Classroom Teaching Tips
It’s totally normal to be nervous in front of a classroom, even if there is another teacher up there with you. Take a deep breath and focus on connecting with your students and the content you have planned. The students are likely nervous, too! Remember that you are the native English speaker, so you have the knowledge to help them with their conversational English. Below are some teaching and classroom management tips to help you succeed.
Have a Plan
Presenting an engaging and effective activity/lesson requires preparation. It’s important to create objectives for each lesson/activity, so that you know what you want to accomplish, present activities with purpose, and so that you can measure whether or not students have achieved your goal for that class. In addition, having a plan will help you feel more confident in front of your students.
A general structure for lessons should entail the following elements:
Warm-up: Start with an engaging activity or hook to capture your students’ attention and get them excited. It could be related to the main lesson or a routine/fun activity you do at the beginning of each class. Or it could be a short game to review the previous lesson’s content.
Introduction: Explain the objective of today’s lesson and introduce the content and language (topics, key vocabulary and phrases, and/or grammar structure).
Guided Practice: Students begin to work with the language/content. It’s important to model (demonstrate) for the class how the activity should be performed so students know what they are required to do. This could include going over the first question or part of the activity together as a class. Ask comprehension questions to ensure students understand what is being asked of them. Some students don’t want to reveal when they are lost and will nod or say “yes” when you ask “Do you understand?” That’s why it’s important not to ask “yes/no” questions. Instead, ask “What is the first step?” and “What do you do next?”
Production: Students independently work with the language/content. This can be a new activity or a continuation of the activity previously started in which you modeled the first question or part of the assignment. You are still there to support students and answer questions.
Assessment: Students demonstrate that they’ve mastered the objective for today’s lesson. This could entail performing a role-play, in which they correctly use the key vocabulary/phrases of the lesson. Or it could simply be answering questions using the correct vocabulary/phrases/grammar structure; it does not have to be a formal assessment such as a quiz or test.
Wrap-Up: Ask students if they have questions about today’s lesson, play a review game, and/or give a preview of the objective(s) for the next lesson.
* Note: The Introduction and Guided Practice sections don’t have to be exclusive; it’s important, though, that the teacher guide students when first practicing new content. In addition, the Production and Assessment phases of a lesson don’t have to be separate either. Observing students while working independently or while working in pairs or groups can help you assess whether or not they’re mastering the objective(s).
Modifying Lessons to Suit Level:
Lessons for beginners can be revised to accommodate more advanced students by increasing the amount of vocabulary and complexity of expressions and activities. Likewise, lessons for intermediate to advanced students can be modified for beginners by decreasing the amount of vocabulary and simplifying expressions and activities. If you have a mix of levels in one class, you can group more advanced students together at times to work on a more challenging task.
Modifying Lessons to Suit Age:
Young learners have short attention spans, so including a variety of activities (especially ones with movement) is important to keep them engaged. Singing and chanting are popular teaching methods with little ones as they’re fun ways to incorporate learning. With young adults and adults, introduce more mature content into lessons to keep them engaged.
Strategies to Ensure Students Comprehend
This term simply means that you provide support to students so they can achieve the learning objective(s) of your activities/lessons. Examples of scaffolding include:
Reviewing vocabulary terms students will encounter in the lesson activities and ensuring they understand the terms before they start the activities.
Asking students about the topic they will encounter in the lesson before beginning the activities. For example, if the lesson objective is for students to be able to book a flight or train ticket in English, you can start the lesson by showing pictures of airports and train stations and asking students about travel and trips.
Modeling (which just means demonstrating) how to perform the activity or game before students start. You can do this with the main teacher or with a student. This is a way to show students what is expected of them.
Asking Open-Ended Comprehension Questions
After introducing the activity, ask students: “What will you do first?”
Don’t ask: “Do you understand?”
If you simply ask students if they understand, you will invariably receive nods from some students who do not actually understand, but who are embarrassed to admit it.
