18 Things Which Will Make You A Better ESL Teacher
(Number 4 will surprise you)
1. Get To Know Your Student
This is especially important for when you have a weaker or more shy student who doesn't like to talk in class. Yep, we all know that silent classes make for slow classes.
Find out a little bit about what your student likes and dislikes and use these to start a conversation. You know, just like you would in real life.
Your student is a massive football fan? Find out who their favourite team/player is and mention that. They like to draw? Start a conversation about art or show them some pieces that they might like.
Students are much more likely to open up and talk (even in English) if they feel engaged in the topic of conversation... so do your research.
2. Call Them By Their Name
Just like in "real" life, it's important to use people's name when talking to them. If you have a Chinese student, make an effort to remember their name and use it regularly during your lessons. You can always use a pneumonic or a rhyming pattern in order to remember it when you first hear it.
During your first lesson, when you ask their name, make an effort to listen to how they say it. I know I know, it can sometimes be hard to catch what they say. Don't be embarrassed to ask them to repeat it slowly, sound it out or even write it down phonetically (you can always get their parent to do this if you have a young student!)
You can also give your student an English name if they are okay with it! Ask them first! Knowing your student's name is important not only to get their attention at times throughout the lesson but also to show them that you care!
3. Put Yourself in Your Student's Shoes
Ever listened to the news in Chinese? Had someone speak quickly to you in Spanish?
Some students learning English online have never heard it before. This is especially true with 4 and 5 year olds! They don't understand even the most basic of words.This is why it's so important to use TPR (Total Physical Response), mime and facial expressions when teaching!
Imagine how hard it is for total beginners to understand what you're saying if they don't have any context.
You don't have to imagine! Watch a video in a foreign language & see how slowly people must speak in order for you to hear the sounds they're making, remember them & repeat them back!
Remember this speed and use it when you are teaching English.
Use basic words with young beginners and leave out extra words that aren't necessary. They will only add confusion.
4. Learn some Chinese
Learn some words in your student's native language. This is not only useful for explaining tricky concepts during lessons, but it also shows that you are taking an interest in their country, their culture and most importantly - them!
Teachers who throw in a few words of Chinese in their introduction videos on Online Teaching Platforms are also more likely to get booked by parents and students!
If your students aren't from China, find out what language they speak and learn that! You don't have to be fluent - even knowing 10-20 words in your student's L1 will make a huge difference!
A good place to start is with numbers, greetings and food. Download an app like DuoLingo for free and learn on the go! 🤓
5. Sound out the Alphabet
~ A B C D E F G H I J K ELEMENO P ~
Always show your student both how it sounds (get them to repeat after you) as well as the position of the mouth, teeth, tongue, and lips while sounding out the letter. "Th", "r", and "l" are difficult letters for Chinese students.
So, instead of telling your student that the word alphabet ends in a t, tell them it ends in "teh".
6. Clap out the Syllables
Teaching pronunciation doesn't have to be boring! Help students to understand how a word sounds by getting them to clap out the syllables as they say the word.
Just like a clap back, but educational!
Go fast. Go slow. Make it into a game.
If you have 2 students in your class, get one of them to say the word and the other student to answer, and then switch.
Students get one point for the correct amount of claps & one point for correct pronunciation. Emphasise that the end of words should always be heard!
7. Embrace Chit-Chat
Not every single minute of your lesson needs to be accounted for - embrace chit chat and general conversation with students (especially older ones!) as this is a fantastic way for them to improve their spoken English.
It is also a good way to determine how much they are improving as they can't simply read off the slides or stick to pre rehearsed basic topics!
Plus it means less preparation time for you!
8. Exaggerate your Facial Expressions
Did you know that a shoe is an excellent prop? Only if you pull a funny face such as "oooh that is smelly" after sniffing it.
The more silly you are, the more fun both you and your student will have. You may feel embarrassed at first but kids love goofy teachers!
Talking about scary things with your students? Put your hands on your face and gasp. Extra points if you widen your eyes!
Discussing a vegetable you both hate? Scrunch up your face as if you're eating something sour and make the sound "yuck".
