Over the past five or so years that I’ve been a teacher trainer, I’ve observed hundreds of new teachers. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, most of them make the same mistakes early on. TEFL teaching is fun for a lot of different reasons; one of them is that teachers can be creative in their jobs of language teaching. However, no matter how creative your activities may be, if you fail at some of the simple things, it won’t matter.
This post will explore three common mistakes that new teachers make that can kill an otherwise good lesson. For those of you who attended my webinar on Monday, spoiler alert, these three mistakes were discussed. For those of you who couldn’t make it, I hope that you are able to reflect on whether these are issues that you struggle with, and that these tips help you develop as a teacher.
#1 A Lack of Rules
I am not a very strict teacher, and in my early years I often neglected to set up classroom rules. I wanted my classes to be fun, and thought that having rules might get in the way of that. The truth is that NOT having rules can get in the way of your students’ learning and their fun. These are some of the possible results of a classroom without rules:
- Students won’t know what behavior is acceptable.
- The naughty students might disrupt the class and ruin it for others.
- The teacher might become frustrated, even angry.
- The class might often lose its general structure and the lesson aims not be met.
For these reasons, and your general sanity, having rules is important. My advice for younger, low level students is to keep the rules simple. Put them on the board and have the students repeat them each lesson. I commonly use:
- Raise your hand to speak.
- Listen to the teacher.
- No fighting.
- Happy teacher. (this kind of covers anything else you may have missed)
After that, the important thing to do is to be consistent with the rules. Instead of having ten rules that are never enforced, choose a few and make sure they are followed. Taking away points from a team is often punishment enough.
For teens, it may be a better idea to create a class contract. Work with the teens to determine what needs to happen for their classroom to be fun and productive. Though they will make jokes during the process, you’ll probably be surprised by how fair they are with creating their own rules and punishments.
#2 Proceeding Without the Students Paying Attention
It’s surprising how many teachers will push through their lesson plan even when the students aren’t paying the least bit of attention. Especially with young learners, full attention is brief at best, which is why teachers need to have loads of energy burning activities. However, if you don’t have students’ attention when you are presenting new language or giving instructions to an activity, it is unlikely your lesson will go well.
To refocus students’ attention, there are a number of methods that can be used.
Call and response
The teacher claps and says the first half of a chant, the students clap and say the second half. (e.g. *clap* *clap* “look at me” *clap* *clap* “look at teacher”)
The teacher has a traffic light drawn on the board (or a poster). When everything is going well, the teacher has an arrow pointing at green. If it gets a bit noisy or students are starting to misbehave, the arrow moves to the yellow. If it’s red…well, time for a talk.
When students aren’t paying attention, simply start counting down from five. If the students aren’t all quiet by the time you’ve finished, they lose a point.
Get the students to follow your commands. You can make them funny if you want. The idea here is that not only are they now focused on you, but you’ve also burnt off some excess energy.
I often use a bell, gong, whistle or percussion frog for this. The idea is that when the students hear the sound, it is their cue to be quiet.
#3 Poorly Given Instructions
This leads perfectly into common mistake number three: poor instructions. The first step of giving instructions must be getting the students attention. Without that, it doesn’t matter what you do in the front of the classroom. Spending the proper amount of time on instructions can be the difference between an activity’s success or failure. Here are the steps for proper instructions:
1. Get the students’ attention.
2. Give clear and simple instructions.
It can be useful to break the instructions down step by step and make them visual by either writing simple words on the board (“run”, “touch”, “throw”, etc.) , or drawing simple icons that represent them.
3. Demonstrate the activity.
Make your instructions visual by acting out how the game is played. You can also use a TA, if you have one, or a stronger student help demonstrate the activity.
4. Ask ICQs
These are instructional checking questions. This is your chance to clear up any confusion that your students have, or get ahead of any potential problems that might pop up. (e.g. “Are you going to run or walk?”, “how many students should you ask the question?”, “how many students are standing up?”)
Again, if you take your time with instructions, you will get a lot more out of an activity and the students will be more engaged.
TEYL Extension Course
If you’ve enjoyed the tips above, and find yourself teaching a lot of young learners, I highly recommend the TEFL Express TEYL (teaching English to young learners) course. It was created by myself and a number of other experienced teachers, and will go deep into methodology and practical tips for teaching young learners. You can learn more about it by visiting the landing page here.