ESL Teachers Beware: Are You Making These Mistakes in Class?
No ESL teacher is perfect, no matter if you’ve been teaching for 20 minutes or 20 years (present company included!) Anyone can make mistakes, most of which are results of our trying too hard or being too impatient.
I’ve already covered some of these mistakes in another article, where I mention one of our classic blunders: too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time). Of course, we don’t want to talk more than the students. But we find ourselves explaining and over explaining, or simply getting too chatty in our efforts to bond with students. Here are some more of the worst mistakes you can make in your ESL class:
Are You Making These Mistakes in Class?
You indulge in useless blabber
This is what I also call the “saying out loud things that you should just keep to yourself” syndrome. It goes something like this: you say to your class, “OK, so we’re going to play this game, but we’re going to use the board instead of these cute little photocopies I had planned to give you, but I can’t give you as the copier is broken. Sorry about that, but these things happen, and well, we need to adapt and adjust to what we have… OK…Oh, I’ll need another marker because this one is not working properly…” And it goes on and on and on…
Needless to say, students don’t need to hear all of this. Quite frankly, in some levels it can be quite confusing – they may not even understand half of it. Repeat after me: Silence is good. It’s OK for students to have some quiet time while you set up a game or activity. Moreover, keep any problems you may have had with the school’s equipment to yourself. It’s more professional, too.
You complete their sentences for them
Your student says, “Playing soccer is…” And you jump in and say, “fun?” Talk about eager beavers! Sometimes the teacher is the eager beaver in class and doesn’t give students enough time to come up with the right word or answer. Students need time. If you jump the gun and complete the answer for them, you’re taking away their opportunity to prove to you just how much they’ve learned. Also, consider that it could actually annoy the student. What if, in the situation above, the word the student was actually looking for is “boring”?
Completing students’ sentences is like cutting someone else’s food. You do it when they’re little, but at some point they have to start doing it for themselves.
You ask them if they understand
Imagine I am looking straight into your eyes, and I ask you “Do you understand?” Most students will feel compelled to squeak out a tentative “yes…” Who would actually face the teacher and say “no”? Who wants the rest of class to think that they are not the brightest bulb in the box? Don’t put your students in this position.
There are ways to check for comprehension without having to put students on the spot. Try asking them questions, instead, to make sure they’ve understood.
You echo their answers
A student says, “I work at Google.” You say, “You work at Google. Great! You work at Google.” First of all, there is absolutely no learning value in parroting your students. Second, if you do it immediately after they speak, you may be interrupting their train of thought and may even cut them off from whatever else they were going to say. What if your student was about to tell you what he did at Google?
After a student speaks, give him or her time to add something else. If you feel compelled to say something, simply reply with a “How interesting!” And pause to give them time to add a new piece of information.
You don’t check to see if they’ve understood your instructions
So, you rattle off a set of instructions in rapid-fire succession and say, “OK, let’s get started!” This is usually when students start whispering to each other things like, “What did she say?” or “What do we do now?”
Always check to see if they’ve gotten your instructions straight. Ask the class, “OK class so what do we do first? And then? Good! You may begin.” If it’s an exercise they must complete, it’s a great idea to do the first question with them as an example.
You give them unclear instructions
This mistake goes hand in hand with the previous. Try to use words you know they will understand. Give them steps that are easy to follow, and if you can number them, so much the better. This is particularly true for special projects like crafts, where students are expected to follow a series of steps. If they are not familiar with any of the vocabulary make sure you explain it to them first; this includes words like “stapler”, “paper clips” or any other materials they may not be familiar with.
As mentioned earlier, anyone can make mistakes. I am one of those teachers who complete students’ sentences. Guilty as charged!
After 20 years, I still need to stop myself every now and then, but this is something I tend to do when I’m running out of time for an activity. So, don’t be shy and speak up! Are you guilty of any of these blunders?
Claudia has been an ESL teacher for 20 years and has taught a wide variety of students from pre-schoolers to senior citizens, complete beginners to advanced students. This vast teaching experience has helped her write over 100 articles for BusyTeacher.org. When she is not teaching, she is also a freelance travel writer contributing reviews for V!VA Travel Guides' upcoming Uruguay edition, as well as travel articles and blog posts for a variety of online publications. She is currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina with her spunky 7-year old daughter and crabby 10-year old cat, Ulysses. Google +.
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Wow! I've done many of these mistakes. I am always asking if they understand and I do this a lot. I wrote all this points in my not-to-do list in class. Thanks for sharing this valuable knowledge about ESL!
very useful.....guilty of explaining some of the unnecessary things in the class......or something that students really don't want to listen or is not going to give them any benefit in learning but most of the time I realize my mistake when I see boredom at my students' faces.....will surely be very careful in future....
Of yourse I am making these mistakes in class as well, even after more than 30 years of teaching, but who isn't? This article really hit the nail on the head. Thanx so much for reminding me. I promise here and there - I will be more careful from now on and JUST IN CASE I keep forgetting my promise, could you print such a perfect piece of advice again, let's say in about 4 weeks ? Kind regards from Austria
This is an interesting article with some innocent, big mistakes that a lot of us teachers make all the time. Thanks for posting this article, it's very helpful. Now I will try to stop some of these mistakes that you list.
Yes, after i read this; i swear i was like the one who wrote it. I many times do that. Now, i can tell that i see the reason of being very streesed in class. i will have some rest to keep silent for sometimes. tx
BamBamMike, You make an excellent point! And a fine addition to the list of mistakes! I agree that correcting a student on a grammar point you haven't taught yet is not conducive to building students' confidence. We should focus on strengthening and building on what's already been taught. The classic example is if students have not been taught the simple past, and they don't use it correctly, we should not correct them and just let it slide. Thanks for sharing!
Of course I'm making many of these mistakes, too! My "favourite" is echoing students. Actually, I do that because students tend to mumble answers and I'm used to repeating everything they say aloud, hoping to get the whole class to listen and to reply. Now I realize that the only goal I achieve in doing that is interrupting "real" communication and suggesting my students they just have to utter a couple of very simple words and that's it!. Why am I so overprotective? I feel that many of them don't like to speak up in front of the whole class, and I try to help them, but if I go on like that, I'll only have insecure and lazy students, that never learn to make themselves understood and to express their thoughts. I must use other ways to get tha students listening and talking to each other. This is the wrong one. Thank you, Claudia, I'll treasure your tips.
Teachers have to be humble, and your article reminds us that, as our students, we can make mistakes :)
I would add one point to the list: Never correct a student on a grammar topic you haven't yet taught, especially for beginners and intermediate level.
For the student this can lead to lose of confidence because he-she does not understand his-her mistake, moreover, if he asks you why it is a mistake, you have to teach a grammar point that was not part of your daily corpus. Of course, I am not talking about gramtical details (pronunciation, plurals...), but core elements (verb tenses, modals...).