6 Ways to be a Fun and Effective ESL Teacher
Being faced with a group of learners of any age can be a daunting task. Knowing that you've not only got to hold their attention for the next 60, 90 or 120 minutes, but that you also have to enable them to learn, retain and have practical opportunities to practice what they've learnt can be disheartening.
When you're an ESL teacher (teaching English as a Second Language), this task becomes even harder as you will have to do all of this with people who think, reason and speak in another language entirely.
But before you toss your TEFL books in the air and search for the nearest exit, fret not, for I bring hope!
This article offers 6 ways you can enhance your learner's experiences while thoroughly enjoying your work at the same time.
Just Be Yourself
1. Show your students the real you
It's okay to laugh within your workshop or classroom, as long as you're not laughing at your students, obviously, although sometimes this can be difficult because they may say a lot of funny things.
It's also okay for them to notice that you've made a mistake and can laugh at yourself. You'll gain their respect not by being perfect but by being authentic.
If you're a naturally humourous person, incorporate that into your teaching. Through many, many years of teaching a variety of ages a variety of subjects and leading workshops in both formal and informal settings I've found that students learn more and have a higher rate of return when they feel good about their environment and when they bond with each other. For me that means plenty of laughter wrapped up in a safe and supportive atmosphere.
Be a person, not just the teacher. Use your voice to show inflections which can't be taught from reading a book and are often missed when listening to recordings. Use your face to convey emotion. Use your body to express non-verbal language.
These subtleties are often missing when being taught a foreign language so give your students a step-up in their quest to sound like 'native speakers.'
Bring on the love
2. Care about your learners
Should be obvious, right? But it often gets overlooked.
Teachers can get so bogged down with administration, rules, requirements, inspections and contracts that the students almost end up coming second or maybe third or fourth. Even though without them, who would we teach?
As an ESL teacher you can show your concern by expressing an interest in their lives outside of the classroom.
Every few weeks my students and I go to watch an English movie, afterwards they love to take me to a new Chinese restaurant to try yet another new Chinese food. During these times they talk about their families, their home lives and their future hopes and dreams and ask me about mine.
They're also practicing their English in a normal, everyday environment which is great preparation for when they leave to live, work and study abroad.
In addition, remember to encourage and support your learners in different ways. When they do well in other areas praise them. If they come to you with personal problems, be a listening ear, a counsellor or a mentor.
So, about being caring. One more thing...
The demand for English teachers in China is huge and showing no signs of diminishing with teachers being hired all year round. Conequently with such an availability of work some western teachers feel that it’s okay to take a casual approach in their demeanour, their attitude and their dress.
I’ve met foreign teachers here who stand in front of a class looking like they’ve just gotten out of a bed which they’ve been sleeping in for a month. No kidding.
I wish that they wouldn’t. It’s disrespectful to both your employer and your students. Besides, would you want someone who looked like that teaching your children?
Chinese students of all ages are generally well-dressed and well-mannered (of course there are exceptions, but you get my point), so let’s return the favour and ensure that they too have someone well-turned out to look at.
Have an Active Class
3. Use music, visual aids and role play
Not just for children or teenagers (although teenagers do probably love this the most), I've also used physical response activities in my Business English evening classes with adult leaners.
You can devise any activity which gets them talking and moving, often at the same time depending on the space you have available.
Be flexible. If the tables and chairs aren't nailed to the floor, then move them to the sides of the room. If the whiteboard has wheels then roll it out of the way and bring it back later. Aim to create a workable space where people can get out from behind their desks and stand or sit in the middle.
Change the pace, tone and atmosphere with music or visual aids. Add some other energy to the room apart from your voice. It doesn't even have to be lively either, it could easily be a calm activity.
Your aim is to shake up the script and give your students new, unexpected ways to practise and improve their speaking. An added plus is that it breaks up established cliques and gets the students circulating among each other.
4. Incorporate student's own interests
One of my favourite classes is where I give each student a 3-5 minute platform to talk about their favourite active hobby, demonstrate it (usually without props!) and then teach the rest of the class how to do it in a few baby steps.
Students have demonstrated fencing strokes, swimming, how to create art, how to score a goal, how to do a Judo throw, how to wash your face properly to avoid getting spots and many other wonderful things.
The class is a lot of fun and even though students may initially express feelings of being nervous, or perhaps take a while to think of an active hobby, as opposed to a passive one such as reading or playing computer games, they're always glad that they tried and feel that their confidence level is increasing.
It's a good way for the students to learn about each other without having to ask the standard dry and boring interview type questions and you get an opportunity to listen keenly without participating in order to make a good assessment of each learner.
Give students a chance to talk with each other
5. Stay on top of trends
Although you might be teaching the same topic, there's always room for variety and newness within that samge generality if you're open to it.
- Search online to see what exercises and activities other ESL teachers are using which get results.
- Re-visit activities that you haven't done for a while and adjust or adapt them where necessary.
- Check lesson plans of other teachers (perhaps also online) and see what you can incorporate into your own sessions.
- Remember to share your good ideas too.
Read widely and keep abreast of what is happening in your field and how you can adapt trends to the benefit of your students.
Allow students to be creative
6. Go home tired
I mean in a positively charged sense and with a feeling of really having helped someone not only because you talked but because you also actively listened to what your students were saying and how they related to your material, even if it took you off your lesson plan.
There's an old maxim I heard a while back that said the speech heard in the classroom should be 30% teacher and 70% students. I think this rings especially true in an ESL environment where speaking English fluently is the main goal of all learners.
You may not accomplish this goal in the time your students have with you. Learning another language well is usually something undertaken over many years, but you can still get the immense satisfaction from seeing your students grow in confidence and speaking skills whilst understanding the idioms and culture of the western countries they're planning to travel to
So, to sum up;
Teaching English as a Foreign Language can be fun or it can go the other way. The classroom is your domain so it's really up to you.
I prefer the fun route as you've probably gathered by now. I deliberately utilise activities which enable my learners to have fun, bond with each other and speak English almost without realising it. I believe this takes away the nerves of having to organise your thoughts and then recite things in another language in a room full of strangers.
Having said that I also incorporate more serious debates frequently, especially with advanced learners who want something to get their teeth into. As I mentioned before, it's good to prepare a wide range of activities to accomodate different levels and different learning styles.
In a nutshell; If time flies by for both you and your students and the lesson is over before you know it and, if they're coming back smiling and eager for more then rest assured you're definitely doing something right!