Friends, family and coworkers are good at psyching us out.
Everyone and their mother has an opinion about teaching students English properly.
Are you about to start your career as an ESL teacher? Have you just begun working as an educator? Or are you an experienced teacher looking to reevaluate your teaching strategies? Any one of these situations can feel pretty daunting.
Well, don’t feel discouraged by what other colleagues might have told you about the problems that arise while teaching difficult classes.
Yes, they’ve probably got a point about the difficulties that you’ll undoubtedly face during your career, but this doesn’t mean you can’t overcome them. You just need to be creative, well-prepared and resourceful.
To get there, you’ll need to follow some tips based on real-world ESL teaching experiences. The following pieces of advice come from educators who have gained knowledge and experience through difficulties, errors and successes.
10 ESL Teaching Tips for Getting Your Students in the Learning Zone
1. Learn Your Roles and Duties
Teaching ESL can make for a demanding career. You have to learn your duties, responsibilities and everyday chores. If you’re unsure, speak to the director of the school or language institute you work at. Consult with the more experienced teachers who are working there. Get to know the premises, the equipment and the materials you’re expected to use.
Talk to colleagues, read relevant websites and visit teacher forums or blogs so that possible questions you have about your role can all be answered.
2. Follow the 3 P’s
The 3 p’s are: plan ahead, prepare, practice.
You need to plan ahead and write a lesson plan before every lesson. Take into account your students, the available time and the material and resources you have at your disposal.
You should remember that the more detailed your lesson plan, the more effective and less stressed out you’ll feel. In other words, the key to a stress-free teaching experience is to figure out your warm-up, presentation and production activities before class. What about the follow-up activities that you’ll assign?
Your teaching practice will be safeguarded and more effective if you plan and prepare carefully. Once you’ve gotten all that sorted out, take the time to rehearse parts of your lesson. Practice by doing a quick read-through of major talking points and estimating how long it’ll take your students to understand, absorb and complete certain lessons and activities. Time yourself. This will ensure that your classes never run short or long.
3. Be Realistic but Ambitious
You always want to be ambitious and get your students to learn even more information. You want challenge them and really push them to do their absolute best.
However, you’ll need to strike a careful balance here. Get to know your learners and their ages, backgrounds, skills, English levels and learning styles. From there, try to be realistic. What kinds of activities, tasks and learning goals can you set for them so that their language skills are significantly strengthened?
These learning goals need to be both ambitious and realistic. Always set high goals for them so that they’ll gain more knowledge and self-confidence. By setting high goals that are still realistically within their reach, you’ll set them up for sure success. This taste of progress will motivate them to learn even more.
4. Motivate Your Learners
Knowing how to really motivate your students is undeniably important for a good classroom experience. Learning anything new, let alone learning something as complex as a foreign language, is a process which demands serious time and effort.
No matter the age of your students (young children, teenagers, young adults or adults), motivation is key to success.
You’ll have to tap into their needs and desires. Why do they want to learn English? Do they need to communicate for job purposes or do they want to enroll in universities in English-speaking countries? Do they need to sit for exams to earn certificates?
They might be too young to know their extrinsic motives and, in this case, learning games will be essential for teaching them English. Winning games gives them rewards for their learning, which gives them a tangible reason to keep learning.
All these details are important to take into consideration before you start planning your lessons. If you don’t focus your English lessons on something that really matter to them, then it might be hard to keep motivation levels up.
5. Create a Supportive Learning Climate
Students need a safe and supportive learning environment, especially when they’re learning a foreign language.
Practicing a language out loud might expose their weaknesses to their peers and teachers. This might make them hesitate to speak in front of everyone and really hone their language skills.
As their teacher, it’s your responsibility to create a supportive 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 an ironic or discouraging tone!
For effective language learning to take place, students need to feel secure and encouraged to go further.
6. Improve Your Classroom Management Techniques
Time management and classroom management. Surely, you’re familiar with these two basic notions.
But how are they accomplished in an ESL environment?
It’s important to manage your classes and deal with possible problems of naughtiness or lack of discipline. However, remember that students who are interested in the lesson probably won’t be causing any real problems.
