Part of learning a language is making mistakes.
Every ESL teacher knows this and sees their students making mistakes in their classroom every day. We don’t like it, but we know it is reality. But for our students, making mistakes can feel like something far greater, sending the student a message that he would never want to hear. Students can get discouraged or frustrated when they make mistakes, and this can affect how they feel about themselves and their language learning abilities. Students who lack confidence are less likely to use the language that they do know, and their language learning could potentially be snuffed. That’s why part of our role as teachers is to encourage our students and help develop their confidence. Confidence counteracts the stress and discouragement that comes from making mistakes. How does a teacher build confidence in her students? Here are four suggestions.
Several Tips to Help Students Become More Confident
Repetition of lessons
When I was in graduate school, I took a class on language syllabus design. We talked about various types of syllabi and classroom structures. One thing I remember vividly from that class was our discussion on cyclical syllabi. I had never heard the term before, and once I understood it I realized I had never had that type of class before. In a cyclical classroom structure, the same topics are visited multiple times, either throughout the year or over the course of several years. For example, beginning students may do a unit on food. When those students reach the intermediate level, they may do another unit on food, and again when they are in advanced classes. Though the student is completing three units on food, each time the material gets more in depth and more difficult. The advantage to this type of structure is that students have a foundation on the subject each time it comes up again in class. When students have a foundation, they can absorb new information more easily and feel confident at their ability to perform at a higher level than if they had never studied the material at all.
Repetition of activities
In addition to repeating the subject matter in class, repeating class activities will help build confidence in your students. This does not mean giving your students the same worksheets for homework on multiple days. Repeating activities in class, particularly group discussions, will give your students a chance to learn each time the work with a different partner and then apply that knowledge in the next conversation. For example, after reading a short story, have students work in pairs to discuss how they feel about the main character and another possible ending the author could have written. After about five minutes, have students change partners and discuss the same questions. Your students will be able to apply the knowledge they gained in the first conversation in the second. When your students have been successful with the questions in their first discussion and can use what they have learned, they will feel more confident about speaking and sharing their ideas.
Summarizing at the end of class
Anyone who has talked to a teenager after his day at school is sure to know the answer to, “What did you do today?” Nothing. With some students, it’s just a reluctance to talk about their days. But for other students, it is hard to realize and then remember what they learned in class. Taking a few minutes at the end of class to summarize what you taught (and what they learned) can make the difference in these reluctant students. The few minutes you take to write down what your students have accomplished and the material they have learned will boost their confidence. They will be able to agree with you that they did learn something in class today, and they will be ready to learn new material in the days to come.
Okay, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I add items to my to do list just so I can cross them off. For me, like many others, having a sense of accomplishment makes me feel good about what I have done and gives me the push to keep going. Your students will react similarly when they reach the goals they have set. Taking time in class to help your students establish both short term and long term goals has many benefits. Not only do they know where they are heading in their language learning. They also see when they have reached those goals, and that makes them believe they can reach the next goals they have set. Taking a few minutes to review goals with your students periodically will help them see just how much they have accomplished and push them to keep working hard.
It’s hard to be motivated when you feel like you can’t get anything right and you aren’t making any progress. By giving your students the tools for success in your classroom and showing them that they have accomplished things in their language learning, you will give them the confidence they need to be productive and successful students in your classroom and in life.