Being a great teacher is not easy icon

Being a great teacher is not easy

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Teaching ESL: Common Mistakes That English Teachers Make

Being a great teacher is not easy...

Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is not easy. Scratch that, it\'s real easy. Although, to be a great teacher; one who educates, inspires and encourages, is incredibly difficult. Being the best ESL teacher you can be is important to feeling fulfilled in your job. In order to do so, teachers must recognize some common teaching mistakes. And fortunately, once recognized and the universe perfectly in tune, there is a solution to fixing these mistakes. This article will offer advice for those
teaching English as a second language by listing some of these far too common teaching mistakes, and how to avoid them. The goal here is to help students learn, and to help teachers facilitate learning, rather than preventing it. So please, read on..

It's ok. Teachers make mistakes too.

^ Common mistakes that teachers make

- TTT (Teacher Talking Time)

The title in bold speaks for itself. The more a teacher talks, the less opportunity there is for the student to talk. Especially in an ESL class, students need time to talk. More importantly, they need time to think, prepare their thoughts, translate, and decipher how to say it out loud. Embrace silence in the classroom as a good thing, and give your students time to think.

- ^ The Running Commentary

Teacher: Okay class, for this activity we are going to play a game using this marker. I would usually use a ball, but I couldn't find one, it used to be behind my desk...oh well. Taking this marker, I'm going to draw two circles, like this, maybe a little smaller, okay...

Seriously? Students don't need to, nor do they want to hear your entire thought process of past, present, and future activities out loud. For ESL learners, this can be boring, extremely hard to comprehend, and just plain unnecessary. This goes hand-in-hand with TTT. Tell the students what they need to know, then save your blabber for the break room.

- Echo

Student: I went to the park

Teacher: Good! You went to the park. Okay great. You went to the park.

Quite simply, you want the student to talk more than you. When you echo what they say, it gives them less talking time. In addition, when you echo, they start to learn that they don't need to listen to anyone but you (the teacher who repeats everything). If you catch yourself doing this, stop it.

- Helpful Sentence Completion

Student: Eating fruits and vegetables is good…

Teacher: …for your health. Definitely, I try to eat at least…

When a teacher is trying to elicit particular vocabulary from the student, he/she is eager, often too eager, to hear the correct answer. If you start predicting the words a student is going to say, and blurting out the tail-end of a sentence, you are taking away from the student. An ESL learner, as previously mentioned, needs time to think and produce their own words and ideas. Taking that away from them by doing the sentence completion for them is counter-productive, and actually pretty annoying.

- Complicated and Unclear Instructions

This is a potential problem that can easily be fixed beforehand while lesson planning. Poor planning and loosely structured instructions can be very confusing to English learners. Even for a fluent English speaker like myself, instructions can be hard to grasp. Try to be as clear and concise in your instructions as possible. In this case, less is more.

- Not Checking the Understanding of Instructions

"Ok class, ready…begin!" Ending your instructions with something like this will often leave you with a classroom full of whispering students, marked by looks of bewilderment. A simple way to double-check they understand is to ask a few students to repeat the instructions back to you. If the activity includes a question set, do the first question together as a class.

- Teacher: Do you understand?

Student: Yes…?

9 times out of 10, the student will answer yes; and 9 times out of 10, the student doesn't understand. Why? Well, nobody likes to feel like the dullest knife in the drawer. In fact, a much better way to check and see if they understand is through example. Have them use the just learned language in a sentence, repeat the instructions, or have them explain the idea further. Try your best to never end a topic of study with, "do you understand?" 

^ Constantly improving

As a teacher, you will continually come across problems in the classroom. It's important to face each one, and do your best to patch-up any holes in your teaching abilities. Analyze what you can do as a teacher to fix the problem, as well as what the student can do. This is certainly only the tip of the iceberg of problems that an ESL teacher may face, but they are the most common. Hopefully by outlining them you can start correcting them today.

^ Resources for ESL teachers

  • ESL Teaching Tips
    ESL students often develop sticking points or plateaus in learning English. To work past the difficult phases, teachers can try these classroom tested techniques which work with all age groups. Do not be...

  • ESL Teaching Methods
    Many methods for teaching English as a Second Language have developed over the years. While many have fallen by the wayside, others have become widely used in todays classrooms. Virtually all have...

  • Teaching ESL: Easy 4 Step Lesson Plan Guide
    A perfect guide for any ESL teacher. This article will outline how to make a lesson plan in 4 easy steps. Follow this guideline when planning a lesson when teaching English as a foreign language.

  • Teaching ESL: 10 Common Problems in the Classroom
    Teaching english as a foreign language is challenging, yet rewarding career path. To avoid some of these challenges, here are 10 common problems that teachers face in the classroom, and their possible solutions.


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