPR or ‘Simon Says’ as a fun way to get your students trained. E.g. Simon says stand in a line, Simon says stand in a circle, put your hands on your head etc. This will soon become second nature to the learners.
  • Reward your students for doing as you want them to; smile at them, praise them, give them a sticker/smiley face/star. Show them that their behaviour pleases you and they’ll be keen to do so again.

I am sure many of you have your own routines; it would be great to hear about them.


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10 Responses to Routines with Young Learners – A guest post by Jenny Holden

  1. Pingback: Routines with Young Learners - A guest post by ...

  2. Pingback: Recap of Interesting Resources and Blog Posts – September 2014 | Stop Complaining – Enjoy Teaching!

  3. klokanomil says:

    What a great post, Jenny. Thanks or sharing, Jonny 😀


  4. annfore says:

    Hi Jonny and Jenny,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be making a post about it on tomorrow’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Routines with Young Learners | English primary teacher

  6. Pingback: Top Tips for Teaching Teenagers | Recipes for the EFL classroom

  7. Pingback: Tips for managing young learners | elt planning

  8. Pingback: Routines with Young Learners – A guest post by Jenny Holden | willsoffenbach

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