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how children learn at different stages of development


This section looks at how children learn at different stages of development and how activities in the classroom need to address their cognitive, motor, language and social development.

Children between four and twelve years old are very different as language learners, so here we take a look at how children learn at different stages of development and how activities in the classroom need to address their cognitive, motor, language and social development.

Obviously children do not all fit neatly into categories and their development will depend on their personality, maturity and previous learning experiences. You will no doubt recognise how your own students fit the descriptions. The age groups will be grouped as: 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12 year old

Children: 4-6 year-olds



Chants are great as children

  1. learn to work together

  2. pick up chunks

  3. get to listen to lots of meaningful language

  4. have a reason to use English

  5. find them funny

  6. move their body

  7. enjoy repeating them

Chants are easy to make up. I made this one up for my 5-6 year olds. They had already begun learning animals. We chanted it together and did actions for the different animals. (pretended to splash water etc)

  1. My name’s Fred and I’m a frog – jump, jump, jump

  2. My name’s Kate and I’m a cat – miaow, miaow, miaow

  3. My name’s Fergie and I’m a fish – splash, splash, splash

  4. My name’s Micky and I’m a mouse – squeak, squeak, squeak

  5. My name’s Benny and I’m a bird – flap, flap, flap

This is a lovely chant with a rhythm that children enjoy. They can stretch their arms out to show ‘big’ and bring their hands close together to show ‘little’. It also helps to develop:

Motor skills – children will enjoy colouring in the pictures that come with the chant. Colouring demands concentration, eye/hand coordination and hand control – all important pre-writing skills

Word recognition – when beginning word recognition they can draw a line between the animal words – cat, mouse etc and the and the pictures


Classic songs like Old MacDonald had a farm (see related pages below)are very popular with young children. This is a version of the song that encourages students to produce long vowel sounds. It also practises the numbers one to four.  Farms are pretty universal. Young students enjoy making the animal noises and farm animals are a nice lexical set.

To create a nice wall display, get children to draw their favourite farm animal and the teacher (or a child who draws quickly and finishes their animal) can draw a big farm to paste the animals onto. More animals can be added later as well as a farmer etc. Once they begin writing, students can label the different animals.


There are many story books based on animals. Children love listening to stories about animals especially If there are colourful, child-friendly visuals to help them follow the story. You can also use cuddly animal toys while story-telling to get and hold the children’s attention.


Children all love games. 4 – 6 year olds have still to develop cooperative skills, so introducing games that involve turn-taking helps to develop these skills. Do not despair if they get impatient or want to take each other’s turns – they are still learning to be less egocentric and need lots of opportunities to allow these skills to develop (see related pages The animal game below).

The first version of the game is appropriate for 4 – 6 year olds as they simply have to count out the steps of the game according to what their dice lands on and then name the animal on the spot.

Cutting and colouring

See related pages How things work below. The students get to create a herd of elephants by cutting out an elephant and naming him/her. They can also colour it in. They can practise the ‘What’s your elephant called?’  & ‘He’s / She’s called….’

Children: 7-9 year-olds



Children at this age group still love chants, but can add their own verses too. This stimulates their creative skills and gives them a sense of achievement when they can produce their own (see Five little speckled frogs song in related pages below).

World knowledge The quiz at the bottom of the page requires not just linguistic knowledge, but also knowledge about animals.

Wall displays By now many children are developing their writing skills and becoming proficient drawers. They also get a great sense of achievement from seeing what they have created.

A mini-project on animals is easy to set up. Each child chooses an animal they like. They draw a picture of the animal and write sentences based on a model* provided by the teacher. The pictures are neatly mounted on the classroom walls. Invite parents in too to see these lovely displays.


  1. …………… is a big/small animal

  2. …………… lives in the jungle / on a farm / in my house

  3. ………….. eats leaves / other animals/ …………..

  4. ………….. can fly / run / swim etc etc

Children: 10-12 year-olds



By now it is clear that students have very different approaches to learning and have distinct preferences and interests. A project on animals can ensure all are satisfied.

Students can choose to work independently or with a partner(s)

Get students to choose an animal, or the creative ones can create a new one!

Students choose whether to create a wall display, a book or a presentation on their animal

Their work can include illustrations, their own or ones they find

Their project can be a factual description about the animal including information found in books, the internet etc or it can be a story about the animal. It could also be a poster calling for conservation of a particular species

Give a time limit – say 2 or 3 lessons for them to prepare their work and then it can either be displayed, shared or presented

This is especially good in a mixed ability class. Students who are not so keen on writing can create something more visual and very enthusiastic students have more scope for their imagination and language skills

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