As far as your ESL class is concerned, you could face a multitude or problems – or none at all.
A typical ESL class, anywhere in the world, has its own set of typical problems and challenges. Is there any way to avoid them? Not likely. Is there any way to prepare for them? Absolutely! And here are the 7 most typical problems you’ll face as an ESL teacher, each one followed by some ways to deal with them.
7 Most Common ESL Problems and How to Solve Them
Students speak more of their native language than English
The lower the students’ level or ages, the more probable it is that they will speak their native language most of the time. Some will even chat in pairs or small groups, completely oblivious to what is going on in class.
Solution: Now, each ESL class is different, and they all have different goals, but no matter what their age or level, students must understand that they must at the very least try to speak as much English as they can, even if it is for simple greetings, requests or statements. For younger students, turn it into a game. Create a chart with the students’ names and give those who did not speak their native language throughout the class a star. Or create a point penalty system. Once a student reaches a certain number of points, they must do something in front of the class, like tell a story or answer questions from classmates. These might not work for older students. But they will certainly try to communicate in English if you pretend you don’t speak their native language.
Students take control of the lesson
You’ve probably seen this happen. A student comes into class all excited about something that’s happened and dying to tell everyone. They get everyone else excited about the topic and before you know it you have a group of students who’ve completely taken over. Another common situation, particularly with youngsters, is when they propose all sorts of changes and/or improvements to an activity you’ve set out for them.
Solution: Take control back. In the first case, firmly, yet kindly, let your students know that you have to get the lesson underway. Tell them that if they finish their work, they can have a few minutes at the end of the class to talk about whatever has them so excited. In the second case, firmly tell them that you have already planned the lesson/activity, but that you will certainly include their ideas next time. Don’t forget to thank them for sharing or providing feedback!
One student in particular dominates the lesson
This is the type of student I like to call the “eager beaver”: they always raise their hands first or just blurt out the answer with absolutely no regard for the other students in the class. They are often competitive and like to win.
Solution: Never call out an eager beaver in front of the class. This enthusiasm should not be squashed; it should simply be channeled in the right direction. Say, “I know you know the answer, Juan, but I’d love to hear from someone else”. Also try this: let the eager student be your helper for the day. Tell him/her the job is to help classmates find the right answers or help those who are having trouble completing an exercise.
Students are too dependent
The other side of the coin is when you have students who constantly seek your help. They may ask you to help them complete an exercise or just blurt out they can’t/don’t know how to do something on their own.
Solution: It’s very important to empower students and help them feel that they can indeed do it. Say you give them an exercise in which they have to decide which article to use, “a” or “an”. Look at the first item “apple” and ask your student, “Is it a apple or an apple? What sounds right to you?” Once they give you the correct answer, tell them to try the next one. And the next one. “See you CAN do it! Good job!” Sometimes students feel overwhelmed by the blanks, and all they need is a little nudge.
Solution: It’s a hard truth, but the reason your students are bored is YOU. It is your responsibility to engage students and keep the lesson interesting – no matter what you are teaching. Teaching the Future Continuous tense? There are ways to make the topic more engaging. Talking about business? There are ways to make the topic more fun.
Students arrive late or disrupt the class
A cell phone rings, while a latecomer joins the class. You barely say two words and another student shows up. And the interruptions go on and are worse in larger groups.
Solution: Set the classroom rules from the start. Ask students to turn off cell phones and other technological devices at the start of class. Give your students a five to ten- minute grace period for arriving, but tell them they won’t be able to join the class after that.
Students don’t do homework
Some students never do homework or any work outside the classroom. This is often the case with adults who say they never have time.
Solution: Young learners and teens have no choice. They must do their homework and if they don’t, simply notify the parents that the student is not completing tasks to satisfaction. As for adults, give them options. Tell them to do at least one five-minute exercise a day (or a week). Ask them how much they can commit to. Be clear in communicating that that may fall behind and not meet their language learning goals.
Don’t leave anything to chance. Have a plan and stick to it. Have rules and stick to them. For if you don’t, you’re leaving yourself wide open to trouble.
If you have any suggestions for dealing with these common problems, share them below!
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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Actually, the homework thing doesn't apply in all countries. Here in Korea, children rarely have or commit to homework. I had to start giving minus points for them to do it. Of course, that would only work if your class is actually counted toward their grades. How can we positively reinforce it if the class doesn't count though?