Each school will have different resources. You may have access to technology and be able to use PowerPoint and/or a SMART Board, or you may not have a computer in your classroom. Some schools have a budget for supplies and you might be able to request items. Don’t worry if you don’t have the latest technology or any at all; you can do a lot without it—just be creative!
What do I do the first day/week of class?
Icebreaker lessons are a great way to get to know your students and help them feel comfortable. Many students might feel shy with a new teacher and using English. Icebreakers allow students to get to know each other, you, and help to create an inviting atmosphere. This is also the best time to gauge students’ English level so that you devise appropriate lessons. We’ve created a guide for your first day and your first week to help you out.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you’re a teaching assistant, don’t be shy about asking the teacher you’re assisting for advice and tips. They have years of teaching experience and this is meant to be a collaborative experience. If you’re the main teacher, bounce ideas off of your school coordinator or fellow teachers. There are also many ESL forums online where you can seek advice.
Utilize Existing ESL Resources
There is a ton of free ESL content available online—full lesson plans, activity ideas, and more. If you need help planning a lesson around a specific topic, check out InterExchange’s Online ESL Resources Guide to pinpoint which site might be most helpful. Many sites organize content by topic and level.
Classroom Management Tips
Provide clear and specific instructions and ask comprehension questions about your instructions. Many times students are talking instead of working because they don’t know what they’re supposed to do. Simply asking, “Do you understand?” will garner automatic nods and/or blank stares. A better strategy is to ask questions such as “What is the first thing you’re going to do?” and “Then what?” These questions require students to state the instructions. If they can’t answer these questions, they don’t understand and you’ll need to try again.
Create classroom rules early on and post them on the classroom wall, so there is no confusion. In addition, give students a stake in the rules by asking for their input. Rules don’t have to be boring! For example, you can create a rule that any student that is late to class has to dance for 30 seconds.
Be consistent and fair. Treat each student the same and enforce the rules you’ve set. This will engender trust and respect.
Get to know your students. If you can incorporate their interests/likes into lessons, you’ll help keep them engaged.
Don’t shout. The kids will know they’ve gotten to you and you’ll wreck your nerves. If you refuse to speak until everyone is quiet, you’ll find this often gets students’ attention and they will often shush each other.
Promising candy/goodies is a dead end. It will become expensive and students will learn that acting respectful warrants a prize, when this behavior shouldn’t be a means to a sugary end. You may want to implement a reward structure that entails a game or film (in English) at the end of the week or semester—something students will enjoy while continuing to learn. Of course, giving treats every once in awhile is fine; you just want to avoid creating a routine.
Gratitude instead of praise: Thank students for respectful behavior, but try to avoid praising students for simply following directions or behaving well. Provide specific feedback instead of just saying “Good job!” Concrete feedback shows sincerity and provides students with something tangible to learn from. Likewise, labeling a student as “bad” because s/he didn’t follow instructions or behaved disrespectfully can negatively affect the student’s self-esteem. Instead, provide constructive feedback to guide the student in a positive direction.
Walk around. This tends to keep students on their toes.
Split 'em up. Sometimes you will have just a handful of disruptive students. One strategy is to pair them up with calmer students who often behave respectfully. Without their boisterous pals, disruptive students tend to fall in line, or at least will be encouraged to do so from their new partner. Just don’t do this too much, as both students might feel as if they are being punished.
First Week Guide
The first week is all about getting to know your students, setting expectations and routines, and assessing your students’ language levels. The first day should be filled with ice breakers. On the following days, you should continue to get to know your students as well as set expectations and establish routines. By setting rules and creating routines early on, you’ll effectively help manage the classroom.
Setting Expectations/Classroom Rules
If you’re a teaching assistant, talk to the main teacher your assisting about his/her classroom rules and ones that you’d like to introduce. If you’re the main teacher, talk to your school coordinator about typical classroom rules and ones you’d like to introduce.
