Teaching English as a foreign language is a highly rewarding and fun experience. Whether you’re working with young learners, teenagers or adults, you get the unique opportunity to embrace new cultures, meet new people and broaden your horizons. But like any job, it has its challenges and you only get better with experience.
We’ve compiled a quick list to help you avoid the pitfalls that new teachers sometimes find themselves falling into:
This is something you can do before the students have even entered the room and makes a huge difference with classroom management. Think about how the desks in your room are laid out. You want to be able to move around easily so you can monitor students. A horse shoe shape is the classic layout in TEFL classrooms and it also makes getting the students up on their feet a lot easier for that fun mingle activity you’ve been planning.
Plan, plan and plan some more
This is will get easier with experience but you don’t want to be caught out in class with too few activities planned. The more you get to know your classes, the more easily you’ll be able to judge how quickly they get through exercises. Always have a couple of fast finishers tasks up your sleeve and a filler or two to kill those last extra minutes at the end of class. You can also do this by using the time to set homework or revise what you taught from the previous lesson.
Communication is not always verbal
You’ll soon come to realise that you can communicate a lot without using words. Pictures, gestures, body language and facial expressions are key to getting across meaning, especially with young learners. Many a time a teacher has been saved by having a Google Images tab open on their computer! The more you can get accustomed to this way of conveying information, the better equipped you’ll be in class.
Watch your TTT
Teacher Talking Time or TTT is a classic area of improvement for most new teachers. Too much TTT basically means that you stand in front of the class and explain EVERYTHING. Why is this bad? Lack of self-guided discovery and interactive activities in class not only means that the students won’t be absorbing what you say, but also that they will probably be very bored! We learn faster when we use language – even when we’re making mistakes. So always try to elicit from students as much as you can rather than taking the chance away but explaining every little thing.
Grade your language
Grading your language basically means adjusting the way you speak so that your students can understand you. You wouldn’t speak to a student from an advanced level class the same way you would to a child in kindergarten or a beginners class so it’s crucial that you manage the language you use. This doesn’t just mean the complexity of sentences or vocabulary, it also goes for the speed in which you speak and your accent. That’s right – if you naturally have quite a thick accent, you’ll need to try to tone it down a little. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to change your accent completely! Just try to enunciate clearly so your students can understand. The English language is tricky and most of our words already look different to how they’re pronounced so any extra help you can give them is key!
Establish rules – and stick to them!
This is particularly important for young learners and teenagers. Everyone wants to be the friendly, nurturing, well loved teacher. But your job is to ensure that your students are learning so it’s important for you to get your classroom management skills down. There’s no point playing lots games and having fun if your students leave the classroom no better off than when they entered it. On your very first day, establish some simple ground rules so the students know the boundaries. Simple rules such as ‘Only speak English’, ‘Raise your hand to speak’ or ‘Listen when someone else is speaking’ go a long way. The second part to this is that you have to stick to them! If you make rules but don’t enforce them, it will soon become clear that they don’t hold weight and if you’re teaching large classes, things can quickly descend into anarchy. For more tips in how manage young learners, read our blog here:
Be clear and do your ICQs
Clear instructions are key. Which is easier to understand? “Okay class, we’re going to do a really fun and exciting activity to I’m going to need you all to stand up now, okay?” or simply “Please stand up”? When you’re in the middle of a lesson, it’s easy to get flustered and use more words as a way to buy time. Just stick to your plan and think about it from the student’s perspective. The less words you use, the more likely it is that they can follow your instructions.
Don’t forget the all important Information Checking Questions (ICQs). These are questions you ask the class to make sure they’ve understood the task that they’ve been asked to do. For example, you give them a sheet with some questions but first you want them to read through the questions and discuss ideas with their partner. You don’t want them to write on the page yet until you’ve done feedback as a class. You hand out the sheets and check the time to make sure you’re on track. When you look back at the class, everyone is writing on the sheet! This is because you didn’t do your ICQs. In this situation, all you need to do is give the class the instruction and then ask “Are you going to write on the sheet now or discuss the answers with your partner?”. Depending on the response, you’ll know if they’ve understood the task.
Never ask ‘Do you understand?’
This puts students on the spot and weaker or shier students may not feel comfortable to be honest.This is particularly true for Chinese students as the education system is geared less towards independent learning. So how can you know if your class understand the lexis or grammatical structure you’re teaching them? Concept Checking Questions (CCQs) are a must. This is where you ask a question which has an answer that the student will only know if they understand the concept of the vocabulary or grammar. For example, you are teaching the future continuous. You write “I am going to the doctors at 2pm” on the board. Here are some CCQs with answers:
“Where am I going?” – to the doctors.
“Am I talking about something I did yesterday?” – no
“Am I talking about something I’m doing now?” – no
“Am I at the doctors now?” – no.
“Am I talking about a plan or an arrangement?” – an arrangement because you have an appointment at 2pm.
If they answer any of the questions incorrectly, you’ll know that they haven’t understood. This way, you can go back and reteach any words or grammatical points. It may seem a little patronising at first but just remember that a lot of these concept will be new to students so it’s important to check.
These are just a few of the tips and tricks you can pick up to avoid the classic TEFL teacher pitfalls. Take it a step further and enroll in our government authorised, internationally recognised TEFL China course which allows you to teach in any province in the country!