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10 Tips to help new ESL Teachers

    Becoming an ESL (English Second Language) teacher can be scary: You are teaching students in a language and a culture different from their own, helping them to communicate in what is for them a difficult, foreign language. This is above and beyond the normal challenges educators face in the classroom and teaching ESL online. So, how do we give students the opportunity to improve all language-related skills?

    The following ten teaching tips will help new ESL teachers avoid mistakes and overcome the challenge of transferring English speaking, vocabulary and grammatical skills to their students.

    Chunk your Lessons

    Students’ concentration often only lasts a few minutes, especially with younger students, so instead of doing long lectures or stretched-out activities, break lessons into shorter, more manageable chunks, typically using the following steps during a lesson.

    • Introductory activities to get students to talk
    • An explanation for the topic of the day (an overview of what students will be doing)
    • Let students practice the learning objective with an activity
    • Explain grammar or new target vocabulary with examples
    • Practice the lesson with learners
    • Get them to practice, produce and present to the class
    • Final ending activity – perhaps a group review game.

    Social media apps like Tiktok show how the attention span of students is becoming shorter and, to be honest, ours is as well. 😉 Here is the link to a new video on how to chunk lessons.

    So, instead of complaining, we need to teach in a way that is more conducive to their learning by adding variety, and switching up activities.

    When we vary with different activities during class, it resets students’ attention and helps them practice multiple skills. It helps the teacher to control the flow of the lesson, which makes it more engaging, allowing students to concentrate better.

    To summarize:

    Break lesson material and classroom activities into smaller chunks; do a variety of activities, use pair/ group work, and let students give feedback after each activity in order for them to recognize the value and importance of doing it.

    Engage learners and limit TTT

    Students learn better if they are interested in the teacher because they are being taught in an engaging way. and, how do we limit TTT (Teacher Talking Time), what alternative methods can teachers use to limit TTT?

    Ways to limit Teacher Talking Time:

    Always ask questions, for example, when you show text – always let them read it. Make learning part of their lives by integrating their interests and experiences. The more connections you can make between the content and the learners, the better they will internalize it and learn.

    Use yourself as a quick example when explaining topics or grammar, then immediately ask a student or two to share their experience in the same way. Then turn to other students to elaborate, restate what their classmate said or give another example.

    To summarize:

    By constantly engaging your learners, they have no choice but to stay alert and be ready to answer. ESL Teachers that don’t engage their learners do teaching a great disservice – so, work on your social skills and captivate your learners.

    Entertain and care:

    Teachers are correct when saying that they don’t want to be the class clown – which is fine – but be entertaining, not entertainment. Be expressive, create a classroom climate of inclusion, and build rapport with your learners. Have fun without becoming a clown for your students.

    If you have a healthy and caring relationship with your students, you will positively influence their attitude, behavior and learning experience.

    Showing interest and caring about your students’ lives is an important part of being a teacher and establishes a beneficial learning climate. Apply mutual respect, give plenty of encouragement and smile.

    To summarize:

    A student-centered classroom is the key to creating excitement in class, and increases engagement and focus.

    Build Student Confidence

    Part of your job as an English teacher is to help your students be more confident in themselves, and in their ability to communicate in English.

    Steps to increase confidence:

    How do you build confidence? By putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, succeeding and gaining experience. Be a confident teacher and your students will gain confidence too.

    Get students to talk about themselves. Practice practical, valuable skills and praise their effort.

    Do this by roleplaying situations, and creating opportunities for learners to share their experiences in English. Provide them with useful advice in everything, ranging from body language tips, practicing public speaking, and training them to structure their thoughts.

    Motivation:

    No matter the age of your students, motivation is the key to success. So, tap into their needs and desires. Why do they want to learn English? Why would it be useful? How would it influence their lives?

    Do they need it for their careers in the future, or do they want to enroll in foreign universities? Do they need to pass exams or acquire certifications?

    Find out whatever their motivation might be, and use it as a tool to direct their mind and actions to be better English learners. Remind them of it often.

    They might be too young to understand what their extrinsic motivation is, so in that case, learning games are essential for teaching English. These group games serve as a fun way to learn and practice the skills you are teaching.