Establishing classroom rules helps you manage the class and helps students understand what is expected of them. It’s a good idea to involve students in the rulemaking. If students have some ownership in the process, they are more likely to follow the rules. Ask for their suggestions and make some of them fun! Write the classroom rules on a poster board or large sheet of paper that you can tack to the wall.
Examples of classroom rules:
- Listen to your classmates
- Raise your hand to speak
- Clapping my hands signifies to pay attention (establishing a gesture or sound that cues students to pay attention is a good idea, especially with young students)
- If you’re late to class you have to dance for 10 seconds
Establish a Class Routine
It’s a good idea to establish a class routine so that students automatically get to work on an English-language activity and so they know what’s expected of them everyday in your class.
- Start each class by asking a “Question of the Day” (write it on the board and give students a few minutes to think about their answer. Then go around the room to get each student’s answer).
- Start each class by singing a song in English in which the kids get out of their seats (best for young learners)
Why Learn English?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some students may not have any interest in learning English and/or don’t realize the value. Did you love every subject in school? Chances are you didn’t. Talking to students about how they might use English and relating it to their lives, is a good way to help them recognize the value of language learning.
Examples of real-world language application:
Travel Many students are likely interested in traveling in the future and showing them cool places to visit in English-language countries and how they might use English when traveling is one way to show them how they can apply what they learn in your class. You might show pictures of Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa and ask students if they’d like to visit these places. You can also show a world map and ask students to name the countries in which English is the official language.
Careers English is a global language and it can open many doors to different careers. Ask students what they’d like to do once they are finished with school. Introduce them to different careers in which English language skills are an asset.
Making New Friends The ability to communicate in another language opens the doors to connecting with people from other cultures.
The first week is a good time to assess your students’ English levels. Assessment doesn’t have to be formal like a test. It can be informal, such as observing your students responses to learn their vocabulary range, listening comprehension skills, pronunciation, and fluency.
It’s common to have multiple levels within one class. Some students may have been exposed to English earlier or have a parent at home who speaks English. Also, some students may understand more English when they listen than when they read. Some students may understand more than they can speak and vice versa. By engaging students in different activities that focus on different skills (i.e., listening, speaking), you can learn their strengths and areas where they need improvement.
Any activity you do is an opportunity to assess, but here are some specific examples:
Hold mini-interviews with each student while the rest of the class is working on an activity. Ask them questions about themselves. You can gauge their vocabulary range, listening comprehension, and fluency. Write notes to keep track of a student’s level.
Say a word and ask the student to act out the word. This is a way to gauge listening comprehension and vocabulary.
Drawing What They Hear
Say a word and instruct students to draw a picture of the word. This is a way to gauge listening comprehension and vocabulary.
Hand out worksheets in which students must write their name and hand them in (so you can keep them). The complexity of their sentences and the variety of vocabulary are indicators of English level.
If you’re able to jot down observations of specific students while they’re completing an activity, that’s an excellent way to keep track of a student’s skill level.
Continue to Get to Know Your Students
Getting to know your students as much as possible this first week will help you when planning future lessons/activities. If you know some of their interests, you can incorporate them into lessons to engage them in the material.
A great way to keep track of students’ interests (especially if you have many classes) is to have them complete a worksheet in which they note likes and dislikes and which you collect.
To help you learn names, have students create nametags, which they’ll keep on their desks facing you. They can draw art on them and you’ll collect them at the end of each class and pass them out at the beginning (this way you start putting faces to names).
Think about what worked well and what didn’t. That way you can improve for next week. It’s totally normal for one lesson to work well with one class, but not so well with another. Modifying lessons is common for teachers, no matter the subject. A lot of teaching is trial and error, as different students will respond differently to your methods. Remember, this is meant to be a learning experience for you, too, and each day your confidence will increase.
Use the InterExchange Reflection Activities to help you keep track of your progress.