Get your student to copy your actions/emotions to make the lesson even more fun and interactive.
9. Stars are your Friends
When teaching English Online, it's important to create a reward system not only to reward students when they do something correctly, but also to motivate them to participate in class and to keep your lesson exciting!
During your lessons you can take them out from under your desk and stick them on the wall behind you when your student does something well!
Make a big deal out of each star - do a drumroll, count the number of stars on the wall, clap, cheer & jump up and down in your seat.) If you're excited, your students will be excited!
10. Play the Synonym Game
How many synonyms (different words with the same meaning) can you come up with? This is an excellent way to broaden your student's vocabulary.
Eg: Instead of small you could have.. little, tiny, petite, acute, quaint, etc...
If your students often use the same words or sentence structure over and over to describe things, such as "interesting" or "I can see...", then ban these from class temporarily and encourage them to use new words.
11. Always Ask Why
It's important as an online teacher to ask open ended questions. It may be easier to ask and get a response from a student when you ask a yes-no question, but if you want to challenge your students, always ask why.
A question such as "Do you like school?' is an easy conversation starter. Once your student answers, ask them to expand on their answer by asking why. This tests their vocabulary, their level of English and their ability to come up with words by themselves.
Students learn and progress so much more when they have to think of their own sentences - don't just get them to rote learn, read off the slides or constantly use the same sentence structure!
Lets go off script!
Challenge your students and set them up to use English in real life scenarios, and remember your student should be doing most of the talking - not you! Your job as an online teacher is to facilitate the conversation, ask questions and correct pronunciation!
12. Test their Understanding
If you really want to make sure that a student knows what they are learning (and that they aren't just repeating what you say or reading off the slides), then you have to ask questions which will test their understanding!
These questions can be as basic as "what colour is her coat?" for young learners.
13. Praise, Correct, Praise
When correcting a student, follow the simple method of Praise, Correct, Praise.
Point out something that they did right, tell them where they can improve and then congratulate them on how well they're doing!
Example: "Good job Tom, that was very well read. There was just one word that didn't sound right. The TH in BRO-TH-ER makes a "th" sound. Sound out th and show your student how to make the sound with their teeth and tongue. Very well done Tom! Your reading is improving so much every week!"
14. Don't Interrupt
If your student pronounces something incorrectly or leaves out an important word, don't interrupt them to correct their mistake! Wait until they're finished speaking or until they've finished their sentence before pointing it out.
This ensures that the flow of the lesson is not disrupted. It also helps to build your student's confidence in speaking. Otherwise they will feel uneasy speaking in English - afraid that you will pounce at any second to correct them.
Take some notes while they're speaking and then address anything afterwards!
15. Have Some Go-To Games
Teaching colours? Sing the rainbow song.🌈Teaching actions or physical activities? Start with some "Teacher Says".Teaching animals? Play charades! 🐅🐄🐖🐔
Always having a few set activities up your sleeve means you never have an extra long or boring class - even with a shy student.
Check out some of our favourite games and online classroom activities.
16. Use Competition in your Classes
This is especially useful if you have 2 students in your class, but you can also do this when you have just the one student. Yes, you will be the competitor!
Competition is a huge motivating force, enabling kids to learn more, work harder and stay more engaged in your lessons.
It's easy to introduce competition into your lessons. You can make a quiz from any topic, where you give a final score to your student for...
- answering questions correctly- using words correctly in a sentence- reading a whole page of a book- thinking of new ways to express themselves
17. Finish with a Recap
Always finish a class by recapping the main topics of the lesson.
Not only does this aid learning, but it also helps the student (and their parents) to understand how much they are learning and improving in every class.
Students learn. Parents know that they're getting value for their money. Win-win!
18. Change Up Your Lessons
Don't just repeat the same lesson plans, day after day, week after week. Change it up and keep it exciting for both you and your student.
Think of some new games, activities, songs... ways of doing things. It doesn't have to be brand new either - just make a slight adjustment to a game ie make it more challenging.
If you're stuck for ideas, check out our free guide of suitable online ESL activities, games and songs for all ages:
Free ESL Games Workbook 👇
Click the image above or here to download for free.
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