    To summarize:

    Winning games serves as a reward for learning English, which pushes them to improve. Motivating learners and building their self-confidence is integral to being a successful teacher. (Here is a video with 20 ways to improve motivation.)

    Establish good Classroom Management

    The biggest worry most teachers have is maintaining discipline in the classroom. How do they manage difficult students and control the class?

    Before we go into some tips on classroom management, remember: Most students don’t misbehave in English classes that are fun and in which they are appropriately challenged.

    So, make sure that you are prepared for classes with sufficient material and engaging activities planned to prevent classroom misbehavior.

    Steps to maintain class discipline:

    Issues will arise in even the best run of classes, so let’s look at some things to consider:

    • Get to know your students’ names and use them often.
    • Create a routine in class where students know exactly what will happen and what is expected of them.
    • Establish classroom rules early, practice and repeat them in roleplays and explanations.
    • Set boundaries. Be friendly with your students but don’t let them take advantage of you and stretch the rules. Explain clearly what is expected of them and how they should behave.
    • Do not take misbehavior personally – explain the rules to the class, and be ready to lecture them as a disappointed parent would. Then, when some students act out, remind them of the rules and ask to see them personally later to discuss their behavior or actions. You do not want to get into an argument with a child, you are better than that. Keep your status as the leader in class. Punish the behavior, not the learner.
    • Be consistent in how you react to ill-discipline. For example, first, give a general warning, then, if it persists, write the name on the board. Follow with strikes if the misbehavior continues.

    To summarize:

    Remember – the best way to avoid misbehavior is to stop it before it happens. Look out for students not on task, set them to work. Have fun, engaging classes that help them stay focused and out of trouble.

    Give Clear Communication

    Speak slowly, loudly and clearly. Use simple words to teach, explain and give instruction without overcomplicating things.

    It doesn’t matter if you speak with a particular accent. The important thing is that your students must understand you. How would you feel if you are trying to learn something, but the teacher isn’t clear in his or her communication? Rather over enunciate, especially with younger or low-level students.

    Speaking habits to avoid:

    I often see teachers speaking to their learners as if they are native speakers. They talk too fast, use slang, idioms, overly complicated vocabulary, and too many contractions ( dunno, gotta, gotcha, lemme, wanna). In ESL we teach general reductions (words that are usually unstressed when spoken in sentences – aren’t, could’ve, haven’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t) , but informal contractions in general speech are confusing unless the students are advanced.

    Example: “Hi everyone, today we’re gonna talk about hobbies. Watcha your favorite activity?” “What? Cat got your tongue?”

    They justify it by saying that students should become familiar with it. No, don’t do that – slow down, be clear. Especially at the start, later you can progressively speed up as the students get used to your particular accent.

    Example: “Hi everyone, today- we will talk about hobbies? Jenny – Do you like music?” (Ask easy yes/no questions.)“Who is your favorite singer?”

    The use of L1 in class:

    There is a lot of debate among educators about students using L1 when learning a foreign language, but always bear in mind the importance of (especially) young students enjoying English class at the cost of rigorous rule enforcement. When it comes to students using their native (L1) language – the less they use L1 the better their English growth. Many teachers enforce a no-home language rule, but it depends on you and the level of your students.

    Also, teach common English instructions that you will use in class. Place posters around the classroom with instructions translated into the student’s language to help them understand and remember the rules.

    Speak in an engaging way. Don’t be monotonous in your speech. Add character and cadence. Be expressive when you teach. Students look at your facial expression for clues and pay better attention if the teacher expresses emotion with their voice. High low, a little faster, a little slow.

    To summarize:

    Be lenient and practical in the limited use of L1 in class. Teachers need to be actors at heart to captivate their audience to keep them engaged.

    Teach Multiple Skills

    English has many different skills students have to learn. The most important of which is speaking. But, you should practice multiple skills at the same time as it allows students to learn in many ways instead of only relying on only one.

    Explain verbally, write instructions on the board, give them examples, and ask them questions to check their listening and understanding. Insert the grammar you want them to learn. Give them opportunities to practice their speaking with a partner.