The more challenging, engaging and fun your lessons are, the fewer discipline problems you’re going to face. For this reason, remember to actively include all your learners in the lessons and, of course, take their various learning styles into consideration.
For instance, your kinesthetic learners will tend to get bored and restless easily if asked to stay in the same place all the time. If your problem students are high-energy fidgeters who want to run around all the time, add some physical games to your lesson plan to channel that energy towards learning.
7. Use Your Imagination, Creativity and Instincts
Okay, you’ve prepared your lesson plan but the tasks you’ve designed seem a little stiff, inappropriate and unimaginative for your learners’ level or needs. Perhaps they seem too basic or too cliché. This is all too common.
What can you do at this point? Well, redesign!
Why not follow a more creative path instead of following the traditional path? Conventional teaching methodology will be well within your comfort zone, but it can be rather unchallenging for your students. Shake things up!
This can actually be applied to any language skill (listening, speaking, writing or reading). Shake up your lesson, get multimedia materials involved, talk about popular culture that everyone loves, let students express themselves and play with language. Your students will have fun but also benefit from the experience as well.
8. Be Authentic
Twenty or thirty years ago, ESL teachers didn’t have the multitude and range of resources and materials that we have today. Technology has undeniably assisted us in this area. At the click of a button or the tap of a touchscreen, we can explore thousands of textbooks, worksheets, lesson plans, games, activities and PowerPoint presentations. We can share our most successful materials with one another, expanding the reach of our knowledge and building upon each other’s experiences.
However, the great number of available resources and material can confuse and disorient us. What should we choose and how do we know when the given material or resource is appropriate for our learners?
Do your research, visit trusted sites, talk to other colleagues and come up with the best material and resources that you feel will fit your learners in the best possible way. Oh, and you can always check out what we post here at FluentU. Our blogs are filled with hand-picked resource recommendations from across the internet.
Don’t forget that you’re teaching a foreign language that, in most cases, isn’t spoken as a first language in your learners’ communities or households. As a result, you’ll need to include authentic material that will familiarize your students with the language they are taught.
Nowadays, we ESL educators definitely can’t complain about struggling to find authentic material. The Internet has given us thousands of convenient solutions to this problem. We can dive into websites, videos, films, song lyrics, online magazines, video games or even social media.
The FluentU language learning program is loaded with its own collection of authentic English video content.
If you’re looking for creative ways to teach English, then you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language-learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.
You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about language learning.
9. Familiarize Your Students with Rules and Expectations
Okay. You’re ready to enter the classroom with your lesson plans and materials in hand. What about the students and their own understanding of what it means to be in this class?
They need to follow the rules. But first that means that you need to establish hard and fast classroom rules. This is how they’ll come to realize what’s expected of them while being there. Always be clear and explain rules and expectations on the first day of class. Reinforce these rules and expectations when students fall out of line. Assign a different student each day to be your “helper” or “police officer,” who’ll keep an eye on their classmates and encourage positive behaviors and attitudes.
Depending on the cultural background where your students come from, this solutions to this matter might be as diverse as your students themselves. Consider how parents and other teachers typically manage children in the local culture. Add your own influences and change things up as you see fit, but some familiar elements from their parents’ management styles might help students better understand the pecking order in class.
10. Always Assess Your Teaching Sessions
The lesson has been planned and executed successfully, but has it been assessed?
Have you evaluated if your teaching goals were put into practice and effectively met? Have you thought of the way(s) you can assess if your lessons have been effective?
Should everything be about testing your students or should you also think about your own teaching performance and the possible errors you made that must be addressed and solved next time?
Action research, for example, is a method followed by educators worldwide to self-evaluate their performance and improve in possible problem areas.
As ESL educators we need to remember that the more research we do, and the more knowledgeable and resourceful we become, the more effective our lessons will ultimately be.
Don’t forget to PPPA: Prepare, Plan, Practice and Assess your lesson.
Oh, and don’t worry. Just be the imaginative, enthusiastic and happy ESL educator that you always thought you’d be!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.