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8 New Teacher Tips From a TEFL Veteran
OK, you’ve earned your TEFL certificate, and now the world is yours to teach! Then you get your first teaching gig only to find out that the formal teacher training classes you took were background information and not applicable to the teaching reality of getting students to speak. Plus, middle school wants you to pull rabbits out of your hat to make students happy regardless of learning. Or, the training center demands that you follow their outdated materials, killing any chance for increased student fluency. What to do? Are you falling into line following the outdated teaching methods you were given to become a “so-so” teacher, or are you trying to really learn your craft? If it’s the latter, then here are 8 handy tips from an American ESL teacher of 13 years in China, Jiayou!
1. Put the students in a situation so that they can say: You should know by now that, in Asia, directly asking a student for their opinion may get you a blank stare. In fact, language learners from any country can, as well, have the same attitude, but perhaps, it is more common in homogeneous societies. What to do? Simple, understand their cultural collectivist mindset or, in other words, make them work in a group because that’s what they’re used to. Therefore, you can put them in a role-play scenario where students answer the question in pairs or groups and where their individual opinion is heard in a round robin fashion. The big benefit of this is that the situation dictates their action verses as you call them directly. Trust me; it works because they are more comfortable seeing others and following the same pattern.
2. Give them the steering wheel of the car: In life, there are passengers, and then there are drivers. The same applies to language speakers; some students want to be the lead speaker to direct the conversation. Therefore, hand over the keys of communication to them by encouraging them to be facilitators of the discussion. Of course, you should provide an outline to guide the discussion with key expressions, talking points, or dialogue. If you do this, they will love it and be very motivated and grateful for the opportunity to be the “speaker for the day.”
3. Correct only if necessary: Depending on their level, students can make many mistakes related to pronunciation, grammar, and content. But save yourself and them a lot of trouble and learn to hold off on correction unless it’s a major issue. Also, if your class focuses on fluency, then avoid having to stop the class due to minor issues. Student correction depends on remaining time, class focus, and the return of the problem. There are different ways to correct a student, but here are two common ways. First, you as a teacher might look at them with a curious look while repeating the wrong word and the correct word, such as “information or information?” and they usually give you the right word. The second way to correct a student is at the end of class. Just briefly point out the mistakes on the board; “a correction, INFORMATION is the right word.”
4. Build your toolbox of interactive communication aids: If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you’ll know that there’s a lot of processing involved in even simple questions. For Chinese students, there can be many challenges. In the learner’s mind, they intuitively interpret words or questions, spend time thinking of the right words, and then try to answer the question in their own logical way. So, their answer is sometimes half right. Or another more common problem students have is not knowing how to start answering questions. So, to save time and build confidence, give them speech aids. Use talking points, outlines, diagrams, or a stem sentence to get them to speak quickly and respond logically. A simple method I recommend is to make the question part of the answer, such as, “Is chocolate a healthy food?” and “Yes, I think chocolate is a healthy food because…”
5. Timing is important: I often hear from teachers that students don’t want to speak in class. But in my experience, that is not the case. They really want to speak in class, but they need time, confidence, and support. As an Asian teacher, you must understand how important it is to be more patient and learn to work with a student’s behavior. Remember that the teacher’s role is to find the best way to help a student like working on a rubrics cube. It’s important to be patient as you try different things. You can use scaffolding techniques like stem sentences or a prewriting activity to help. Afterwards, they can take time to process and where you can get back to them later, giving them another chance to speak.
6. Avoid being the Einstein of the white board: I can imagine that in some fields, writing endlessly or sketching ideas on the board is useful. But in the field of ESL, it’s more than speaking, so don’t write too many words; maybe like more than 15. I remember seeing a teacher who had the habit of spending ten minutes writing more than thirty words on the board to prepare the students in a speaking class. The white board should be used like a PPT in that key words, an outline of ideas, or corrections should be presented; and of course, sketches help too. Depending on the subject I am teaching, I may write a standard agenda list or create a circular word map to guide the flow of the discussion.
7. Setup your own dining table: Create your own teaching format that you can use over and over again. Often in training centers, the work is given by the teachers at the last moment, or frankly, you are not prepared enough for a class. As a result, you can get a panic attack quietly with a “what do I do next,” moment. To avoid such a headache, create a framework that you can always use regardless of the topic. With the right format, you can put the topic in your outline and move the class forward without worrying about what to do next, but actually facilitating opportunities for student talk and corrections. For me, when I teach a communication skills class, I always go through a preset list of six areas in a sequential manner that keeps the flow going for the sake of fluency.
8. Intensify your lessons: In ESL, students do best in class when they are active and interested. This is a reality due to endless educational theories and the fact that the student’s language learning experience is passive. In fact, students have classes in “workbook English” without actually saying it. Therefore, teachers should compare the previous students with the unfortunate learning experience and show enthusiasm. To help you do this, you need to bring out the energy through your personality or through the class format. Of course, some teachers are extroverts and have good relationships, but others are not. So, basically, I recommend raising your persona to create energy in the classroom for student motivation and participation in your learning. However, if you are an introverted teacher, then consider bringing energy through activities to keep students engaged. Simple, plan different activities and be aware of their time. I am not suggesting that the classroom experience should be a fun endeavor managed by a hyper personality or the execution of a quick list of activities. There has to be a balance. But there is a fact that a motivated teacher or when there are many useful activities to do, students are more receptive to learning and also prevents any issues along the way. Happy teaching!
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