    It can include situational roleplays, and practical lessons that prove useful to students in their lives. Many teachers believe that we are preparing students for their future jobs or traveling – But education should be practical. When students learn things that they feel are applicable in their lives, they realize the value and learn to show them off to their peers and parents. Something useful is easier to learn.

    We are also fortunate that there are so many sources of authentic materials to use in the modern world.

    Find out what students’ interests are; what they are watching on YouTube, and what games they are playing, then, when creating dialogues, set it as popular characters or current celebrities. The internet is a fantastic resource filled with audio, video and written sources.

    (Here’s a link to a video with the 20 best websites for ESL teachers.)

    To summarize:

    The domains of language acquisition: Speaking, writing, reading and listening need to be equally exercised across content areas with every lesson. Assuring that students are using them all to support their English language development, is essential.

    Create Classroom Routines

    Students need to understand how your classes are generally run. How are they structured, what are some general activities that you use – What is expected of them?

    Start class with some questions for individuals. Do roll call. Have a set way of teaching and activities that students can rely on. Explain grammar in a similar way. End class with a team game to review.

    Once you’ve ingrained the structure of your lessons with your class – They can better adjust and focus on learning.

    Teachers are constantly looking for more activities and ideas for class, which is great – you want to find the most suitable activities that students will enjoy, but – you don’t have to find a new chant, or activity or classroom game to do for every class. Instead, find the best 4 or 5, then rotate through them every couple of lessons. Do this because students love repetition, especially doing things they understand, but you don’t want them to become bored with repeating boring activities.

    Also, even if students are really into a game or activity, don’t let it carry on for too long as they will grow bored and get off task. Also, they will be left thinking that the activity has grown boring. Rather end it a bit early, with them begging for more. Then, a few classes later, when you do the activity again, they will love repeating it.

    Use the benefit of Repetition

    Repetition equals retention. For many language learners (and their teachers), repetition is highly valued, whether it be repeating vocabulary, grammar conjugations, sounds or phrases.  It is so ingrained in many people’s thoughts on education, that they find it hard to see language learning without this practice as a core part of it.

    How to use repetition:

    So repeat the pronunciation of tricky words, for example: “The monarchy is when a queen is in charge – monarchy.” (Note the repetition of the difficult word. Ask them about kings and queens and explain the word, synonyms, etc.)

    Repeat instructions, for example: “I want you to sit with your friend, write down five questions and answers about your weekend.” “Write down five questions and answers about your weekend.”

    Correct students without embarrassing them. When a student makes an error – a softer way to fix it is to simply repeat their sentence correctly, or ask another student how they would say the sentence. For example: “She is playing computer every day. She plays computer every day.”

    Repetition also supports comprehension, so don’t be shy to repeat things often in your classes. For example, “Remember, for singular nouns, add an “s” to the verb. Johnny, what did I just say?” Singular verbs – like? He, she, the boy, the class studies, eats – we have to add the ‘s’.”

    Also, drilling sentences can be monotonous, but it is an efficient way of teaching. It’s almost like reciting tables in math. Get students to chant specific grammar to practice sentence structure. For example, “I would like to leave, she would live to go, the class would like to play a game.”

    Students also need to review what they have learned. Look back on previous classes and see how much they can recall. It will increase their confidence because it proves that they have learned something.

    Some teachers like to review what they did in the previous class to remind their students, some do so each month and others before important tests.

    The group review method:

    What I like to do, is to split the class into groups. Each group has to review some work. For example, if we have three groups, Group 1 will review unit 1, Group 2 do unit 2, and Group 3 must review unit 3. I instruct them to focus on important vocabulary, good expressions and useful grammar in their unit. I give them 5 – 10 minutes to do that.

    Then, create new groups. Place one student from each into a new group – in this way each unit is covered. Next, each student becomes a teacher of that unit, they have to explain that to the rest of the group members.

    Set a Positive Classroom Atmosphere

    Students need a safe and supportive learning environment, especially when learning a foreign language.

    As their teacher, it’s your responsibility to create a positive climate in which they can learn, practice and flourish without fear. While you’ll need to draw attention to certain language errors, you can’t be too critical or judgmental. Under no circumstances should you have a sarcastic, pompous, or discouraging tone!

