When we talk about low-level students, we’re not talking about teaching the students about the difference between present simple and past simple tenses. We are talking about a level 0 student who can barely string a single sentence together or has utter difficulties when answering the question ‘How are you?’ Teaching absolute beginners can be quite a tough task, especially for native speakers with little understanding of the L1 of the students. Nevertheless, with a little bit of help and the right guidance, a teacher can definitely make a strong improvement to the student providing them with the confidence they need to take them to the next level.
How to Teach Complete Beginners
Ah yes, number one on the list, a smile is something that can be understood on a universal level. When building a rapport with your absolute beginner, smiling will build trust and show him or her that you are there in a supportive capacity. Body language is also a useful tool when teaching English, as it is often said that about 70% of our communication is done through body language. Body language is great when trying to get answers from student, showing if the student is incorrect, or even if you want to elicit an answer from a student.
Find an Assistant
When you’re teaching a group of absolute beginners, it is more than likely that you will have one of the students in the class who would be a little bit above the others. You should use this student to your advantage and make them your class assistant. This class assistant can help communicate the task, vocabulary and other useful things that the other students may not yet have an understanding. By finding an assistant in the class, this makes things easier and creates a great atmosphere in the class where the students can help each other in the learning process.
Use Realia, Flashcards and Other Visuals
Use what, I hear you ask? Realia is ESL jargon for anything that is ‘real’. Realia is great method when it comes to teaching vocabulary, as students can are able to simply put the vocabulary with a real life object. This can be done with practically anything, from the whiteboard marker in your hand, or even flowers from the garden. Another common form of realia is photos. Photos make a great to show the students an object or person that is real. One activity that works well with absolute beginners is learning about families. Both you and the students can take your family photos into the class and share them while describing the relative in the photo. Flashcards and other visuals, such as PowerPoint presentations are an ideal way to learning new vocabulary.
Know a Few Basic Words and Phrases in the Student’s Language
While many language schools discourage any usage of the teacher using the L1 of the student, we find that using a few words and phrases here and there prove to be extremely helpful. This helps with getting your point across in the class, and teaching some of the simpler vocabulary. While many ESLers have been converted to the theory that students will learn by being constantly exposed to the language, they should think back to their own time at school when they were learning a different language. Surely if native English speaker with a level 0 in Japanese walked into a class where the teacher spoke only Japanese, then the level 0 English-speaker would probably have gained very little. Same rule applies for students learning English.
This is one of the more obvious tips to make the list, but teachers should be reminded to speak slow. With vast number of coffee addicts who rely on their fix to get through six-straight hours of teaching, sometimes we can tend to get a little ahead of ourselves. Always keep this somewhere close to the forefront of your mind, or write it at the top of your lesson plan in big writing. This is a great way for remembering to keep the pace down throughout your class.
Teach All Four Skills
For early learners of English, it is a good idea to give them a broad range of activities. This ensures that they can make an improvement in all areas. Learning a variety of skills will also help with other areas of English too. By practicing reading, the students will get a very good understanding of grammar and vocabulary, as they can see the words correctly used and in context. Listening is also a good way to learn new words while helping their speaking. By listening to a recording, students should try to copy the manner in which a native speaker says the words. This will help significantly later down the track in accent reduction.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
When teaching absolute beginners, it is important to repeat all commands in order to give them a chance to listen to the individual words. By repeating your commands, the students are more likely to understand what you are saying, as they may be able to understand specific words, and then contextually put the action and word together. For more advanced students at about a level 0-1, one ideal way of improving the student’s vocab is to repeat the instruction using different words. If the student is unfamiliar with the vocabulary, they can generally use their brain to connect the dots while learning through the context.
Chill, Relax, be Calm. Don’t Stress!
Even though sometimes you may feel like you’re not helping, or that the work you are doing is in vain, give it a few weeks. Things will begin to pan out nicely after a few weeks as you begin to find your feet and build a strong rapport with your students. They will also begin to understand your teaching methodology and begin to pick up on all visual clues, hand signals, body language, and everything else that you employ in helping them learn the target language. If you put in the time with them, they will always look back on you as being their first English teacher who really made the effort to help and assist them.
Teaching absolute beginners can be a tough task, but with a little know-how and the right attitude, anyone can succeed.
The above eight steps should make your ESL teaching life all that much easier when your academic manager assigns you a group of level 0 students.
What are your recipes about teaching complete beginner classes? Please share them with us!