Crazy Pre-K Teaching Nightmare? A look at Pre-K EFL Group Work

During the first two years of EFL preschool teaching, I adamantly avoided group and pairs games. I even avoided two-teams games if the class size was too large. For my ten to twelve student sized classes, team games were manageable. Twenty students….

Forget about it.

When I received last week’s Teach Now project requiring me to use the release of responsibility model, (I do it, we do it, you do it together, you do it alone), I literally laughed out loud.


Ugh? For preschool? Shoot me.

Crazy Pre-K Teaching Nightmare? A look at Pre-K EFL Group Work


I planned an activity that would use concepts students have practiced over and over. So the main challenge of the lesson was actually group work. Preschoolers are totally capable of watching the teacher, following along with the teacher and working independently. Although Montessori schools everywhere prove that preschool group work is meaningful in a native language setting, foreign language group work for preschoolers seems counterintuitive.


First of all, with older children and adult learners, teachers can easily restrict their language to English during group work if (1) teachers have established procedures for English-only group work and (2) students have the necessary language tools to complete the group work. Group work is very effective in practicing another language; even more effective if students have different native tongues.

Preschoolers lack self-control and lack most language tools to be able to complete more complex group projects.


That’s why I picked a concept I’ve practiced with my students for almost a year, (this is the second year I’ve had this group of students). We’ll call it visual phonemic alphabet for the sake of this post, and I’ll explain why and how I developed the alphabet in a post another time.


During my activity, I first started with the “we do it together” part since we’re way passed “I do it.” After we reviewed, I made sure that all students recognized the different clipart pictures that represent the phonemic symbols (like owl for O), since the clipart pictures are different than what I use in class every day.

I should have made a picture of all these clip images together so students could easily see.


After I reviewed the pictures, I showed how I wanted them to match the letter to the correct picture association. Most of these students had completed a type of worksheet like this before, so again, I emphasized group work.

I should have made a PPT for better visualization for students.


Then, I asked two students to come sit with me at the front and practice being in a group. I showed students how not to take the pictures from the middle student’s hands (three students in a group – middle student is essentially the group leader). Although this was effective in preventing students from fighting over the pictures, my middle students did not easily share the pictures. The point of the groups was so that the two other students, who have strong phonemic awareness, would help my middle students, who have weak phonemic awareness.


Once I showed what to do in the groups, I broke them up into their groups and passed out materials. Middle students received one alphabet sheet and all of the clipart pictures. I wish I had broken up these pictures so each child was getting pictures and the activity would more clearly be a joint effort. Two of my middle students were surprisingly bossy and needed me to explain that they needed help from their friends. I also discovered through this activity that a student, who I thought had strong phonemic awareness, actually did not.


Out of my groups, 3 out of 6 were able to complete the activity with redirection and additional instruction (like, “Let the other kids help you, middle student!”). One group out of my 6 was able to complete the activity almost without my help. I chose the wrong partners for one group, (the student with weak phonemic awareness should have been a middle student), and then the last group had a surprisingly headstrong middle student who refused to accept help.

The one group that was able to complete the activity moved on to the “you do it alone” stage. The “you do it alone” stage then assessed if the middle student had made improvements in letter and picture association. The worksheet covered A-M matching using the same clipart as in the group activity.

The middle student in this group matched the letters and pictures perfectly! I was pleasantly surprised!


I didn’t have time to finish the “you do it alone” aspect for all of the groups. I believe it’s okay to repeat activities with preschoolers, so I might retry the groups with this specific activity since it was so effective for this one middle student. I’m interested to see if there would be a change for the other students.

I also have a better idea of which personalities work better with others in view of group assignments.


I’m looking forward to implementing the release of responsibility method in other areas of my instruction. This was a complicated activity, and I was only comfortable with trying since my students had pre-exposure to the concepts and worksheets. Next week, students will be working in groups on a project based on a PBL activity I constructed for a Teach Now assignment. I plan to incorporate release of responsibility into this PBL activity.

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