    A positive classroom environment is one in which students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, taking risks, asking questions, and confronting challenges in their learning. An educator can create this type of environment by presenting clear classroom expectations, providing opportunities to improve social skills, building relationships with their students and offering relevant content.

    In this type of classroom setting, students feel as though educators value their input. From here, students can become more active participants in the learning process, which makes for a more productive learning environment.

    Ways to set a positive tone in class:

    • Build rapport by greeting students by name and taking time to interact with each student individually.
    • I like to ask students questions about their lives when they enter class. That gets them to open up, shows them that I care and it breaks the ice as they start using L2 (speaking English) sooner rather than later.
    • For example: “Hi, how are you today? What did you do yesterday? Anything special happening this week?”
    • Have high but realistic academic expectations for all students.
    • Establish clear and consistent behavioral expectations.
    • Encourage collaboration because it can lead to more engaging classes.
    • Establish a routine. Children thrive on having a dependable daily routine in some aspects of their lives. Knowing what to expect when they walk into your classroom can create a sense of normalcy for students.
    • Set clear rules and expectations by providing guidelines such as classroom rules and expectations. It is an important way to let students know what behavior is acceptable.
    • Reframe mistakes as learning opportunities. Mistakes are ‘teachable moments’ and can help students learn how to cope with future mistakes and failures, and feel more comfortable taking risks.
    • Use humor. Humor helps students feel comfortable and at ease in the classroom. However, make sure you keep the mood positive and avoid sarcasm.
    • Help students access the support they need. Students should feel free to ask you questions about the content or activities.

    To summarize:

    A positive classroom environment is one where students are able to express their feelings. Encourage students to let you know if they or their peers are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Help them learn to ask for what they need.

    How to Give Students Feedback

    As a teacher, you have to correct mistakes; this is your responsibility, otherwise, your students may not improve their accuracy, or fluency. But we usually want our students to feel safe in our classes so we don’t overcorrect everything they say.

    Golden rules regarding feedback:

    Prioritize the mistakes and correct the most important issues; identify patterns in their mistakes and be realistic.

    Not every single error has to be corrected; students may feel estranged and unwilling to contribute more to a lesson if you stop them every time they make a mistake. Instead, we have to prioritize what is important and guide them to fluency. So, in the case of accuracy, we can explain and fix errors immediately.

    For example:

    Me: “How are you, Sarah?” Sarah: I’m fine anyou?” Me: “Good, but we have to say “and you.” In Korean they write “and you” as “an you,” but I want you to say “and you,” okay?”

    When the focus is on fluency, we can wait till later to help them. Let students complete speaking, then find an unobtrusive moment to correct their error.

    One way of doing it is to take notes about the mistakes your students often make while performing in class, then give general feedback to everyone without giving names.

    How to give positive feedback?

    I like to use what is called the Feedback Sandwich – First, praise them for something they did well, then give them corrective feedback and end with another kind word to keep them motivated.

    For example: “Thank you, David – I enjoyed your passion for the topic. But remember, I want an introduction where you introduce yourself, and a call-to-action at the end. But, I really enjoyed the funny pictures you chose for the presentation.”

    Regularly check Comprehension:

    Regularly check that your students understand the lesson.

    When teachers regularly check for understanding in the classroom, students become increasingly aware of monitoring their own understanding, which serves as a model of good study skills. It also helps ensure that students are learning, thinking, understanding, comprehending, and processing at higher levels.

    Don’t simply ask, “Are there any questions?” This is not an effective way to gauge what all your students are thinking. Waiting until the end of class to see what people know is not going to provide timely feedback. Also, don’t assume that students understand because they smile and nod their heads—sometimes they don’t want to be embarrassed.

    Ask meaningful questions to individual students to check their understanding.

    For example: “John – What’s the time right now?” “Jenny – Jenny what time do you eat lunch?” “You don’t know? James, help her out. What time is lunch?”

    Taking a moment in class to question students will not only help you see how much they understand, it gives them a chance to show of what they’ve learned and places you in the role of leader – The one asking questions.

    Being an ESL teacher is all about being mindful – Mindful of our students, mindful of what they want to achieve in class and mindful of our role as facilitator to access that knowledge and skills.

    Watch this video for 10 tips for new teachers:

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